Archive For September 24, 2021

A 6-Year-Old Girl Died After Ride Operators Reportedly Did Not Secure Her Seat Belts

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A 6-Year-Old Girl Died After Ride Operators Reportedly Did Not Secure Her Seat Belts

The Haunted Mine Drop is shown in this July 2017 file photo at Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park in Glenwood Springs, Colo. A recent investigation revealed a 6-year-old girl on vacation with her family died earlier this month after operators of the vertical drop ride did not properly check her seatbelts.

Chelsea Self/AP

Chelsea Self/AP

A 6-year-old Colorado girl fell to her death at the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park in Glenwood Springs earlier this month after ride operators failed to properly check her seatbelts, state officials said.

Wongel Estifanos of Colorado Springs, Colo., died from her injuries on Sept. 5 after investigators said she fell 110 feet from the Haunted Mine Drop ride.

Estifanos was visiting the amusement park during Labor Day weekend while on vacation with her family.

In a report from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, state investigators say the child was sitting on top of two seat belts previously buckled on the ride instead of wearing them properly them across her lap.

State investigators said an alarm system warned workers of the issue, but two of the workers, who had been hired within the past two months, weren’t properly trained to fix the issue.

One of the workers reset the system and began to dispatch the ride, investigators said.

“Safety is, and always has been, our top priority,” park officials told KDVR-TV.

Park officials told the local broadcaster they’re continuing to work closely with Colorado Department of Labor and Employment safety experts who are reviewing the incident.

The Haunted Mine Drop, which opened in July 2017, is referred to as the first drop ride to go underground, dropping riders 110 feet inside of Iron Mountain.

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‘What Do You Need A Song For?’: Esperanza Spalding’s Search For The Answer

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‘What Do You Need A Song For?’: Esperanza Spalding’s Search For The Answer

At the heart of Esperanza Spalding’s new album is the question “What do you need a song for?” NPR’s Ailsa Chang talks with the Grammy-winning musician about her album, Songwrights Apothecary Lab.


AILSA CHANG, HOST:

There is one question at the heart of Esperanza Spalding’s new album – what do you need a song for?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ESPERANZA SPALDING: It’s such a simple question, and I feel like we have the capacity to answer it (laughter).

CHANG: Spalding is a Grammy-winning jazz singer and bassist. And to answer this seemingly simple question – what do you need a song for? – she needed more than just other musicians. So she basically created a whole laboratory, a cross-disciplinary group of neuroscientists, psychologists, ethnomusicologists and more. She calls it the “Songwrights Apothecary Lab.”

SPALDING: We are like shipwrights, you know? We build things. We build things that we want to be vessels to ferry people from one point to another point, one shore to another shore or even through a vast, you know, uncharted terrain.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CHANG: The result is an album of sonic concoctions, each with an intended effect on the listener. Some are for stress relief or opening the heart; others are a little more practical.

SPALDING: Like, my mother, when I asked her what she needed a song for recently, she was like, I need a song to help me keep on schedule.

CHANG: (Laughter).

SPALDING: So I wrote her this song she could listen to every morning that was kind of structured as a reminder of what the week was going to be like to just kind of keep her encouraged.

CHANG: Amazing.

SPALDING: I don’t know if it’s the function of the song, but she has this song now that she wants to listen to at a certain time every morning. So it’s almost like she’s using that song as, like, the raw material to change her relationship to this issue. And I think the music that we’re intending to make in the lab is, like, scathing through that spectrum, you know? A very suggestive and kind of abstract and poetic in its application – it’s very specific. And what grows out of the lab is so much in response to the way that people in the lab and the guests coming into the lab respond to that question – what do you need a song for?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SPALDING: (Vocalizing).

CHANG: Well, let’s talk about the music specifically – how, like, each of these tracks, you know, they’re set up with a particular function. Each of them has a specific, quote, “intended use and effect” – those are your words – for the listener, right?

SPALDING: (Laughter) They are my words. They are my words.

CHANG: For example, like, No. 1 is, quote, “designed for memorizing, then hearing internally, as an aid to self-soothe during an acute moment of stress in the home.”

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “FORMWELA 1”)

SPALDING: (Vocalizing).

CHANG: Can you tell me about that song in particular? Like, how did you go about designing the effect on the listener?

SPALDING: Absolutely. I mean, the intended effect – the invited effect, I should say. Well, I was stuck at home with my beloved family, who I love to pieces, obviously, and noticed things that – I hadn’t actually been around them for a long period of time, in a very long time.

CHANG: (Laughter).

SPALDING: So, you know, you get past that, like, yeah, it’s nice to see you, and you get into these moments where it’s like, there’s no place to go. You’re just in, like, a crackling – you know, all that old family history stuff?

CHANG: Yeah.

SPALDING: That – it’s like everybody’s kind of, like, doing the thing that, you know, bothers the other person, and you can’t really escape. And there’s just this, like, ugh – this, like, frequency of stress. And I was thinking like, huh, for these moments, when I need to stay in the room and I can’t go, it’d be so cool if there was something I could activate internally so at least, like, within my vessel, I’m at ease or I feel like I’m full of a sound that – you know, it’s almost like, you know, if the container is full of water, there’s not room for the other water to get in, you know? There’s not room for the other thing to pour in.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “FORMWELA 1”)

SPALDING: (Singing) In and around the walls of your heavy minded palace. Suddenly the air goes miraculously clear. I’m cupping your brim of the never-ending chalice. In rushes love’s atmosphere.

CHANG: I mean, it’s just incredible to me how specific some of the functions for these individual tracks are, right? Like, there’s also one that’s intended to steady the heart during a new romance. Tell me about that track.

SPALDING: Ooh, yes. Well, eee (ph)…

CHANG: (Laughter).

SPALDING: I mean, you know, that track is partially from personal experience. And, I mean, I’ll just say this – if you’ve found yourself in the dynamic where you were like, uh-oh, I’m worried about getting pulled out of orbit and being so enamored with this new person that I just get sucked into the sun of their newness and I burn to a crisp, my hope is that in a moment like that, you would think of the song and think of the lyrics, which are this invitation to, in a way, diffuse that fear by admitting it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “FORMWELA 6”)

SPALDING: (Singing) But gravity still pulls his thread.

And that’s a song that I need, and I know a lot of folks who need it to, you know? And…

CHANG: Yeah. No, I totally relate to that feeling of feeling that you are going to be sucked into the sun of someone.

SPALDING: And it’s hard to admit it. It’s so silly. Like, many of us have endured that and gone through that, and I think that there’s probably already a song for everything in this world. So really, one of the primary invitations of this lab is for us to remember the resource that we have in music.

CHANG: Absolutely.

SPALDING: I mean, maybe it’s a little self-referential or something, but I use these songs. I use these songs in my life. You know, I – like, it helps me (laughter). They help me. Other people’s songs help me, too. But maybe I’m responding to the question, what do I need a song for, of trying to write the song that maybe we don’t have yet for these very specific functions, you know?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “FORMWELA 10”)

SPALDING: (Singing) I saw what I wanted and took it for me, without the strings attached, like they’re supposed to be. I didn’t know how deep some feelings can go. You can really do some damage down there in the soul of another.

CHANG: Do you envision that people will put these songs on in certain situations that either perfectly replicate the purpose that you articulate for each of the tracks on this album or a purpose that is similar to what you describe for, you know, that particular track?

SPALDING: I think it will be a fun jam because then it’s like we’re playing together. Then it’s like we’re exploring together, right? And I also hope that, just like all music, any listener will use their own agency and creativity and put it on when and where they need it, for whatever purpose, even if it’s just, like, this is cool; I just want to hear it, you know?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “FORMWELA 10”)

SPALDING: (Singing) Can you see it? When you taste it, can you be it?

CHANG: So do you feel that you have answered the question, what do you need a song for?

SPALDING: Ooh. I’m getting more and more excited by the invitation, by that ask, because every time I ask that, the responses lead to more openings, invitations and potential experiments in the lab. So it’s almost like, now I know the question I’m asking, and that’s a really beautiful place to be.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “FORMWELA 10”)

SPALDING: (Vocalizing).

CHANG: Bassist and singer Esperanza Spalding. Her new album is called “Songwrights Apothecary Lab.”

Thank you so much for joining us today.

SPALDING: Thank you for being with me and inviting me to talk about this journey.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “FORMWELA 3”)

SPALDING: (Singing) …Undead, unsaid and unchanging.

Copyright © 2021 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Quad Countries Have 1st In-Person Summit At The White House

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Quad Countries Have 1st In-Person Summit At The White House

President Biden hosted the first face to face summit with leaders of Japan, Australia and India. The four countries are known as the Quad and see themselves as a democratic bulwark against China.


AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

At the White House today, President Biden hosted the first face-to-face summit with leaders of a key group in Asia. The U.S., Japan, Australia and India grouping is known as the Quad and see themselves as a democratic bulwark against an increasingly assertive China. NPR’s Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Sitting at tables facing each other in the East Room of the White House, President Biden described the Quad as a group of countries that share a worldview and have a common vision of the future.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: We are four major democracies with a long history of cooperation. We know how to get things done, and we are up to the challenge.

KELEMEN: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi pointed out that the group first came together to help in the wake of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Now, it is promoting a vaccine initiative that Modi says is serving the interests of humanity.

The Prime Minister of Japan, Yoshihide Suga, said the summit demonstrates a, quote, “unwavering commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific.” That was echoed by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SCOTT MORRISON: We are liberal democracies that believe in a world order that favors freedom.

KELEMEN: Before reporters were ushered out of the room, the word China didn’t come up. But concern about China is the main thing that unites this group now, says David Shullman, a former CIA analyst now with the Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank.

DAVID SHULLMAN: The Biden administration and leaders in the other three countries have put a lot of work into getting the Quad to this point, this first in-person leaders summit. But China really gets the lion’s share of the credit for making this happen.

KELEMEN: He says China has become increasingly aggressive in the South China Sea and elsewhere.

SHULLMAN: China’s doubled down on aggression along the border with India last summer. It has singled out Australia for economic punishment. That has backfired. So all of this has really ensured the staying power of the grouping.

KELEMEN: China has tried to paint the Quad as a NATO-allied (ph) group trying to start a new Cold War, says Carla Freeman of the U.S. Institute of Peace.

CARLA FREEMAN: That seems to be the subtext of a lot of China’s commentary. You know, at the same time, China is trying to downplay in a lot of its press the potential impact that the Quad can have on China. For example, today, the People’s Daily says the Quad is incapable of inflicting substantial harm to China.

KELEMEN: Still, China doesn’t like all the talk about a rules-based order. Freeman says China sees that as an attempt to preserve America’s primacy in world affairs.

FREEMAN: China does not want to have to adhere to rules that it sees as crafted by the United States to serve its own interests and so is trying to set up other opportunities, other ways of promoting its interests, through different multilateral groupings, different arrangements, including the Belt and Road Initiative.

KELEMEN: President Biden has insisted that he’s not seeking a new Cold War or a world with, as he puts it, rigid blocs. A former undersecretary of state, Paula Dobriansky, says she views the Quad as an attempt to avoid conflict.

PAULA DOBRIANSKY: I see this as a type of deterrent and containment given the actions that have already taken place emanating from Beijing.

KELEMEN: The agreements announced today are more about soft power, focusing on COVID-19 vaccines, climate change, emerging technologies and infrastructure. There are also new fellowships for students from Japan, Australia and India to come to the U.S. for STEM programs.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF BLOC PARTY SONG, “THIS MODERN LOVE”)

Copyright © 2021 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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R. Kelly’s Federal Trial Is In The Hands Of The Jury

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R. Kelly’s Federal Trial Is In The Hands Of The Jury

A courtroom sketch of R. Kelly telling Judge Ann M. Donnelly he won’t take the stand in his own defense.

Elizabeth Williams/AP

Elizabeth Williams/AP

Editor’s note: This report includes allegations of sexual and physical abuse.

It’s been six weeks of hearing from alleged victims, former employees and expert witnesses. Now the jury decides what’s next for R. Kelly.

Kelly — whose real name is Robert Sylvester Kelly — faces charges in a New York federal court of sexual exploitation of a child, bribery, kidnapping, forced labor, sexual trafficking across state lines and racketeering involving six victims. The racketeering charge positions him at the head of an enterprise that used his fame to lure people into becoming potential victims. Kelly, 54, has pleaded not guilty to all charges. If convicted, he faces a prison sentence of 10 years to life.

Kelly’s defense lawyer, Deveraux Cannick, painted the alleged victims as liars and opportunists in his closing argument Thursday, and said that the government allowed the witnesses to lie under oath. He called one woman in particular a “super-stalker” of Kelly and a “super-hustler.”

“A lot of people watched Surviving R. Kelly,” Cannick said, referring to the 2019 docuseries detailing sexual-abuse allegations against the artist, “and unfortunately, a lot of people are now surviving off R. Kelly.” He also argued that the government had failed to prove that Kelly led an organized criminal enterprise.

In the prosecution’s rebuttal to Cannick’s argument on Thursday afternoon, Assistant United States Attorney Nadia Shihata called the defense’s position “shameful,” saying: “It’s as if we took a time machine back to a courthouse in the 1950s. What they’re basically insinuating is that all of these women and girls were asking for it, and that they deserved what they got.”

Finishing her rebuttal on Friday morning, Shihata underscored the difference between Kelly’s celebrity and power, and the women who have accused him. “The defendant’s victims aren’t groupies or gold diggers. They’re human beings. They are daughters, sisters, some of them are now mothers,” she said. “And their lives matter.”

Shihata’s remark felt like an underscoring of the power differential between R. Kelly and the women, but also a reminder that the alleged victims are mostly Black women — and that this is the first high-profile #MeToo trial where the witnesses on the stand are largely Black women.

The vast majority of the trial was spent with the prosecution, who called 45 witnesses to the stand, including 11 alleged victims — six of whom testified that they were underage when they began having sexual encounters with Kelly.

Offering testimony that often echoed one another, the accusers described instances of Kelly attracting them with his fame, then abusing them sexually, physically and mentally, which they delineated in often graphic terms. Accusers also described Kelly directing them to have sex with him and with each other, and videotaping such encounters.

During her closing argument Wednesday and Thursday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Geddes walked thoroughly through each count against Kelly; her closing argument took about six and a half hours over two days, as she restated key points of evidence. Her arguments were punctuated with a large board displaying photos of Kelly and over 20 of his employees and his associates. It was reminiscent of the way government prosecutors have described mafia hierarchies to juries — but this time, it was with R. Kelly as the capo dei capi. (In 2012, 38 defendants in a Colombo crime family case that Geddes was prosecuting pleaded guilty.)

In her closing, Geddes also briefly described one of the graphic videos in evidence which the jury has seen, but not the media and public. She said that it showed Kelly grabbing one of his alleged victims by the hair and forcing her to give oral sex to another man.

“It is time to hold the defendant responsible for the pain that he inflicted on each of his victims: Aaliyah. Stephanie. Sonja. Jerhonda. Jane. And Faith,” Geddes said at the very end of her presentation on Thursday. “It is now time for the defendant to pay for his crimes. Convict him.”

By contrast, Cannick tended to appeal to the jury’s emotions in his closing argument Thursday. By turns, he invoked Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (saying that if the jurors acquit Kelly, they would be displaying the same sort of moral courage as King), Hugh Hefner (R. Kelly’s life was similarly that of a “sex symbol, a playboy,” said Cannick) and former vice president Mike Pence (who reportedly refers to his wife as “Mother,” while R. Kelly asks his girlfriends to call him “Daddy”). He also dismissed Kelly’s marriage to the singer Aaliyah, when she was just 15 years old and he was 27, as “fluff.”

One woman, who went by “Jane” during the trial, testified that she met Kelly when she was a 17-year-old aspiring singer. She said that when she went to audition for him at a hotel in Florida, he immediately pressed her for sex. In a text message submitted as evidence by the prosecution, Kelly allegedly wrote to her: “I want to groom you and be bonded with you one hundred percent.”

A man who went by the name “Louis” on the stand told the court that Kelly began sexually assaulting him when he was a 17-year-old high school student and aspiring musician.

Kelly’s defense attorneys had brought forward only five witnesses to testify over the course of three days, beginning on Monday. Kelly did not take the stand himself, nor did any of his current or former romantic partners. Instead, the defense presented a series of men who all had worked with or for Kelly in some capacity.

Larry Hood was the defense’s first witness on Monday. A childhood friend and former Chicago police officer, he worked security for Kelly, and also recruited other CPD officers to work on the side for the star. (In his 2019 book, Soulless, journalist Jim DeRogatis writes: “I’d long heard some police officers in Chicago and Olympia Fields [a Chicago suburb where Kelly lived] worked security for Kelly, and department rules didn’t stop them from doing it or require them to tell anyone about it.”)

Hood testified that he’d never seen any underage girls with the singer. But he then went on to say that he was with Kelly when the artist first met Aaliyah, with her family at their home in Detroit, and that he saw Aaliyah and her “little friends” at Kelly’s studio. (Earlier in the trial, Kelly’s former manager, Demetrius Smith, testified to having helped organize the marriage between Kelly and Aaliyah, when the late pop star was just 15 years old; Smith bribed a public assistance office in Chicago to make a fake ID for Aaliyah.)

Hood also admitted during cross-examination that he had left the police force in 2007, in good standing and with a pension, when he was convicted of a felony forgery for passing fake $100 bills. He said on the stand during this trial that he hadn’t been aware that they were fake.

“So you weren’t telling the truth when you were in court under oath when you pled guilty?” a prosecutor asked him. “Yes,” Hood answered. “And you’re in court under oath today,” the prosecutor added. Again, Hood replied, “Yes.”

On Tuesday, the defense called to the stand John Holder, Kelly’s former accountant. Holder testified that Kelly insisted on getting paid for his concerts in cash, and then using that cash to take his girlfriends shopping. He said he was hired after the IRS audited Kelly and found that he owed the government $12 million, a sum Holder reduced to $3 million. During cross-examination, prosecutors asked Holder to explain an org chart he’d made for Kelly’s business, RSK Enterprises.

Instead of an org chart’s usual lines and boxes, however, this chart depicted a red cartoon octopus. In retrospect, the octopus was an unfortunate metaphor for a company now accused of being a “criminal enterprise” whose focus was luring girls, boys and women into sexual abuse.

An org chart for R. Kelly’s company, RSK Enterprises, made by his former accountant.

courtesy of the Eastern District of New York

courtesy of the Eastern District of New York

Multiple witnesses, including former employees, testified for the prosecution that Kelly forced them into writing false letters as collateral, which they say Kelly believed would absolve him of any crimes. Employees and accusers also described the multitude of “rules” they say Kelly forced women in particular to follow, from needing to seek permission to order food to prohibiting his girlfriends to speak to other men, even during public activities such as going clothing shopping.

“He used lies, manipulation, threats, and physical abuse to dominate his victims. He used his money and public persona to hide his crimes in plain sight,” Geddes said during the prosecution’s closing arguments. She also pointed out that it’s normal for an artist to have an inner circle promoting their music and brand. “But his inner circle also served as enablers of his criminal conduct.”

Geddes also sought to point out that Kelly’s crimes were frequent and took place over decades. His abuse and subsequent marriage to Aaliyah, she said as an example, was not a single act. “After the defendant had access to Aaliyah and he surrounded her with teens that he had already been abusing,” Geddes noted, “the defendant sexually abused Aaliyah too.”

After this trial in New York ends, Kelly will head to a separate federal trial in Illinois, where he faces child pornography and obstruction charges. He also faces outstanding criminal charges in both Cook County, Ill., where he was indicted by the state attorney in Feb. 2019 on aggravated criminal sexual abuse charges involving four victims (three of them minors), and in Minnesota, where Mr. Kelly was charged in Aug. 2019 with engaging in prostitution with a minor.

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Ray Charles Reflects On His Country Music Roots

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Ray Charles Reflects On His Country Music Roots

The soul and R&B legend, who died in 2004, was recently voted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. In 1998, Charles came on Fresh Air to promote The Complete Country & Western Recordings: 1959-1986.

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Japan’s Outspoken, U.S.-Educated Vaccine Minister Wants To Be The Next Prime Minister

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Japan’s Outspoken, U.S.-Educated Vaccine Minister Wants To Be The Next Prime Minister

Taro Kono, a candidate of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and currently the minister in charge of vaccinations, delivers a speech in Tokyo on Sept. 17.

Yoshikazu Tsuno/AP

Yoshikazu Tsuno/AP

SEOUL — The race to become Japan’s next leader looks like a tossup. In the nearly half-century that Tokyo-based journalist Hiroshi Izumi has been covering party politics and elections, “This is the first time that we cannot predict the result until the ballot box will be opened,” he says.

The ballot box he’s talking about is for choosing the country’s next prime minister next week. The Liberal Democratic Party has been in power for all but two short periods since its inception in 1955, and is holding its leadership election on Sept. 29. Whoever emerges as its leader will effectively become the next prime minister. General elections will follow in November.

The LDP is essentially a coalition of factions advocating a range of policies. These factions are headed by senior men, mostly in their 70s and 80s, who generally do not look kindly upon rebels who challenge the status quo.

But one of the party’s strongest candidates has a reputation as an outspoken reformer and political maverick. In fact, if the winner could be judged just from opinion polls and media attention, Taro Kono would be the odds-on favorite. Kono, 58, is an English-speaking, eight-term LDP lawmaker and currently serves as the minister in charge of Japan’s vaccine rollout, which he has sped up.

But his party may not be inclined to make a prime minister of him.

“The party will not give mavericks positions of power unless, frankly, they’re scared witless,” observes Ellis Krauss, a Japan expert at the University of California, San Diego. And the LDP has good reason to be nervous, he adds, with the party at risk of losing seats in November’s general election.

The prospect of defeat for LDP lawmakers forced the effective resignation of outgoing Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, announced earlier this month, after less than a year in office. Suga became a political liability to his party. He is an unpopular leader, blamed for bungling the government’s response to COVID-19 — he tried to promote domestic tourism and pushed through the Tokyo Olympics during the pandemic despite widespread opposition — and for being a tone-deaf and wooden communicator.

A growing number of scandals and gaffes by LDP leaders have drawn criticism that the party is led by a gerontocracy that acts with virtual impunity, thanks to its decades-long political dominance.

“The young generation of Japan is really turned off, and Suga did nothing to stop that trend,” says Krauss. “And they need something to inspire them, even a little.”

Kono has been an outspoken critic of government policies

Among the four men and women vying to succeed Suga, Kono is seen by many as the candidate with the strongest reformist credentials. He is also one of Japan’s most popular politicians on Twitter, with a total of more than 2.4 followers on his Japanese and English accounts.

Kono has been a strong advocate for the U.S.-Japan alliance and a critic of what he sees as China’s “revisionism.”

“He would, I think, get along great with the U.S.,” says Krauss.

One thing Kono is not, though, is an upstart. He comes from a family of prominent politicians.

“Both his grandfather and his father missed being prime minister by one step,” notes Hiroshi Izumi. “Becoming prime minister is a wish cherished by three generations of the Kono family.”

Kono graduated from Georgetown University in 1986 and worked for U.S. Senators Alan Cranston of California and Richard Shelby of Alabama.

In his own career as a lawmaker, Kono became known for his liberal views on social policy and his blunt criticism of government policy.

Interviewed by NPR in 2009 about Japan’s practice of allowing foreigners to work in factories under the pretense that they are ethnic Japanese, and therefore different from other foreign workers, “It’s, uh, bull****,” he scoffed. Japanese law prohibits foreigners from taking unskilled jobs in Japan, but descendants of Japanese immigrants to South America are granted an exception. “We just wanted the cheap labor,” Kono said, “but we don’t want to open our market to the foreign countries.”

Following the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster in 2011, Kono took aim at Japan’s powerful nuclear power lobby.

“We’ve been depending on the nuclear energy so much,” he lamented. “It’s not the policy choice. It’s because of those bureaucrats and the power company and the politician got some vested interest in promoting nuclear.”

From 2012 to last year, when Kono held a series of cabinet positions including foreign minister and defense minister under former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Kono toned down his rhetoric and softened his stance on some issues, Krauss says. For example, Kono now says that Japanese nuclear power plants that shut down after the Fukushima meltdown can be restarted so that Japan can go carbon-neutral by 2050.

“He really is a maverick, and he has been one his whole career,” Krauss says. “But he’s a maverick who’s willing to compromise, in order to achieve what he wants.”

In the current campaign season, Kono has backpedaled on previous comments that he is open to allowing women to becoming emperor, an idea that’s anathema to many conservatives in his party. He is still in favor of same-sex marriage and allowing married couples to use separate surnames, neither of which Japanese law permits.

Internal squabbles may derail Kono’s ascent

While these views may prove popular with the public, Kono faces a reformer’s dilemma: he must seek the backing of the very power brokers whom the reforms could threaten.

So far, Izumi says, Kono has not even got the backing of his own faction boss, Taro Aso, a former prime minister and current deputy prime minister who has not shown a clear preference for any one candidate.

What concerns the party leaders is the possibility that Kono will try to dismantle their vested economic interests, Izumi says.

As a lawmaker, Kono has railed against the cozy relationships between Japanese politicians and business lobbies, and between media and advertisers.

“More than 40% of LDP members join the party as members of industry associations,” Izumi explains. “They represent interest groups. And the scariest thing for them is Mr. Kono doing whatever he wants.”

During the campaign, Kono has also advocated sweeping reforms of Japan’s social security system, guaranteeing minimum pension income to poor seniors who cannot afford to pay insurance premiums. This stands in contrast with Suga’s insistence that Japanese practice “self-reliance” instead of relying on public support.

If Kono becomes prime minister and then tries to break up vested interests, party members could rebel against him, Izumi warns. In that case, Kono could find himself the latest in a series of “revolving door” leaders, who — like his predecessor — are forced to quit after one term.

Chie Kobayashi contributed to this report in Tokyo.

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Taliban Official Says Strict Punishment And Executions Will Return

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Taliban Official Says Strict Punishment And Executions Will Return

Taliban leader Mullah Nooruddin Turabi in Kabul, Afghanistan, Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021. One of the founders of the Taliban, he says they will once again carry out punishments like executions and amputations of hands.

Felipe Dana/AP

Felipe Dana/AP

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — One of the founders of the Taliban and the chief enforcer of its harsh interpretation of Islamic law when they last ruled Afghanistan said the hard-line movement will once again carry out executions and amputations of hands, though perhaps not in public.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Mullah Nooruddin Turabi dismissed outrage over the Taliban’s executions in the past, which sometimes took place in front of crowds at a stadium, and he warned the world against interfering with Afghanistan’s new rulers.

“Everyone criticized us for the punishments in the stadium, but we have never said anything about their laws and their punishments,” Turabi told The Associated Press, speaking in Kabul. “No one will tell us what our laws should be. We will follow Islam and we will make our laws on the Quran.”

Since the Taliban overran Kabul on Aug. 15 and seized control of the country, Afghans and the world have been watching to see whether they will re-create their harsh rule of the late 1990s. Turabi’s comments pointed to how the group’s leaders remain entrenched in a deeply conservative, hard-line worldview, even if they are embracing technological changes, like video and mobile phones.

Turabi, now in his early 60s, was justice minister and head of the so-called Ministry of Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice — effectively, the religious police — during the Taliban’s previous rule.

At that time, the world denounced the Taliban’s punishments, which took place in Kabul’s sports stadium or on the grounds of the sprawling Eid Gah mosque, often attended by hundreds of Afghan men.

Executions of convicted murderers were usually by a single shot to the head, carried out by the victim’s family, who had the option of accepting “blood money” and allowing the culprit to live. For convicted thieves, the punishment was amputation of a hand. For those convicted of highway robbery, a hand and a foot were amputated.

Trials and convictions were rarely public and the judiciary was weighted in favor of Islamic clerics, whose knowledge of the law was limited to religious injunctions.

Turabi said that this time, judges — including women — would adjudicate cases, but the foundation of Afghanistan’s laws will be the Quran. He said the same punishments would be revived.

“Cutting off of hands is very necessary for security,” he said, saying it had a deterrent effect. He said the Cabinet was studying whether to do punishments in public and will “develop a policy.”

In recent days in Kabul, Taliban fighters have revived a punishment they commonly used in the past — public shaming of men accused of small-time theft.

On at least two occasions in the last week, Kabul men have been packed into the back of a pickup truck, their hands tied, and were paraded around to humiliate them. In one case, their faces were painted to identify them as thieves. In the other, stale bread was hung from their necks or stuffed in their mouth. It wasn’t immediately clear what their crimes were.

Wearing a white turban and a bushy, unkempt white beard, the stocky Turabi limped slightly on his artificial leg. He lost a leg and one eye during fighting with Soviet troops in the 1980s.

Under the new Taliban government, he is in charge of prisons. He is among a number of Taliban leaders, including members of the all-male interim Cabinet, who are on a United Nations sanctions list.

During the previous Taliban rule, he was one of the group’s most ferocious and uncompromising enforcers. When the Taliban took power in 1996, one of his first acts was to scream at a woman journalist, demanding she leave a room of men, and to then deal a powerful slap in the face of a man who objected.

Turabi was notorious for ripping music tapes from cars, stringing up hundreds of meters of destroyed cassettes in trees and signposts. He demanded men wear turbans in all government offices and his minions routinely beat men whose beards had been trimmed. Sports were banned, and Turabi’s legion of enforcers forced men to the mosque for prayers five times daily.

In this week’s interview with the AP, Turabi spoke to a woman journalist.

“We are changed from the past,” he said.

He said now the Taliban would allow television, mobile phones, photos and video “because this is the necessity of the people, and we are serious about it.” He suggested that the Taliban saw the media as a way to spread their message. “Now we know instead of reaching just hundreds, we can reach millions,” he said. He added that if punishments are made public, then people may be allowed to video or take photos to spread the deterrent effect.

The U.S. and its allies have been trying to use the threat of isolation — and the economic damage that would result from it — to pressure the Taliban to moderate their rule and give other factions, minorities and women a place in power.

But Turabi dismissed criticism over the previous Taliban rule, arguing that it had succeeded in bringing stability. “We had complete safety in every part of the country,” he said of the late 1990s.

Even as Kabul residents express fear over their new Taliban rulers, some acknowledge grudgingly that the capital has already become safer in just the past month. Before the Taliban takeover, bands of thieves roamed the streets, and relentless crime had driven most people off the streets after dark.

“It’s not a good thing to see these people being shamed in public, but it stops the criminals because when people see it, they think ‘I don’t want that to be me,'” said Amaan, a storeowner in the center of Kabul. He asked to be identified by just one name.

Another shopkeeper said it was a violation of human rights but that he was also happy he can open his store after dark.

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Derek Chauvin Plans To Appeal His Conviction In George Floyd’s Murder

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Derek Chauvin Plans To Appeal His Conviction In George Floyd’s Murder

Former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin, seen in courtroom video in June, intends to appeal his conviction and sentence in George Floyd’s murder.

Court TV via AP

Court TV via AP

MINNEAPOLIS — The former Minneapolis police officer convicted of murder in George Floyd’s death intends to appeal his conviction and sentence, saying the judge abused his discretion or erred during several key points in the case, according to documents filed Thursday.

Derek Chauvin said he intends to appeal on 14 grounds. Among them, he claims Judge Peter Cahill abused his discretion when he denied Chauvin’s request to move the trial out of Hennepin County due to pretrial publicity.

He also claimed the judge abused his discretion when he denied a request to sequester the jury for the duration of the trial, and when he denied requests to postpone the trial or grant a new one.

Chauvin was convicted earlier this year on state charges of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in Floyd’s 2020 death. He was sentenced to 22 1/2 years – a sentence higher than the presumptive 12 ½ years after the judge agreed with prosecutors that there were aggravating factors in Floyd’s death.

Chauvin is also charged in federal court with violating Floyd’s civil rights when he knelt on the Black man’s neck for about 9 1/2 minutes as Floyd was facedown on the pavement, not resisting and pleading for air. He has pleaded not guilty to those charges.

Chauvin had 90 days from his sentencing to file notice that he intends to appeal. In addition to his notice, he also filed a motion to put the appeals process on hold until the Supreme Court reviews an earlier decision to deny him a public defender to represent him in his appeal.

In an affidavit filed Thursday, Chauvin said he has no attorney in the appeals process, and has no income aside from nominal prison wages. His case before Cahill was funded by the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association’s legal defense fund. Chauvin wrote: “I have been informed that their obligation to pay for my representation terminated upon my conviction and sentencing.”

All grounds that Chauvin raised in his notice of intent to appeal had been raised previously by defense attorney Eric Nelson as the case worked its way through the district court.

Nelson had previously argued that intense publicity around Floyd’s death tainted the jury pool and that the trial should have been moved away from Minneapolis. There were reports in February that Chauvin had been prepared to plead guilty to third-degree murder and an announcement during jury selection that Minneapolis reached a $27 million settlement with Floyd’s family. Also, the fatal shooting of Daunte Wright by a police officer in nearby Brooklyn Center happened during Chauvin’s trial and sparked days of protests.

Chauvin’s court filing also said the district court erred when it concluded that Morries Hall, the man who was with Floyd on the day of his arrest, would not be forced to testify on behalf of the defense. He also said the court erred when it permitted prosecutors to present cumulative evidence on use of force.

Chauvin said he also intends to argue that Cahill abused his discretion when he failed to allow Chauvin to strike “clearly biased” jurors for cause, when he allowed the state to add a charge of third-degree murder, when he limited the admissibility of evidence from a prior arrest of Floyd, and when he denied Nelson’s post-verdict request for a new trial and request for a hearing to question jurors to investigate alleged misconduct.

Nelson had accused juror Brandon Mitchell of not being candid during jury selection because he didn’t mention his participation in a march in 2020 to honor the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Prosecutors countered that Mitchell had been open about his views in a jury questionnaire and during juror questioning.

The judge ruled the defense didn’t establish any evidence of juror misconduct either during trial or during jury selection that warranted an evidentiary hearing.

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