US government agrees to $138.7M settlement over FBI’s botching of Nassar assault allegations

DETROIT — The U.S. Justice Department announced a $138.7 million settlement Tuesday with more than 100 people who accused the FBI of grossly mishandling allegations of sexual assault against Larry Nassar in 2015 and 2016, a critical time gap that allowed the sports doctor to continue to prey on victims before his arrest.  When combined with other settlements, roughly $1 billion now has been set aside by various organizations to compensate hundreds of women who said Nassar assaulted them under the guise of treatment for sports injuries.  Nassar worked at Michigan State University and also served as a team doctor at Indianapolis-based USA Gymnastics. He’s now serving decades in prison for assaulting female athletes, including medal-winning Olympic gymnasts.  Acting Associate Attorney General Benjamin Mizer said Nassar betrayed the trust of those in his care for decades, and that the “allegations should have been taken seriously from the outset.”  “While these settlements won’t undo the harm Nassar inflicted, our hope is that they will help give the victims of his crimes some of the critical support they need to continue healing,” Mizer said of the agreement to settle 139 claims.  The Justice Department has acknowledged that it failed to step in. For more than a year, FBI agents in Indianapolis and Los Angeles had knowledge of allegations against him but apparently took no action, an internal investigation found.  FBI Director Christopher Wray was contrite — and very blunt — when he spoke to survivors at a Senate hearing in 2021. The assault survivors include decorated Olympians Simone Biles, Aly Raisman and McKayla Maroney.  “I’m sorry that so many different people let you down, over and over again,” Wray said. “And I’m especially sorry that there were people at the FBI who had their own chance to stop this monster back in 2015 and failed.”    After a search, investigators said in 2016 that they had found images of child sex abuse and followed up with federal charges against Nassar. Separately, the Michigan attorney general’s office handled the assault charges that ultimately shocked the sports world and led to an extraordinary dayslong sentencing hearing with gripping testimony about his crimes.  “I’m deeply grateful. Accountability with the Justice Department has been a long time in coming,” said Rachael Denhollander of Louisville, Kentucky, who is not part of the latest settlement but was the first person to publicly step forward and detail abuse at the … “US government agrees to $138.7M settlement over FBI’s botching of Nassar assault allegations”

Blinken returns to China amid ongoing tensions, with no breakthrough expected

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is heading to China this week for talks with senior officials in Shanghai and Beijing to discuss a range of issues, including Russia’s war against Ukraine, the Middle East crisis, the South China Sea, and human rights. State Department Bureau Chief Nike Ching has more. …

Columbia’s ongoing protests cause canceled classes and increased tensions

NEW YORK — Columbia University held virtual classes Monday on the sixth continuous day of student protests over the Israel-Hamas conflict.  University president Nemat “Minouche” Shafik sent an email to the Columbia community announcing that classes would be held virtually.  “The decibel of our disagreements has only increased in recent days,” Shafik wrote. “These tensions have been exploited and amplified by individuals who are not affiliated with Columbia who have come to campus to pursue their own agendas. We need a reset.” More than 100 students were arrested at the school April 18, after the university’s president authorized police to clear away protesters. Some of the students also received suspension notices from the school.  Columbia’s action prompted an onslaught of pro-Palestinian demonstrations at other universities and responses from faculty and politicians. The arrests occurred after students calling themselves Columbia University Apartheid Divest erected dozens of tents on a lawn at the center of the campus, establishing it as the “Gaza Solidarity Encampment.” Following the arrests and the demolition of the original encampment, another pro-Palestine encampment sprung on an adjacent lawn. Students aren’t the only demonstrators experiencing tensions on campus and with the university administration. Monday morning, Business School assistant professor Shai Davidai was denied entry to the university for an attempted pro-Israel counter-protest on the occupied lawn after he refused to comply with the university’s counter-protest policies.  “I am a professor here; I have every right to be everywhere on campus. You cannot let people who support Hamas on campus, and me, a professor, not on campus. Let me in now,” he said after Columbia COO Cass Halloway stopped him and other pro-Israel protesters at the entrance gates. He has repeatedly called student protesters “violent maniacs” and “pro-Hamas terrorists.” A petition calling for Davidai’s dismissal has amassed nearly 9,000 signatures as of last Thursday night; additional grievances have been shared on social media and with the university. Some Jewish students at Columbia say that many criticisms of Israel are antisemitic and make them feel unsafe. Since the arrests, many student groups and Columbia affiliate groups have released statements condemning the university’s decision to arrest students, citing discriminatory enforcement of rules that limit students’ freedom of speech.  Monday, hundreds of faculty members from across Columbia and Barnard staged a rally and walkout to urge the university to reverse the students’ suspensions. Some faculty members wore their graduation regalia and sashes reading “We … “Columbia’s ongoing protests cause canceled classes and increased tensions”

Trump, Biden both cautious, vague on marijuana positions

Marijuana is a rare consensus issue in politically divided America, with polls showing that 88 percent of Americans support at least partially legalizing the drug. But cannabis advocates say neither of the leading presidential candidates are capitalizing on shifting attitudes. VOA Correspondent Scott Stearns has our story. …

Work starts on bullet train rail line from Las Vegas to Los Angeles

las vegas — A $12 billion high-speed passenger rail line between Las Vegas and the Los Angeles area has started construction, officials said Monday, amid predictions that millions of ticket-buyers will be boarding trains by 2028. “People have been dreaming of high-speed rail in America for decades,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a statement released to coincide with a ceremony at the future site of a terminal to be built just south of the Las Vegas Strip. Buttigieg predicted the project will bring “thousands of union jobs, new connections to better economic opportunity, less congestion on the roads, and less pollution in the air.” Brightline West, whose sister company already operates a fast train between Miami and Orlando in Florida, aims to lay 351 kilometers of new track between Las Vegas and another new facility in Rancho Cucamonga, California. Almost the full distance is to be built in the median of Interstate 15, with a station stop in San Bernardino County’s Victorville area. Brightline Holdings founder and Chairperson Wes Edens dubbed the moment “the foundation for a new industry.” “This is a historic project and a proud moment,” Edens said in the statement. “Today is long overdue.” Brightline aims to link other U.S. cities that are too near to each other for air travel to make sense and too far for people to drive the distance. Company CEO Mike Reininger has said the goal is to have trains operating in time for the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles in 2028. Brightline received $6.5 billion in backing from the Biden administration, including a $3 billion grant from federal infrastructure funds and approval to sell another $2.5 billion in tax-exempt bonds. The company won federal authorization in 2020 to sell $1 billion in similar bonds. The project is touted as the first true high-speed passenger rail line in the nation, designed to reach speeds of 186 mph (300 kph), comparable to Japan’s Shinkansen bullet trains. The route between Vegas and L.A. is largely open space, with no convenient alternate to I-15. Brightline’s Southern California terminal will be at a commuter rail connection to downtown Los Angeles. The project outline says electric-powered trains will cut the four-hour trip across the Mojave Desert to a little more than two hours. Forecasts are for 11 million one-way passengers per year, or some 30,000 per day, with fares well below airline travel costs. The trains … “Work starts on bullet train rail line from Las Vegas to Los Angeles”

US charity trains medics to improve health care in rural Kenya

Experts say one of the health care challenges in Africa is a shortage of training and education for workers. To help, a U.S. charity called Mission to Heal is training local workers who serve patients in remote locations. Juma Majanga reports from Ngurunit village in northern Kenya. Videographer: Jimmy Makhulo …

Mary J. Blige, Cher, Ozzy Osbourne, others picked for Rock Hall of Fame

new york — Mary J. Blige,Cher, Foreigner, A Tribe Called Quest, Kool & The Gang and Ozzy Osbourne have been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, a class that also includes folk-rockers Dave Matthews Band and singer-guitarist Peter Frampton.  Alexis Korner, John Mayall and Big Mama Thornton earned the Musical Influence Award, while the late Jimmy Buffett, MC5, Dionne Warwick and Norman Whitfield will get the Musical Excellence Award. Pioneering music executive Suzanne de Passe won the Ahmet Ertegun Award.  “Rock ‘n’ roll is an ever-evolving amalgam of sounds that impacts culture and moves generations,” John Sykes, chairman of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Foundation, said in a statement. “This diverse group of inductees each broke down musical barriers and influenced countless artists that followed in their footsteps.”  The induction ceremony will be held October 19 at the Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse in the city of Cleveland in the U.S. state of Ohio. It will stream live on Disney+ with an airing on ABC at a later date and available on Hulu the next day.  The music acts nominated this year but didn’t make the cut included Mariah Carey, Lenny Kravitz, the late Sinead O’Connor, soul-pop singer Sade, Britpoppers Oasis, hip-hop duo Eric B. & Rakim, and alt-rockers Jane’s Addiction.  There had been a starry push to get Foreigner — with the hits “Urgent” and Hot Blooded” — into the hall, with Mark Ronson, Jack Black, Slash, Dave Grohl and Paul McCartney all publicly backing the move. Ronson’s stepfather is Mick Jones, Foreigner’s founding member, songwriter and lead guitarist.  Osbourne, who led many parents in the 1980s to clutch their pearls with his devil imagery and sludgy music, goes in as a solo artist, having already been inducted into the hall with metal masters Black Sabbath.  Four of the eight nominees — Cher, Foreigner, Frampton and Kool & the Gang — were on the ballot for the first time.  Cher — the only artist to have a Number 1 song in each of the past six decades — and Blige, with eight multi-platinum albums and nine Grammy Awards, will help boost the number of women in the hall, which critics say is too low.  Artists must have released their first commercial recording at least 25 years before they’re eligible for induction.  Nominees were voted on by more than 1,000 artists, historians and music industry professionals. Fans voted … “Mary J. Blige, Cher, Ozzy Osbourne, others picked for Rock Hall of Fame”

Biden to talk abortion in Florida; Trump’s NY trial enters new stage

The trial of former U.S. President Donald Trump enters a new stage Monday when opening remarks begin. Meanwhile, U.S. President Joe Biden will make a campaign stop in Tampa, Florida, on Tuesday to talk about reproductive rights. VOA’s Veronica Balderas Iglesias reports. …

‘Civil War’ continues box-office campaign at No. 1  

New York — “Civil War,” Alex Garland’s ominous American dystopia, remained the top film in theaters in its second week of release, according to studio estimates Sunday. The A24 election-year gamble, the indie studio’s biggest budgeted film yet, took in $11.1 million in ticket sales at 3,929 theaters over the weekend. The $50 million film, set in a near-future U.S. in which Texas and California have joined in rebellion against a fascist president, has grossed $44.9 million in two weeks. Its provocative premise — and A24’s marketing, which included images of U.S. cities ravaged by war — helped keep “Civil War” top of mind for moviegoers. But it was a painfully slow weekend in theaters — the kind sure to add to concern over what’s thus far been a down year for Hollywood at the box office. Going into the weekend, Universal Pictures’ “Abigail,” a critically acclaimed R-rated horror film about the daughter of Dracula, had been expected to lead ticket sales. It came in second with $10.2 million in 3,384 theaters. That was still a fair result for a film that cost a modest $28 million to make. “Abigail,” which remakes the 1936 monster film “Dracula’s Daughter,” is about a 12-year-old girl taken by kidnappers who soon realize they’ve made a poor choice of hostage. It’s directed by the duo Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett whose production company goes by the name Radio Silence. More concerning was the overall tepid response for a handful of new wide releases — and the likelihood that there will be more similar weekends throughout 2024. Last year’s actors and writers’ strikes, which had a prolonged effect on the movie pipeline, exacerbated holes in Hollywood’s release schedule. Horror films, in recent years among the most reliable cash cows in theaters, also haven’t thus far been doing the automatic business they previously did. According to David A. Gross, who runs the consulting firm Franchise Entertainment Research, horror releases accounted for $2 billion in worldwide sales in 2023. Guy Ritchie’s “The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare” debuted with $9 million in 2,845 theaters. In the based-on-a-true-story Lionsgate release, which reportedly cost $60 million to produce, Henry Cavill leads a World War II mission off the coast of West Africa. Though Ritchie has been behind numerous box-office hits, including the live-action “Aladdin” and a pair of Sherlock Holmes films, his recent movies have struggled to find big audiences. The … “‘Civil War’ continues box-office campaign at No. 1  “

Hawaii lawmakers take aim at vacation rentals after wildfire amplifies housing crisis

HONOLULU — A single mother of two, Amy Chadwick spent years scrimping and saving to buy a house in the town of Lahaina on the Hawaiian island of Maui. But after a devastating fire leveled Lahaina in August and reduced Chadwick’s home to white dust, the cheapest rental she could find for her family and dogs cost $10,000 a month. Chadwick, a fine-dining server, moved to Florida where she could stretch her homeowners insurance dollars. She’s worried Maui’s exorbitant rental prices, driven in part by vacation rentals that hog a limited housing supply, will hollow out her tight-knit town. Most people in Lahaina work for hotels, restaurants and tour companies and can’t afford $5,000 to $10,000 a month in rent, she said. “You’re pushing out an entire community of service industry people. So no one’s going to be able to support the tourism that you’re putting ahead of your community,” Chadwick said by phone from her new home in Satellite Beach on Florida’s Space Coast. “Nothing good is going to come of it unless they take a serious stance, putting their foot down and really regulating these short-term rentals.” The August 8 wildfire killed 101 people and destroyed housing for 6,200 families, amplifying Maui’s already acute housing shortage and laying bare the enormous presence of vacation rentals in Lahaina. It reminded lawmakers that short-term rentals are an issue across Hawaii, prompting them to consider bills that would give counties the authority to phase them out. Gov. Josh Green got so frustrated he blurted an expletive during a recent news conference. “This fire uncovered a clear truth, which is we have too many short-term rentals owned by too many individuals on the mainland and it is b———t,” Green said. “And our people deserve housing, here.” Vacation rentals are a popular alternative to hotels for those seeking kitchens, lower costs and opportunities to sample everyday island life. Supporters say they boost tourism, the state’s biggest employer. Critics revile them for inflating housing costs, upending neighborhoods and contributing to the forces pushing locals and Native Hawaiians to leave Hawaii for less expensive states. This migration has become a major concern in Lahaina. The Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement, a nonprofit, estimates at least 1,500 households — or a quarter of those who lost their homes — have left since the August wildfire. The blaze burned single family homes and apartments in and around downtown, … “Hawaii lawmakers take aim at vacation rentals after wildfire amplifies housing crisis”

Chicago’s response to migrant influx stirs long-standing frustrations among its Blacks

CHICAGO — The closure of Wadsworth Elementary School in 2013 was a blow to residents of the majority-Black neighborhood it served, symbolizing a city indifferent to their interests.  So when the city reopened Wadsworth last year to shelter hundreds of migrants without seeking community input, it added insult to injury. Across Chicago, Black residents are frustrated that long-standing needs are not being met while the city’s newly arrived are cared for with a sense of urgency, and with their tax dollars.  “Our voices are not valued nor heard,” said Genesis Young, a lifelong Chicagoan who lives near Wadsworth.  Chicago is one of several big American cities grappling with a surge of migrants. The Republican governor of Texas has been sending them by the busload to highlight his grievances with the Biden administration’s immigration policy.  To manage the influx, Chicago has already spent more than $300 million of city, state and federal funds to provide housing, health care, education and more to over 38,000 mostly South American migrants who have arrived in the city since 2022, desperate for help. The speed with which these funds were marshaled has stirred widespread resentment among Black Chicagoans. But community leaders are trying to ease racial tensions and channel the public’s frustrations into agitating for the greater good.  Political reactions The outcry over migrants in Chicago and other large Democrat-led cities is having wider implications in an election year: The Biden administration is now advocating a more restrictive approach to immigration in its negotiations with Republicans in Congress.  Since the Wadsworth building reopened as a shelter, Young has felt “extreme anxiety” because of the noise, loitering and around-the-clock police presence that came with it. More than anything, she and other neighbors say it is a reminder of problems that have been left unsolved for years, including high rates of crime, unemployment and homelessness.  “I definitely don’t want to seem insensitive to them and them wanting a better life. However, if you can all of a sudden come up with all these millions of dollars to address their housing, why didn’t you address the homeless issue here?” said Charlotte Jackson, the owner of a bakery and restaurant in the South Loop neighborhood.  “For so long we accepted that this is how things had to be in our communities,” said Chris Jackson, who co-founded the bakery with his wife. “This migrant crisis has made many people go: ‘Wait … “Chicago’s response to migrant influx stirs long-standing frustrations among its Blacks”

Taiwan to discuss with US how to use new funding

TAIPEI, Taiwan — Taiwan’s defense ministry said Sunday it will discuss with the United States how to use funding for the island included in a $95 billion legislative package mostly providing security assistance to Ukraine and Israel.  The United States is Taiwan’s most important international supporter and arms supplier despite the absence of formal diplomatic ties.  Democratically governed Taiwan has faced increased military pressure from China, which views the island as its own territory. Taiwan’s government rejects those claims.  The defense ministry expressed thanks to the U.S. House of Representatives for passing the package on Saturday, saying it demonstrated the “rock solid” U.S. support for Taiwan.  The ministry added it “will coordinate the relevant budget uses with the United States through existing exchange mechanisms and work hard to strengthen combat readiness capabilities to ensure national security and peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.”  Taiwan has since 2022 complained of delays in deliveries of U.S. weapons such as Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, as manufacturers focused on supplying Ukraine to help the country battle invading Russian forces.  Underscoring the pressure Taiwan faces from China, the ministry said Sunday morning that during the previous 24 hours 14 Chinese military aircraft had crossed the sensitive median line of the Taiwan Strait.  The median line once served as an unofficial border between the two sides, which neither military crossed. But China’s air force now regularly sends aircraft over it. China says it does not recognize the line’s existence.  On Saturday, Taiwan’s defense ministry said China had again carried out “joint combat readiness patrols” with Chinese warships and warplanes around Taiwan.  China’s defense ministry did not answer calls seeking comment outside of office hours Sunday.  The island’s armed forces are dwarfed by those of China’s, especially the navy and air force.  …

US ponders trade status upgrade for Vietnam despite some opposition

Washington — U.S. officials are considering a request from Vietnam to be removed from a list of “nonmarket” economies, a step that would foster improved diplomatic relations with a potential ally in Asia but would anger some U.S. lawmakers and manufacturing firms. The Southeast Asian country is on the list of 12 nations identified by the U.S. as nonmarket economies, which also includes China and Russia because of strong state intervention in their economies.   Analysts believe Hanoi is hoping for a decision before the November U.S. election, which could mean a return to power of Donald Trump, who during his previous term as president threatened to boost tariffs on Vietnam because of its large trade surplus with the United States. Under the Trump administration, the Department of Treasury also put Vietnam on a list of currency manipulators, which can lead to being excluded from U.S. government procurement contracts or other remedial actions. The Treasury, under the Biden administration, removed Vietnam from this list. On the eve of President Joe Biden’s September visit to Hanoi, where he and Vietnamese Secretary-General Nguyen Phu Trong elevated the U.S.-Vietnam relationship to a comprehensive strategic partnership. Vietnam formally asked U.S. Department of Commerce to remove it from the list of nonmarket economies on the grounds that it had made economic reforms in recent years.   The Biden administration subsequently initiated a review of Vietnam’s nonmarket economy (NME) status. The Department of Commerce is to issue a final decision by July 26, 270 days after initiating the review.   “Receiving market economy status is the highest diplomatic priority of the Vietnamese leadership this year, especially after last fall’s double upgrade in diplomatic relations,” said Zachary Abuza, a professor at National War College where he focuses on Southeast Asian politics and security issues. He told VOA Vietnamese that the Vietnamese “are really linking the implementation of the joint vision statement to receiving that status.” The U.S. is Vietnam’s most important export market with two-way trade totaling more than $125 billion in 2023, according to U.S. Census data. But Washington has initiated more trade defense investigations with Vietnam than with any other country, mainly anti-dumping investigations. Vietnam recorded 58 cases subject to trade remedies of the U.S. as of August 2023, in which 26 were anti-dumping, according to the Vietnam Trade Office in the U.S. Vietnam has engaged a lobbying firm in Washington to help it win congressional … “US ponders trade status upgrade for Vietnam despite some opposition”

Tennessee Volkswagen employees vote to join United Auto Workers union

Chattanooga, Tennessee — Employees at a Volkswagen factory in Chattanooga, Tennessee, voted to join the United Auto Workers union Friday in a historic first test of the UAW’s renewed effort to organize nonunion factories. The union wound up getting 2,628 votes, or 73% of the ballots cast, compared with only 985 who voted no in an election run by the National Labor Relations Board. Both sides have five business days to file objections to the election, the NLRB said. If there are none, the election will be certified, and VW and the union must “begin bargaining in good faith.” President Joe Biden, who backed the UAW and won its endorsement, said the union’s win follows major union gains across the country including actors, port workers, Teamsters members, writers and health care workers. Twice in recent years, workers at the Chattanooga plant have rejected union membership in plantwide votes. Most recently, they handed the UAW a narrow defeat in 2019 as federal prosecutors were breaking up a bribery-and-embezzlement scandal at the union. But this time, they voted convincingly for the UAW, which is operating under new leadership directly elected by members for the first time and basking in a successful confrontation with Detroit’s major automakers. The union’s new president, Shawn Fain, was elected on a platform of cleaning up after the scandal and turning more confrontational with automakers. An emboldened Fain, backed by Biden, led the union in a series of strikes last fall against Detroit’s automakers that resulted in lucrative new contracts. Next up for a union vote are workers at Mercedes factories near Tuscaloosa, Alabama, who will vote on UAW representation in May. Fain said he was not surprised by the size of the union’s win Friday after the two previous losses. “This gives workers everywhere else the indication that it’s OK,” Fain said. “All we’ve heard for years is we can’t win here, you can’t do this in the South, and you can.” Worker Vicky Holloway of Chattanooga was among dozens of cheering workers celebrating at an electrical workers union hall near the VW plant. She said the overwhelming vote for the union came this time because her colleagues realized they could have better benefits and a voice in the workplace. “Right now, we have no say,” said Holloway, who has worked at the plant for 13 years. “It’s like our opinions don’t matter.” In a statement, Volkswagen thanked … “Tennessee Volkswagen employees vote to join United Auto Workers union”

Pakistan protests ‘erroneous’ US sanctions on Chinese firms over missile program allegations

Islamabad — Pakistan criticized the United States on Saturday for penalizing four international companies on charges they are aiding its ballistic missile program. “Pakistan rejects political use of export controls,” said Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch. The reaction came a day after Washington imposed sanctions on three Chinese companies and one Belarus-based firm for their alleged links to Islamabad’s missile development program. “These entities have supplied missile‐applicable items to Pakistan’s ballistic missile program, including its long-range missile program,” the U.S. State Department said on Friday. It noted that the sanctions are part of U.S. efforts to disrupt and target “proliferators of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery” and strengthen the global nonproliferation “regime.” “Such listings of commercial entities have taken place in the past as well on allegations of links to Pakistan’s ballistic missile program without sharing any evidence whatsoever,” Baloch said. “We have pointed out many times the need to avoid (the) arbitrary application of export controls and for discussions between concerned parties for an objective mechanism to avoid erroneous sanctions on (the) technology needed purely for socio-economic development pursuits,” she added. Baloch renewed Islamabad’s readiness to discuss “end-use and end-user verification mechanisms so that legitimate commercial users are not hurt by discriminatory application of export controls. She asserted that Pakistan has in the past come across instances where mere suspicions led to the blacklisting of foreign companies.   The U.S. identified the alleged suppliers to Islamabad’s ballistic missile program as China-based Xi’an Longde Technology Development Company Limited, Tianjin Creative Source International Trade Co. Ltd., Granpect Company Limited, and Belarus-based Minsk Wheel Tractor Plant. Under the U.S. executive order, all assets, properties, and interests in properties of the sanctioned companies located within the United States or controlled by U.S. citizens must be blocked and reported to the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, or OFAC. The listing makes it illegal for any individual or entity within the United States, or any U.S. citizen to engage in any transactions involving property or interests in property of designated or blocked companies unless authorized by a specific or general license issued by OFAC or exempted. Without naming the U.S. or any other country, Baloch stated that “the same jurisdictions” claiming “strict adherence” to the nonproliferation of weapons and military technologies would sometimes make exceptions “for some countries” and have even waived licensing requirements to help them … “Pakistan protests ‘erroneous’ US sanctions on Chinese firms over missile program allegations”