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California farmers furious over delayed payments for land seized in high-speed rail push

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Top California high-speed rail executive under investigation in ethics probe

Farmers up and down California’s Central Valley are up in arms over the state seizing their land to build its long-awaited high-speed railway and then failing to pay the hundreds of thousands of dollars owed them for years.

Thanks to an order of possession by the Superior Court, California can take private land through eminent domain for the troubled bullet train project. While landowners are expected to eventually be reimbursed for the property – and for expenses like lost farming production, irrigation replacement projects and road construction – many farmers in California’s agricultural heartland say state officials have offered them a myriad of excuses as to why they haven’t yet doled out the cash.

“I am out a quarter-million bucks on infrastructure, and they haven’t paid a dime for a year,” John Diepersloot, a fruit farmer who cleared a large parcel of his peach orchard to make way for the train, told The Los Angeles Times. “I don’t have that kind of money.”

What’s even more frustrating for California’s farmers are the constantly changing plans for the train, the multiple delays in construction, the seemingly skeleton-staffed California High-Speed Rail Authority and the difficulty in getting concrete answers.

CALIFORNIA’S BULLET TRAIN AND BIGGEST BOONDOGGLE IS OVER BUDGET BY BILLIONS 

“The property owners are very frustrated that the high-speed rail authority don’t seem to know what they actually need,” said Mark Wasser, a Sacramento-based attorney representing more than 70 farmers and businesses affected by the project. “We have farmers who the authority has come back four times to change where they want to take.”

Rail authority officials acknowledge they have not yet paid numerous landowners, but so far have not given a reason for the delay.

“We understand the concerns of private property owners affected during the acquisition of their property by the California High-Speed Rail Authority and construction of the High-Speed Rail system,” Don Odell, the authority’s chief of real property, said in a statement to Fox News. “We strive to work closely with affected property owners to minimize the impact the project has on them and to the ensure that they receive fair market value, consistent with state law, for their land and other expenses they incur due to the construction of the high-speed rail system.”

California’s high-speed rail project has been bogged down with delays, shifting plans and questions over the cost and funding almost since its inception.

The projected $79 billion project is years behind schedule with the latest estimate for completion set for 2033. Bullet train planners have been under increasing pressure to make progress on the system that many believe had no plausible way of living up to its goal of getting riders across the state in three hours or less.

CALIFORNIA BULLET TRAIN PROJECT ON TRACK TO BLOW THROUGH BILLIONS OF MORE DOLLARS 

Earlier this year, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced he is putting the plan for a rail line between Los Angeles and San Francisco on hold in favor of a much-shorter line between the cities of Bakersfield and Merced – a move that had Republican lawmakers in the Golden State calling for a referendum vote on the project.

In his State of the State address in February, Newsom argued against the frequent complaint that the Merced-Bakersfield line would be a “train to nowhere,” and said that a high-speed railway would “form the backbone of a reinvigorated Central Valley economy.”

“The people of the Central Valley endure the worst air pollution in America as well as some of the longest commutes,” Newsom said. “And they have suffered too many years of neglect from policymakers here in Sacramento. They deserve better.” He added: “We can align our economic and workforce development strategies, anchored by high-speed rail, and pair them with tools like opportunity zones, to form the backbone of a reinvigorated Central Valley economy.”

President Trump was quick to label the entire high-speed rail project a “disaster” and call for Sacramento to return the funds given to the state by the federal government.

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“California has been forced to cancel the massive bullet train project after having spent and wasted many billions of dollars,” Trump tweeted in February. “They owe the Federal Government three and a half billion dollars. We want that money back now. Whole project is a ‘green’ disaster!”

In March, the head of the state’s rail authority fired back at Trump’s effort to block more federal dollars from going to the California project.

At that point, the Federal Railroad Administration had given California $2.5 billion to construct a Los Angeles-to-San Francisco link, with another $929 million pledged. But federal authorities – and the president – claimed the terms of the federal grant had not been met and threatened to withhold any future payments while demanding repayment for the funds already doled out to California.

Fox News’ Barnini Chakraborty contributed to this report.

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U.S. president confirms no withdrawal from security pact: Japan

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TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s top government spokesman said on Tuesday the United States has confirmed its defense treaty with Japan after a report suggested U.S. President Donald Trump considered withdrawing from the pact.

Bloomberg reported on Monday that Trump has recently spoken privately about withdrawing from the treaty as he is of the view that the pact treated the United States unfairly.

“The thing reported in the media you mentioned does not exist,” Yoshihide Suga told reporters in Tokyo.

“We have received confirmation from the U.S. president it is incompatible with the U.S. government policy,” he added.

Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; editing by Darren Schuettler

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Winning ugly? Media hit Trump style over Iran, but sometimes it works

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Winning ugly? Media hit Trump style over Iran, but sometimes it works

It’s a headline that captures the establishment’s disdain for the president’s unorthodox style of governing.

“Trump’s Erratic Policy Moves Put National Security at Risk, Experts Warn,” says The Washington Post.

Never mind that the first three critics quoted — after a defense from Mike Pence on CNN — were Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris and Cory Booker.

The other “experts” were two professors who were mildly critical and a lawyer who was supportive of Trump.

But the piece does get at a central question about this president in the wake of the aborted airstrikes against Iran, which he called off with 10 minutes to spare.

Does Trump preside over a messy and sometimes chaotic process? Of course. But sometimes that style gets results.

On Iran, for instance, many liberals liked that he pulled back on bombing over the downing of an unmanned drone, even as they say he extinguished a fire that he had started. (Maureen Dowd: “As shocking as it is to write this sentence, it must be said: Donald Trump did something right.”)

TRUMP SIGNS EXECUTIVE ORDER DELIVERING ‘HARD-HITTING’ SANCTIONS AGAINST IRAN

In negotiations, the president often makes a dramatic demand or threat, sparking a media and diplomatic furor over whether this time he’s gone too far — then hammers out a compromise and claims victory. It’s the style of a blustery New York real estate developer who’s always one minute from walking away from the table, transferred to the staid, tradition-bound world of Washington.

Over the weekend, Trump called off a wave of ICE arrests that was to begin on Sunday, which he said would begin deportations of “millions” of illegal immigrants. That set off the predictable uproar.

Trump, after a reported call with Nancy Pelosi, said he was delaying the arrests for two weeks to allow time for negotiations with the Democrats. Nobody seems to think a deal can be struck in so short a period, but Trump won points with his base by threatening the mass arrests and again drove the news agenda.

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The Post’s take: “Three policy turnarounds by President Trump this month have underscored his freewheeling governing style, an approach that some experts warn sends mixed messages and puts U.S. national security at risk …

“The results of Trump’s strategy on policy have been mixed at best — and few issues offer as complete a picture of the president’s habitual brinkmanship as his effort to overhaul U.S. trade policy.”

Remember when Trump threatened to close the Mexican border? The Beltway went ballistic. He didn’t.

PELOSI SAYS ‘VIOLATION OF STATUS’ NOT A REASON TO DEPORT ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS

Then he threatened to slap tariffs on all Mexican products, beginning at 5 percent, if the country didn’t crack down on migrants fleeing Central America for the U.S. border. Lo and behold, Trump got a last-minute agreement. It’s hard to judge how concrete these steps are, and The New York Times said most of them had been previously agreed to, but the perception — or perhaps the reality — is that he got Mexico to move.

Trump even used the tough-talk tactics against Canada before finally hammering out a trade deal. Whether the tariffs imposed on China ultimately lead to an agreement is another question.

The point is that while Trump’s approach horrifies the traditionalists, he rarely carries out the well-publicized threats.

I see a link between the zig-zagging negotiating style and the repeated failures of Trump’s vetting operation. Rather than wait for full-fledged inquiries and background checks, the president announces who he wants to nominate — and often has to pull back.

That was painfully on display when acting Pentagon chief Patrick Shanahan had to withdraw over a violent family past that would have made clear he would be impossible to confirm. The same was true when the president had to drop his planned nominees to the Fed, Herman Cain and Steve Moore.

Axios obtained nearly 100 Trump transition vetting documents that clearly show the RNC and others were overwhelmed in trying to check on potential nominees. The documents show that ethical and management questions were raised about Scott Pruitt and Tom Price, who later had to resign their posts at EPA and HHS.

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As president, Trump has far more resources available to vet nominees, yet still rushes to name them before any real investigation.

This president isn’t going to win any awards for a tidy management process. But when it comes to military action and trade talks, he sometimes wins ugly.

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Emergency aid bill challenges Pelosi’s grip on Democrats

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Emergency aid bill challenges Pelosi’s grip on Democrats

A $4.5 million House bill aimed at providing more funding to migrant families detained at the U.S.-Mexico border is posing a challenge to Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s grip on her party, as its liberal faction argue that the bill doesn’t go far enough while moderates worry that pushing for perfection will result in inaction at the border.

Calls for more funding at the border come amid reports that children detained entering the U.S. from Mexico are being held under harsh conditions. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told Fox News on Monday that the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border is dire. Azar said HHS shelters are at capacity and the budget is not there to increase it unless Congress acts.

Customs and Border Protection Chief Operating Officer John Sanders told The Associated Press that Border Patrol stations are holding 15,000 people – more than three times their maximum capacity.

A $4.5 trillion House bill aimed at alleviating circumstances like these is up for a vote Tuesday, but liberal Democrats are calling for provisions to strengthen protections for migrant children, and challenge the Trump administration’s border policies. Democrats met on Capitol Hill with Pelosi late Monday to try and reach a compromise. The meeting reportedly eased some Democratic complaints.

PELOSI TELLS NEW YORK CROWD ‘VIOLATION OF STATUS’ NOT A REASON TO DEPORT ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS

Asked before the meeting about her concerns that Democrats’ push for perfection might result in inaction at the border, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., called it “a delicate situation.” Afterward, she appeared to have left the door open saying: “My main goal is to keep kids from dying,” before calling the humanitarian bill a “short-term” measure.”

But others weren’t swayed. Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., said after the meeting: “We cannot continue to throw money at a dysfunctional system. We are not just asking for simple changes to be made into this bill, but to go back to the drawing board and really address this from a humanitarian issue.”

The White House accused lawmakers in a letter earlier Monday of trying to undermine its efforts at the border, arguing that the House package does provide enough money to toughen border security or funds for Trump’s proposed border wall.

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Congress plans to leave Washington in a few days for a weeklong July 4 recess. While lawmakers don’t want to depart without acting on the legislation for fear of being accused of not responding to humanitarian problems at the border, it seems unlikely that Congress would have time to send a House-Senate compromise to Trump by week’s end.

Fox News’ Chad Pergram and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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