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Trump: US, allies attacking Syria to stop chemical weapons

WASHINGTON — The United States, France and Britain launched military strikes in Syria to punish President Bashar Assad for a suspected chemical attack against civilians and to deter him from doing it again, President Donald Trump announced Friday. Explosions lit up the skies over Damascus, the Syrian capital, as Trump spoke from the White House.

Syrian television reported that Syria’s air defenses, which are substantial, have responded to the attack.

Trump said the U.S. is prepared to sustain pressure on Assad until he ends what the president called a criminal pattern of killing his own people with internationally banned chemical weapons. It was not immediately clear whether Trump meant the allied military operation would extend beyond an initial nighttime round of missile strikes.

British Prime Minister Theresa May said in London that the West had tried “every possible” diplomatic means to stop Assad from using chemical weapons. “But our efforts have been repeatedly thwarted” by Syria and Russia, she said.

“So there is no practicable alternative to the use of force to degrade and deter the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime,” May said. “This is not about intervening in a civil war. It is not about regime change.”

Trump did not provide details on the joint U.S.-British-French attack, but it was expected to include barrages of cruise missiles launched from outside Syrian airspace. He described the main aim as establishing “a strong deterrent” against chemical weapons use. The Syrian government has repeatedly denied any use of banned weapons.

The Pentagon was expected to provide details later Thursday.

The decision to strike, after days of deliberations, marked Trump’s second order to attack Syria; he authorized a barrage of Tomahawk cruise missiles to hit a single Syrian airfield in April 2017 in retaliation for Assad’s use of sarin gas against civilians.

The air campaign could frustrate those in Trump’s base who oppose military intervention and are wary of open-ended conflicts.

Trump chastised Syria’s two main allies, Russia and Iran, for their roles in supporting “murderous dictators,” and noted that Russian President Vladimir Putin had guaranteed a 2013 international agreement for Assad to get rid of all of his chemical weapons. He called on Moscow to change course and join the West in seeking a more responsible regime in Damascus.

“Russia must decide if it will continue down this dark path, or if it will join with civilized nations as a force for stability and peace,” Trump said. “Hopefully, someday we’ll get along with Russia, and maybe even Iran — but maybe not.”

The allied operation comes a year after the U.S. missile strike that Trump said was meant to deter Assad from further use of chemical weapons. Since that did not work, a more intense attack would aim to degrade his ability to carry out further such attacks, and would try to do this by hitting Syrian aircraft, military depots and chemical facilities, among other things.

The one-off missile strike in April 2017 targeted the airfield from which the Syrian aircraft had launched their gas attack. But the damage was limited, and a defiant Assad returned to episodic use of chlorine and perhaps other chemicals.

A broader question is whether the allied attacks are part of a revamped, coherent political strategy to end the war on terms that do not leave Assad in power.

Friday’s strikes appear to signal Trump’s willingness to draw the United States more deeply into the Syrian conflict. Just weeks ago, Trump said he wanted to end U.S. involvement in Syria and bring American troops home to focus on the homeland. The participation of British and French forces enables Trump to assert a wider international commitment against the use of chemical weapons, but the multi-pronged attack carries the risk of Russian retaliation.

In his nationwide address, Trump stressed that he has no interest in a longtime fight with Syria.

“America does not seek an indefinite presence in Syria under no circumstances,” he said. “As other nations step up their contributions, we look forward to the day when we can bring our warriors home.”

The U.S. has about 2,000 troops on the ground in Syria as advisers to a makeshift group of anti-Islamic State fighters known as the Syrian Democratic Forces. They are in eastern Syria, far from Damascus. A U.S.-led coalition has been conducting airstrikes in Syria since September 2014 as part of a largely successful effort to break the IS grip on both Syria and Iraq.

“Russia must decide if it will continue down this dark path, or if it will join with civilized nations as a force for stability and peace. Hopefully, someday we’ll get along with Russia, and maybe even Iran — but maybe not.” President Trump

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Forecast: Spring storm to dump up to foot of snow on upper Midwest

La Crosse residents might want to keep their snowblowers and shovels handy as yet another winter storm threatens to pummel the Coulee Region this weekend.

Rain is expected to shift to a mix of freezing rain, sleet and snow around 7 a.m. before shifting to snow late Saturday afternoon, according to the National Weather Service. Wind gusts of 35 to 40 mph could contribute to blizzard-like conditions.

“It’s not going to be a pleasant day,” said meteorologist Clint Aegerter.

The La Crosse area could see a tenth to two-tenths of an inch of ice and 6 to 8 inches of snow by Sunday.

Snowfall accumulation may be less in the valleys, where more precipitation could fall as rain.

“It’s a matter of a couple of degrees,” Aegerter said.

A winter storm warning is in effect for most of east central and a portion of south central Minnesota and all of west central Wisconsin, including that La Crosse area. A blizzard warning is in effect tonight through Saturday evening for west central and south central Minnesota.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation is warning motorists to expect difficult driving conditions, especially closer to the Twin Cities, which is forecast to get more than a foot of snow.

This will be the third snowstorm to hit the Coulee Region this month. La Crosse got 7.3 inches on April 3-4 and another 0.3 inches on April 9.

The 30-year average April snowfall for La Crosse is 1.7 inches.

Sunshine is expected to return on Monday, though temperatures will remain March-like with highs only in the mid-40s. The normal high in mid-April is 60 degrees.

The potent, slow-moving spring storm system began raking the Plains and Midwest on Friday, bringing blizzard conditions to South Dakota and the threat of tornadoes from Texas and Louisiana north all the way to Iowa.

The huge storm, packing enough energy to cause widespread disruption, isn’t unprecedented for April, said Jake Beitlich, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Chanhassen, Minn.

“We do get pretty powerful systems coming throughout the Midwest, and on the cold side we do get snow. And this one is particularly strong. So we do have a lot of moisture with it, and a lot of energy,” Beitlich said. “Over the next 24 hours cold air is going to get wrapped into this system and we’re going to see a band of heavy snow develop from southwestern Minnesota through northern Wisconsin. Also we’re going to have really strong winds, especially in western Minnesota.”

Blizzard warnings stretched from northern Kansas across most of Nebraska and South Dakota into southwestern Minnesota and northeastern Iowa, with winter storm warnings and watches covering most of the rest of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan.

Heavy snow already blanketed parts of western Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota by early afternoon Friday, closing major highways in South Dakota and many roads and highways in western Nebraska — including a 200-mile stretch of cross-country thoroughfare Interstate 80 from North Platte west to the Wyoming border.

The snow also led officials to shut down the Sioux Falls, S.D., airport Friday afternoon through Saturday night.

The National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., issued tornado watches Friday for eastern Texas and western Louisiana, moving up through eastern Oklahoma, Kansas, Arkansas and into Missouri and Iowa. The weather service also warned of the potential for strong thunderstorms, large hail and damaging winds for Arkansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and eastern portions of Texas.



Peter Thomson, La Crosse Tribune 

UW-La Crosse defensive back Colton Nieman (2) runs drills during practice Wednesday.

Summit speaker urges health workers to cultivate five leading causes of life

Gary Gunderson was a bit possessive of the Cass Street Bridge when he used it to make a point about the importance of being connected to others during his address at the annual Healthy County La Crosse Summit Friday.

Gunderson, of Winston-Salem, N.C., said his father, Roy, was the engineer with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation who designed the bridge over the Mississippi River nearly 80 years ago.

“The bridge you think of as your bridge is my father’s bridge,” he said, evoking ripples of laughter among the 145 people attending the 10th annual summit in the Lunda Center at Western Technical College.

“My dad was a civil engineer,” the native of Aurora, Wis., said in an interview during a break. “I’m not an engineer — I can hardly add. But he gave me a very powerful admiration for the mundane work of building community.”

Building a bridge is an ideal metaphor when discussing a community’s health, said Gunderson, an ordained minister who describes himself as a “recovering preacher” and is vice president of faith and health ministries at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C.

People involved in health care often talk about catching problems upstream, before they become bigger difficulties, while “a bridge doesn’t care about upstream or downstream,” Gunderson told the audience, which included doctors, nurses, public and private health care workers and public officials.

A bridge’s only concern is connecting with the other side. And engineers don’t design bridges to be built from just one side, which would add increasing amounts of weight and stress to the starting point, he said.

Eventually, the steel would crumble, the span would topple and the fish would have bounteous structure to elude anglers.

Instead, bridges are built from either side to connect in the middle, Gunderson said. The sides reach toward each other until they near the midpoint, where what is called the “suspended span” is lowered into place.

That final piece is installed in the cool of the morning so it can expand as the day heats up, helping hold it in place with all of the rivets and other connectors, he said.

The metaphor for a bridge to health includes both the technical side, with health science and technology on one bank and the human side, anchored in what he calls the “Leading Causes of Life,” which echoes the title of a book he wrote with Larry Pray, with the subtitle “Five Fundamentals to Change the Way You Live Your Life.”

Those fundamentals include:

  • Connection, which Gunderson said is a “vital phenomenon that occurs wherever there is life.” Humans thrive in complex social connections, as long as they aren’t steeped in friction and fear.
  • Coherence, based on humans’ need to find meaning. This could be in the lives of the individuals or the organizations to which they belong.
  • Agency, which Gunderson explained is not referring to “an agency,” but rather the “universal capability to do and act.”
  • Blessing, an example of which he drew from attending the regular meeting of the Downtown Rotary Club Thursday. Club members acknowledged the 49 years of dedication of member Elmer Grassman.
  • The fifth cause of life is hope — not just in people’s heads but in their bodies as well, he said.

Gunderson cited an example of blessing that his daughter Catherine impressed upon him when she was a child.

Before his mother died, she was vocal about planning her service, he said.

“I knew Mom was dying, and she knew she was dying,” and she told him she wanted him to deliver the eulogy, he said, adding the quip, “She didn’t want her preacher to do it because she thought he was kind of an idiot.”

His mother was strong, he said, noting, “I’m kind of a tender and soft and even crying just thinking about it.

“But she wasn’t crying,” instead directing that grandchildren be involved and asking what Bible verses he might select, as well as what version of the Scriptures he would use.

“She didn’t want me to use a liberal Bible that would upset people,” he said.

At that point, Gunderson and his mother alternated laughing and crying as they discussed the service.

He delivered most of the eulogy, although he said he tagged a friend to finish it toward the end when he became too emotional. When Gunderson sat down, he said, “Catherine, who was about 7, put her hand on my knee and said, ‘Dad, you’ve been a good son today.’”

That signified the importance of building “right relationships so life can flow through you,” he said.

In discussing hope, Gunderson suggested that if a patient had supreme confidence in a doctor who prescribed a medication, that patient’s body probably would respond positively even if the pill were made of sawdust.

Returning to the bridge metaphor, Gunderson told the audience, “You are the suspended span.” He encouraged them to determine their greatest strengths among the five leading causes of life, as well as that of their organizations.

“Don’t get trapped in your identity,” gauging only your job, he said.

“The point is not new skills, but knowing the ones we have are for life,” he said. “What’s missing in your life may be what’s in the organization. “Don’t worry about the gap — focus on your strengths.

“The skills you already have are relevant in ways you don’t even realize,” and can be major contributors to population health. It is more important to acknowledge what is right with yourself than wrong, he said.

“It is not delusional to think you’re adequate to the task,” Gunderson said, adding that their cooperation builds the ability to enhance population health. “You come with what each other needs.”