Conservative pundit Ann Coulter vows to hold Berkeley event despite university cancellation

Conservative pundit Ann Coulter is vowing to go ahead with an appearance at the University of California at Berkeley next week despite a decision by officials to cancel her planned speech amid safety concerns after politically charged riots and violence in recent months.

It was unclear whether Coulter would follow through with her campus visit on April 27, but it would likely put security officials on high alert and spark another showdown in struggles over campus safety, student views and ideological openness.

“What are they going to do? Arrest me?” she said late Wednesday on the Fox News show “Tucker Carlson Tonight.”

Coulter said she “called their bluff” by agreeing to rules set by the university seeking to prevent violence.

There was no immediate comment from university officials.

In a letter to a campus Republican group that invited Coulter to speak, university officials said Wednesday that they made the decision to cancel Coulter’s appearance after assessing the violence that flared on campus in February, when the same college Republican group invited right-wing provocateur and now-former Breitbart News senior editor Milo Yiannopoulos to speak.As the protest and clashes escalated during the Yiannopoulos’ event, some began setting fires, throwing rocks and molotov cocktails and attacking members of the crowd.

The violence and damage caused by Yiannopoulos’s invitation garnered national attention and forced officials to put the campus on lockdown. And after the university canceled Yiannopoulos’s talk, President Trump criticized the school and threatened in a tweet to pull federal funds from UC-Berkeley.

The decisions by UC-Berkeley to cancel both events involving high-profile conservatives are especially notable given the campus’s role during the 1960s and 1970s as the birthplace of the Free Speech Movement and its long tradition of social protest.

Coulter said in an email to The Washington Post on Wednesday that the university had been trying to force her to cancel her speech by “imposing ridiculous demands” on her but that she still agreed “to all of their silly requirements.” She said she believes that her speech “has been unconstitutionally banned” by the “public, taxpayer-supported UC-Berkeley.”
Coulter said the university insisted that her speech take place in the middle of the day, that only students could attend and that the exact venue wouldn’t be announced until the last minute. She said that she agreed with the conditions but that apparently wasn’t good enough.

“They just up and announced that I was prohibited from speaking anyway,” Coulter said, noting that her speech topic was to be immigration, the subject of one of her books. “I feel like the Constitution is important and that taxpayer-supported universities should not be using public funds to violate American citizens’ constitutional rights.”

A conservative national group that was helping to organize the event, Young America’s Foundation, said Coulter also made demands of her own, including that any students engaging in violence be expelled. In her email, Coulter said she is still planning to give her speech, and YAF spokesman Spencer Brown said she has told them that she plans to appear at Berkeley on April 27.

“If Berkeley wants to have free speech, they are going to get it,” Brown said.

A university spokesman said the school has not been in direct contact with Coulter but conveyed its concerns with the student group that invited her. He said the university was especially concerned that holding the event in the late afternoon would risk protests and potential violence stretching into the evening when the area would get crowded with commuters and students.
Supporters and protesters of President Trump clashed on Saturday, April 15 in Berkeley, Calif. (Reuters)

“Everything we’re doing is so the speaker and students can actually exercise their rights without disruption,” Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof said. “It’s unfortunate that there are people who think the university’s efforts to keep students and the speaker herself safe are ‘silly.’ ”

On Wednesday, university officials said they hope to reschedule Coulter’s event for sometime in September, and they emphasized that they are not canceling her event because of her controversial nature or sharply conservative views.

“It has nothing to do with anyone’s political views. We believe in unqualified support to the First Amendment. But we also have an unqualified focus on safety of our students,” Mogulof said. “We are going to be making a concerted effort to explain the reasons behind this.”

The decision to cancel Coulter’s speech came drew sharp criticism from some on the campus, such as Robert Reich, a Berkeley professor who served as Labor Secretary under President Bill Clinton.

“This is a grave mistake,” Reich wrote in a Facebook post. He said universities should “do everything possible to foster and protect” free speech, writing that students should be allowed to hear Coulter’s arguments and question them.

“It’s one thing to cancel an address at the last moment because university and local police are not prepared to contain violence … It’s another thing entirely to cancel an address before it is given, when police have adequate time to prepare for such eventualities,” he said.

On Saturday, protests again turned violent — though in the city of Berkeley, not the university campus — as pro-Trump and anti-Trump protesters clashed in the streets. The violence on Saturday was further heightened later in the day as far-left activists and far-right activists joined the fray.

And on Tuesday at Auburn University in Alabama, three people were arrested amid protests and a fistfight that occurred over a speech by self-proclaimed white nationalist leader Richard Spencer.
Self-proclaimed white nationalist Richard Spencer spoke at Auburn University Tuesday, April 18. His visit sparked protests that turned violent and led to three arrests. (YouTube/Ryan Crumpler)

At Berkeley, university officials said the recent violence has caused them to rethink where and when to hold such events. In their letter, university officials also partly blamed the college Republican group for inviting Coulter and setting a date for the event — April 27 — without consulting the university.

Officials learned of Coulter’s event, the letter said, from reading about it in newspapers. And after consulting with university police, officials said, they could not find a venue available on that date that would allow them to protect Coulter, the audience and bystanders.

Brian Murphy contributed to this report, which has been updated.

75-Year-Old Vet Acquitted of Illegally Hanging Napkin-Sized Flags at West LA Veterans Affairs Office

Rosebrock was cited on Memorial Day 2016 for allegedly displaying two napkin-sized American flags on a fence near the entrance to the Veterans Park.

A 75-year-old military veteran was acquitted Tuesday of illegally hanging an American flag on the fence of a Veterans Affairs facility in West Los Angeles without permission.

The federal misdemeanor count against Robert Rosebrock stems from a VA statute that prohibits the posting of materials or "placards'' on a VA property except when authorized by the head of the facility.

Rosebrock was cited on Memorial Day 2016 for allegedly displaying two napkin-sized American flags on a fence adjacent to the "Great Lawn Gate'' entrance to the Veterans Park. He and fellow veterans have been assembling at the site nearly every Sunday and Memorial Day for the past nine years to protest what they believe is the VA's failure to make full use of the expansive property for the benefit and care of veterans, particularly homeless veterans.

At the conclusion of a bench trial, U.S. Magistrate Judge Steve Kim found Rosebrock not guilty of the violation, which carries a maximum six-month prison sentence. The judge concluded that no evidence was presented showing Rosebrock lacked permission to post the flags or that Rosebrock had displayed them in the first place.

Homeless activist Ted Hayes, dressed as Uncle Sam in a red, white and blue outfit, joined about two-dozen observers in Kim's courtroom in downtown Los Angeles. Military veteran Gene Simes, national chairman of a Rochester, New York-based veterans advocacy group, stood in uniform at attention with a folded flag under his arm during the proceeding.

The gallery burst into applause at the judge's ruling.

Rosebrock said outside court that he was "honored that the flag was exonerated -- and for once the veterans got a victory.''

Rosebrock initially faced two additional counts for allegedly taking unauthorized photos of a VA police officer at the VA's Great Lawn Gate without permission.

However, in a pretrial decision, Kim ruled that the regulation, as applied to the Great Lawn, was not reasonable under even the most lenient First Amendment standard.

The VA argued that the statute was necessary to guard against invasive and distracting media activities and to protect veterans' privacy. But the court rejected that claim, finding that if the VA wanted to protect veterans' privacy, it would ban all photography, not just photography for news, commercial or advertising purposes.

Tharaldson hits billionth gallon of ethanol, announces expansion

CASSELTON, N.D. — Tharaldson Ethanol on April 5 quietly marked its 1 billionth gallon of fuel ethanol production. The Casselton, N.D., company also announced it will increase annual production this year, making it the sixth largest ethanol producer in the United States.

They'll increase by 180 million gallons — a 7 percent increase this year, but up 38 percent from its original design in 2008. The increase will be due to some changes in fermenters and cooling towers. The investment is expected to cost $2.5 million to $3 million.

Gary Tharaldson is owner of Tharaldson Motels II, Inc., of Fargo, which built the plant nine years ago. The plant grinds roughly 60 million bushels of corn a year, about 90 percent of which comes from a 60-mile radius of the plant.

"We're good for the area — good for the farmers; they're good for us," Tharaldson said, accompanying visitors for a tour of some new construction on the day of the milestone. Tharaldson said the plant's success allows it to be a good community citizen. The company recently announced it will put $1 million into Casselton Public School's athletic facilities.

Initially, the hotels were funding the ethanol industry foray, but now it's the other way around.

Tharaldson is a self-made businessman. He started buying motels in 1982 and has built more than 400 motels. He sold one portfolio of 200 hotels to the employees. He built another portfolio of 143 motels and sold them to Goldman Sachs Group, Inc., in 2006 for $1.3 billion and used some of that cash to build the ethanol plant in 2008.

Initially, Tharaldson consulted with Harold Newman, a Jamestown, N.D., billboard marketer who, with his family, owned and ran the Alchemy Ltd. ethanol plant at Grafton, N.D.

"He was always telling us what a good deal ethanol was back in those days," Tharaldson said.

Ethanol plants then were making $1 a gallon profit. Casselton had rail, natural gas and access to water through Fargo.

Ryan Thorpe, chief operating officer of the ethanol company, said the plant is among the top 10 percent for efficiency and profitability in the country.

"It's all about continued improvement every day," Thorpe said. "We want to be the low-cost producers. North Dakota this year produced as much corn as Ohio. The technology has come a long way—the farmers, the seed companies."

Cutting cost
Ryan Carter, general manager for the plant, said the plant is already in the top 5 to 8 percent of the country's ethanol plants for efficiency, measured by cost per gallon of ethanol and ethanol per bushel of corn.

Since 2011, the company has improved from 46 cents a gallon in production costs to 27 cents. The addition may yield an additional 1 percent efficiency, which involves both the ethanol and corn oil and distiller's grains. A penny a gallon increase is $1.8 million.

Along with improving efficiency, the company also increased output, climbing in 2013 from 130 million gallons to 153 million gallons, followed in 2016 by an increase to 168 million gallons.

The company in 2016 also socked $25 million into replacing the dryers they'd initially installed.

"Initially, we'd tried a new technology (for distillers grain) drying that is used in the sugar beet industry — a fluidized steam bed dryer," Thorpe explained. "They're very efficient and it would have been a game-changer for the ethanol industry if we'd gotten it to work. We tried it for a year, but distillers grains have a different bulk-density than beet pulp and we had to — unfortunately — scrap that dryer." They installed drying equipment made by ICM Inc., of Colwich, Kans.

Dried distillers grains make up about 20 percent of Tharaldson Ethanol's revenues. The distillers grains are a co-product that starts out at 68 percent moisture — two-thirds water — and must be dried to about 10 percent moisture.

DDGs generally trade at about 85 to 90 percent of the value of standard No. 2 yellow corn. In the past, the DDGs have been as high as 130 percent of the corn price. The ratios are affected by the trade and production policies of countries like China, Thorpe said.

The plant has made money in all but 2009 and 2012 — two years out of nine. The most profitable years were 2013 and 2014 when corn was at its most expensive, he said.

"The price of ethanol is more a function of the price of gas and how people are driving," Thorpe said.

Tharaldson operates 35 hotels and has nearly 60 under various stages of development. The ethanol plant contributes to 20 to 25 percent of the equity the company needs for new motels, if he opens 20 new hotels a year, he said.

"We want to have 40 opened by the end of the year and 120 opened within four years," Tharaldson said. "The next four years are heavy growth years for us."

After that, will there be an ethanol expansion? Perhaps elsewhere?

Thorpe says the company is unlikely to expand production at Casselton again. It might be possible to expand elsewhere, but the company isn't actively seeking those opportunities.

The future looks bright, he said.

President Donald Trump has made statements supporting the ethanol industry.

"I envision he will keep that promise," Thorpe said, adding that the current oversupply of corn in the U.S. and the world makes ethanol fuel "the cheapest molecule you can put in your fuel tank."

Sixth largest ethanol plant
With its latest expansion, Tharaldson Ethanol of Casselton, N.D., will rank sixth among plants of its type in the U.S., although competitors often make similar expansions.

Production figures are often private, but here are ratings published in trade journals:
1) ADM — Cedar Rapids, Iowa: 515 million gallons.
2) ADM — Decatur, Ill.: 365 million gallons.
3) ADM — Columbus, Neb.: 350 million gallons.
4) Cargill — Blair, Neb.: 190 million gallons.
5) ADM — Peoria, Ill.: 185 million gallons
6) Tharaldson — Casselton, N.D.: 180 million gallons.

Gorsuch heads for confirmation as Senate tears up own rules

WASHINGTON (AP) -- In a confrontation that could reshape the Supreme Court for generations, Republicans tore up the Senate's voting rules Thursday to allow Trump nominee Neil Gorsuch to ascend to the high court over furious Democratic objections.

Democrats denounced the GOP's use of what both sides dubbed the "nuclear option" to put Gorsuch on the court, calling it an epic power grab that would further corrode politics in Congress, the courts and the nation. Many Republicans bemoaned reaching that point, too, but they blamed Democrats for pushing them to it.

"We will sadly point to today as a turning point in the history of the Senate and the Supreme Court," declared Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York.

"This is going to be a chapter, a monumental event in the history of the Senate, not for the better but for the worse," warned Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a senior Republican.

A final confirmation vote on Gorsuch is expected Friday, and he should be sworn in soon to hear the final cases of the term. He was nominated by President Donald Trump shortly after the January inauguration.

The Senate change, affecting how many votes a nominee needs for confirmation, will apply to all future Supreme Court candidates, likely ensuring more ideological justices chosen with no need for consultation with the minority party. Trump himself predicted to reporters aboard Air Force One that "there could be as many as four" Supreme Court vacancies for him to fill during his administration.

"In fact, under a certain scenario, there could even be more than that," Trump said. There is no way to know how many there will be, if any, but several justices are quite elderly.

Even as they united in indignation, lawmakers of both parties, pulled by fierce political forces from left and right, were unwilling to stop the confirmation rules change.

The maneuvering played out in a tense Senate chamber with most members in their seats, a rare and theatrical occurrence.

First Democrats tried to mount a filibuster in an effort to block Gorsuch by denying him the 60 votes needed to advance to a final vote. That was successful only briefly, as Gorsuch fell five votes short. 

Then Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., raised a point of order, suggesting that Supreme Court nominees should not be subjected to a 60-vote threshold but instead a simple majority in the 100-member Senate.

McConnell was overruled, but he appealed the ruling. And on that he prevailed on a 52-48 party-line vote. The 60-vote filibuster requirement on Supreme Court nominees was effectively gone, and with it the last vestige of bipartisanship on presidential nominees in an increasingly polarized Senate.

The developments were accompanied by unusually bitter accusations and counter-accusations. And yet in many ways the showdown had been pre-ordained, the final chapter in years of partisan warfare over judicial nominees.

In 2005, with the Senate under GOP control, Republicans prepared to utilize the "nuclear option" to remove the filibuster for lower-court nominees. A bipartisan deal at the time headed off that change. 

But then in 2013, with Democrats in charge and Republicans blocking President Barack Obama's nominees, the Democrats did take the step, removing the filibuster for all presidential appointments except the Supreme Court.

McConnell accused Democrats of forcing his hand by trying to filibuster a highly qualified nominee in Gorsuch, 49, a 10-year veteran of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver with a consistently conservative record.

"This is the latest escalation in the left's never-ending judicial war, the most audacious yet, and it cannot and will not stand," McConnell said.

But Democrats were unable to pull back from the brink, partly because they remain livid over McConnell's decision last year to block Obama's Supreme Court nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, who was denied even a hearing after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February 2016. Instead McConnell kept Scalia's seat open, a calculation that is now paying off for Republicans and Trump.

Even as Graham and other senior Republicans lamented the voting change, McConnell and some allies argued that all they were doing was returning to a time, not long ago, when filibusters of judicial nominees were unusual, and it was virtually unheard-of to try to block a Supreme Court nominee in that fashion. Even Clarence Thomas got onto the court without a filibuster despite highly contentious confirmation hearings involving sexual harassment claims.

Some senators fear that the next to go could be the legislative filibuster, one of the last remaining mechanisms to force bipartisan cooperation on Capitol Hill. Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine 
and Democrat Chris Coons of Delaware were circulating a letter to colleagues Thursday in support of keeping the filibuster in place for legislation.

With his final vote set for Friday, Gorsuch counts 55 supporters: the 52 Republicans, along with three moderate Democrats from states that Trump won - Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Donnelly of Indiana. A fourth Senate Democrat, Michael Bennet from Gorsuch's home state of Colorado, refused to join in the filibuster Thursday but announced he would vote against Gorsuch's confirmation.
Associated Press writers Mark Sherman and Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.
© 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Learn more about our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.