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News briefs

Pentagon helping troops pay bills, but less than Congress wants

WASHINGTON — Pentagon officials announced Thursday that U.S. military personnel who face a rising cost of living will be getting financial help soon, but the initiative falls short of what many lawmakers have sought.

The changes were laid out in a Thursday memo from Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III to military leaders, in which the secretary outlined enhanced compensation to offset the rising cost of food, housing, child care and family relocations.

“The Department of Defense has a sacred obligation to take care of our Service members and families,” Austin wrote. “Doing so is a national security imperative.”

Included in the new Pentagon initiative is paying a so-called basic needs allowance to ensure lower-income troops make no less than 130% of the poverty-level income in their region.

Unmentioned in Austin’s memo is the fact that this program was required by the fiscal 2022 defense authorization law — and that the Pentagon had resisted it previously, according to advocates of the allowance.

Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Gil Cisneros and other officials provided additional details at a Pentagon news conference.

Jeri Busch, the Pentagon’s director of military compensation, disclosed “rough” official estimates for how much money service members would get under the basic needs allowance.

The payments would range from about $990 to $30,000 a year, depending on a service member’s pay grade, number of dependents and where the person lives, Busch said.

—CQ-Roll Call

Alex Jones’ Sandy Hook testimony ends in chaos: ‘How are we going to avoid this problem tomorrow?’

Right-wing broadcaster Alex Jones’ first day on the stand at his Sandy Hook defamation trial gave way to chaos and confusion Thursday with the conspiracy theorist calling the judge a “tyrant” and the proceedings “a kangaroo court.”

The day ended with Judge Barbara Bellis of Connecticut Superior Court wondering, “How are we going to avoid this problem tomorrow?”

At times rambling, despite being told to speak in turn, Jones, 48, insisted that he’s already apologized to the families of students and educators gunned down in 2012 in a Connecticut grade school and was “done apologizing.”

“Like it’s my fault,” he flippantly remarked on the witness stand. “People think I killed the kids.”

The bombastic commentator, who promoted the lie that the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting was a hoax, testified throughout the day.

The Connecticut trial, taking place a month after a jury in his home state of Texas determined that Jones and his company should award two parents nearly $50 million, is to determine how much he will have to pay the families of victims impacted by his lies.

Jones is being sued by eight more Sandy Hook families in the Connecticut case.

—New York Daily News

‘We are all in this together’: Biden tells Puerto Ricans they’re not alone after Fiona

MIAMI — President Joe Biden on Thursday announced the federal government will be fully funding a monthlong recovery effort in Puerto Rico — including power and water restoration costs — following the widespread destruction left behind by Hurricane Fiona.

Biden made the announcement in New York during a virtual briefing with officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the government of the U.S. territory. He added that the 100% federally funded recovery efforts will also cover the expenditures of search and rescue operations, food, shelter and debris removal.

“We are all in this together,” Biden said.

FEMA also announced earlier Thursday that residents in 55 of Puerto Rico’s 78 towns will be able to apply for federal assistance that can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-interest loans to cover uninsured property losses and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster. But some of the hardest hit areas in the west and southwest of Puerto Rico — including Cabo Rojo where Hurricane Fiona made landfall Sunday — were not initially included for individual federal aid.

—Miami Herald

At least 17 dead in Iran as security forces crack down on protesters

ISTANBUL — At least 17 people have died in Iran during days of intensifying protests over a young woman's death following her arrest by the morality police, who were ordered to use tough measures to contain the protests.

The victims included members of the security forces and demonstrators, Iranian state media reported on Thursday, without providing further details.

A journalist and an activist were also detained by Iranian authorities.

Officials detained Nilufar Hamedi, a journalist working for reformist newspaper Shargh, Iranian website Emtedad reported on Thursday, citing her lawyer.

The secret service, meanwhile, picked up author and activist Hamidresa Jalaipur, who is being held in Tehran's notorious Evin prison.

There were again violent clashes on Wednesday night. Videos, which could not be verified, purported to show live ammunition being fired at the protesters.

The head of Iran's judiciary, Gholam-Hussein Mohseni-Edjahi, ordered the judiciary and police in all parts of the country not to compromise when dealing with "professional rioters" and leaders of the unrest, state-run IRNA news agency reported.

He said that would guarantee the safety of citizens.

—dpa

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