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States help run US National Parks in federal government shutdown

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While U.S. National Parks will generally remain open with a skeleton staff through the federal government shutdown, Republican governors in at least two states are working to make sure public restrooms get cleaned and visitor centers stay open.

The government shutdown of all but essential federal services due to a fight on Capitol Hill over funding for U.S. President Donald Trump’s wall on the Mexican border comes at the height of the Christmas travel season.

The National Park Service said this week that parks “will remain as accessible as possible,” in the same way as happened during a three-day government shutdown in January, when the gates to about two-thirds of national parks and monuments remained open.

“However services that require staffing and maintenance such as campgrounds and full-service restrooms will not be operating,” Jeremy Barnum, the National Parks Service chief spokesman, said in a statement.

The Republican governors of Utah and Arizona have promised to step in to fill some of the breach, in part to protect local businesses in and around some of the country’s most spectacular natural landscapes that depend on tourist spending.

“Regardless of what happens in Washington, the Grand Canyon will not close on our watch,” Arizona Governor Doug Ducey said in a statement on Friday. The Arizona Office of Tourism will help ensure that restrooms are cleaned, trash is collected and shuttle buses operate throughout the shutdown, Ducey said.

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All five of Utah’s national parks will remain open, and the three most popular ones will have maintenance costs underwritten by the state during the shutdown, according to Vicki Varela, the Utah Office of Tourism’s managing director.

Zion National Park alone drew 107,000 visitors between Dec. 22 and Dec. 27 a year ago, Varela said.

“This time of year is the most remarkable time of year to experience it because the snow against that red rock is just breathtaking,” she said in a telephone interview.

Utah Governor Gary Herbert authorized the temporary funding for custodial and visitor center services, which will cost an estimated $18,000 to $19,000 for Zion. “It’s really modest on the part of the state to protect the quality of the experience for visitors,” Varela said.

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In New York, the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island closed down for a day during the January shutdown before Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, ordered state tourism funds be used to reopen them. His office did not respond to questions about whether he would repeat the exercise this weekend, and National Park Service officials in New York declined to discuss their plans.

Some conservationists warned that it was safer to shutter the parks entirely, as happened under Barack Obama’s presidential administration during a 2013 shutdown, rather than have them open with skeleton staff.

During the January shutdown, a pregnant elk was killed in Zion and tourists in Yellowstone drove snowmobiles dangerously close to the Old Faithful geyser, said Theresa Pierno, president of the National Parks Conservation Association.

“It’s unrealistic and dangerous to think that parks can remain open with only a skeleton crew and continue with business as usual,” Pierno said in a statement

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MSNBC’s Mika scorches Trump over sex assault denials: ‘What type of woman would you rape?’

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MSNBC's Mika Brzezinski revealed the horrific meaning behind President Donald Trump's defense against new rape claims.

Author and columnist E. Jean Carroll has accused the president of raping her more than 20 years ago after a chance meeting at a Manhattan department store, but Trump insists he couldn't have assaulted her because she's not his "type."

"We're talking about sexual assault, talking about actual rape and the president said that she's not his type," the "Morning Joe" co-host said. "So I guess the follow-up question is, since you have a type when it comes to rape, what's your type, Donald Trump, and is it any of the other women who claimed that you raped them?"

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Bolton says Iran silence on US talks offer ‘deafening’

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US National Security Advisor John Bolton on Tuesday described as "deafening" Iran's apparent silence on an offer to negotiate with Washington.

"The president has held the door open to real negotiations," Bolton told journalists in Jerusalem.

"In response, Iran's silence has been deafening," he added.

Bolton is in Jerusalem for what Israel described as unprecedented talks with his Russian and Israeli counterparts, along with meeting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Speaking alongside the US advisor, Netanyahu said there was "a wider basis for cooperation between the three of us than many believe."

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Iran air defense missiles must be taken seriously: experts

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The shooting down last week of a sophisticated US drone by an Iranian missile demonstrates that Tehran's air defence capabilities can pose a challenge to US air superiority, experts say.

The Global Hawk, an advanced US navy surveillance drone, was flying at high altitude -- it can reach 60,000 feet (18 kilometers) -- early Friday local time when it was struck by a ground-to-air missile by Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards.

"The shooting down of the drone shows Iran is revealing a capability and choosing to message it to the United States," said Becca Wasser, an analyst at Rand Corp.

"The fact that Iran was able to shoot down the drone demonstrates that they have developed or purchased fairly significant capabilities and are skilled at employing these systems."

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