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Two men arrested in separate child porn cases

HANFORD — The Hanford Police Department recently arrested two men, one a registered sex offender, in separate child pornography cases.

On Aug. 1, police officials said they received a cyber tip from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children regarding a Google Account user that was in possession of hundreds of videos and photos of child pornography.

United States federal law defines child pornography as any visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct involving someone under the age of 18.

During the investigation, officials determined 40-year-old Ted James Wooten was the user of the account and resided in to 700 block of Kavanaugh Street in Hanford.

On Nov. 14, Hanford detectives and officers from the Problem Oriented Policing team served a search warrant at the address.

Detectives said multiple electronic devices were located at the residence that contained hundreds of photos and videos of child pornography.

They said Wooten was also located at the residence and was arrested on suspicion of child pornography, with the enhancement of possession of over 600 images.

Authorities said Wooten is already a registered sex offender for a felony conviction in 2008 for lewd or lascivious act with a child under 14 years of age.

On Aug. 15, officials said the department again received multiple cyber tips from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children regarding a account user that was in possession of child pornography.

During the investigation, officials said they determined the user of the account resided in the city of Hanford.

On Dec. 20, Hanford detectives and officers from the Problem Oriented Policing team served a search warrant at an address in the 900 block of Davinci Street.

They said multiple electronic devices were located at the residence, with at least one device containing child pornography.

Police said 22-year-old Austin Hermosillo was contacted at the residence and it was determined he was the user of the account and was in possession of the child pornography.

Authorities said Hermosillo was arrested and booked into the Kings County Jail on suspicion of child pornography.

According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children website, its CyberTipline is the nation’s centralized reporting system for the online exploitation of children.

Through the CyberTipline, the public and electronic service providers can make reports of suspected online enticement of children for sexual acts; extra-familial child sexual molestation; child pornography; child sex tourism; child sex trafficking; unsolicited obscene materials sent to a child; misleading domain names; and misleading words or digital images on the internet.

The center’s staff reviews each tip and work to find a potential location for the incident reported so that it may be made available to the appropriate law enforcement agency for possible investigation.

Hanford Police Lt. Gregory Freiner said just like other law enforcement agencies, the department receives tips from places like the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and other agencies that are set up to monitor these types of activities. He said the department is given general locations that officers and detectives follow-up on.

“They are time consuming investigations because of the technology required to make the connections,” Freiner said.

As of Nov. 20, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children officials said the CyberTipline has received over 42.9 million reports.

“The disturbing reality is that the internet platforms we use every day to connect with each other and share information, including social media, online gaming, and e-mail, are now being used to disseminate and collect [child sexual abuse material],” said the Center’s website. “[The material] can be found in virtually any online realm.”

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Hanford gym opens in time for New Year's resolutions

HANFORD — Everyone’s favorite part of the New Year — aside from the parties and excuses to buy new "Garfield" calendars, of course — is making New Year’s resolutions.

And for those in Hanford whose resolutions include hitting the gym or losing weight, a new option has popped up right in time.

Planet Fitness has recently opened up shop at 1919 W. Lacey and will host an official grand opening complete with food, raffles, prizes and live music on Jan. 30.

“Any gym will see an influx of new members at the beginning of the year, but we try to keep members engaged and meeting their goals so they don’t fall off and give up in February,” said regional manager Megan McCright.

The 24-hour gym, currently with 15 employees, is packed wall to wall with treadmills, exercise bikes, free weights, machines and many other means of tackling those extra pounds that may have been added over the Thanksgiving to Christmas stretch of delicious meals.

“Planet Fitness is really big on cardio, so we have a ton of treadmills and other cardio machines,” McCright said. “It’s not to be able to get right on a machine and not have to wait.”

McCright said that the gym caters to first-time gym users by having a variety of easy-to-use equipment.

Another perk for those new to the gym or returning after a long hiatus is that members have access to unlimited fitness training for no additional costs. Currently, memberships begin at $10 per month.

According to Planet Fitness’ website, the six best questions to get started with a fitness trainer include asking them if you’re performing an exercise correctly, how to brace one’s core, how long to rest between sets and work outs, what to eat, how often to hit the gym and how to stretch properly.

These are questions that can make the most of a workout, though sometimes those new to the gym may not have anyone to ask — or they may not feel comfortable enough to ask.

Anyone who’s been to a gym may have felt that feeling of not knowing the culture of the gym, the rules, where to start or any number of things that may make a getting acclimated a bit awkward, but McCright said that Planet Fitness is there to help with those early-experience jitters, should they arise.

The gym’s motto of “no critics” is more than just a vaguely motivational saying on the wall, McCright said.

“We’re known as the judgment-free zone and that goes into everything from who we hire to our policies inside of the gym. We have a zero-tolerance for bullying and anything close to intimidation — we just don’t allow it,” McCright said.

“We’ve all gone into the gym for the first time, which may be one of the most intimidating things you can do. You don’t know how the machines work, you feel like everybody’s staring at you, so everything we do, we try to make it as user-friendly and non-intimidating as possible,” general manager Danee Hall said.

The idea is to make everyone feel welcome, McCright said, no matter if they’re if they’re stepping into a gym for the first or if they’re training to be the next Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Members can also share their progress and goals while encouraging others and receiving encouragement through the Planet of Triumphs, the gym’s social media platform.

The social media platform is a great way for those in The Valley to connect, McCright said. The same owners operate the Planet Fitness gyms in Porterville, Visalia and now Hanford. The gym’s “black card” members are allowed to freely visit each of those gyms — and many do, allowing them to get to know the staff and trainers at each of the gyms.

“It’s a great perk for those who, say, live in Hanford but work in Visalia,” Hall said.

The gym also features message machines, tanning booths and red light therapy machines.

For more information, call 559-530-9571.

Wall Street notches best day in 10 years in holiday rebound

Stocks rocketed on Wednesday in Wall Street's best day in 10 years, snapping a stomach-churning, four-day losing streak and giving some post-Christmas cheer to a market that has been battered this December.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average shot up more than 1,000 points — its biggest single-day point gain ever — rising nearly 5 percent as investors returned from a one-day Christmas break. The broader S&P 500 index also gained 5 percent, and the technology-heavy Nasdaq rose 5.8 percent.

But even with the rally, the market remains on track for its worst December since 1931, during the depths of the Depression, and could finish 2018 with its steepest losses in a decade.

"The real question is: Do we have follow-through for the rest of this week?" said Sam Stovall, chief investment strategist for CFRA.

Technology companies, health care stocks and banks drove much of the broad rally. Retailers also were big gainers, after a holiday shopping season marked by robust spending. Amazon had its biggest gain in more than a year.

Retail sales rose 5.1 percent between Nov. 1 and Dec. 24 from a year ago, according to Mastercard SpendingPulse, which tracked spending online and in stores across all payment types, including those who paid by cash or check. Total sales topped $850 billion this year, Mastercard said.

"From shopping aisles to online carts, consumer confidence translated into holiday cheer for retail," said Steve Sadove, a senior adviser at Mastercard and the former CEO of the department store chain Saks.

Energy stocks also rebounded as the price of U.S. crude oil posted its biggest one-day increase in more than two years.

But what really might have pushed stocks over the top was a signal from Washington that President Donald Trump would not try to oust the chairman of the Federal Reserve.

In recent days, Trump's tweet attacks on the Fed and chairman Jerome Powell for raising interest rates stoked fears about the central bank's independence, unnerving the market.

The partial government shutdown that began over the weekend also weighed on the market, as did personnel turmoil inside the Trump administration, trade tensions with China, the slowing global economy and worries that corporate profits are going to slip sooner or later.

The Dow lost 1,883 points over the prior four trading sessions and is still down 2,660 for December.

Wednesday's gains pulled the S&P 500 back from the brink of what Wall Street calls a bear market — a 20 percent tumble from an index's peak. Another day of heavy losses would have marked the end of the longest bull market for stocks in modern history — a run of nearly 10 years.

The S&P is now down 15.8 percent since its all-time high on Sept. 20.

All told, the S&P 500 rose 116.60 points Wednesday, or 5 percent, to 2,467.70. The Dow soared 1,086.25 points, or 5 percent, to 22,878.45. The Nasdaq gained 361.44 points, or 5.8 percent, to 6,554.36. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks picked up 62.89 points, or 5 percent, at 1,329.81.

Trading volume was lighter than usual following the holiday. Markets in Europe, Australia and Hong Kong were closed.

Among tech stocks, Adobe rose 8.7 percent. Credit card company Visa climbed 7 percent, and Mastercard was up 6.7 percent. Among big retailers, Amazon rose 9.4 percent, Kohl's 10.3 percent and Nordstrom 5.8 percent.

Most economists expect growth to slow in 2019, though not by enough to cause a full-blown recession. Unemployment is at 3.7 percent, the lowest since 1969. Inflation is tame. Pay has picked up. Consumers boosted their spending this holiday season.

The market apparently got a lift Wednesday when Kevin Hassett, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal that the Fed chairman is in no danger of being fired.

The president could help restore some stability to the market if he "gives his thumbs a vacation," Stovall said. "Tweet things that are more constructive in terms of working out an agreement with Democrats and with China. And then just remain silent as it relates to the Fed."

Trump makes first visit to US troops in harm's way

AL-ASAD AIRBASE, Iraq — In an unannounced trip to Iraq on Wednesday, President Donald Trump staunchly defended his decision to withdraw U.S. forces from neighboring Syria despite a drumbeat of criticism from military officials and allies who don't think the job fighting Islamic State militants there is over.

Trump, making his first presidential visit to troops in a troubled region, said it's because the U.S. military had all but eliminated IS-controlled territory in both Iraq and Syria that he decided to withdraw 2,000 forces from Syria. He said the decision to leave Syria showed America's renewed stature on the world stage and his quest to put "America first."

"We're no longer the suckers, folks," Trump told U.S. servicemen and women at al-Asad Airbase in western Iraq, about 100 miles west of Baghdad. "We're respected again as a nation."

The decision to pull U.S. forces from Syria, however, stunned national security advisers and U.S. allies and prompted the resignations of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who was not on the trip, and the U.S. envoy to the coalition fighting the Islamic extremist group. The militant group, also known as ISIS, has lost nearly all its territory in Iraq and Syria but is still seen as a threat.

Iraq declared IS defeated within its borders in December 2017, but Trump's trip was shrouded in secrecy, which has been standard practice for presidents flying into conflict areas.

Air Force One, lights out and window shutters drawn, flew overnight from Washington, landing at an airbase west of Baghdad in darkness Wednesday evening. George W. Bush made four trips to Iraq as president and President Barack Obama made one.

During his three-plus hours on the ground, Trump did not meet with any Iraqi officials, but spoke on the phone with Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi. He stopped at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany on his way back, for a second unannounced visit to troops and military leaders.

Trump's Iraq visit appeared to have inflamed sensitivities about the continued presence of U.S. forces in Iraq. The two major blocs in the Iraqi parliament both condemned the visit, likening it to a violation of Iraqi sovereignty.

The airbase where Trump spoke is about 155 mile from Hajin, a Syrian town near the Iraqi border where Kurdish fighters are still battling IS extremists. Trump has said IS militants have been eradicated, but the latest estimate is that IS still holds about 60 square miles of territory in that region of Syria, although fighters also fled the area and are in hiding in other pockets of the country.

Mattis was supposed to continue leading the Pentagon until late February but Trump moved up his exit and announced that Patrick Shanahan, deputy defense secretary, would take the job on Jan. 1 and he was in "no rush" to nominate a new defense chief.

"Everybody and his uncle wants that position," Trump told reporters traveling with him in Iraq. "And also, by the way, everybody and her aunt, just so I won't be criticized."

Critics said the U.S. exit from Syria, the latest in Trump's increasingly isolationist-style foreign policy, would provide an opening for IS to regroup, give Iran a green light to expand its influence in the region and leave U.S.-backed Kurdish forces vulnerable to attacks from Turkey.

"I made it clear from the beginning that our mission in Syria was to strip ISIS of its military strongholds," said Trump, who wore an olive green bomber style jacket as he was welcomed by chants of "USA! USA!" and speakers blaring Lee Greenwood's song, "God Bless the USA."

"We'll be watching ISIS very closely," said Trump, who was joined by first lady Melania Trump.

Trump also said he had no plans to withdraw the 5,200 U.S. forces in Iraq. That's down from about 170,000 in 2007 at the height of the surge of U.S. forces to combat sectarian violence unleashed by the U.S.-led invasion to topple dictator Saddam Hussein.

Trump spoke on the phone with the prime minister, but the White House said security concerns and the short notice of the trip prevented the president from meeting him.

The prime minister's office said "differences in points of view over the arrangements" prevented the two from meeting but they discussed security issues and Trump's order to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria over the phone. Abdul-Mahdi's office also did not say whether he had accepted an invitation to the White House. But Trump press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters on the flight back that the Iraqi leader had agreed to come.

Trump said that after U.S. troops in Syria return home, Iraq could still be used to stage attacks on IS militants.

"We can use this as a base if we wanted to do something in Syria," he said. "If we see something happening with ISIS that we don't like, we can hit them so fast and so hard" that they "really won't know what the hell happened."

Trump said it's time to leave Syria because the U.S. should not be involved in nation-building, and that other wealthy nations should shoulder the cost of rebuilding Syria. He also said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has agreed to battle "any remnants of ISIS" in Syria, which shares a border with Turkey.