Singer-songwriter Ron Bultongez is living the American Dream from growing up in the Democratic Republic of Congo to being named the “Hometown Hero” of Plano, TX to becoming a Top 24 Finalist on American Idol 2018, where he left Lionel Richie, Katy Perry, and Luke Bryan in awe of his voice. Ron’s dreams have taken him far. His journey, depth, and spirit are evident in his smooth yet raspy vocals and his bluesy, soulful songwriting.
Puerto Rico’s governor says he’s chosen former Congress representative Pedro Pierluisi as the U.S. territory’s secretary of state. That post would put Pierluisi in line to be governor when Rossello steps down this week – but he’s unlikely to be approved by legislators.
Ricardo Rossello made the announcement Wednesday via Twitter and said he would hold a special session on Thursday so legislators can vote on his nomination.
Rossello has said he’ll resign on Friday following massive protests in which Puerto Ricans demanded he step down.
Top legislators have already said they will reject Pierluisi’s nomination because he works for a law firm that represents the federal control board overseeing Puerto Rico’s finances and say that’s a conflict of interest.
Pierluisi represented Puerto Rico in Congress from 2009-2017.
Security officials in western Afghanistan say at least 34 people were killed and around 17 others injured after a passenger bus was hit by a roadside bomb on a highway between the cities of Herat and Kandahar.
A provincial official says the bomb tore through the bus, which was carrying mostly women and children. The injured were taken to Herat Regional Hospital for treatment.
No group has claimed responsibility. Taliban insurgents, however, operate in the region and frequently use roadside bombs to target government officials and security forces, even as peace talks involving U.S. officials and Taliban representatives are scheduled to resume.
The two sides hope to establish a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign forces in exchange for security guarantees by the Taliban.
The deadly violence Wednesday came a day after the United Nations reported that nearly 4,000 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded in the first half of 2019.
The U.N. Afghan mission noted in its report released Tuesday that more civilians were killed by government and NATO-led troops than by the Taliban and other insurgent groups in the first half of 2019.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and his guest, director of the World Food Program David Beasley, planted tree seedlings on Tuesday in a salute to Ethiopia’s Green Legacy Initiative, which seeks to combat climate change through mass tree planting. Volunteers in the Horn of Africa state planted 350 million trees in the past week in an effort to curb climate change effects.
The first night of the second round of Democratic presidential candidate debates took place in Detroit Tuesday. The candidates answered questions on a range of issues, including health care, recent mass shootings, immigration and foreign trade.
Here are some quotes from each candidate:
Steve Bullock, in responding to a discussion on gun violence, discussed a personal story, saying: “I’m a gun owner, I hunt, like far too many people in America, I have been personally impacted by gun violence. I had an 11-year-old nephew, Jeremy, shot and killed on a playground. We need to start looking at this as a public health issue, not a political issue.”
Pete Buttigieg, who as South Bend, Indiana, mayor has been criticized for his handling of a recent racially tinged shooting, said about race: “As an urban mayor serving a diverse community, the racial divide lives within me. I’m not saying that I became mayor and racism or crime or poverty ended on my watch. But in our city, we have come together repeatedly to tackle challenges like the fact that far too many people were not getting the help they needed in their housing and so we directed it to a historically underinvested African American neighborhood. Right now in the wake of a police involved shooting, our community is moving from hurting to healing by making sure that the community can participate in things like revising the use of force policy, and making sure there are community voices on the board of safety that handles police matters.”
John Delaney, in criticizing health care plans by Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, said: “We don’t have to go around and be the party of subtraction and telling half the country who has private health insurance that their health insurance is illegal. It’s also bad policy. It’ll under-fund the industry, many hospitals will close, and it’s bad politics. … Folks, we have a choice. We can go down the road that Senator Sanders and Senator Warren want to take us with bad policies like Medicare for All, free everything, and impossible promises that will turn off independent voters and get (President Donald) Trump re-elected.”
John Hickenlooper, in criticizing Senator Sanders’ health care plan, said: “I’m saying the policies of this notion that you’re going to take private insurance away from 180 million American, who many of them don’t want to give it, many of them do want to get rid of it, but some don’t, many don’t. The Green New Deal makes sure that every American’s guaranteed a government job if they want, that is a disaster. You might as well FedEx the election to Donald Trump. I think we have to focus on where Donald Trump is failing.”
Amy Klobuchar, answering a question on infrastructure, discusses the Flint, Michigan, water crisis, said: “I was just in Flint, and they are still drinking bottled water in that town, and that is outrageous, and my plan, and I am the first one that came out with an infrastructure plan and I did that because this is a bread and butter issue for people that are caught in traffic jams. I truly believe that if we’re going to move on infrastructure, climate change, you need a voice from the heartland.”
Beto O’Rourke, who lives in the border town of El Paso, Texas, in explaining his stance on decriminalizing border crossings by undocumented immigrants, said: “In my administration, after we have waived citizenship fees for green card holders, more than 9 million of our fellow Americans, free Dreamers who many fear of deportation, and stop criminally prosecuting families and children for seeking asylum and refuge, and for-profit detention, and so that no family has to make that 2,000-mile journey, then I expect that people who come here follow our laws and we reserve the right to criminally prosecute them.”
Tim Ryan, who said he agrees in part with President Trump’s use of tariffs against China, saying: “I think President Trump was onto something when he talked about China. China has been abusing the economic system for a long time. They steal intellectual property. They subsidize goods. They eroded manufacturing. We transfer our wealth of the middle class either up to the top 1% or to China for them to build the military. So I think we need some targeted response against China.”
Bernie Sanders, in explaining his climate change agenda, said: “To win this election and to defeat Donald Trump, which by the way, in my view is not going to be easy, we need to have a campaign of energy and excitement and of vision. … I get a little bit tired of Democrats afraid of big ideas. Republicans are not afraid of big ideas. They could give a trillion dollars in tax breaks to billionaires and profitable corporations. … On this issue, my friends, there is no choice, we have got to be super aggressive if we love our children and if we want to leave them a planet that is healthy and is habitable. … What that means is we got to take on the fossil fuel industry.”
Elizabeth Warren, on a night when North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles, explained her position on the use of nuclear weapons, saying: “The United States is not going to use nuclear weapons preemptively. We need to say so to the entire world. It reduces the likelihood someone miscalculates or misunderstands. Our first responsibility is to keep ourselves safe. And what’s happening right now with Donald Trump is they keep expanding the different ways we have nuclear weapons. The different ways they can be used puts us all at risk.”
Marianne Williamson, in defending her plan to offer up to $500 billion in reparations to the U.S. descendants of enslaved Africans, said: “It is time for us to simply realize that this country will not heal. All that a country is a collection of people. People heal when there’s deep truth-telling. We need to recognize when it comes to the economic gap between blacks and whites in America, it does come from a great injustice that has never been dealt with. That great injustice has had to do with the fact that there was 250 years of slavery, followed by another 100 years of domestic terrorism.”
Boston police are tracking nearly 5,000 people — almost all of them young black and Latino men — through a secretive gang database, newly released data from the department shows.
A summary provided by the department shows that 66% of those in its database are black, 24% are Latino and 2% are white. Black people comprise about 25% of all Boston residents, Latinos about 20% and white people more than 50%.
The racial disparity is “stark and troublesome,” said Adriana Lafaille, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, which, along with other civil rights groups, sued the department in state court in November to shed light into who is listed on the database and how the information is used.
Central American youths are being wrongly listed as active gang members “based on nothing more than the clothing they are seen in and the classmates they are seen with,” and that’s led some to be deported, the organizations say in their lawsuit, citing the cases of three Central American youths facing deportation based largely on their status on the gang database.
”This has consequences,” Lafaille said. “People are being deported back to the countries that they fled, in many cases, to escape gangs.”
Boston police haven’t provided comment after multiple requests, but Commissioner William Gross has previously defended the database as a tool in combating MS-13 and other gangs.
One 24-year-old native of El Salvador nearly deported last year over his alleged gang involvement said he was a victim of harassment and bullying by Bloods members as a youth and was never an MS-13 member, as police claim.
The man spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because he fears retribution from gang members.
He said he never knew he’d made the list while in high school until he was picked up years later in a 2017 immigration sweep.
The gang database listed him as a “verified” member of MS-13 because he was seen associating with known MS-13 members, had feuded with members of the rival Bloods street gang, and was even charged with assault and battery following a fight at school, according to records provided by his lawyer, Alex Mooradian.
Mooradian said he noted in immigration court that the man, who was granted special immigrant juvenile status in 2014, reported at least one altercation with Bloods members to police and cooperated with the investigation. Witnesses also testified about the man’s good character and work ethic as a longtime dishwasher at a restaurant.
”Bottom line, this was a person by all metrics who was doing everything right,” said Mooradian. “He had legal status. He went to school. He worked full time. He called police when he was in trouble. And it still landed him in jail.”
Boston is merely the latest city to run into opposition with a gang database. An advocacy group filed a lawsuit this month in Providence, Rhode Island, arguing the city’s database violates constitutional rights. Portland, Oregon, discontinued its database in 2017 after it was revealed more than 80% of people listed on it were minorities.
In Chicago, police this year proposed changes after an audit found their database’s roughly 134,000 entries were riddled with outdated and unverified information. Mayor Lori Lightfoot also cut off U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement access ahead of planned immigration raids this month.
California’s Department of Justice has been issuing annual reports on the state’s database since a 2017 law began requiring it. And in New York City, records requests and lawsuits have prompted the department to disclose more information about its database.
In Boston, where Democratic Mayor Marty Walsh has proposed strengthening the city’s sanctuary policy, the ACLU suggests specifically banning police from contributing to any database to which ICE has access, or at least requiring police to provide annual reports on the database. Walsh’s office deferred questions about the gang database to police.
Like others, Boston’s gang database follows a points-based system. A person who accrues at least six points is classified as a “gang associate.” Ten or more points means they’re considered a full-fledged gang member.
The points range from having a known gang tattoo (eight points) to wearing gang paraphernalia (four points) or interacting with a known gang member or associate (two points per interaction).
The summary provided by Boston police provides a snapshot of the database as of January.
Of the 4,728 people listed at the time, a little more than half were considered “active” gang associates, meaning they had contact with or participated in some form of gang activity in the past five years. The rest were classified as “inactive,” the summary states.
Men account for more than 90% of the suspected gang members, and people between ages 25 and 40 comprise nearly 75% of the listing.
The department last week provided the summary along with the department’s policy for placing people on the database after the AP filed a records request in June.
The ACLU was also provided the same documents in response to its lawsuit as well as a trove of other related policy memos and heavily redacted reports for each of the 4,728 people listed on the database as of January, according to documents provided by the ACLU and first reported Friday by WBUR.
The ACLU has asked the city for less-redacted reports, Lafaille said. It’s also still waiting for information about how often ICE accesses the database and how police gather gang intelligence in schools.
”After all this time, we still don’t have an understanding about who can access this information and how it’s shared,” she said. “That’s something the public has a right to know.”
California’s Democratic governor signed a law Tuesday requiring presidential candidates to release their tax returns to appear on the state’s primary ballot, a move aimed squarely at Republican President Donald Trump.
But even if the law withstands a likely legal challenge, Trump could avoid the requirements by choosing not to compete in California’s primary. With no credible GOP challenger at this point, he likely won’t need California’s delegates to win the Republican nomination.
”As one of the largest economies in the world and home to one in nine Americans eligible to vote, California has a special responsibility to require this information of presidential and gubernatorial candidates,” Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom wrote in his veto message to the state Legislature. “These are extraordinary times and states have a legal and moral duty to do everything in their power to ensure leaders seeking the highest offices meet minimal standards, and to restore public confidence.”
New York has passed a law giving congressional committees access to Trump’s state tax returns. But efforts to pry loose his tax returns have floundered in other states. California’s first attempt to do so failed in 2017 when then-Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, vetoed the law, raising questions about its constitutionality and where it would lead next.
”Today we require tax returns, but what would be next?” he wrote in his veto message. “Five years of health records? A certified birth certificate? High school report cards? And will these requirements vary depending on which political party is in power?”
While the law is aimed at Trump, it would apply to all presidential contenders and candidates for governor.
The major Democratic 2020 contenders have already released tax returns for roughly the past decade. Trump has bucked decades of precedent by refusing to release his. Tax returns show income, charitable giving and business dealings, all of which Democratic state lawmakers say voters are entitled to know about.
Candidates will be required to submit tax returns for the most recent five years to California’s Secretary of State at least 98 days before the primary. They will then be posed online for the public to view, with certain personal information redacted.
California is holding next year’s primary on March 3, known as Super Tuesday because the high number of state’s with nominating contests that day.
Democratic Sen. Mike McGuire of Healdsburg said it would be “inconsistent” with past practice for Trump to forego the primary ballot and “ignore the most popular and vote-rich state in the nation.”
McGuire said his bill only applies to the primary election because the state Legislature does not control general election ballot access per the state Constitution.
Government officials in China’s Xinjiang region Tuesday defended re-education camps for Muslim minorities, saying the centers serve as a deterrent against religious extremism and terrorism.
Human rights groups have alleged the camps routinely engage in widespread violations. According to estimates by the United Nations, China has detained some 1 million people at the camps. Rights groups say a number of them are Uighurs. China has come under international scrutiny over its treatment of Uighurs and other members of largely Muslim minority groups.
China says the camps are vocational education centers that provide job skills and decrease extremism.
“Most of the graduates from the vocational training centers have been reintegrated into society,” Xinjiang’s governor, Shohrat Zakir, was quoted by Time magazine as saying.
“More than 90% of the graduates have found satisfactory jobs with good incomes,” he added, using a term for students who finish a course of study.
Another regional official also rejected the characterization of the centers by outsiders.
“Individual countries and news media have ulterior motives, have inverted right and wrong, and slandered and smeared [China],” said Xinjiang vice chairman Alken Tuniaz. He also said a number of people at the camps were being released.
“Currently, most people who have received training have already returned to society, returned home.”
In early June, 22 U.N. ambassadors signed a letter condemning the camps, urging China to release the Uighurs from detention.
In a related development, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Tuesday a delegation will visit Xinjiang to observe the Uighur situation.
Earlier in July, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called the internment of China’s Muslim minority the “stain of the century,” describing their treatment as “one of the worst human rights crises of our time.”
As U.S.-China trade talks are set to begin, U.S. President Donald Trump is warning China against negotiating a deal after the 2020 U.S. presidential election — declaring a delayed agreement would be less attractive than a deal reached in the near term.
“The problem with them waiting … is that if & when I win, the deal that they get will be much tougher than what we are negotiating now … or no deal at all,” Trump said in a post Tuesday on Twitter.
…to ripoff the USA, even bigger and better than ever before. The problem with them waiting, however, is that if & when I win, the deal that they get will be much tougher than what we are negotiating now…or no deal at all. We have all the cards, our past leaders never got it!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 30, 2019
The tweet came as U.S. and Chinese officials gathered in Shanghai to revive talks, with both sides trying to temper expectations for a breakthrough.
The world’s two largest economies are engaged in an intense trade war, having imposed punitive tariffs on each other totaling more than $360 billion in two-way trade.
The negotiations come after Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed at June’s G-20 summit to resurrect efforts to end the costly trade war over China’s technology ambitions and trade surplus.
China is resisting U.S. demands to abolish government-led plans for industrial leaders to enhance robotics, artificial intelligence and other technologies.
The U.S. has complained China’s plans depend on the acquisition of foreign technology through theft or coercion.
Days prior to the Shanghai meeting, Trump threatened to withdraw recognition of China’s developing nation’s status at the World Trade Organization. China responded by saying the threat is indicative of the “arrogance and selfishness” of the U.S.
The U.S. delegation in Shanghai will be represented by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer. They are due to meet with a Chinese delegation led by Vice Premier Liu He, who serves as the country’s economic czar.
A top U.N. official warned Monday that Yemen’s devastating five-year civil war has knocked the country back 20 years in terms of development and access to education.
Yemen was already the Arab world’s poorest nation before the war, which has killed tens of thousands of people. In 2014, rebels known as Houthis took over the capital, Sanaa, prompting a Saudi-led military intervention. The stalemated conflict has claimed tens of thousands of lives, thrust millions to the brink of famine and spawned the world’s most devastating humanitarian crisis.
“Much of the Yemeni economy has collapsed. People literally do not have any money to buy food,” Achim Steiner, U.N. Development Program administrator, told The Associated Press.
“Thousands of schools are closed, millions of children aren’t able to attend school, missing a generation of education,” he said. “Yemen has lost… 20 years of development.”
Steiner recently returned from a visit to Yemen, including the strategic port city of Hodeida. He waned that one in every three Yemenis are at risk of starving to death, out of a population of 30 million.
In Hodeida, he said the U.N. Development Program has been working to remove land mines from Hodeida’s port, which handles 70 percent of Yemen’s food imports and humanitarian aid. He said he met with local authorities to create an agreement on “the priorities that are now needed in terms of repair spare parts, technologies that are needed in order to be able to allow the port to function again.”
Both sides of the conflict agreed in December to withdraw from Hodeida, considered an important first step toward ending the war. But the implementation of the U.N.-brokered deal has since been delayed, as the agreement was vague on who would control Hodeida’s key port facilities after the withdrawal, saying only that a “local force” would take over.
Steiner urged both sides to help U.N. agencies “deliver fast and with little obstruction, the kinds of services, support, food, medicines” that ordinary Yemenis need.
“We would like to see that port up and running again in a matter of months. It can be done but only with the full cooperation of both sides,” he said.
Steiner said the UNDP in Yemen faces financial difficulties, as the pledges for humanitarian support in Yemen were close to $3 billion this year, but less than $1.1 billion has been delivered.
“We will have to stop programs, we will have to cut rations, and probably in the next two to three months, 21 support programs in the country have to be stopped,” he warned.
Former Tehran mayor Mohammad Ali Najafi was sentenced to death after being convicted of murdering his wife, the judiciary said Tuesday, after a high-profile case that received extensive media coverage.
A prominent reformist, Najafi was found guilty of shooting dead his second wife Mitra Ostad at their home in the capital on May 28, said Iran’s judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili.
According to Iranian media reports, her body was found in a bathtub after Najafi, 67, turned himself in and confessed to killing her.
“The charge sheet included premeditated murder, battery and possession of an illegal firearm,” Esmaili said, quoted by the judiciary’s official news agency Mizan Online.
“The court has established premeditated murder and passed the execution sentence,” he added.
Najafi was acquitted of the battery charge but received a two-year jail sentence for possessing the illegal firearm, the spokesman said without elaborating.
“The sentence is not yet final and can be appealed at the supreme court,” said Esmaili.
Ostad’s family had appealed for the Islamic law of retribution to be applied — an “eye for an eye” form of punishment which would see the death penalty served in this instance.
Najafi’s trial received detailed coverage in state media where scandals related to politicians rarely appear on television.
A mathematician, professor and veteran politician, Najafi had previously served as President Hassan Rouhani’s economic adviser and education minister.
He was elected Tehran mayor in August 2017, but resigned the following April after facing criticism from conservatives for attending a dance performed by schoolgirls.
Najafi married Ostad without divorcing his first wife, unusual in Iran where polygamy is legal but socially frowned upon.
Some of Iran’s ultra-conservatives said the case showed the “moral bankruptcy” of reformists, while reformists accused the conservative-dominated state television of bias in its coverage and highlighting the case for political ends.
The unprecedented resignation of Puerto Rico’s governor after days of massive island-wide protests has thrown the U.S. territory into a full-blown political crisis.
Less than four days before Gov. Ricardo Rossello steps down, no one knows who will take his place. Justice Secretary Wanda Vazquez, his constitutional successor, said Sunday that she didn’t want the job. The next in line would be Education Secretary Eligio Hernandez, a largely unknown bureaucrat with little political experience.
Rossello’s party says it wants him to nominate a successor before he steps down, but Rossello has said nothing about his plans, time is running out and some on the island are even talking about the need for more federal control over a territory whose finances are already overseen from Washington.
Rossello resigned following nearly two weeks of daily protests in which hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans took to the streets, mounted horses and jet skis, organized a twerkathon and came up with other creative ways to demand his ouster. On Monday, protesters were to gather once again, but this time to demand that Vazquez not assume the governorship. Under normal circumstances, Rossello’s successor would be the territory’s secretary of state, but veteran politician Luis Rivera Marin resigned from that post on July 13 as part of the scandal that toppled the governor.
Next in line
Vazquez, a 59-year-old prosecutor who worked as a district attorney and was later director of the Office for Women’s Rights, does not have widespread support among Puerto Ricans. Many have criticized her for not being aggressive enough in investigating cases involving members of the party that she and Rossello belong to, and of not prioritizing gender violence as justice secretary. She also has been accused of not pursuing the alleged mismanagement of supplies for victims of Hurricane Maria.
Facing a new wave of protests, Vazquez tweeted Sunday that she had no desire to succeed Rossello.
“I have no interest in the governor’s office,” she wrote. “I hope the governor nominates a secretary of state before Aug. 2.”
If a secretary of state is not nominated before Rossello resigns, Vazquez would automatically become the new governor. She would then have the power to nominate a secretary of state, or she could also reject being governor, in which case the constitution states the treasury secretary would be next in line. However, Treasury Secretary Francisco Pares is 31 years old, and the constitution dictates a governor has to be at least 35. In that case, the governorship would go to Hernandez, who replaced the former education secretary, Julia Keleher, who resigned in April and was arrested on July 10 on federal corruption charges. She has pleaded not guilty.
But Hernandez has not been clear on whether he would accept becoming governor.
“At this time, this public servant is focused solely and exclusively on the work of the Department of Education,” he told Radio Isla 1320 AM on Monday. A spokesman for Hernandez did not return a message seeking comment.
‘Uncertainties are dangerous’
Meanwhile, Puerto Ricans are growing anxious about what the lack of leadership could mean for the island’s political and economic future.
“It’s very important that the government have a certain degree of stability,” said Luis Rodriguez, a 36-year-old accountant, adding that all political parties should be paying attention to what’s happening. “We’re tired of the various political parties that always climb to power and have let us down a bit and have taken the island to the point where it finds itself right now.”
Hector Luis Acevedo, a university professor and former secretary of state, said both the governor’s party and the main opposition party that he supports, the Popular Democratic Party, have weakened in recent years. He added that new leadership needs to be found soon.
“These uncertainties are dangerous in a democracy because they tend to strengthen the extremes,” he said. “This vacuum is greatly harming the island.”
Puerto Ricans until recently had celebrated that Rossello and more than a dozen other officials had resigned in the wake of an obscenity-laced chat in which they mocked women and the victims of Hurricane Maria, among others, in 889 pages leaked on July 13. But now, many are concerned that the government is not moving quickly enough to restore order and leadership to an island mired in a 13-year recession as it struggles to recover from the Category 4 storm and tries to restructure a portion of its more than $70 billion public debt load.
Gabriel Rodriguez Aguilo, a member of Rossello’s New Progressive Party, which supports statehood, said in a telephone interview that legislators are waiting on Rossello to nominate a secretary of state, who would then become governor since Vazquez has said she is not interested in the position.
“I hope that whoever is nominated is someone who respects people, who can give the people of Puerto Rico hope and has the capacity to rule,” he said. “We cannot rush into this. There must be sanity and restraint in this process.”
‘Rethink the constitution’
Another option was recently raised by Jenniffer Gonzalez, Puerto Rico’s representative in Congress. Last week, she urged U.S. President Donald Trump to appoint a federal coordinator to oversee hurricane reconstruction and ensure the proper use of federal funds in the U.S. territory, a suggestion rejected by many on an island already under the direction of a federal control board overseeing its finances and debt restructuring process.
As legislators wait for Rossello to nominate a secretary of state, they have started debating whether to amend the constitution to allow for a vice president or lieutenant governor, among other things.
The constitution currently does not allow the government to hold early elections, noted Yanira Reyes Gil, a university professor and constitutional attorney.
“We have to rethink the constitution,” she said, adding that there are holes in the current one, including that people are not allowed to participate in choosing a new governor if the previous one resigns.
Reyes also said people are worried that the House and Senate might rush to approve a new secretary of state without sufficient vetting.
“Given the short amount of time, people have doubts that the person will undergo a strict evaluation,” she said. “We’re in a situation where the people have lost faith in the government agencies, they have lost faith in their leaders.”
The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump has tightened the eligibly requirements for seeking asylum in the United States, making it more difficult for those persecuted because of family ties to be granted protection.
U.S. Attorney General William Barr ruled Monday that that those who seek asylum because of a threat against another family member usually do not have enough of a reason to be granted asylum in the United States.
Barr, as head of the Department of Justice, has the ability to set standards for all U.S. immigration judges and to overturn immigration court rulings.
U.S. law states that people can seek asylum in the United States if they can prove a fear of persecution based on their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a specific social group. Until now the term “social group” was often interpreted by immigration judges to include families.
In his ruling Monday, Barr argued that virtually all asylum-seekers are members of a family and said “there is no evidence that Congress intended the term ‘particular social group’ to cast so wide a net.”
His decision was in regards to a case involving a Mexican man who sought asylum because his family was targeted after his father refused to let a drug cartel use the family store.
The Trump administration has taken a series of measures to restrict asylum claims, including denying asylum requests to victims of gang violence or domestic abuse. The administration has argued that the asylum system is often abused by immigrants who use fraudulent claims to try to enter the United States.
Immigration activists say the administration’s latest decision reverses years of precedent and could affect thousands of people.
A prominent Chinese human rights activist and journalist has been sentenced to 12 years in prison on charges of disclosing state secrets.
Huang Qi, 56, is the founder of the website 64 Tianwang, which documents alleged rights abuses by the government. He has been in custody for more than two years.
His sentence is one of the harshest given to a dissident since President Xi Jinping came to power in 2012, according to court records.
Huang was guilty of “leaking national state secrets and providing state secrets to foreign entities,” the statement by the Mianyang intermediate people’s court said.
His website, which reported on local corruption, human rights violations, and other topics rarely seen in ordinary Chinese media, is blocked on the mainland.
The journalism advocacy group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) refers to Huang as a “cyberdissident,” and awarded him its Cyberfreedom Prize in 2016. A few weeks later, Huang was detained in his hometown of Chengdu, according to human rights group Amnesty International.
Human rights groups, including the RSF, called on Xi on Monday to pardon Huang. “This decision is equivalent to a death sentence, considering Huang Qi’s health has already deteriorated from a decade spent in harsh confinement,” said RSF chief Christophe Deloire.
Huang’s mother, Pu Wenqing, has asked authorities to move him to a hospital to receive treatment for kidney disease, severe weight loss and other ailments.
Numerous Chinese dissidents have fallen ill while in state custody. Nobel Peace laureate Liu Xiaobo was serving an 11-year sentence for “inciting subversion of state power” when he died of liver cancer two years ago.
According to RSF, China is currently holding more than 114 journalists behind bars and is ranked 177th out of 180 in the RSF 2019 World Press Freedom Index.
Margaret Besheer contributed to this report.
The Islamic State terror group’s self-declared caliphate may be dead, but its leaders are hanging on in Syria and Iraq, dreaming of the day when they can again direct attacks on targets around the world.
The conclusion is part of a sobering assessment in a newly released quarterly United Nations report on IS, also known as ISIS or ISIL, which warns the epicenter for the terror group’s budding renaissance is Iraq, “where Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and most of the ISIL leadership are now based.”
“The leadership aims to adapt, survive and consolidate in the core area and to establish sleeper cells at the local level in preparation for eventual resurgence,” the report cautioned. “When it has the time and space to reinvest in an external operations capability, ISIL will direct and facilitate international attacks.”
In the meantime, the report warns the terror organization, “has continued its evolution into a mainly covert network,” since the fall of Baghuz, the last territory it held in Syria, this past March.
While the assessment that Baghdadi is operating mostly out of Iraq is new, the other warnings are similar to concerns voiced by U.S. officials and others dating back to last year.
For months, U.S.
IS “is well-positioned to rebuild and work on enabling its physical caliphate to re-emerge,” Pentagon spokesman Commander Sean Robertson told VOA last August.
“This is not the end of the fight,” U.S. Special Representative for Syria, Ambassador James Jeffery, said this past March, following the fall of Baghuz.
More recently, a report by the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW), said the terror group is poised for a comeback that “could be faster and even more devastating” than when it first swept across parts of Syria and Iraq.
Intelligence from U.N. member states anticipates that “comeback” will take place in the Syrian and Iraqi heartlands, where IS has the majority of its estimated 10,000 to 15,000 fighters, many in clandestine cells.
Echoing U.S. intelligence and military assessments, the U.N. report stated IS operations are more advanced in Iraq but that its operatives are still able to move freely across parts of both Iraq and Syria.
The group’s attacks, which seem to be coming with increased frequency, appear aimed at frustrating the local populations, for example burning crops in northern Iraq to prevent any steps toward recovery and stabilization.
“Their hope is that the local populations will become impatient, blame the authorities and grow nostalgic for the time when ISIL was in control,” the report said, adding member states fear it may be working.
At the same time, intelligence officials said IS is effectively using its media and propaganda arms to maintain relevance until such time that it is again ready to strike on the global stage.
Adding to the concerns of intelligence officials around the world are the large number of foreign fighters that may still be at large, either in Syria and Iraq, or in the surrounding countries.
U.S. counterterror officials estimate that more than 45,000 fighters from 110 countries flocked to Syria and Iraq, almost all to fight for IS.
As of earlier this year, as many as 10,000 were thought to be at large, having escaped the fall of the terror group’s caliphate. But the new U.N. assessment warns that number could be higher, and that “up to 30,000 of those who travelled to the so-called ‘caliphate’ may still be alive.”
WASHINGTON — Even as the Islamic State’s caliphate was clinging to life with its last defenders cornered in a small town in northeastern Syria, the terror group managed to shock those who would eventually see it die.
Instead of waiting out about 1,000 civilians and 300 or so hard-core IS fighters who had retreated to Baghuz, the U.S.-led coalition watched for weeks in late February and March, as upwards of 30,000 civilians and 5,000 fighters, slowly surrendered.
“Very much unanticipated,” a senior U.S.
Despite all this, the U.N. report finds IS still faces some significant challenges, especially when it comes to money.
While IS still has an estimated $50 million to $300 million in revenue left over from its self-declared caliphate, the group “is reported to lack liquid funds to run operations,” according to the report. As such, member states told the U.N. that IS operatives have become more dependent on crime while also trying to profit from legitimate businesses.
IS has also become more dependent on provinces and its more established affiliates, so it runs the risk that its agenda will slowly become less international and more regionalized.
And it continues to face stiff competition from its main rival, al-Qaida, as the two terror groups battle in Syria and Iraq, and increasingly in parts of West Africa and the Sahel, for followers.
Al-Qaida, itself, also faces a somewhat uncertain future, at least in the near term, according the U.N. report, with its leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, “reported to be in poor health and doubts as to how the group will manage the succession.”
A Tanzanian investigative journalist, Erick Kabendera, was abducted Monday from his home on the outskirts of Dar es salaam, the country’s business capital.
A leading Tanzanian newspaper Mwananchi reports that Kabendera who writes for local and international newspapers was abducted Monday evening by people who are said to be police officers. Police have immediately denied being involved.
The journalist’s wife Loy Kabendera, told Mwananchi newspaper that the journalist was “picked up by six people who forcibly stormed into the house and left with a Toyota Alphard” car. She said the people identified themselves as police but refused to produce their badges. They also left with cellphones belonging to Kabendera and his wife.
In November 2017 a Tanzanian journalist Azory Gwanda disappeared mysteriously while investigating a series of killings of local government officials and police officers by unidentified assailants near Kibiti in Pwani region. He has not been since.
In early July, Tanzania’s Foreign Minister Palamagamba Kabudi said during an interview with BBC that Gwanda had “disappeared and died.” He later retracted his statement.
Iraqi officials are displaying stolen artifacts from the country’s rich cultural heritage that were recently recovered from Britain and Sweden.
Many archaeological treasures from Iraq, home of the ancient “fertile crescent” considered the cradle of civilization, were looted during the chaos that followed the 2003 U.S. invasion and whisked out of the country.
Now Iraq is making a massive effort to bring these pieces home, working closely with the U.N. cultural organization.
The artifacts on display Monday at the foreign ministry in Baghdad include archaeological and historical items, such as pottery fragments and shards with writing dating back at least 4,000 years to the ancient Sumerian civilization.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohammed al-Hakim said his country is determined to recover its lost heritage, whatever it takes.
The International Monetary Fund says the cumulative decline of the Venezuelan economy since 2013 will surpass 60% and is among the deepest five-year contractions the world has seen over the last half century.
Alejandro Werner is director of the IMF’s Western Hemisphere Department. He describes the Venezuelan decline as a “historical case” because it is unprecedented in the hemisphere and also because it is the only one of the top global five-year contractions that is unrelated to armed conflicts or natural disasters.
The IMF on Monday also adjusted its 2019 forecast for the South American country to a contraction of 35% — up from the 25% decline expected back in April — due to a sharp fall in the oil production, which has already plunged to its lowest level in seven decades.
Poverty in the Philippines, a chronic development issue that makes the country an outlier in Asia, is declining because of economic strength followed by job creation.
The archipelago’s official poverty rate dropped to 21% in the first half of last year from 27.6% in the first half of 2015, President Rodrigo Duterte said in his July 22 State of the Nation Address.
Economic growth of 6% plus since 2012 has helped to create jobs, especially in Philippine cities such as the capital Manila, economists who follow the country say.
“Twenty-seven percent is actually pretty high by kind of Asian standards, so I think that progress is attributable to the rapid economic growth that’s happened in the Philippines since 2012,” said Rajiv Biswas, Asia-Pacific chief economist at the market research firm IHS Markit.
Poverty around Asia had declined from 47.3% in 1990 to 16.1% in 2013, according to World Bank data. Factory jobs, often driven by domestic export manufacturing industries, have fueled much of the boom, especially in China.
Poverty lingered in the Philippines largely for lack of rural jobs, economists believe. Rudimentary farming and fishing anchor the way of life on many of the country’s 7,100 islands. Foreign manufacturers often bypass the Philippines because of its remote location, compared to continental Asia, and relative lack of infrastructure that factory operators need to ship goods.
But the country hit a fast-growth stride in 2012 with a pickup in manufacturing and services. After growing just 3.7% in 2011, the GDP that now stands at $331 billion has expanded at between 6.1% and 7.1% per year.
Urban jobs are getting easier to find as multinationals locate call centers in the Philippines, taking advantage of cheap labor and English-language proficiency.
A $169 billion, 5-year program to renew public infrastructure is creating construction jobs while giving factory investors new reason to consider siting in the country. Most new jobs now are in construction, with some in manufacturing, said Christian de Guzman, vice president and senior credit officer with Moody’s Sovereign Risk Group in Singapore.
Underemployment, he added, has “improved quite a bit,” de Guzman said.
“Jobs are being created (and in) the jobs that do exist, I think there’s more work to do, so to speak,” de Guzman said. “I guess less underemployment if you will, and again this is one of the fastest growing economies in Asia.”
Philippine unemployment edged down just 0.1 percentage point to 5.2% in January 2019 compared to a year earlier, but underemployment fell from 18% to 15.6% over that period, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority.
Duterte is also advancing tax reforms that he expects to lower poverty to 14% of the 105 million population by 2022.
Tax revenue collected under these reforms will allow the government to spend more on health, education and other social services aimed at making people more prosperous, the Department of Finance said in a statement last year.
The Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion Act (TRAIN), which Duterte signed into law in 2017, spells out changes in the tax code.
“Actually, one of the key elements there is the first tax laws that was passed, we call it the TRAIN one,” said Ramon Casiple, executive director or the advocacy group Institute for Political and Electoral Reform in Metro Manila.
Longer-term poverty relief will come down to creation of rural jobs such as “specialized” or “advanced” agriculture, Biswas said. The 21% poverty rate is “still high,” he said. Government agencies and private firms over the past few years have already introduced hybrid seeds and new technology to make farming more self-sufficient, domestic news outlet BusinessWorld reported last year.
Natural disasters such as seasonal typhoons and a 50-year conflict between Muslims and the military in the south further hobble poverty relief, some analysts believe. Local government corruption also stops aid from reaching some of the poor, they suggest.
“Both growth and, in turn, poverty reduction seem to be hindered by several factors, including unequal wealth distribution both in terms of social groups and geographic distribution…corruption as well as natural disasters and ongoing conflicts, with the latter triggering a series of negative collateral effects,” said Enrico Cau, Southeast Asia-specialized associate researcher at the Taiwan Center for International Strategic Studies.