Ugandan Baseball Player Debuts in America

In the heart of Maryland, the Frederick Keys baseball team introduced its newest player last week, one unlike any other the team has seen in its 35-year history. Dennis Kasumba, 18-year-old catcher. From Uganda. Kasuma recently turned what seemed like an impossible dream into a reality, making the leap from the rough fields of his home country to the manicured grass of American professional baseball stadiums. For those following his journey, he stands as a symbol of resilience. Just three days after flying to the U.S., Kasumba took his first official steps onto an American baseball diamond on June 1 with the Keys. Batting in the ninth inning, he struck out on three pitches, but was able to make contact on the first pitch, fouling it off. The young player who once honed his skills on muddy streets using old tires and oil drums in Uganda, now finds himself playing high-quality amateur league baseball, one step below the professional minor leagues. “My first game was very, very good because I faced a pitcher who threw 95 [miles per hour – about 153 kph], yeah. And I hit it,” Kasumba told VOA. “I need to hit because I am here to hit, to show my skill, I am ready to hit. I want to show I can hit. I want to show them I can throw.” Kasumba’s story extends beyond his on-field skills. His journey from Uganda to the U.S. has captured the imagination of thousands on social media who have marveled at his intense workouts. In one, he practices his catching drills with a tire strapped to his back. One of these admirers was Joshua Williams, an American attorney and baseball enthusiast who helped make Kasumba’s dream a reality. “It all just started because I saw a video of him hitting off of a tire, hitting a baseball off of the tire with a Coke bottle,” Williams said. “So, I reached out to him on Facebook, started talking to him. We talked about his dreams and aspirations.” It took Kasumba almost two years to get a contract with an American team and several attempts at the U.S. Embassy in Uganda to secure a travel visa. Williams and some friends intensified their efforts after his third visa request was denied. “We started making our application a lot stronger. Several immigration attorneys at my firm jumped in and they were like, ‘Let’s … Continue reading “Ugandan Baseball Player Debuts in America”

UN: Sudan Cannot Apply ‘Persona Non Grata’ to UN Envoy 

The United Nations said Friday that U.N. personnel cannot be made persona non grata after Sudan declared U.N. special envoy to Sudan Volker Perthes unwelcome in the country.   Sudan’s army – led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan – and the country’s paramilitary Rapid Support Forces began fighting eight weeks ago, sparking a major humanitarian crisis. They agreed to a nationwide, 24-hour cease-fire beginning Saturday morning, U.S. and Saudi Arabian mediators said Friday.   Sudan said Thursday that it had notified the United Nations that Perthes was persona non grata. Burhan had previously expressed his disapproval of the envoy.  “The secretary-general recalls that the doctrine of persona non grata is not applicable to or in respect of United Nations personnel, and its invocation is contrary to the obligations of states under the Charter of the United Nations,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Friday.   He said Perthes was currently in Addis Ababa.  …

UN Weekly Roundup: June 3-9, 2023

Editor’s note: Here is a fast take on what the international community has been up to this past week, as seen from the United Nations perch. Ukrainian sites flooded following blast at dam On Tuesday, a major dam in southern Ukraine was blown up, resulting in flooding that has displaced thousands, destroyed crops and killed livestock, and potentially dislodged landmines and unexploded ordnance that could now pose hazards to the general population. Ukraine and Russia accused each other of being behind the blast at the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant dam, which is under Russian control. The dam also provides water upstream to cool reactors at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure must stop. The U.N. has been assisting the affected region with humanitarian aid, including clean drinking water. The U.N. Security Council met late Tuesday in an emergency session at both Ukraine’s and Russia’s insistence. Ukraine’s president visited the region Thursday, calling for a scaled up international response. Dam Blown Up in Country’s South Unleashes Torrent of Water, Evacuations 300 children rescued from Sudanese orphanage The U.N. children’s agency, UNICEF, said Thursday that nearly 300 children were safely relocated from an orphanage in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, to a transit center in a safer location. The International Committee for the Red Cross facilitated the evacuation of the children and their caretakers. At least 70 children had reportedly died at the Mygoma orphanage since fighting began April 15. Read more from The Associated Press: UNICEF Says 300 Trapped Children Rescued from Sudanese Orphanage After 71 Others Died Food aid diverted in Ethiopia The World Food Program said Friday that it is speeding up efforts to roll out improved safeguards and controls to ensure humanitarian food aid reaches the people it is intended for in Ethiopia. WFP’s announcement follows a joint statement by Ethiopia’s Foreign Ministry and USAID about revelations of food aid diversion in the country. WFP paused food distributions in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region in April, after evidence of significant food aid sales in local markets. In a statement, WFP said while it has temporarily halted food aid assistance in Ethiopia, it has continued nutrition assistance to children, pregnant and breastfeeding women, school meals programs, and activities for building the resilience of farmers and pastoralists. More than 20 million people across Ethiopia need food assistance this year. Report: US Suspends … Continue reading “UN Weekly Roundup: June 3-9, 2023”

White House Warns Private Entities: Products Could Be Used in Iran Drones 

The White House has warned private entities, especially technology companies, about the risks of their products ending up in Iranian hands. Russia has been using drones in its war against Ukraine, attacking cities and destroying infrastructure, and — according to the White House — is working with Iran to produce them from inside Russia. VOA Persian’s White House correspondent Farhad Pouladi on Friday spoke with John Kirby, National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications, about this and other issues the administration is tackling regarding the Islamic Republic. VOA: On Iran and Russia cooperation on drones, what advice does the administration have by issuing this new advisory? NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL COORDINATOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS JOHN KIRBY: Well, we want to make sure that private entities, certainly technology companies, understand the risks of their products potentially ending up in Iranian hands to be used for the manufacture of Iranian drones in this case that can be used to kill innocent Ukrainian people. So, the purpose of the advisory was really to make sure that the business community understands our concerns and is taking a look at its own procedures and procedures. VOA: In the past two weeks, Iran unveiled a hypersonic missile called Fattah and a 2 kilometer-range missile called Kheibar. With the arms embargo under UNSC Resolution 2231 coming to an end in October, and considering Russia’s veto power, what is the U.S. hoping to do? KIRBY: Well, I can’t get ahead of the U.N. process here. But you’re right. This activity by Iran, particularly with ballistic missiles, is a violation of 2231. Again, I won’t get ahead of the process here and where it’s going. Clear violations, we’re going to continue to work with our allies and partners at the U.N. and outside the U.N. to make sure that we’re putting enough pressure on Iran so that they stop this destabilizing activity. Their ballistic missile program continues to improve. It presents a clear threat to the region, certainly to our friends in the region. And now some of these capabilities, not ballistic missiles necessarily but in terms of UAVs, [unmanned aerial vehicles] now, this capability, this technology is being used inside Ukraine to kill innocent Ukrainians. And now we know that Iran is working with Russia on the potential construction of a manufacturing facility, or the conversion of one, to be used inside Russia to actually produce, organically, there inside … Continue reading “White House Warns Private Entities: Products Could Be Used in Iran Drones “

UN Sending Home Peacekeepers Implicated in Sexual Abuse

The United Nations said Friday that it is sending home a unit of 60 Tanzanian peacekeepers from the Central African Republic, after a preliminary investigation found credible evidence that 11 of them allegedly sexually exploited and abused at least four victims.   “The unit has been relocated to another base while investigations continue, and its members have been confined to the barracks, in order to protect victims and the integrity of the investigation,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters. “The unit will be repatriated once their presence is no longer required by the investigation.”  Dujarric said the victims are being provided with care and support by the mission’s humanitarian partners. He added that Tanzanian authorities have been notified and are deploying their own investigators to the Central African Republic.  “In reaffirming their commitment to zero tolerance for sexual exploitation and abuse, the Tanzanian authorities noted the seriousness of the allegations and have committed to taking the necessary action to address these matters,” Dujarric said.  VOA has asked Tanzania’s U.N. ambassador for comment.  According to the Department of Peacekeeping’s website, Tanzania has about 1,586 uniformed personnel in the C.A.R. as part of the more than 17,000-strong mission, known by its acronym, MINUSCA.  The U.N. has the authority to repatriate international peacekeepers when there is credible evidence that members of a military or police unit have engaged in widespread or systemic sexual exploitation or abuse.  Dujarric said the Tanzanian peacekeepers were deployed at a temporary operating base in the western part of the Central African Republic.  The country has been locked in a cycle of political instability, violence and human rights abuses since the 1990s. Intense sectarian fighting in 2013 led to the U.N. authorizing the stabilization mission to the country the following year.  Since it was established, MINUSCA has had repeated problems with international peacekeepers engaging in sexual exploitation and abuse, including the abuse of children.  “The United Nations remains committed to robustly implementing the secretary-general’s zero-tolerance policy on sexual exploitation and abuse,” Dujarric told reporters. …

Reflection: Historic Trump Indictment Opens New Chapter in US Politics

Donald Trump made history on Thursday. The 78-year-old former president and front-runner in next year’s Republican presidential primaries announced he has been indicted on federal criminal charges. None of his predecessors, since the United States declared independence in 1776, has ever faced such legal peril.   While politics is a zero-sum game in many countries, including some democracies where rival leaders will use the levers of powers to neutralize their predecessors, that has not traditionally been the case in America.  When he was president, Trump’s critics accused him of lurching towards authoritarianism and trying to use his political office to stay in power after he lost his bid for reelection. Of course Trump, in his trademark approach to politics, is now alleging just such an abuse of office, accusing the Democratic administration of Joe Biden of weaponizing the Federal Bureau of Investigation and its parent agency, the Department of Justice, in “warfare for the law.”  Trump, who like all defendants is presumed innocent pending the outcome of a trial, has been claiming the system is rigged against him since the first votes were cast in the Iowa caucuses in 2016. Back then he blamed rival candidate Ted Cruz and demanded, without success, that “a new election should take place or Cruz results (be) nullified.”  Even when he won the general election later that year, he claimed fraud. Trump won the Electoral College vote (based on a majority of votes in each individual state) but lost the popular vote to Democrat Hillary Clinton.  “In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally,” Trump stated without any evidence.  During his four years in office, in which he was impeached twice by the House but not convicted in the Senate, Trump repeatedly stated he was the target of witch hunts and that he never did anything wrong. There was the “perfect phone call” with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in which he repeatedly pressed for the foreign leader to investigate Biden in a suggested quid pro quo. That led to the first impeachment.  Then there was the ignominious day at the U.S. Capitol when Trump supporters stormed the symbol of American democracy after their president incited them to “fight like hell” or “you’re not going to have a country anymore. So let’s walk down Pennsylvania Avenue.” Trump returned … Continue reading “Reflection: Historic Trump Indictment Opens New Chapter in US Politics”

Russia Receiving Hundreds of Iranian Drones, Plans to Produce Them: White House

Moscow has not only received hundreds of Iranian drones but is working with Iran to produce them from inside Russia, according to the White House — a sign of the deepening military partnership between the two countries. “We have information that Russia is receiving materials from Iran needed to build a UAV manufacturing plant inside Russia,” said National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby in a statement sent to VOA Thursday. “This plant could be fully operational early next year.”  The White House released satellite imagery of the planned location of the UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) manufacturing plant in Russia’s Alabuga Special Economic Zone.  Kirby said that currently, drones are built in Iran, shipped across the Caspian Sea from Amirabad, Iran to Makhachkala, Russia, and then used operationally by Russian forces against Ukraine. On Friday, the Biden Administration is releasing a new advisory to help businesses and other governments “better understand the risks posed by Iran’s UAV program and the illicit practices Iran uses to procure components for it.”   “This will help governments and businesses put in place measures to ensure they are not inadvertently contributing to Iran’s UAV program,” Kirby added.  Russia has increasingly deployed drones to bombard Ukrainian cities and targets in recent weeks. They are “a difficult target because Ukraine has limited air defense resources,” Ukrainian Air Force spokesperson Yurii Ihnat told VOA Friday. “Iranian drones are hard to detect; they are slow,” he said. “The Shaheds fly very low, use the river delta and forest, and drop from the radars.” Ihnat noted that Moscow sends the drones to all parts of Ukrainian territory from different directions. “Ukraine Air defense today is focused on the protection of big towns, infrastructure objects, and critical infrastructure,” he said. JCPOA sunset This latest revelation is part of the administration’s periodic release of intelligence findings about Russia’s war in Ukraine, with the goal of further isolating Moscow and its supporters.  The timing coincides with sunset clauses in the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which imposed international restrictions on Iranian weapons. Many of the JCPOA’s sunset clauses were already made obsolete after President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the agreement in May 2018 and reimposed sanctions, which led Iran to breach its obligations and enrich uranium to higher levels beginning in July 2019.  Still, since the JCPOA was never officially nullified by … Continue reading “Russia Receiving Hundreds of Iranian Drones, Plans to Produce Them: White House”

Smoke Gives US East Coast, Canada New View of Fire Threat

Images of smoke obscuring the New York skyline and the Washington Monument this week have given the world a new picture of the perils of wildfire, far from where blazes regularly turn skies into hazardous haze. A third day of unhealthy air from Canadian wildfires may have been an unnerving novelty for millions of people on the U.S. East Coast, but it was a reminder of conditions routinely troubling the country’s West — and a wake-up call about the future, scientists say. “This is kind of an astounding event” but likely to become more common amid global warming, said Justin Mankin, a Dartmouth College geography professor and climate scientist. “This is something that we, as the eastern side of the country, need to take quite seriously.” Millions of residents could see that for themselves Thursday. The conditions sent asthma sufferers to hospitals, delayed flights, postponed ballgames and even pushed back a White House Pride Month celebration. The fires sent plumes of fine particulate matter as far away as North Carolina and northern Europe and parked clumps of air rated unhealthy or worse over the heavily populated Eastern Seaboard. At points this week, air quality in places including New York, the nation’s most populous city, nearly hit the top of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s air-pollution scale. Local officials urged people to stay indoors as much as possible and wear face masks when they venture out. Such conditions are nothing new — indeed, increasingly frequent — on the U.S. West Coast, where residents were buying masks and air filters even before the coronavirus pandemic and have become accustomed to checking air quality daily in summertime. Since 2017, California has seen eight of its 10 largest wildfires and six of the most destructive. The hazardous air has sometimes forced children, older adults and people with asthma and other respiratory conditions to stay indoors for weeks at a time. Officials have opened smoke shelters for people who are homeless or who might not have access to clean indoor air. So what’s the big deal about the smoke out East? “The West has always burned, as has Canada, but what’s important now is that we’re getting these massive amounts of smoke in a very populated region, so many, many people are getting affected,” said Loretta Mickley, the co-leader of Harvard University’s Atmospheric Chemistry Modeling Group. Fueled by an unusually dry and warm period in … Continue reading “Smoke Gives US East Coast, Canada New View of Fire Threat”

US Supreme Court Rules In Favor Of Black Alabama Voters

The Supreme Court on Thursday issued a surprising 5-4 ruling in favor of Black voters in a congressional redistricting case from Alabama, with two conservative justices joining liberals in rejecting a Republican-led effort to weaken a landmark voting rights law. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh aligned with the court’s liberals in affirming a lower court ruling that found a likely violation of the Voting Rights Act in an Alabama congressional map with one majority Black seat out of seven districts in a state where more than one in four residents is Black. The state now will have to draw a new map for next year’s elections. The decision was keenly anticipated for its potential effect on control of the closely divided U.S. House of Representatives. Because of the ruling, new maps are likely in Alabama and Louisiana that could allow Democratic-leaning Black voters to elect their preferred candidates in two more congressional districts. The outcome was unexpected in that the court had allowed the challenged Alabama map to be used for the 2022 elections, and in arguments last October the justices appeared willing to make it harder to challenge redistricting plans as racially discriminatory under the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The chief justice himself suggested last year that he was open to changes in the way courts weigh discrimination claims under the part of the law known as section 2. But on Thursday, Roberts wrote that the court was declining “to recast our section 2 case law as Alabama requests.” Roberts also was part of conservative high-court majorities in earlier cases that made it harder for racial minorities to use the Voting Rights Act in ideologically divided rulings in 2013 and 2021. The other four conservative justices dissented Thursday. Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that the decision forces “Alabama to intentionally redraw its longstanding congressional districts so that black voters can control a number of seats roughly proportional to the black share of the State’s population. Section 2 demands no such thing, and, if it did, the Constitution would not permit it.” The Biden administration sided with the Black voters in Alabama. Attorney General Merrick Garland applauded the ruling: “Today’s decision rejects efforts to further erode fundamental voting rights protections, and preserves the principle that in the United States, all eligible voters must be able to exercise their constitutional right to vote free from discrimination based on … Continue reading “US Supreme Court Rules In Favor Of Black Alabama Voters”

Trump Facing Significant Other Criminal Cases

Former U.S. President Donald Trump, indicted in connection with his handling of classified documents after he left the White House in early 2021, is also facing two other significant criminal investigations. One is related to his 2020 reelection loss; in the other, he has been charged with altering business records to hide hush money paid to a porn star ahead of his successful 2016 presidential campaign.  Special counsel Jack Smith, appointed by Attorney General Merrick Garland and working with an extensive team of prosecutors, is heading the two most wide-ranging inquiries.  One involves Trump’s retention of classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. Trump said Thursday night that he had been indicted and ordered to face the charges in a Miami court on Tuesday.  Under U.S. law, presidents are required to turn over presidential papers to the National Archives as they leave office, but Trump instead took some with him, many of them marked as highly classified.  Trump voluntarily returned some of the documents after authorities repeatedly asked for them. But when Justice Department officials concluded that he had still more at Mar-a-Lago, they secured a court-ordered warrant to search the estate last August. There, FBI agents discovered more classified material.  Trump has contended he was entitled as a former president to keep the documents.  The other Smith investigation involves Trump’s effort to upend his loss to Democrat Joe Biden in the weeks after the November 2020 election, including his admonition on January 6, 2021, for his supporters to head to the U.S. Capitol and “fight like hell” to keep Congress from certifying Biden’s election victory.  About 2,000 Trump supporters stormed into the Capitol, ransacked congressional offices and clashed with police that day. About 1,000 of the rioters have since been charged with criminal offenses and about half have been convicted so far. Sentences have ranged from a few months to 18 years behind bars.  In a narrower criminal probe, a state prosecutor in Atlanta, Fani Willis, is investigating Trump’s role in trying to overturn his 11,779-vote loss to Biden in the southern state of Georgia.  In a recorded conversation days ahead of the congressional certification of Biden’s victory, Trump pleaded with Georgia state election chief Brad Raffensperger and other election officials to “find” him 11,780 votes, one more than he needed to overcome his loss.  “The people of Georgia are angry. The people in the country are angry,” … Continue reading “Trump Facing Significant Other Criminal Cases”

The Trump Documents Case: Why It Matters 

Former President Donald Trump has been indicted over his handling of classified government documents after he left the White House, several U.S. media organizations reported late Thursday. Trump confirmed on his social media platform that his lawyers were informed by the Justice Department that he had been charged and that he had been summoned to appear in federal court in Miami on Tuesday. The indictment remains under seal, but CNN, citing a source familiar with the matter, said it contained several criminal charges. The indictment makes Trump the first former president to be charged in federal court. He is facing separate charges in New York state of falsifying business records to hide a hush money payment to an adult film star in 2016. He has pleaded not guilty in that case. Here are seven questions about the case. Why was Trump being investigated?  The Justice Department has been investigating Trump since early 2022 after learning that he had stashed hundreds of sensitive government documents at his Florida resort and had thwarted efforts to retrieve them. Under U.S. law, presidential records belong to the government and must be handed over to the National Archives when a president leaves office. But Trump allegedly took hundreds of records from the White House and had them shipped to Mar-a-Lago, his Florida resort and residence.  The National Archives demanded the documents from Trump’s representatives in 2021 but received only 14 boxes in January 2022. They contained more than 100 classified documents. Alarmed at the finding of government secrets, the National Archives subsequently reported the discovery to the Justice Department, triggering a federal investigation. Though Trump later returned several dozen more documents, he was suspected of holding on to even more.  That led the FBI to execute a search of Mar-a-Lago in August 2022.  The highly publicized search led to the discovery of more than 100 classified documents. What is in the documents?  In all, prosecutors have retrieved more than 300 classified government documents from Trump. The documents bear various classification markings, from confidential and secret to top secret/sensitive compartmentalized information, the highest level of classification. The government has kept the content of the classified records under wraps, but in court documents, prosecutors have said their mishandling could endanger U.S. national security. The documents originate from different agencies, including the CIA, the FBI and the National Security Agency, and cover a broad spectrum of national security … Continue reading “The Trump Documents Case: Why It Matters “

Trump Says He Has Been Indicted in Classified Documents Case

Former U.S. President Donald Trump wrote on social media Thursday night that he has been indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice, apparently for mishandling sensitive government documents. “The corrupt Biden Administration has informed my attorneys that I have been Indicted, seemingly over the Boxes Hoax,” Trump wrote on his Truth Social platform. Several media outlets said Trump has been indicted on seven counts related to his handling of classified documents and obstruction of justice. Trump wrote that he had been summoned to appear at the federal courthouse in Miami on Tuesday. Trump’s attorneys did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A spokesperson for Special Counsel Jack Smith, who is handling the investigation, declined to comment. Reuters could not immediately learn the exact charges Trump is facing. In a sworn statement to a federal court last year, an FBI agent said there was probable cause to believe several crimes were committed, including obstruction and the illegal retention of sensitive defense records. The U.S. Justice Department has been investigating whether Trump mishandled classified documents he retained after leaving the White House in 2021. Investigators seized roughly 13,000 documents from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, nearly a year ago. One hundred were marked as classified, even though one of Trump’s lawyers had previously said all records with classified markings had been returned to the government. Trump has previously defended his retention of documents, suggesting he declassified them while president. However, Trump has not provided evidence of this, and his attorneys have declined to make that argument in court filings. …

Poor Air Quality from Canadian Wildfires Affects People as Far Away as North Carolina

On air quality maps, purple signifies the worst of it. In reality, it’s a thick, hazardous haze that’s disrupting daily life for millions of people across the U.S. and Canada, blotting out skylines and turning skies orange. With weather systems expected to barely budge, the smoky blanket billowing from wildfires in Quebec and Nova Scotia and sending plumes of fine particulate matter as far away as North Carolina and northern Europe should persist into Thursday and possibly the weekend. That means at least another day of a dystopian-style detour that’s chased players from ballfields, actors from Broadway stages, delayed thousands of flights and sparked a resurgence in mask wearing and remote work — all while raising concerns about the health effects of prolonged exposure to such bad air. The weather system that’s driving the great Canadian-American smokeout — a low-pressure system over Maine and Nova Scotia — “will probably be hanging around at least for the next few days,” U.S. National Weather Service meteorologist Bryan Ramsey said. “Conditions are likely to remain unhealthy, at least until the wind direction changes or the fires get put out,” Ramsey said. “Since the fires are raging — they’re really large — they’re probably going to continue for weeks. But it’s really just going be all about the wind shift.” Across the eastern U.S., officials warned residents to stay inside and limit or avoid outdoor activities again Thursday, extending “Code Red” air quality alerts in some places for a third straight day as forecasts showed winds continuing to push smoke-filled air south. The smoke has moved over Greenland and Iceland since June 1, and was expected to reach Norway on Thursday, the Norwegian Climate and Environmental Research Institute said, but wasn’t expected to be a health concern. In Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser ordered schools to cancel outdoor recess, sports and field trips Thursday. In suburban Philadelphia, officials set up an emergency shelter so people living outside can take refuge from the haze. New York Governor Kathy Hochul said the state was making a million N95 masks — the kind prevalent at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic — available at state facilities, including 400,000 in New York City. She also urged residents to stay put. “You don’t need to go out and take a walk. You don’t need to push the baby in the stroller,” Hochul said Wednesday night. “This is not a … Continue reading “Poor Air Quality from Canadian Wildfires Affects People as Far Away as North Carolina”

Pat Robertson, Broadcaster who Helped Make Religion Central to GOP Politics, Dies at 93

Pat Robertson, a religious broadcaster who turned a tiny Virginia station into the global Christian Broadcasting Network, tried a run for president and helped make religion central to Republican Party politics in America through his Christian Coalition, has died. He was 93. Robertson’s death Thursday was confirmed in an email by his broadcasting network. No cause was given. Robertson’s enterprises also included Regent University, an evangelical Christian school in Virginia Beach; the American Center for Law and Justice, which defends the First Amendment rights of religious people; and Operation Blessing, an international humanitarian organization. For more than a half-century, Robertson was a familiar presence in American living rooms, known for his “700 Club” television show, and in later years, his televised pronouncements of God’s judgment, blaming natural disasters on everything from homosexuality to the teaching of evolution. The money poured in as he solicited donations, his influence soared, and he brought a huge following with him when he moved directly into politics by seeking the GOP presidential nomination in 1988. Robertson pioneered the now-common strategy of courting Iowa’s network of evangelical Christian churches, and finished in second place in the Iowa caucuses, ahead of Vice President George H.W. Bush. His masterstroke was insisting that three million followers across the U.S. sign petitions before he would decide to run, Robertson biographer Jeffrey K. Hadden said. The tactic gave him an army. “He asked people to pledge that they’d work for him, pray for him and give him money,” Hadden, a University of Virginia sociologist, told The Associated Press in 1988. “Political historians may view it as one of the most ingenious things a candidate ever did.” Robertson later endorsed Bush, who won the presidency. Pursuit of Iowa’s evangelicals is now a ritual for Republican hopefuls, including those currently seeking the White House in 2024. Robertson started the Christian Coalition in Chesapeake in 1989, saying it would further his campaign’s ideals. The coalition became a major political force in the 1990s, mobilizing conservative voters through grass-roots activities. By the time of his resignation as the coalition’s president in 2001 — Robertson said he wanted to concentrate on ministerial work — his impact on both religion and politics in the U.S. was “enormous,” according to John C. Green, an emeritus political science professor at The University of Akron. Many followed the path Robertson cut in religious broadcasting, Green told the AP in 2021. … Continue reading “Pat Robertson, Broadcaster who Helped Make Religion Central to GOP Politics, Dies at 93”

US Supreme Court backs Black Voters in Challenge to Alabama Electoral Map 

The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday handed a major victory to Black voters who challenged a Republican-drawn electoral map in Alabama, finding that the state violated a landmark federal law prohibiting racial discrimination in voting. The 5-4 ruling affirmed a lower court’s decision that the map diluted the voting power of Black Alabamians, running afoul of a bedrock U.S. civil rights law, the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Conservative Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the ruling, which was joined by the court’s three liberals as well as conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh. With the ruling in the dispute over the composition of Alabama’s U.S. House of Representatives districts, the conservative-majority court elected not to further roll back protections contained in the Voting Rights Act as it had done in two major rulings in the past decade. At issue in the case was the map approved in 2021 by the Republican-controlled state legislature setting the boundaries of Alabama’s seven U.S. House districts. The map featured one majority-Black district, with six majority-white districts. The Voting Rights Act was passed at a time when Southern states including Alabama enforced policies blocking Black people from casting ballots. Nearly six decades later, race remains a contentious issue in American politics and society more broadly. Conservative states and groups have successfully prodded the Supreme Court to limit the Voting Rights Act’s scope. Its 2013 ruling in another Alabama case struck down a key part that determined which states with histories of racial discrimination needed federal approval to change voting laws. In a 2021 ruling endorsing Republican-backed Arizona voting restrictions, the justices made it harder to prove violations under Section 2. In the ruling on Thursday, two consolidated cases before the Supreme Court involved challenges brought by Black voters and advocacy groups accusing the state of violating Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, a provision aimed at countering measures that result in racial bias in voting even absent racist intent. The challengers said Alabama’s map reduced the influence of Black voters by concentrating their voting power in one district while distributing the rest of the Black population in other districts at levels too small to form a majority. A three-judge federal court panel in January 2022 sided with the challengers, blocking the Republican-drawn map as a “substantially likely” violation of Section 2 and ordering an additional district where Black voters make up “a voting-age majority or something quite … Continue reading “US Supreme Court backs Black Voters in Challenge to Alabama Electoral Map “

Report: US Suspends Food Aid to Ethiopia Amid Theft Accusations

The Washington Post reports the U.S. government is suspending food aid to Ethiopia after an investigation uncovered a scheme to divert the food from the poor to the Ethiopian military. The Post quoted a statement from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) which said: “After a country-wide review, USAID determined, in coordination with the Government of Ethiopia, that a widespread and coordinated campaign is diverting food assistance. We cannot move forward with distribution of food assistance until reforms are in place.” The reported suspension could affect millions of Ethiopians who depend on food aid amid recurring droughts, high inflation and the aftermath of a war in the northern Tigray region. The Post says the Ethiopian government spokesman, prime minister’s spokeswoman and National Disaster Risk Management Commission did not respond to requests for comment. The report, based on USAID statements and documents, says the investigation by found that elements within the Ethiopian government were involved with the scheme. It said that Ethiopian officials have been stealing donated food in order to feed soldiers and ex-combatants. It said officials have also sold flour on the open market to millers who re-exported it. “Extensive monitoring indicates this diversion of donor-funded food assistance is a coordinated and criminal scheme, which has prevented life-saving assistance from reaching the most vulnerable,” reported The Post, quoting a USAID document prepared for donors. “The scheme appears to be orchestrated by federal and regional Government of Ethiopia [GoE] entities, with military units across the country benefiting from humanitarian assistance.” The document said USAID investigators visited 63 flour mills in seven of Ethiopia’s nine regions and found “significant diversion” across all seven regions. Food from the United States, Ukraine, Japan and France donated to the United Nations World Food Program has been stolen, the report said. It called on all donors who sent food aid to check how it is being used. …

US Vice President Announces more than $100M to Help Caribbean

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris announced Thursday that the U.S. is investing more than $100 million in the Caribbean region to crack down on weapons trafficking, help alleviate Haiti’s humanitarian crisis and support climate change initiatives. The announcement was made ahead of an official trip to the Bahamas for a meeting of Caribbean and U.S. leaders hosted by Harris and Bahamian Prime Minister Philip Davis. As part of the initiatives, the U.S. Justice Department expects to appoint a coordinator to oversee cases involving illegal weapons smuggling in the Caribbean as island nations report a rise in violent crimes. In addition, the State Department vowed to help improve forensic work in the region, help strengthen local police departments and support a unit based in Trinidad and Tobago aimed at helping islands solve gun-related cases and provide training for the collection and analysis of related intelligence. The U.S., with help from the U.K., also will establish a program in the eastern Caribbean to mentor local judges and prosecutors in a bid to improve prosecutions of gun-related crimes as island nations struggle with a backlog of cases. The State Department also expects to work with Haiti’s National Police, a severely underfunded and understaffed agency struggling to quell a surge in gang violence, to help investigate and prosecute crimes with U.S. ties that involve gangs, weapons smuggling and human trafficking. That initiative is considered key given that gangs are estimated to control up to 80% of the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince as killings and kidnappings soar across the metropolitan area and beyond. Harris announced that the U.S. Agency for International Development will invest nearly $54 million in Haiti to help fight a sharp rise in starvation and provide access to potable water and healthcare. Almost half of Haiti’s more than 11 million people are facing acute food insecurity, and 19,000 are in catastrophic famine conditions. Another $10.5 million will go toward supporting Haiti’s agricultural sector as poverty deepens. USAID also expects to invest $20 million to help Caribbean businesses that use technologies related to renewable energy and energy efficiency. Another nearly $15 million will be used to boost emergency response and preparedness across the region. Additional funds will help low-lying island nations whose economies largely depend on tourism prepare and adapt to climate change.   …