Texas City Sees Jump in Irregular Migrant Crossings

U.S. immigration authorities reported a significant uptick in unauthorized border crossings at the U.S.-Mexico border Thursday, particularly in areas like Eagle Pass, Texas, where the mayor has issued a state of emergency. U.S. Border Patrol officers apprehended about 9,000 migrants along the entire border in a 24-hour period, according to media reports on Wednesday. VOA asked Border Patrol to confirm the number of apprehensions, but an official, who spoke on background, said they were waiting to release monthly migrant encounter numbers. The noticeable rise in migrant arrivals in Eagle Pass strained local resources and overwhelmed already crowded facilities. On Wednesday evening between 500 and 800 migrants, mostly from Venezuela, were waiting to be processed by Border Patrol officials under the Eagle Pass-Piedras Negras International Bridge, one of the two bridges in Eagle Pass. A U.S. Customs and Border Protection official told VOA on background — a method often used by U.S. officials to share information with reporters without being identified — that CBP suspended crossings at Eagle Pass to help with the influx of migrants over the last few days. “But we anticipate reopening it once they [border officers] are done dealing with [migrants] today,” the official said by phone, adding that traffic was being diverted to another bridge in the same area. “There are times that we have to close the ports. We just simply divert traffic to other ports of entry,” the spokesperson said. After the increased number of unauthorized crossings, Eagle Pass Mayor Rolando Salinas Jr. signed an emergency declaration. In recent years, the region has become accustomed to regulating migration as it became a heavily used point for newcomers to cross into the U.S. “The emergency declaration grants us the ability to request financial resources to provide additional services caused by the influx of undocumented immigrants,” Salinas wrote in Wednesday’s emergency declaration. In response to the surge in encounters, the CBP spokesperson said officials expect to see more fluctuations, knowing that smugglers will continue to use misinformation to prey on vulnerable individuals. U.S. authorities could not provide a specific reason for the recent increase in crossings. However, they said it is usually a combination of misinformation spread by smugglers, economic hardships in migrants’ home countries and migrants running from authoritative regimes. The CBP officer told VOA that often individuals pay a smuggler but end up traveling in groups and arrive all at once at a specific … “Texas City Sees Jump in Irregular Migrant Crossings”

US Contractor Arrested on Espionage Charges

A contractor for the U.S. government has been arrested on espionage charges, accused of providing a foreign country classified information that he downloaded and printed from his work computer system, the Justice Department said Thursday. Abraham Teklu Lemma, who is originally from Ethiopia, had a top secret security clearance and access to classified information through contracting positions with the departments of State and Justice. He is accused of using an encrypted messaging application to transmit maps, photographs and satellite imagery to the foreign government, according to court documents. Court papers do not identify the country Lemma is accused of spying for, and a Justice Department spokesman declined to comment. But the documents do refer to travel back and forth over the past year and a half to a country where he has family ties. The New York Times, which first reported the arrest, identified Ethiopia as the country for which Lemma is alleged to have spied. Prosecutors say he accessed dozens of intelligence reports, copying information from them and downloading it to CDs and DVDs. Lemma faces charges of delivering national defense information to aid a foreign government and conspiring to do so, as well as the willful retention of national defense information. It was not immediately clear if he had a lawyer who could speak on his behalf. Lemma, 50, of Silver Spring, Maryland, is a naturalized U.S. citizen, the Justice Department said. Besides the material that prosecutors say Lemma provided, he also communicated with a foreign official who tasked him with supplying information on certain subjects of interest to the country. They discussed military issues, such as command centers and the activities of rebels who were fighting against the government, according to an FBI agent’s affidavit. When the official told Lemma last September that it was time for him to continue his support, the affidavit says, Lemma responded, “Roger that!” The State Department said in a statement that it learned that Lemma may have improperly removed classified information from its systems during an internal 60-day security review prompted by the April arrest of a Massachusetts Air National Guardsman accused of leaking highly classified military documents on a social media platform. The department said it would continue to implement recommendations from that review to improve its protection of classified information. …

Shutdown Looms as US House Republicans Again Block Own Spending Bill

U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s attempt to restart his stalled spending agenda failed on Thursday when Republicans for a third time blocked a procedural vote on defense spending, raising the risk of a government shutdown in just 10 days.  The House of Representatives voted 216-212 against beginning debate on an $886 billion defense appropriations bill amid opposition from a small group of hardline conservative Republicans.  It represented a setback for McCarthy the morning after his fractious 221-212 majority met for 2-1/2 hours seeking common ground on legislation to avert the fourth government shutdown in a decade beginning October 1.   As the vote failed, McCarthy told reporters that he will pursue the “same strategy I had from January: just keep working; never give up.”  Federal agencies will begin to shut down on October 1 unless Congress passes either a short-term continuing resolution, known as a CR, or a full-year funding bill. So far House Republicans have failed to unify around either possibility, and the ideas they have considered have only Republican support, making them unlikely to win support in the Democratic-majority Senate or be signed into law by President Joe Biden.  “Instead of decreasing the chance of a shutdown, Speaker McCarthy is actually increasing it by wasting time on extremist proposals that cannot become law in the Senate,” top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer said.  The bill had been scheduled for a five-minute vote that Republicans kept open for over a half hour in a vain hope of winning additional votes.  Republican Representative Keith Self, who had voted to advance the bill, said the motion’s failure showed a lack of trust in McCarthy’s leadership.  “It’s a matter of trust,” Self told reporters while declining to elaborate. Asked about the mood in the chamber, Self said: “There were emotions running high.”  Donald Trump, the front-runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, added to McCarthy’s distractions with a call to shut the government, as occurred three times during his four years in the White House.  “Republicans in Congress can and must defund all aspects of Crooked Joe Biden’s weaponized Government that refuses to close the Border, and treats half the Country as Enemies of the State,” the former president said on his Truth Social platform.  Trump is awaiting four criminal trials, including two brought by federal prosecutors, over charges including his attempts to overturn his 2020 election defeat. He has claimed without evidence … “Shutdown Looms as US House Republicans Again Block Own Spending Bill”

Rupert Murdoch, Creator of Fox News, Stepping Down as Head of News Corp. and Fox Corp.

Rupert Murdoch, the 92-year-old media magnate who created Fox News, is stepping down as leader of both Fox’s parent company and his News Corp. media holdings. Fox said Thursday that Murdoch would become chairman emeritus of both companies. His son, Lachlan, will become News Corp. chairman and continue as chief executive officer of Fox Corp. Lachlan Murdoch said that “we are grateful that he will serve as chairman emeritus and know he will continue to provide valued counsel to both companies.” Besides Fox News, Murdoch started the Fox broadcast network, the first to successfully challenge the Big Three of ABC, CBS and NBC. He is owner of the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post. Murdoch is a force in the conservative world, where Fox News Channel has profoundly influenced television and the nation’s politics since its start in 1996. Murdoch vowed in a letter to employees that he would remain engaged at Fox. “In my new role, I can guarantee you that I will be involved every day in the contest of ideas, Murdoch wrote. “Our companies are communities, and I will be an active member of our community. I will be watching our broadcasts with a critical eye, reading our newspapers and websites and books with much interest.” There was no immediate word on why Murdoch’s announcement came now. Ironically, it is the week author and Murdoch biographer Michael Wolff is publishing a book, “The End of Fox News,” speculating on what will happen to the network when the patriarch is gone. …

US Announces Financial Effort to Support Emerging Democracies

The United States on Wednesday announced a $255 million program it says will support emerging democracies. As part of the effort, the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation is providing a loan of up to $100 million to Siddhartha Bank to facilitate loans to small and medium businesses in Nepal. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Samantha Power announced the funding on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly. USAID is providing $23 million for projects in Malawi, Zambia, Nepal and Ecuador, which the agency says will go toward stabilizing democracy, promoting job growth and mobilizing investment. Another project in Tanzania is aimed at developing a digital portal to cut down on graft and corruption in public procurement. The initiative also includes $110 million from companies and charitable organizations for projects such as developing battery storage systems in Malawi, electrification projects in Zambia, boosting food security in Malawi and enhancing cybersecurity in Moldova. “Taken together, every safer birth, every more transparent government institution, helps give people greater confidence that their government works for them and can actually meet their needs,” Blinken said. “And all of that comes together in building support and building the power of democracies that are actually delivering concrete results.” Some information for this report came from Agence France-Presse. …

Republicans’ Spending Fight Pushes US Closer to Government Shutdown

Infighting among Republicans in the House of Representatives over spending bills has brought the United States to within 10 days of a government shutdown, creating uncertainty among the hundreds of thousands of federal employees and contractors who would be affected. Unless Congress is able to pass the 12 appropriations bills that fund the government — or can agree on a stopgap measure providing temporary funding — the authority of many federal agencies to spend money will expire at midnight on September 30. At the heart of the dispute is the decision by some of the most right-wing members of the House to repudiate an agreement that House Speaker Kevin McCarthy negotiated earlier this year with President Joe Biden to avoid a default on the nation’s debt. A handful of House Republicans want to cut spending below the amount agreed to in that deal. They are demanding significant cuts to domestic spending, as well as to the aid that the U.S. has been providing to Ukraine in its fight against Russia’s invasion. Because McCarthy’s party has control of the House by only a handful of votes, defections by even a few members of his party mean that he does not have the majority needed to pass the appropriations measures. McCarthy in a bind It would be possible for McCarthy to bring appropriations bills to the floor and pass them with support from House Democrats, but the hard-right element of his caucus would regard that as a betrayal, possibly leading them to call for a vote to strip McCarthy of the speakership. As part of the deal that secured his election as speaker, McCarthy agreed to be subject to a rule under which a single member of the House can force a vote on a motion to strip him of the job. Arriving at the Capitol on Wednesday, McCarthy signaled to reporters that he has not given up hope of reaching a deal to avoid a shutdown. “It’s not September 30 — the game is not over,” he said. What a shutdown means The term “government shutdown” is somewhat misleading, because in the event of a funding gap, much of the federal government will continue to operate. Services deemed essential to public safety and the national defense will not lapse. Additionally, government activities funded by multiyear appropriations will be able to continue. This includes, for example, many of the infrastructure projects funded … “Republicans’ Spending Fight Pushes US Closer to Government Shutdown”

Chinese Interest Grows for US Study Tours

A surge in inquiries from China for overseas study tours to the U.S. suggests that parents of children from primary to high school are willing to pay the big money so their offspring can have an American classroom experience during their summer vacations. Yvonne Shi, director of Offer Education Consulting in El Monte, California, said study tours offer children authentic American courses, the experience of living with American families or in school dormitories, a variety of extracurricular activities, English classes and visits to schools where they could enroll full time. Shi told VOA Mandarin that this year, despite the simmering tension between Beijing and Washington, “the number of inquiries we got has increased exponentially compared with that during the pandemic.” She added, “We have also noticed that the age of the children studying abroad is getting younger. In the past, the main market for study tours was in high schools, and in recent years, it has gone into junior high schools and even elementary schools.” Shi and others who help Chinese parents to plan overseas study tours said most of the children are sent to study abroad so that they can experience the education methods and systems in the U.S. to broaden their horizons. Some parents hope the summer experience will serve as the first step to future full-time studies in the U.S. For other parents, the consultants said, summer tours that focus on athletics are a bigger draw than academics. The athletic programs are designed to expose children to different training techniques than they might have in China and improve their skills. The tours offer opportunities to play with local sports teams at professional venues. But as is true of the academic tours, the athletic tours usually include visits to a school where the children could enroll full time. Unless the children enroll in courses for credit, which would require a student visa, the children come to the U.S. on tourist visas, according to the consultants, and return from both types of tours with improved English language skills. Faith Li is a mother from Hangzhou, in China’s Zhejiang Province. She decided to send her son, Caleb Lu, to an American high school after he participated in a summer program at San Gabriel Christian School in San Gabriel, California, in 2016. Today, the school’s website offers information for international students who want to enroll fulltime with a tuition of $24,750 plus … “Chinese Interest Grows for US Study Tours”

Striking Writers, Hollywood Studios to Meet Again Thursday

Negotiators for the striking Writers Guild of America and Hollywood studios will meet again on Thursday to try to resolve a nearly five-month standoff that has disrupted film and television production. The Writers Guild and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents Walt Disney, Netflix and other media companies, held talks for the first time in about a month on Wednesday. Early on Wednesday evening, the two sides issued a joint statement saying simply that they “met for bargaining today and will meet again tomorrow.” To help spark a deal, Wednesday’s meeting was attended by Disney CEO Bob Iger, Netflix Co-CEO Ted Sarandos, Comcast’s NBCUniversal Studio Group Chairman Donna Langley and Warner Bros Discovery CEO David Zaslav, according to a source close to the studios. People in the room described the session as “encouraging,” the source said, and the four executives are expected to return to the talks on Thursday. CNBC, citing people close to the negotiations, said writers and producers were near an agreement and hoped to reach a deal on Thursday. But if a deal is not reached the strike could last through the end of the year, CNBC reported. The Writers Guide went on strike in May after negotiations reached an impasse over compensation, minimum staffing of writers’ rooms and the role of artificial intelligence, among other issues. The SAG-AFTRA actors union called a work stoppage in July, putting Hollywood in the midst of two simultaneous strikes for the first time in 63 years. No talks are currently scheduled between the actors and the studios. …

Senate Confirms Chairman of Joint Chiefs

 The Senate on Wednesday confirmed Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. as the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, putting him in place to succeed Gen. Mark Milley when he retires at the end of the month. Brown’s confirmation on an 83-11 vote, months after President Joe Biden nominated him for the post, comes as Democrats try to maneuver around holds placed on hundreds of nominations by Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville over the Pentagon’s abortion policy. The Senate is also expected to confirm Gen. Randy George to be Army Chief of Staff and Gen. Eric Smith as commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps this week. Tuberville has been blocking the Senate from the routine process of approving military nominations in groups, frustrating Democrats who had said they would not go through the time-consuming process of bringing up individual nominations for a vote. More than 300 nominees are stalled amid Tuberville’s blockade and confirming them one-by-one would take months. But Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, reversed course on Wednesday and moved to force votes on Brown, George and Smith. “Senator Tuberville is forcing us to face his obstruction head on,” Schumer said. “I want to make clear to my Republican colleagues — this cannot continue.” Tuberville did not object to the confirmation votes, saying he will maintain his holds but is fine with bringing up nominations individually for roll call votes. White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said that Brown’s confirmation, along with expected votes on Smith and George, is positive news. But “we should have never been in this position,” he said. “While good for these three officers, it doesn’t fix the problem or provide a path forward for the 316 other general and flag officers that are held up by this ridiculous hold,” Kirby told reporters. Brown, a career fighter pilot, was the Air Force’s first Black commander of the Pacific Air Forces and most recently its first Black chief of staff, making him the first African American to lead any of the military branches. His confirmation will also mark the first time the Pentagon’s top two posts were held by African Americans, with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin as the top civilian leader. Brown, 60, replaces Joint Chiefs Chairman Army Gen. Mark Milley, who is retiring after four decades in military service. Milley’s four-year term as chairman ends on Sept. 30. Tuberville said … “Senate Confirms Chairman of Joint Chiefs”

US Grants Conditional Clemency to 2 Iranians Staying in US After Prisoner Swap; Status of 3rd Unclear

Two days after the U.S. and Iran began a prisoner exchange, VOA has learned that two of the three Iranians who remained in the U.S. after being granted clemency had conditions attached to their clemencies. The legal status of the third individual was unclear. Court filings seen by VOA show Kambiz Attar Kashani was released from a federal prison in Michigan on Monday after receiving a presidential commutation of his sentence, while Kaveh Lotfolah Afrasiabi received a presidential pardon as he awaited trial on federal charges. The clemencies for both men, signed by President Joe Biden, had similar conditions attached. No court records were found by VOA showing a pardon for Amin Hasanzadeh, a third Iranian identified by Tehran as being part of the prisoner swap. The latest publicly visible filing on Hasanzadeh’s court docket is from August 23, when his lawyers notified a judge that their client’s U.S. permanent residency had expired on that date. The other two Iranians granted clemency by the U.S. under the deal, Mehrdad Ansari and Reza Sarhangpour Kafrani, arrived in Tehran late Monday after being flown to Qatar earlier in the day. Kashani, an IT manager who is a dual U.S.-Iranian citizen, was released from a Federal Correctional Institution in Milan, Michigan, on Monday, according to his Bureau of Prisons inmate locator record seen by VOA on Tuesday. Kashani had been detained since his January 2022 arrest and was later sentenced to 30 months in prison. He was convicted of illegally exporting U.S. goods and technology to end users in Iran, including its Central Bank, in violation of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act. He was freed five months before his originally scheduled release in February 2024. Kashani’s lawyer, Babak Hoghooghi-Esfahani, did not respond to a VOA message sent Tuesday requesting comment on Kashani’s future plans. Allegation of acting as unregistered agent Afrasiabi, a political commentator and author with U.S. permanent residency, had been awaiting trial since being charged by New York federal prosecutors in January 2021 with allegedly acting as an unregistered agent of Iran. Court filings showed Afrasiabi’s attorney, Sabrina Shroff, asked a judge on Monday to cancel his then-upcoming trial in January due to his criminal case being “resolved [by] the actions of the Executive Branch” of the U.S. government. She also requested that Afrasiabi be released from pretrial supervision of his movements and that his bond payment be refunded to … “US Grants Conditional Clemency to 2 Iranians Staying in US After Prisoner Swap; Status of 3rd Unclear”

Biden Administration Announces $600M to Produce COVID Tests, Will Reopen Website to Order Them

The Biden administration announced Wednesday that it is providing $600 million in funding to produce new at-home COVID-19 tests and is restarting a website allowing Americans to again order up to four free tests per household — aiming to prevent possible shortages during a rise in coronavirus cases that has typically come during colder months. The Department of Health and Human Services says orders can be placed at COVIDTests.gov starting September 25, and that no-cost tests will be delivered for free by the United States Postal Service. Twelve manufacturers that employ hundreds of people in seven states have been awarded funding and will produce 200 million over-the-counter tests to replenish federal stockpiles for government use, in addition to producing enough tests to meet demand for tests ordered online, the department said. Federal officials said that will help guard against supply chain issues that sparked some shortages of at-home COVID tests made overseas during past surges in coronavirus cases. Dawn O’Connell, assistant secretary for preparedness and response at HHS, said the website will remain functional to receive orders through the holidays and “we reserve the right to keep it open even longer if we’re starting to see an increase in cases.” “If there is a demand for these tests, we want to make sure that they’re made available to the American people for free in this way,” O’Connell said. “But, at this point, our focus is getting through the holidays and making sure folks can take a test if they’re going to see Grandma for Thanksgiving.” The tests are designed to detect COVID variants currently circulating and are intended for use by the end of the year. But they will include instructions on how to verify extended expiration dates, the department said. The initiative follows four previous rounds where federal officials and the U.S. Postal Service provided more than 755 million tests for free to homes nationwide. It is also meant to complement ongoing federal efforts to provide free COVID tests to long-term care facilities, schools, low-income senior housing, uninsured individuals and underserved communities which are already distributing 4 million per week and have distributed 500 million tests to date, the department said. O’Connell said manufacturers would be able to spread out the 200 million tests they will produce for federal use over 18 months. That means that, as demand for home tests rises via the website or at U.S. retailers … “Biden Administration Announces $600M to Produce COVID Tests, Will Reopen Website to Order Them”

Fed Keeps Rates Unchanged, Signals Another Hike Later This Year

The Federal Reserve left its key interest rate unchanged Wednesday for the second time in its past three meetings, a sign that it’s moderating its fight against inflation as price pressures have eased. But Fed officials also signaled that they expect to raise rates once more this year. Consumer inflation has dropped from a year-over-year peak of 9.1% in June 2022 to 3.7%. Yet it’s still well above the Fed’s 2% target, and its policymakers made clear Wednesday that they aren’t close to declaring victory over the worst bout of inflation in 40 years. The Fed’s latest decision left its benchmark rate at about 5.4%, the result of 11 rate hikes it unleashed beginning in March 2022. The Fed’s hikes have significantly raised the costs of consumer and business loans. In fine-tuning its rate policies, the central bank is trying to guide the U.S. economy toward a tricky “soft landing” of cooling inflation without triggering a deep recession. The Fed’s decisions Wednesday underscored that even while its policymakers approach a peak in their benchmark rate, they intend to keep it at or near its high for a prolonged period. Besides forecasting another hike by year’s end, Fed officials now envision keeping rates high deep into 2024. They expect to cut interest rates just twice next year, fewer than the four rate cuts they had predicted in June. They predict that their key short-term rate will still be 5.1% at the end of 2024 — higher than it was from the 2008-2009 Great Recession until May of this year. The policymakers’ inclination to keep rates high for an extended period suggests that they remain concerned that inflation might not be falling fast enough toward their 2% target. The job market and the economy have remained resilient, confounding expectations that the Fed’s series of hikes would cause widespread layoffs and a recession. “The process of getting inflation sustainably down to 2% has a long way to go,” Chair Jerome Powell said at a news conference. “We’ve seen progress, and we welcome that, but we need to see more progress” before concluding that it’s appropriate to end the rate hikes. At the same time, Powell said he feels confident that the end of the rate-hiking cycle is near: “We’re fairly close, we think, to where we need to get.” Treasury yields moved sharply higher Wednesday after the Fed issued a statement after its … “Fed Keeps Rates Unchanged, Signals Another Hike Later This Year”

US House Republicans Set to Hold First Biden Impeachment Hearing Next Week

Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives are set to hold their first hearing next week in the impeachment inquiry into U.S. President Joe Biden. But with a very slim majority in the lower chamber of the U.S. Congress, it appears unlikely Republicans will be able to pass the articles of impeachment needed to trigger a trial of the president in the U.S. Senate. The House Oversight Committee next Thursday will investigate allegations Biden improperly used his position as vice president to help his son Hunter’s foreign business dealings. Republicans also allege Biden used his official office to coordinate those efforts and was protected from investigations into those claims by his own administration. “These allegations paint a picture of a culture of corruption,” Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy told reporters last week while announcing the launch of the inquiry. Multiple Republican-led House committees investigated the allegations for months prior to the launch of the inquiry and did not find any evidence supporting those claims. Rep. Jerry Nadler, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, said during a hearing Wednesday that Republicans “have wasted countless taxpayer dollars on baseless investigations into President Biden and his family. Desperate to find evidence for an absurd impeachment and desperate to distract from the mounting legal peril facing Donald Trump.” What are the allegations against President Biden? Chief among House Republicans’ claims of corruption is an allegation that then-Vice President Biden pushed for the removal of Ukraine Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin in 2015 because of Shokin’s investigations into Burisma, the Ukrainian company whose board membership included Hunter Biden. House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer, one of the three members of Congress leading the impeachment inquiry, told conservative news network Newsmax, this week, “We’ve got a president that’s compromised. We’ve got a president who has violated laws who should be treated as a criminal.” How has the White House responded? In a memo to reporters, the White House noted that years of independent reporting and an investigation by the House Foreign Affairs Committee found that Biden committed no wrongdoing and was carrying out a policy developed by the U.S. State Department and carried out by the International Monetary Fund. Additionally, the White House said evidence shows Biden pushed for Shokin to be harder on corruption and that the Ukrainian prosecutor general was not investigating Burisma. Do Republicans have the votes to impeach Biden? The … “US House Republicans Set to Hold First Biden Impeachment Hearing Next Week”

US Warns Cases of Transnational Repression Mounting

High-level allegations this week that India was involved in the killing of a Sikh leader on Canadian soil are renewing fears that governments worldwide are no longer afraid to cross boundaries to silence dissenting voices.  Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made the unprecedented accusation Monday, telling Canadian lawmakers that his government has “credible allegations” of India’s ties to the June slaying of exiled Sikh leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar in Vancouver.  India has rejected the charge as “absurd.” But the episode has worried top U.S. officials who are tracking a growing number of cases in which critics are being targeted across nation-state boundaries.  “I won’t speak to that particular report,” said Kenneth Wainstein, the Department of Homeland Security’s undersecretary for intelligence and analysis, in response to a question from VOA about Canada’s accusation against India.  “But I will say … we have seen an increase in foreign nation state efforts to repress and persecute people they see as dissidents here in the United States,” Wainstein said during an event at a Washington think tank on Tuesday. “We’re seeing that from the PRC [People’s Republic of China] police stations that are set up here and [are] being used to monitor and harass people that they think are unfriendly to the regime,” he said. “We’re seeing in [sic] other countries who are targeting people here in the United States.”  U.S. counterintelligence officials, in recent months, have repeatedly sounded the alarm about a growing number of incidents.      Most of the concern has focused on China and Iran, labeled “significant offenders” by officials at the FBI. The officials point to arrests, including in April, where two U.S. citizens were charged in connection with running an illegal police station in New York City’s Chinatown neighborhood. Some of Iran’s efforts to silence critics have been even more brazen, including multiple plots targeting Masih Alinejad, an Iranian American human rights activist and VOA Persian TV host and a murder-for-hire plot targeting former U.S. national security adviser Ambassador John Bolton.  But China and Iran are not alone. U.S. prosecutors point to a series of indictments against suspects linked to Belarus, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, while concerns about Russia are ever present. According to a separate database maintained by the U.S.-based Freedom House, there were 854 physical incidents of transnational repression committed in 91 countries by 38 governments since 2014. China ranked first in the report, followed by … “US Warns Cases of Transnational Repression Mounting”

Pentagon Working to Restore Benefits to LGBTQ+ Veterans Forced Out Under ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’

The Pentagon began a new effort Wednesday to contact former service members who may have been forced out of the military and deprived of years of benefits due to policies targeting their sexual orientation, starting with those who served under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Under DADT, which was enacted in 1994 by President Bill Clinton and in effect until 2011, service members who had other than heterosexual orientation could serve — as long as they kept it quiet. That led to years of discrimination, undue pressure, discharges and lost benefits. Under DADT and previous military policies forbidding gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or queer personnel from serving, at least 32,837 service members since 1980 were forced out of the military for their sexual orientation, according to Department of Defense data. More than 2,000 of those service members received general, other than honorable, or unknown discharge characterizations “that may have denied them access to veterans benefits, like home loans, health care, GI Bill tuition assistance and even some government jobs,” Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks said. “We know correcting these records cannot fully restore the dignity taken from LGBTQ+ service members when they were expelled from the military,” Hicks said. “It doesn’t completely heal the unseen wounds that were left, it doesn’t make people whole again, even for those many who received honorable discharges. But this is yet another step we’re taking to make sure we do right by those who served honorably.” …

US Senators Relax Their Dress Code

Critics warn decorum is falling apart at the seams in the U.S. Senate after the Democratic leadership changed the rules to end the requirement of wearing a jacket and tie in the tradition-bound chamber. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Monday told the Senate Sergeant at Arms that the chamber’s unwritten dress code need no longer be enforced. The relaxed attire rule applies to all of the chamber’s lawmakers, but the switch was seen as a special deal for Democratic Senator John Fetterman, whose love of shorts and hoodies has turned dress-down Friday into dress-down every day. Fetterman’s dress style, or perhaps lack of style, became his signature on the campaign trail before entering the Senate this year. He also gained sympathy from many after he underwent treatment for clinical depression soon after taking office. Schumer said senators will be able to wear what they want, even if “I will continue to wear a suit.” But the new rules, first reported by Axios, were met with mockery on the right. Republican Susan Collins joked to NBC that she planned to “wear a bikini.” “I think there is a certain dignity that we should be maintaining in the Senate, and to do away with the dress code, to me, debases the institution,” she said. Senator Bill Hagerty, a Republican, told Fox Business that the move was “just another step in the movement by the Democrats to transform America, to take us to a place that is much less respectful than we historically have been.” Lawmakers who dropped in to vote in gym clothes or other unusual attire had previously been able to circumvent the rules by keeping one foot in the adjacent cloakroom, according to U.S. media. Fetterman said he may “dress like a slob,” but the sartorial sniping meant “the right have been losing their mind.” Both the House and Senate have in recent years relaxed rules to allow women to wear sleeveless dresses. And in 2019, the House green-lighted religious headwear to allow for the hijab worn by Representative Ilhan Omar. …

Musk’s Neuralink to Start Human Trial of Brain Implant

Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk’s brain-chip startup Neuralink said on Tuesday it has received approval from an independent review board to begin recruitment for the first human trial of its brain implant for paralysis patients.  Those with paralysis due to cervical spinal cord injury or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis may qualify for the study, Neuralink said, but did not reveal how many participants would be enrolled in the trial, which will take about six years to complete.  The study will use a robot to surgically place a brain-computer interface implant in a region of the brain that controls the intention to move, Neuralink said, adding that its initial goal is to enable people to control a computer cursor or keyboard using their thoughts alone.  The company, which had earlier hoped to receive approval to implant its device in 10 patients, was negotiating a lower number of patients with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration after the agency raised safety concerns, according to current and former employees. It is not known how many patients the FDA ultimately approved.  Musk has grand ambitions for Neuralink, saying it would facilitate speedy surgical insertions of its chip devices to treat conditions such as obesity, autism, depression and schizophrenia.   In May, the company said it had received clearance from the FDA for its first-in-human clinical trial, when it was already under federal scrutiny for its handling of animal testing.  Even if the BCI device proves to be safe for human use, it would still potentially take more than a decade for the startup to secure commercial use clearance for it, according to experts.  …

Biden Meets 5 Central Asia Leaders on UN Sidelines

President Joe Biden is turning Washington’s gaze to Central Asia — a region the West has long been accused of overlooking — in an effort to strengthen ties with the landlocked region bordered by Russia and China. On the sidelines Tuesday of the United Nations General Assembly, Biden met with the leaders of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. The former Soviet states have continuing security ties with Russia and growing economic and diplomatic ties to China — and great cultural and historical significance as the main arteries of the Silk Road, the ancient network of Eurasian trade routes that connected the East and West for 1,500 years. Biden described this meeting of the C5+1 diplomatic platform — held for the first time at this level — as “a historic moment, building on years of close cooperation.”  “Today, we’re taking our cooperation to new heights,” Biden said, noting that efforts would include strengthened counterterrorism cooperation and increased U.S. security funding in the region, new business connections with the U.S. private sector, and “the potential for a new critical minerals dialogue.” None of the other five leaders spoke during the group’s brief interaction with reporters after their meeting. Analysts say the attention is long overdue. “No U.S. president has ever visited Central Asia,” Jennifer Brick Murtazashvili, an associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, told VOA via email. “The U.S. has never taken the region seriously in its own right.” Eric Green, former senior director for Russia and Central Asia at the National Security Council, told VOA’s Uzbek Service that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has prompted many countries to reconsider their diplomatic ties. “This meeting is a recognition of two key factors: First, the changing geopolitical environment in this region following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine,” Green told VOA via email. “This has prompted all countries, especially those bordering Russia, to reassess their political, economic and security postures, and I think there is an interest in diversification and balance. “The second factor is the progress at regional integration within Central Asia. This is evidenced by an increased tempo of meetings at all levels and discussions about common challenges such as water, energy, climate and trade.” And the time is right, defense analysts say. “Central Asia’s souring relations with Russia and growing skepticism of Chinese influence have created a window of opportunity for the United … “Biden Meets 5 Central Asia Leaders on UN Sidelines”

Google Plans to Incorporate Its Bard Chatbot Into Its Apps

Google announced Tuesday that its Bard chatbot would be integrated into Gmail, YouTube and other applications in a push to broaden Alphabet’s user experience. Google has spent years refining its generative AI without immediate plans to release a chatbot, until OpenAI unveiled ChatGPT late last year and partnered with Microsoft to popularize the cutting-edge tool. Google scrambled to put together its response: Bard. Google cleared hurdles earlier this year to release Bard across the globe in dozens of languages, squeaking past European regulators who raised questions about the chatbot’s effect on data security. The search engine giant is now waging a campaign to win public support. These new updates — Bard extensions — represent the company’s most ambitious attempt at popularizing generative AI. Going forward, Bard can work as a plug-in with Google Drive, Gmail, YouTube and more. A user might ask Bard to distill a string of lengthy and confusing emails into a pithy summary or order the chatbot to find the quickest route to an address using Google Maps. The plug-in can be used by students and professionals who might want Bard to scour dense PDFs and Google Docs and return a list of bullet points. A common criticism of chatbots is their inaccuracy and apparent ability to falsify information. Computer scientists call this flaw “hallucinations.” The Bard plug-in will include a button to fact-check the chatbot’s answers against search engine results in real time to determine if Bard is “hallucinating.” Generative AI combs vast databases for linguistic patterns and other information in a process known as data-scraping. Data-scraping is what empowers Bard and ChatGPT to create unique, humanlike answers to queries in an instant. Essentially, chatbots imitate what is already available on the internet. Activists have long worried that companies might train their chatbots on unsuspecting users’ personal information. Google said that Bard will access private data only with permission. Google also said that any data-scraping it might perform on what users have stored in their personal Docs, Drive or Gmail accounts would not be used in targeted advertising or training Bard. Nor would private content be accessible to Google employees. “You’re always in control of your privacy settings when deciding how you want to use these extensions, and you can turn them off at any time,” Google said in a blog post. The Bard extensions come after Microsoft similarly incorporated ChatGPT into Bing earlier this year … “Google Plans to Incorporate Its Bard Chatbot Into Its Apps”

US Urges Indian Cooperation With Canada’s Investigation of Sikh Leader’s Killing   

An unprecedented allegation by one leading democracy essentially accusing another of carrying out a political assassination on its soil is causing significant concern among key allies of both nations. Officials in Washington and London are assessing the ramifications after Canada publicly tied India’s government to the killing of a Sikh leader three months ago. Canada on Monday announced that in response, it had expelled the top Indian intelligence official in Canada. India on Tuesday retaliated by ordering a senior Canadian diplomat to depart the country. “We are deeply concerned about the allegations referenced by Prime Minister [Justin] Trudeau,” said Adrienne Watson, spokesperson for the White House National Security Council. “We remain in regular contact with our Canadian partners. It is critical that Canada’s investigation proceed, and the perpetrators be brought to justice.” The United States is urging India to cooperate with the Canadian investigation, according to a senior State Department official. India’s government says any allegations of involvement by its officials in acts of violence in Canada are “absurd and motivated.” “The government of India needs to take this matter with the utmost seriousness. We are doing that, we are not looking to provoke or escalate,” Trudeau told reporters on Tuesday. The allegations, however, “have the potential to cloud out other strategic challenges Canada faces, such as foreign interference by China and Russia. The timing comes less than one year after Canada’s release of an Indo-Pacific strategy which highlighted the aspirations for greater partnership with India,” noted Jonathan Berkshire Miller, director of foreign affairs, national security and defense at Canada’s Macdonald-Laurier Institute. Canadian officials have not revealed what evidence they have linking India to the murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Canadian citizen. “I fear that this incident, regardless of the veracity of Ottawa’s accusation, will have a generational impact on Canada’s relations with India. The damage has been done with the very public loss of face for Delhi,” Miller told VOA. “On the other hand, if this is credible and definitive evidence points to Delhi’s direct involvement, it is an egregious act that needs to be called out and reprimanded. There are still many questions about how closely India is linked to this.” A Canadian source is quoted by Reuters saying, “we’ve been working with the U.S. very closely, including on the public disclosure yesterday,” adding that Canadian evidence implicating India would be revealed “in due course.” When contacted by … “US Urges Indian Cooperation With Canada’s Investigation of Sikh Leader’s Killing   ”

House Republicans Set First Biden Impeachment Inquiry Hearing for Sept. 28

House Republicans plan to hold their first hearing next week in their impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden. The hearing — scheduled for Sept. 28 — is expected to focus on “constitutional and legal questions” that surround the allegations of Biden’s involvement in his son Hunter’s overseas businesses, according to a spokesperson for the House Oversight Committee. Republicans — led by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy — have contended in recent weeks that Biden’s actions from his time as vice president show a “culture of corruption” and that his son used the “Biden brand” to advance his business with foreign clients. The spokesperson also said Republican Representative James Comer of Kentucky, chairman of Oversight, plans to issue subpoenas for the personal and business bank records of Hunter Biden and the president’s brother James Biden “as early as this week.” McCarthy appointed Comer to lead the inquiry in coordination with Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan and Ways & Means Chairman Jason Smith. The White House has called the effort by House Republicans in the midst of the presidential campaign “extreme politics at its worst.” “Staging a political stunt hearing in the waning days before they may shut down the government reveals their true priorities: To them, baseless personal attacks on President Biden are more important than preventing a government shutdown and the pain it would inflict on American families,” Ian Sams, a White House spokesman, said in a statement Tuesday. McCarthy announced the impeachment inquiry last week after facing mounting pressure from the far-right House members to take action against Biden or risk being ousted from his leadership job. At the same time, the speaker is struggling to pass legislation needed to avoid a federal government shutdown at the end of the month. The California lawmaker launched the inquiry without a House vote, and it’s unclear if he would have enough support to approve it from his slim GOP majority. Some lawmakers have criticized the evidence so far as not reaching the Constitution’s bar of “high crimes and misdemeanors.” An inquiry is a step closer to an impeachment of the president, a constitutional tool which until recently was rare in Congress. But McCarthy and other Republicans have been facing months of direct challenges from Trump — who is now the Republican front-runner to challenge Biden in next year’s election — to move forward with proceedings against his opponent. The action also is … “House Republicans Set First Biden Impeachment Inquiry Hearing for Sept. 28”

US House Republicans Delay Initial Vote on Short-Term Funding Bill

U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said on Tuesday that he has delayed a key procedural vote for a 30-day stopgap funding measure intended to avert a government shutdown after current funding for federal agencies expires on Sept. 30. Speaking to reporters in the U.S. Capitol, McCarthy said the House of Representatives would consider a vote to open debate on the measure sometime, after lawmakers vote on whether to open debate on a defense appropriations bill. The stopgap measure vote had been scheduled to happen first.   “We changed the order,” the Republican speaker told reporters, saying the delay would provide more time for his fractured Republican majority to muster the votes needed to pass the measure.   The stopgap, known as a continuing resolution or “CR,” faces opposition from more than a dozen Republican hardline conservatives, enough to block its path forward in the House.   The CR would keep federal agencies afloat until Oct. 31 but cut discretionary spending by about 8% for agencies outside of defense, veterans affairs and disaster relief. It would also impose certain restrictions on immigration and resume construction of a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. Republican hardliners who oppose the measure say it does not go far enough to cut spending and constrain the administration of President Joe Biden, a Democrat. The measure also faces stiff opposition from Democrats in both the House and Senate, who have decried its spending cuts and immigration policy changes. …