Archive For The “News” Category

Arizona Man Caught Driving In The HOV Lane With Fake Skeleton Riding Shotgun

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Arizona Man Caught Driving In The HOV Lane With Fake Skeleton Riding Shotgun

This Thursday, Jan. 23, 2020, photo provided by the Arizona Department of Public Safety shows a dummy skeleton found after a state trooper traffic stop of a 62-year-old man for an HOV lane violation in Phoenix. (Arizona Department of Public Safety via AP)

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A man in Arizona was pulled over last week for attempting to disguise a fake skeleton as a passenger in his car so he could stealthily drive in the HOV lane.

The 62-year-old received a penalty ticket on Thursday when a trooper noticed the skeleton wearing a camouflage bucket hat and tied upright in the passenger seat with a yellow rope, the Arizona Department of Public Safety told the AP.

The man was also cited for a window tint violation when he was pulled over on Arizona State Route 101 near Apache Boulevard in Tempe. The windows presumably weren’t dark enough to conceal his spooky passenger.

“Think you can use the HOV lane with Skeletor riding shotgun? You’re dead wrong!” the Arizona Department of Public Safety tweeted on Thursday.

Think you can use the HOV lane with Skeletor riding shotgun? You’re dead wrong! ☠︎ One of our motor troopers cited the 62-year-old male driver for HOV & window tint violations on SR-101 near Apache Blvd this morning. #NiceTry #YoureNotHeMan #AZTroopers pic.twitter.com/wQYY831mNY

— Dept. Public Safety (@Arizona_DPS) January 23, 2020

This is not the first time a man tried to cheat the rules of the Arizona carpool lane, which is reserved for drivers with at least one passenger in the car. Another motorist was cited last April for driving in the HOV lane on a different Arizona freeway with a mannequin wearing a baseball hat and sunglasses riding shotgun.

The Arizona Department of Public Safety told the Associated Press that some 7,000 people are cited every year for violating HOV lane rules.

Enforcement of HOV lane rules varies from state to state, according to the Federal Highway Administration. In some states, police officers will redirect violators to general lanes, while in others, drivers can face fines from $50 in Massachusetts to more than $300 in California.

Washington State passed legislation last year that sharply raised HOV violation fines to $186 on the first offense and $336 for another violation within two years. Drivers who break the rules again could face a steep fine of up to $686, and those who use a dummy to fake a passenger could pay another $200 on top of those fines.

“Some folks get very creative,” Guy Gill, a former State Patrol spokesman, told the Seattle Times. “We’ve seen mannequins, sleeping bags propped up with hats, articles of clothing, duffel bags, Halloween masks on bags. You name it, we’ve seen it.”

Since 1984, Washington State has employed a HERO program that encourages drivers to report carpool lane violations, so that police officers can target areas of the road for possible rule-breakers. Police received almost 40,000 reports in 2011, the Seattle Times reported, according to state department of transportation records.

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3rd U.S. Case of Wuhan Coronavirus Confirmed

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3rd U.S. Case of Wuhan Coronavirus Confirmed

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s headquarters in Atlanta.

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A patient in Orange County, Calif., has tested positive for the Wuhan coronavirus, marking the third confirmed case of the new infectious disease in the U.S., according to the OC Health Care Agency.

County health officials say the new U.S. case involves a traveler from Wuhan, the central Chinese city of 11 million that has been the epicenter of the outbreak. They said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the case Saturday, and the patient is now in isolation in good condition at a local hospital.

The health agency said in a statement that officials will continue to monitor people who have had close contact with the patient. But the agency added that there is no evidence that there has been person-to-person transmission of coronavirus in Orange County and that the risk of local transmission remains low.

The other two U.S. cases involve a woman in her 60s in Chicago, reported Friday, and a man in his 30s in the Seattle area, reported Tuesday. In all three cases, the patients had previously traveled to Wuhan.

The CDC said last week that it has mobilized an aggressive response to the outbreak aimed at identifying and diagnosing any cases early and preventing the spread of the virus in the United States. While the CDC says it’s not yet clear how easily the virus is transmitted from person to person, it says the risk in the U.S. remains low.

China reported 688 new cases on Sunday from the previous day, bringing the country’s total number of cases to 1,975, including 56 deaths.

At least 36 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed outside China, including in France, Singapore, Vietnam, South Korea, Nepal, Hong Kong and Australia.

The U.S. State Department said Saturday that it is pulling government workers and their family members out of Wuhan because of the impacts from the coronavirus outbreak. A U.S. Embassy spokesperson told NPR that “logistical disruptions stemming from restricted transportation and overwhelmed hospitals in the city of Wuhan” contributed to the decision. The State Department this week issued a “Do not travel” advisory for Hubei province.

Travel restrictions have been put in place in multiple major cities in China, grounding planes and trains and blocking roads and tunnels. Large public gatherings have been banned, and major tourist attractions, including Beijing’s Forbidden City and Shanghai Disneyland, are closed. Health officials are trying to limit the spread of the coronavirus during the country’s biggest travel holiday, the Lunar New Year.

The infectious disease was discovered from a cluster of pneumonia outbreaks in Wuhan. The city is a major transportation hub in China, with trains that run throughout the country as well as an international airport.

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‘Take Her Out.’ In New Recording, Trump Heard Discussing Firing Ambassador To Ukraine

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‘Take Her Out.’ In New Recording, Trump Heard Discussing Firing Ambassador To Ukraine

President Trump speaks in the East Room of the White House on Jan. 24, 2020.

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In a new recording made public on Saturday, President Trump can be heard speaking with two men he has claimed to not know and ordering the firing of the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.

The hour-long recording from April 2018 captures a meeting between Trump and a group of donors that includes two associates of his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, who in recent weeks have emerged as central figures in the impeachment inquiry: Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas.

In the recording, Parnas can be heard telling Trump that the ambassador, Marie Yovanovitch, had been disparaging the president, and that he should “get rid” of her. “She’s basically walking around telling everybody, ‘Wait, he’s going to get impeached, just wait,'” Parnas says in the recording.

“Get rid of her,” the president responds. “Get her out tomorrow. I don’t care. Get her out tomorrow. Take her out.”

In an interview with NPR on Saturday, Deputy White House Press Secretary Steven Groves said the president’s comments were directed to then aide John DeStefano, not to Parnas.

The recording was released by an attorney for Parnas, Joseph A. Bondy, and appears to support an account of the exchange that Parnas shared during an interview this month with the MSNBC host Rachel Maddow. “I told him she’s bad mouthing him and she’s saying bad things about him,” Parnas says in the interview. He goes on to concede that he did not actually believe that to be true.

Yovanovitch was not immediately removed from her posting in Kyiv, but in the months that followed she became a frequent target of criticism among allies of the president, who accused the career diplomat of disloyalty. She was ultimately recalled as ambassador last spring.

Her recall has become a key episode in the pressure campaign against Ukraine that President Trump is now on trial for in the Senate following the House’s vote to impeach him. On his now infamous July 25 call with the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Trump said of Yovanovitch, “She’s going to go through some things.”

During her testimony before House impeachment investigators, Yovanovitch denied ever speaking disparagingly of the president, but did tell lawmakers she felt threatened by Trump. Yovanovitch said she was told by the State Department that she was being recalled because of concerns about her “security.”

The recording, which was first reported by ABC News on Friday, contradicts repeated claims by the president that he does not know Parnas, even though they have been photographed together on multiple occasions.

In October, Parnas and Fruman were arrested and charged with making illegal campaign contributions – charges for which they have pleaded not guilty.

In the three months since, Parnas has begun cooperating with congressional investigators as they work to unspool his role in the Ukraine affair. Parnas worked closely with Giuliani in a smear campaign against Yovanovitch and in efforts by Giuliani to pressure the Ukrainian government to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden.

Earlier this month, materials released by the House show Ukraine’s former top prosecutor offering Parnas damaging information about Biden in exchange for help getting rid of Yovanovitch. In her time as ambassador, Yovanovitch developed a reputation for fighting corruption in Ukraine.

Speaking to Fox News on Friday, Trump defended his decision to fire Yovanovitch and denied that Parnas factored into his decision to recall her.

“I have a right to hire and fire ambassadors, and that’s a very important thing,” Trump said.

The recording released Saturday was filmed at the Trump International Hotel in Washington on a phone belonging to Fruman. Bondy, the attorney for Parnas, said it was being released in “an effort to provide clarity to the American people and the Senate as to the need to conduct a fair trial, with witnesses and evidence.”

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Iraqi Security Forces Storm Tahrir Square, Clash With Protesters

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Iraqi Security Forces Storm Tahrir Square, Clash With Protesters

Volunteer medics clear the ruins of a medical tent near Tahrir Square in Baghdad on Saturday after security forces stormed the area. They said security forces set the tent on fire, burning everything in it, including medical supplies.

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Iraqi security forces launched a major crackdown on anti-government protesters Saturday from Baghdad to cities across the south after an influential Shiite cleric instrumental in the demonstrations withdrew his support.

In Baghdad, security forces stormed bridges, streets near Tahrir Square and a highway interchange that had been taken over by protesters, firing live bullets and tear gas and setting fire to tents where protesters have been living and where medics have treated the wounded. At least one protester was killed and dozens wounded, according to security and medical officials.

In the southern city of Nasriyah, at least three protesters were killed when security forces moved in to re-open a highway blocked by the demonstrations, Al Jazeera’s Arwa Ibrahim reports.

Situation heating up in #Iraq‘s southern city of Nasiriya. At least three protesters have been killed and tens injured, acc to eyewitnesses and medics, after security forces opened fire at demonstrators on Al-Fahad Bridge. #IraqProtests pic.twitter.com/Uo2mDQCiuH

— Arwa Ibrahim (@arwaib) January 25, 2020

“They burned this medical tent using Molotov cocktails,” said Muslim, a medical student who left his studies in October to help treat the wounded. NPR is not using the last names of protesters because of the militia kidnapping of hundreds of them in retaliation for the protests.

Muslim said he and other medics saw uniformed security people raise the homemade gasoline bombs to show protesters as a taunt and then threw them inside. Stuffing from mattresses on the floor was still smoldering while the burned tent hung in shreds from the metal poles. Pills were ground into the pavement.

“They don’t want protesters here – they think we are sabotaging the country when in fact we are building it – we are cleaning it from every corrupt person here,” he said. Muslim said the fire had burned all their medical supplies and even the students’ laptops.

He and other volunteers began sorting through the wreckage of their tent as gunshots rang out down the street.

Anti-government protesters outside Baghdad’s Tahrir Square attempt to re-block the streets after Iraqi security forces stormed through.

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Security forces began their crackdown after Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr withdrew his support for the anti-government protests, which have demanded the fall of a government they consider corrupt and controlled by Iran. Sadr, long considered an Iraqi nationalist, had backed the protesters demands. He left Iraq for Iran last month – his aides said to continue his religious studies.

Sadr’s reversal left followers in Tahrir Square stunned.

Protestors on #Baghdad‘s Sinac bridge pledging to take it back after #Iraqi forces stormed bridges and streets around Tahrir Square, burning tents and shooting live ammunition. The protestor was eating Nutella with a knife. They fear security forces will now come to kill them. pic.twitter.com/kUkqkfWOvT

— jane arraf (@janearraf) January 25, 2020

“We had so much hope in him and he sold us for a very simple thing – because of power,” said one of the protesters, who did not give his name for fear of reprisals. The three-month-long protests broke the barrier of fear of criticizing powerful religious, party or militia leaders but publicly criticizing Sadr remains dangerous.

“Sayyid Muqtada – the most cowardly person in Iraq,” the protester continued, using an honorific that denotes a descendant of the prophet Mohammad. “Seven hundred people died because of you.”

Iraqi security forces include Iran-backed militias nominally under the control of the Iraqi government. Sadr’s reversal seemed likely to crush the broad-based, secular protest movement that began in earnest exactly three months ago on Oct. 25.

Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi announced in November he would resign as a result of the protests but is still in place as a caretaker leader. Candidates for prime minister have so far been mostly from traditional parties with ties to Iran and other countries and have been rejected by the protesters.

Meanwhile, thousands of protesters have been turning out every day, and hundreds had established a kind of community in Tahrir Square, fearing violence from Iran-backed militias if they left.

They had pitched tents and organized meals, with doctors and dentists providing services. Outside the square, other protesters had set up makeshift barriers in an effort to keep security forces out.

Between 600 and 700 protesters are believed to have been killed by security forces or militia gunmen since October – deaths that the Iraqi government has mostly blamed on “unknown groups,” a euphemism for militias on the government payroll but not under government control.

As security forces stormed areas around Tahrir Square, protesters evacuated an unfinished concrete high-rise overlooking a bridge to the green zone. The strategic building allowed them a lookout over the square and the green zone, and a measure of protection from snipers believed to have used the building to shoot protesters.

Security forces burned medical tents and fired live bullets and tear gas to drive protesters from bridges and streets near Tahrir Square in Baghdad on Saturday.

Jane Arraf/NPR


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Jane Arraf/NPR

Many others, though, vowed to stay and protest, even as they expected security forces to storm the square itself as night fell. As word went out about the crackdown, thousands of people, most of them young men, came from other parts of the city to join the protesters either facing security forces firing tear gas near intersections or chanting slogans and singing the national anthem in Tahrir Square.

“They burned the tents and told us they will come back in the night and clear the square,” said a protester named Ibrahim. “We accomplished a lot of things but we haven’t accomplished yet what we came for.”

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Coronavirus Update: What’s New In The Evolving Outbreak

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Coronavirus Update: What’s New In The Evolving Outbreak

As more cases continue to be confirmed, health officials and medical works in Wuhan, China, and throughout the country ramp up efforts to contain the spread.

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Dake Kang/AP

Saturday’s Lunar New Year celebrations were dampened in China by fears over the coronavirus outbreak, and travel restrictions affecting 46 million people.

On the first day of the Lunar New Year, China’s President Xi Jinping stressed the urgency of controlling the outbreak — which includes hundreds more confirmed cases since Friday — and urged state authorities to prioritize containment efforts.

Chinese state media report that President Xi called the outbreak a “grave situation” at a meeting of the Communist Party of China’s Central Committee. He said it was a priority for the government, the Communist party and the country to contain the situation and urged the public to follow the government’s lead to help control the spread of the virus, according to state media.

More than 1,300 cases have been confirmed worldwide from the outbreak, and 41 people have died, including a 62-year-old doctor at a Wuhan hospital who contracted the virus from a patient, state media reports.

Infections from the virus have now been found on four continents, including a few cases in Australia, France and the U.S., among travelers who had recently been in China. Several other countries in Asia have reported cases as well.

In China, some 14,000 people are under direct observation for suspected exposure to the virus. Random temperature checks are being conducted in hospitals and train stations throughout the country.

Wuhan hospitals are reporting a shortage of gear and medical staff. They’ve asked the public for donations of face masks, scrubs and basic medical supplies. According to state media, hundreds of military medics, some with experience responding to SARS and Ebola, have been deployed to Wuhan to help shore up staffing at hospitals.

The U.S. State Department is pulling government workers and family members out of Wuhan because of the impacts from coronavirus outbreak. A U.S. Embassy spokesperson told NPR that “logistical disruptions stemming from restricted transportation and overwhelmed hospitals in the city of Wuhan” fed into the decision. The State Department this week issued a “Do not travel” advisory for Hubei province.

Travel restrictions have been put in place in multiple major cities in China, grounding planes and trains, and blocking roads and tunnels. Large public gatherings have been banned, and major tourist attractions including Beijing’s Forbidden City and Shanghai Disneyland, are closed. Health officials are trying to limit the spread of the coronavirus during the country’s biggest travel holiday, the Lunar New Year.

The infectious disease was discovered from a cluster of pneumonia outbreaks in the central city of Wuhan, China. The city is a major transportation hub in China, with trains that run throughout the country, and an international airport.

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Coronavirus Update: What’s New In The Evolving Outbreak

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Coronavirus Update: What’s New In The Evolving Outbreak

As more cases continue to be confirmed, health officials and medical works in Wuhan, China, and throughout the country ramp up efforts to contain the spread.

Dake Kang/AP


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Dake Kang/AP

Saturday’s Lunar New Year celebrations were dampened in China by fears over the coronavirus outbreak, and travel restrictions affecting 46 million people.

On the first day of the Lunar New Year, China’s President Xi Jinping stressed the urgency of controlling the outbreak — which includes hundreds more confirmed cases since Friday — and urged state authorities to prioritize containment efforts.

Chinese state media report that President Xi called the outbreak a “grave situation” at a meeting of the Communist Party of China’s Central Committee. He said it was a priority for the government, the Communist party and the country to contain the situation and urged the public to follow the government’s lead to help control the spread of the virus, according to state media.

More than 1,300 cases have been confirmed worldwide from the outbreak, and 41 people have died, including a 62-year-old doctor at a Wuhan hospital who contracted the virus from a patient, state media reports.

Infections from the virus have now been found on four continents, including a few cases in Australia, France and the U.S., among travelers who had recently been in China. Several other countries in Asia have reported cases as well.

In China, some 14,000 people are under direct observation for suspected exposure to the virus. Random temperature checks are being conducted in hospitals and train stations throughout the country.

Wuhan hospitals are reporting a shortage of gear and medical staff. They’ve asked the public for donations of face masks, scrubs and basic medical supplies. According to state media, hundreds of military medics, some with experience responding to SARS and Ebola, have been deployed to Wuhan to help shore up staffing at hospitals.

The U.S. State Department is pulling government workers and family members out of Wuhan because of the impacts from coronavirus outbreak. A U.S. Embassy spokesperson told NPR that “logistical disruptions stemming from restricted transportation and overwhelmed hospitals in the city of Wuhan” fed into the decision. The State Department this week issued a “Do not travel” advisory for Hubei province.

Travel restrictions have been put in place in multiple major cities in China, grounding planes and trains, and blocking roads and tunnels. Large public gatherings have been banned, and major tourist attractions including Beijing’s Forbidden City and Shanghai Disneyland, are closed. Health officials are trying to limit the spread of the coronavirus during the country’s biggest travel holiday, the Lunar New Year.

The infectious disease was discovered from a cluster of pneumonia outbreaks in the central city of Wuhan, China. The city is a major transportation hub in China, with trains that run throughout the country, and an international airport.

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Trump Impeachment Recap: Dems Wrap With Exhortation To Act

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Trump Impeachment Recap: Dems Wrap With Exhortation To Act

House Manager Adam Schiff (center) leaves after speaking to reporters during the Senate impeachment trial of President Trump Friday.

Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images


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Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

President Trump will go on abusing his office and imperiling elections unless the Senate removes him, House Democrats argued on Friday as they wrapped their opening presentation in Trump’s impeachment trial.

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., warned in some of his strongest language yet that what he called Trump’s venality and moral bankruptcy would only grow worse if Congress allows him to remain president after what Democrats say he’s committed.

“You don’t realize how important character is in the highest office of the land until you don’t have it,” Schiff said. “There can be little doubt that President Trump will continue to invite foreign interference in our election … that poses an imminent threat to our democracy.”

Democrats told senators they’re standing at a crossroads in American history.

If they permit Trump to keep his office — as the majority-Republican chamber is expected to do — they’ll forfeit Congress’ status as an equal branch of government and effectively greenlight more of what Democrats say are Trump’s transgressions.

Trump not only abused his power in the Ukraine affair, Democrats argue. The president’s obstruction of Congress in its subsequent investigation is a direct attack on impeachment itself and the checks and balances enshrined in the Constitution.

Even President Richard Nixon complied with Congress’ desire to hear from White House officials during Watergate, Nadler said. Trump hasn’t.

So a vote to acquit Trump would in effect be a vote surrendering Congress’ power to oversee the executive branch and its power of impeachment, Nadler said.

“Historians will mark the date that this Senate allowed this president to break one of our mightiest defenses against tyranny,” he warned.

Questions about evidence

Still unresolved within the Senate chamber are the ongoing questions about whether testimony of new witnesses or new documents will be admitted into the proceedings.

Outside the World’s Greatest Deliberative Body, however, the story continues to evolve.

One factor is news of a video from April 2018 in which Trump talks with Lev Parnas, an indicted associated of Rudy Giuliani, about firing then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, according to Parnas’ lawyer.

The contents of the tape were first reported by ABC but NPR has not heard the recording.

The White House’s spokeswoman and other defenders have observed that Trump has complete power over appointing or removing diplomats.

But the video, if accurate, would undercut earlier defenses by the White House that Trump wasn’t aware of what was taking place in the early phase of the Ukraine affair. If the accounts described in the clip are accurate it would suggest Trump not only knew, but he may have been directing events.

More ‘crimes’

Democrats argue that Trump and his lieutenants contrived to remove then-Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch because they feared she’d stand in the way of the scheme to pressure Ukraine’s government.

If the tape verifies Trump’s involvement, it also may dovetail with arguments in the impeachment trial about whether Trump may have committed technical crimes in the Ukraine affair.

The president needn’t have broken black-letter law in order to be subject to impeachment, Nadler argued on Thursday, but for the record, Democrats have underscored that his actions in freezing aid for Ukraine did violate the law.

And on Friday, Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., cited actions against Yovanovitch before and since her removal — including a post on Twitter by Trump even as she was testifying before the House — as what she called textbook witness intimidation by Trump.

“As we all know, witness intimidation is a federal crime,” Demings said, calling Trump’s comments part of a “reprehensible” pattern of behavior to scare witnesses from coming forward and part of what Democrats call the president’s obstruction of Congress.

Trump Team vows to fire back

Trump’s attorneys are raring to start their counter-arguments on Saturday.

A source on the president’s legal team told reporters that the two to three hours’ worth of arguments they’re planning will be “coming attractions” for the full days’ worth of presentations starting on Monday.

Separately, attorney Jay Sekulow told reporters on Capitol Hill on Friday that he and his compatriots plan to, in effect, impeach Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden.

Sekulow said he intends to argue that Clinton had solicited foreign interference in the 2016 election because Democrats had underwritten the unverified reporting from Russia that came to be known as the Russia dossier.

Trump’s team also is expected to underscore the payments that Biden’s son Hunter received from the Ukrainian gas company Burisma in 2016 at a time when the elder Biden, as vice president, was leading the U.S. government’s policy for Ukraine.

Although the family Biden hasn’t been charged with any criminal wrongdoing, that storyline has embarrassed the former vice president as he runs for president this year.

It also has created an opening to talk more broadly about Hunter Biden, whose substance abuse problems and other personal issues are seen by Republicans as a potent line of political attack.

Impeachment is only a quasi-legal process; it’s mostly about politics — and Trump’s advocates in the Senate chamber have the advantage of being confident about making their case to a mostly friendly jury.

Although Sekulow and other attorneys for Trump have said they’ll respond to some of the points that Democrats have made, there are no rules of evidence or other set procedures, as in a legal courtroom, that govern what they say.

They too will talk as much to Americans watching the impeachment proceedings as their hearers in the Senate chamber, as the Democrats have been doing.

“We’re going to refute the allegations they’ve made and we’re going to put on an affirmative case as well,” Sekulow told reporters.

The bully pulpit

Trump, meanwhile, won’t sit still either.

Ad the trial continues, the president is expected to sign a new North American free trade agreement. He is scheduled to host Israeli leaders and may convene an event dedicated to a new Middle East peace proposal. Trump may add new countries to the list of those on which the government applies travel restrictions.

In short, Trump who already has been offering regular commentary about the proceedings on Twitter, has a week’s worth of events in store to send the message that — as aides argue — while Democrats waste time, Trump is busy with serious presidential business.

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Pompeo Won’t Say Whether He Owes Yovanovitch An Apology. ‘I’ve Done What’s Right’

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Pompeo Won’t Say Whether He Owes Yovanovitch An Apology. ‘I’ve Done What’s Right’

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was not receptive to being asked about his support of former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch.

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With the State Department facing continued questions over the treatment of Marie Yovanovitch before she was recalled as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo would not say on Friday whether he owed the career diplomat an apology.

“I’ve defended every single person on this team,” Pompeo said in an interview with NPR. “I’ve done what’s right for every single person on this team.”

Pressed on whether he could point to specific remarks in which he defended Yovanovitch, Pompeo responded, “I’ve said all I’m going to say today. Thank you. Thanks for the repeated opportunity to do so. I appreciate that.”

The exchange with Mary Louise Kelly, co-host of All Things Considered, follows the release by House Democrats last week of messages suggesting that Yovanovitch may have been under surveillance in the days before she was told to return to Washington from her posting in Kyiv last year.

The messages were sent between Robert Hyde, a Republican congressional candidate and fervent Trump supporter, and Lev Parnas, an associate of President Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani. He was indicted in October on campaign finance charges.

Parnas has emerged as a central figure in efforts by Giuliani to pressure the government of Ukraine to investigate political rivals of Trump. That campaign is now the focus of the ongoing impeachment trial against Trump in the Senate.

Possible surveillance of a U.S. ambassador

The State Department itself is now investigating the possible surveillance of Yovanovitch, who during testimony before House impeachment investigators in November said she had felt threatened by Trump. Before her recall, Yovanovitch had been accused of disloyalty by allies of the White House, and during his now-infamous July 25 call with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Trump said of Yovanovitch, “She’s going to go through some things.”

In an interview last week with the conservative radio show host Hugh Hewitt, Pompeo said he “never heard” that Yovanovitch may have been under surveillance. In her testimony before the House, Yovanovitch said she was told by the State Department that she was being recalled because of concerns about her “security.”

Pompeo has come under criticism — including, at times, from career diplomats in his own department — for failing to more forcefully defend Yovanovitch in the face of political attacks. During testimony before impeachment investigators, for example, Michael McKinley, a former senior adviser to Pompeo, said he resigned from the department in part over what he interpreted to be a “lack of public support for Department employees.”

“I’m not going to comment on things that Mr. McKinley may have said,” Pompeo said on Friday. But he dismissed the suggestion that a shadow foreign policy involving Ukraine was in place.

“The Ukraine policy has been run from the Department of State for the entire time that I have been here, and our policy was very clear,” Pompeo said.

Immediately after the questions on Ukraine, the interview concluded. Pompeo stood, leaned in and silently glared at Kelly for several seconds before leaving the room.

A few moments later, an aide asked Kelly to follow her into Pompeo’s private living room at the State Department without a recorder. The aide did not say the ensuing exchange would be off the record.

Inside the room, Pompeo shouted his displeasure at being questioned about Ukraine. He used repeated expletives, according to Kelly, and asked, “Do you think Americans care about Ukraine?” He then said, “People will hear about this.”

The State Department did not immediately respond on the record to NPR’s request for comment.

The U.S. and Iran

The interview began with a series of questions about the Trump administration’s policy toward Iran. Pompeo defended the president’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Tehran, saying it is “absolutely working.”

“This is a regime that has been working to develop its nuclear program for years and years and years. And the nuclear deal guaranteed them a pathway to having a nuclear program,” Pompeo said in reference to the international agreement signed by Iran, the U.S., the United Kingdom, China, France, Germany, Russia and the European Union in 2015. “It was a certainty. It might have been delayed for a month or a year or five or 10 years, but it guaranteed them that pathway. This administration has pulled the Band-Aid off.”

As the nation’s chief diplomat, Pompeo has played a central role in shaping the president’s more aggressive posture toward Iran. It’s a policy Pompeo has described as “reestablishing deterrence.”

The policy has taken many forms. Less than two weeks after Pompeo was sworn in as secretary of state in 2018, Trump announced the withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal. The announcement was followed by the reinstatement of steep economic sanctions against Tehran.

Under Pompeo, the State Department has also designated Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization, the first time the U.S. has given that label to the branch of another government.

Yet perhaps no action has been more controversial than the administration’s decision this month to launch the drone strike that killed Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the leader of Iran’s influential Quds Force, outside the airport in Baghdad. While the administration has declined to offer specifics about the intelligence that prompted the strike, Pompeo has defended the president’s order, saying it was carried out in response to an “imminent threat” of attack on U.S. embassies.

For days, the killing revived fears of an all-out war. Iran retaliated with strikes against two bases housing American troops in Iraq. No Americans died in the attack, though the U.S. military later revealed that 11 service members were injured.

Tensions have since eased, but the episode has renewed questions about whether the president’s “maximum pressure” campaign has emboldened Tehran. Since Trump pulled out of the nuclear deal, Iran has shot down a U.S. drone, targeted oil tankers in the strategic Strait of Hormuz, and been blamed for a debilitating attack on Saudi oil facilities.

At the same time, Iran has stepped away from key provisions of the nuclear deal. In an interview this month with NPR, the country’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said “all limits” on centrifuges used to enrich uranium “are now suspended.”

“He’s blustering,” Pompeo said in Friday’s interview. “This is a regime that has never been in the position that it’s in today.”

The secretary declined, however, to detail specifics of the administration’s policy for preventing Tehran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, saying only, “We’ll stop them.”

Pompeo would not say whether direct U.S. engagement is taking place with Iran but did say the administration has built a coalition that’s working to put pressure on Iran to end its missile program, its processing of uranium and the reprocessing of plutonium.

He said the U.S. has also “raised the cost” for Iran’s use of force through proxy groups in the Middle East.

“This is beginning to place real choices in front of the Iranian regime,” Pompeo said. “You can see in the protests inside of Iran. You can see the Iranian people not happy with their own government when they have to raise the fuel cost. All the things that are undermining this regime’s ability to inflict risk on the American people are coming to fruition as a direct result of President Trump’s strategy.”

He would not comment on whether a new deal is being developed in order to prevent Tehran from acquiring a weapon, but instead said, “The economic, military and diplomatic deterrence that we have put in place will deliver that outcome.”

“The Iranian leadership will have to make the decision about what its behavior is going to be,” he said.

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Trump Administration Threatens California Over Mandate That Insurers Cover Abortion

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Trump Administration Threatens California Over Mandate That Insurers Cover Abortion

President Trump addresses a Cabinet meeting last month at the White House, as Vice President Pence looks on in the background. On Friday, the Trump administration suggested some of California’s federal funds could be in jeopardy over the state’s requirement that insurers cover abortions.

Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images


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Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

Updated at 12:05 p.m. ET

Just hours before President Trump was to address thousands of anti-abortion rights activists at the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., his administration has given its attendees reason to cheer.

The Office of Civil Rights, a division of the Department of Health and Human Services, announced Friday that it is taking action against California for requiring private insurers to cover abortions. The office says the requirement, implemented in 2014, violates federal conscience protections for health care providers who refuse to perform certain services on religious or moral grounds.

“Regardless of what one thinks about the legality of abortion, the American people have spoken with one voice to say that people should not be forced to participate, pay for or cover other people’s abortions,” office Director Roger Severino told reporters on a conference call ahead of the formal announcement.

“The Weldon amendment is very clear,” Severino added, referring to a federal measure that was passed by Congress more than a decade ago and repeatedly renewed as part of the department’s appropriations. “If states receive federal funds from HHS and other agencies, they cannot discriminate against health plans that decline to cover or pay for abortions — period, full stop.”

The notice issued to California on Friday demands that the state “signal its intent to come into compliance with the law or face appropriate action.” However, Severino declined to detail the exact timeline or nature of that penalty — suggesting only that the appropriated funds California receives from HHS may be in jeopardy.

It is unclear why the administration is taking action now over a mandate that’s been in place for years, and why it has chosen to target only California, which is just one of a handful of states that require abortion coverage in private health insurance plans. Severino declined to comment on “any specific potential or active investigation.”

Still, Trump, who is set to address the anti-abortion rights rally Friday afternoon, has made no secret of his frustrations with California, which has repeatedly butted heads with his administration — not only on matters of abortion and health care, but also on issues pertaining to the environment, the U.S. Census and immigration, among other policy areas.

The state has become something of a familiar antagonist for the president. He has repeatedly lambasted its prominent politicians — with tweets targeting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Gov. Gavin Newsom, among others — and repeatedly threatened to cut off its federal relief funds for fighting wildfires.

President Trump and Vice President Pence “are once again attacking women’s health in order to grandstand at today’s anti-choice rally,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a tweeted statement Friday. “Make no mistake, this action against CA is just one more attempt to chip away at women’s rights & access to abortion.”

For the Trump administration, the move also marks its latest high-profile foray into the contentious abortion debate, a central issue in the 2020 presidential election.

See you on Friday…Big Crowd! https://t.co/MFyWLG4HFZ

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 22, 2020

Last year, HHS issued a regulation making it easier for doctors and other health care workers to refuse services for religious reasons — only to see that rule scrapped months later in federal court and picked up for consideration by the Supreme Court. And the Office of Civil Rights, the division pressing California on Friday, accused a Vermont hospital of violating federal law by forcing a nurse to participate in an abortion over her objections.

Trump’s appearance at the March for Life marks the first time a sitting president has appeared in person at the event since it was organized decades ago to protest the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion nationwide.

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Is Davos As Bad As Critics Say? Global Leaders Weigh In

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Is Davos As Bad As Critics Say? Global Leaders Weigh In

A Davos sign sits atop a hotel roof ahead of this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Stefan Wermuth/Bloomberg via Getty Images


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Stefan Wermuth/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The 50th Davos gathering ended on Friday. It’s the annual meeting that critics love to hate. They say the World Economic Forum’s event is just a forum for the rich and powerful to feel as if they’re making a difference. And that their wheeling and dealing does not include input from the rest of world.

So does the conference actually do any good?

To explore the impact of the prestigious summit on world affairs, we interviewed more than half a dozen leaders in the field of global health, economic development and social justice and asked them to reflect on past efforts at Davos to improve the lives of those in low-income countries.

Although they acknowledged the summit’s exclusivity and elitism, on the whole they say that Davos has helped play a role in helping to push through some major global initiatives.

The consensus was that while Davos has some shortcomings, there are key reasons why it has been an effective forum for change.

1. Leaders from different fields can mix…

Davos invitees are an elite group — this year brought President Trump, the musician will.i.am and Chief Executive of Hong Kong Carrie Lam.

Nancy Birdsall, senior fellow and president emeritus of the Center for Global Development, says that the conference does bring together people who don’t typically interact, including corporate executives, founders of nonprofits and charities and researchers and academics.

But it’s not just the elite who are invited. Davos organizers also bring in global change makers, such as climate activist Greta Thunberg and Kenneth Roth, head of Human Rights Watch.

It’s a rare forum where activists and business moguls can mingle and talk about sustainable ways to improve the world, says Birdsall. On Tuesday, for example, Melati Wiljsen, an 18-year old environmental activist from Bali, Indonesia, shared the stage with top executives, including Salesforce co-CEO Marc Benioff, LinkedIn cofounder and vice president Allen Blue, Deloitte Global CEO Punit Renjen and others. In a group discussion, they talked about how the WEF’s new digital crowdsourcing platform can help more youth get involved in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

Craig Hanson, vice president for food, forests, water and the ocean at World Resources Institute (WRI), says that he’s able to “get several months’ worth of meetings done over the course of just four days at Davos” because of “the presence of all the CEOs and other leaders all in one place at the same time.”

…but the people most affected by poverty and other issues typically aren’t invited

Still, critics say the conference is too exclusive. By targeting global elites, the organizers are “absolutely not inviting the people most affected” by the problems they hope to solve, says Adrienne Sorböm, a professor of sociology at Stockholm Centre for Organizational Research and co-author of a book about the WEF.

Climate change, for example, was a focus of Davos this year, and several studies show that the poor are more affected by climate change — yet people from this population were not proportionately represented on the summit’s invitation list.

Women, too, only make up 24% of the 3,000 in attendance this year — although, the WEF notes that that’s more than ever before.

2. It exposes people to new ideas…

As a forum for dialogue, Davos exposes attendees to many subjects and ideas they may not encounter in their everyday lives, says Birdsall. The topics range from automation to climate, from poverty and health to inequality — even to geopolitical peace talks.

Last year, for example, when Mohammed Hassan Mohamud, a Somali refugee, served as co-chair at Davos, his goal was to convey the message that refugees should not just be helpless aid recipients. Instead, he wanted the CEOs and leaders at Davos to think of how they could help them by tapping into their skills — employing them or harnessing their ideas for innovation.

Sometimes, it takes years for significant ideas that arise from conversations at Davos to become a reality. For example, in 2015, the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), formed a new development bank — called New Development Bank — to help the bloc better mobilize funds for infrastructure and development projects in their countries and other emerging economies. According to London School of Economics professor Nicholas Stern, he and former World Bank chief economist Joseph Stiglitz actually came up with the idea at Davos in 2011.

…but whether they act on them is another story

Ideas don’t always result in action, much to the disappointment and frustration of critics. For example, every year since 2013, Oxfam has published a scathing report on inequality ahead of Davos that compares the wealth of the richest 1% of people in the world — many of whom are at Davos — to the rest of the population. Year after year, the report’s top recommendations for solving inequality include increasing taxes on the wealthy and closing corporate tax loopholes.

“They decry economic inequality, but they resist the time-tested solutions and inequality grows from year to year,” Gawain Kripke, Oxfam America’s policy director, wrote to NPR in an email.

3. It serves as a big platform to launch new programs and campaigns…

For many in global development, Davos has become a popular venue for launching initiatives. That’s “because of the strong media presence there and because it’s an opportunity to get in front of a lot of business and finance leaders,” wrote WRI’s Hanson to NPR.

For Hanson, that kind of exposure has been “important for addressing big sustainability challenges, such as food loss and waste.”

In 2016, WRI launched its own campaign, Champions 12.3, at Davos to build political momentum toward halving per capita global food waste by 2030. The campaign, which is still running today, encourages governments and companies to measure how much food they’re wasting so they can better understand where and why it’s happening, and improve over time.

Other major initiatives have been announced at Davos. In 2006, musician Bono launched Product Red, an organization that raises money for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. It does this by working with brands like Apple and Amazon to sell products with a portion of proceeds going to the Global Fund.

“Davos can be a real amplifier,” a (RED) spokesperson wrote to NPR in an email. “(RED) was able to get its idea and name to a big audience immediately.”

Perhaps one of the most celebrated programs to be launched at Davos is Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance — a partnership of vaccine manufacturers, governments, donor agencies, philanthropists and researchers that supports immunization programs and vaccination campaigns in developing countries. Since its start in 2000, Gavi claims to have prevented more than 13 million deaths.

…but there has to be follow-up.

In an email to NPR, Sean Simons, the U.S. press secretary for The ONE Campaign, which has lobbied its global membership to support government funding to Gavi, pointed out that solving big global challenges like poverty and health requires the cooperation and commitment from the types of people who come to Davos: international donors, governments and the private sector.

“When all three convene to advance the global public interest, incredible things can happen. Just look at Gavi,” Simons wrote. “The billion-dollar question is: How do we ensure the enthusiasm and funding for the development programs launched at Davos continues long after Davos?”

Joanne Lu is a freelance journalist who covers global poverty and inequity. Her work has appeared in Humanosphere, The Guardian, Global Washington and War is Boring. Follow her on Twitter: @joannelu

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