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Voice of America

  • Trump Says Will Name EPA's Acting Chief to Post Permanently
    Andrew Wheeler, a former lobbyist who has led the Environmental Protection Agency since his scandal-plagued predecessor resigned earlier this year, got President Donald Trump's nod Friday for the permanent job. Trump made the announcement almost in passing at a White House ceremony for Presidential Medal of Freedom honorees. Singling out Cabinet members in the audience at the ceremony, Trump got to Wheeler, "acting administrator, who I will tell you is going to be made permanent." "He's done a fantastic job and I want to congratulate him, EPA, Andrew Wheeler. Where's Andrew?" Trump continued. "Congratulations, Andrew, great job, great job, thank you very much." Wheeler has served as the EPA's acting head since July, when then-EPA administrator Scott Pruitt resigned amid ethics scandals. A former lobbyist for coal and other industries, Wheeler has a reputation as a methodical steward of the Trump administration's deregulatory mission. Wheeler was confirmed by the Senate 53-45 as the agency's deputy administrator last April.

  • Some Saudi Women Wear Abayas Inside Out in Protest 
    Saudi campaigners have urged Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to loosen the conservative kingdom's strict dress code after women took to social media wearing their abayas inside out in protest.  Women in Saudi Arabia have for decades been required to wear the abaya — a loose, all-covering robe — in public, a dress code strictly enforced by police.  Prince Mohammed said in March that women needed only to dress modestly and were not required to wear abayas. But Saudi women say that in practice nothing has changed, and they are demanding more freedom.  "I've started wearing my compulsory hijab called abaya (this black robe) turned inside out to express my objection on Sharia law violating Saudi women's freedom to clothe," tweeted one, referring to the Islamic law that effectively governs the kingdom.  Amani Al-Ahmadi, a Saudi activist with the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor, called the protest a "brilliant move" that could create real change.  "To see another woman in flipped abayas — it builds solidarity between women and shows that they are not alone. It is keeping the conversation going and could lead to change," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.  "It is another form of dehumanization for women. It forces women to cover up their bodies in order to fit into society and the role of being inferior to men," she said by phone from Seattle, where she lives.  Last year, police briefly arrested a Saudi woman who appeared on a Snapchat clip strolling through an empty alleyway wearing a short skirt and a top that exposed her midriff.  Activists detained Prince Mohammad was praised for promoting women's rights in the kingdom after he ruled earlier this year they should be allowed to attend mixed public sporting events and drive cars. But since then, more than a dozen activists, most of them women who had campaigned for greater freedoms, have been detained.  Naureen Shameem, a human rights lawyer who works with the Association for Women's Rights in Development, said she supported the social media campaign.  "It's time for real change rather than insincere rhetoric about reform," she said.  Saudi women have started wearing more colorful abayas in recent years, the light blues and pinks in stark contrast with the traditional black. Open abayas over long skirts or jeans are also becoming more common in some parts of the country.  "Many women and girls in the Arab world are still forced to wear the hijab and the abaya either by their family or by their country — and they should have the right to choose," said Suad Abu-Dayyeh, Middle East expert with global advocacy group Equality Now. 

  • Trump Signs Bill to Elevate Cybersecurity Mission at DHS
    President Donald Trump has signed legislation that elevates the importance of cybersecurity work within the Department of Homeland Security. The legislation the president signed into law on Friday creates the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency at DHS. The new agency will become the focal point at the department for protecting critical infrastructure, including election systems, against threats from unfriendly nation states, cyber criminals and other adversaries. It reorganizes DHS' National Protection and Programs Directorate into a new agency and puts more focus on its work to secure the nation's cyber and physical infrastructure.

  • 'A Private War' Underscores Risks Journalists Take
    Oscar nominee Matthew Heineman has often put his life on the line while filming award-winning documentaries such as Cartel Land, chronicling wars of Mexican drug cartels, and throwing a light on the atrocities of the Islamic State group in City of Ghosts. Now, Heineman is releasing his first feature film, A Private War, about another subject close to his heart: Sunday Times war correspondent Marie Colvin, who staked her life on the war fronts of Sri Lanka, Iraq and Syria in order to bring attention to the plight of war victims.  In A Private War, Oscar-nominated actress Rosamund Pike transforms herself into Colvin, a gritty, fierce, inquisitive American journalist who dedicated her life to reporting on atrocities around the world.  Pike evokes the journalist's inexorable drive to cover wars to show the world the plight of war victims and bring truth to light. She also portrays Colvin as a person suffering from PTSD and addiction to alcohol and to her job. And there was the physical toll. Colvin lost her left eye in a rocket-propelled grenade attack in Sri Lanka in 2001.  Her actions, presence "Getting into her physicality, which meant changing everything, I had to learn to smoke convincingly, because for Marie, everything was better with a cigarette — every conversation, every car drive,” Pike told VOA. “I had to see the way with which she gestured with her hands — she had these wide-apart fingers. I had to work out how the eye patch made her angle her head differently — how she could penetrate you and sear you with one eye as good as someone else could dress you down with two.”  In an onscreen soliloquy about her inner demons as Colvin, Pike outlined the personal conflicts that defined the British journalist.  "I fear growing old, but then I also fear dying young," she said. "I am most happy with a vodka martini in my hand, but I can't stand the fact that the chatter in my head won't go quiet until there is a quart of vodka inside me. I hate being in a war zone, but I also feel compelled, compelled, to see it for myself."  WATCH: 'A Private War' Examines War Correspondent's Physical, Psychological Scars Regarding Colvin's heavy drinking, Pike said, "Should we even call it alcoholism? I really had to judge and walk a very fine line and find out where the truth lay, because it is not that we are defining her by a drinking problem. But she clearly had one."  Filmmaker Heineman described his deep connection to Colvin. A storyteller who took grave risks to document drug cartels and IS to the world, he wanted to do justice to the complexity of Colvin's character and her courage as she unflinchingly reported from Homs, Syria, in 2012 during Bashar al-Assad's heavy bombardment of the city.  This is where Colvin lost her life. Through Colvin's commitment, Heineman said he wanted to show the risks that journalists take to uncover the truth to the world.  Power of storytelling "Journalists are the bedrock of a free and independent society. You might not always agree with what they say, but the fact that journalism has been politicized, as our whole world has been politicized and our countries have been politicized and divided, is really sad to me," the filmmaker said. "The fact that journalists have been demonized in this country, in other countries, the fact that a journalist was recently obviously killed, in Turkey [Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi], I think that's one of the reasons why I make films.  "I think film, journalism, storytelling has the ability to bring people together to create dialogue, to create two sides of a conversation," he told VOA.  As a documentarian, Heineman wanted to give this real-life texture to his film. In a scene where Colvin discovers a mass grave in Iraq, the local women and men gathered around mourning are real victims of war.   "The women in that scene were Iraqi women crying about real trauma that they experienced, and at the end of that scene, like in any documentary that I made, something unforeseen happened: They started chanting and doing this prayer for the dead," Heineman said.  Pike related a similar experience she had while filming an unscripted scene with a refugee woman huddled with her kids in a safe house. The scene was depicting the siege of Homs.  Through an interpreter, the woman told Pike how she fed her baby only sugar and water because she could not produce milk to breastfeed after the trauma of losing one of her kids to a bomb attack.   "Then the woman said to me as Marie — and it was caught on camera — she said, 'I don't want this, please, I don't want this just to be words on paper. I want the world to know that a generation is dying here. I want the world to know my story.' "   Pike said that at that moment, she felt what drove Colvin — the journalist's grave responsibility to bear witness to people's suffering, no matter the cost.  

  • 'Private War' Examines War Correspondent's Physical, Psychological Scars
    Oscar nominee Matthew Heineman's film "A Private War," about Sunday Times war correspondent Marie Colvin, brings attention to the danger journalists face reporting on the plight of war victims. VOA's Penelope Poulou describes how and why "A Private War" was a labor of love, a docudrama delving into Colvin's psyche.

  • (Im)migration News Recap, Nov. 11-17    
    Editor's note: We want you to know what's happening, why and how it could impact your life, family or business, so we created a weekly digest of the top original immigration, migration and refugee reporting from across VOA. Questions? Tips? Comments? Email the VOA immigration team: ImmigrationUnit@voanews.com. Bridge to nowhere? Migrants are camping out on a bridge between Mexico and Texas, where — if you have papers to cross into the US — it costs just 25 cents to go through. Workers and school children do it every day, in both directions. But for asylum-seekers like Vilma Mendez Morales of Guatemala and Eddy Gonzalez of Cuba,  that pocket change isn't enough, as the Trump administration tightens border controls and dispatches military  to the frontier with Mexico. Rohingyas say no to repatriation Bangladesh wants to send Rohingya Muslim refugees back to Myanmar. But when the time came to carry out that plan, the Rohingya refused to go back. International law bans countries from sending people back to a place where they will be endangered. The U.N. says the repatriation has to be voluntary. But when a refugee official said "We have arranged everything for you," the community said "We won't go!"  During a meeting with Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi this week, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence questioned where her government was in the process of prosecuting military forces accused of persecuting the Rohingya.  International students ditching US as option  Sure, the United States is still a top spot for foreign college kids who can afford it. But with out-of-control tuition rates and an increasingly tense political atmosphere, there just aren't as many interested in applying.  Taliban vs. Militias vs. Winter An escalation in the ongoing clashes between the Taliban and pro-government militias this month has displaced at least 1,000 families in Afghanistan. And the humanitarian crisis has the potential to get much worse as winter creeps into central-eastern Afghanistan. Video: Solar panels are a game-changer for Kenya's Kakuma refugee camp. 

  • Federal Reserve Policymakers See Rate Hikes Ahead, Note Worries
    Federal Reserve policymakers on Friday signaled further interest rate  increases ahead, but raised relatively muted concerns over a potential global  slowdown that has markets betting heavily that the Fed's rate hike cycle will soon peter out. The widening chasm between market expectations and the rate path the Fed laid out just two months ago underscores the biggest question in front of U.S. central bankers: How much weight to give a growing number of potential red flags, even as U.S. economic growth continues to push down unemployment and create new jobs? "We are at a point now where we really need to be especially data dependent," Richard Clarida, the newly appointed vice chair of the Federal Reserve, said in a CNBC interview. "I think certainly where the economy is today, and the Fed's projection of where it's going, that being at neutral would make sense," he added, defining "neutral" as interest rates somewhere between 2.5 percent and 3.5 percent. But that range that implies anywhere from two more to six more rate hikes, and Clarida declined to say how many more increases he would prefer. He did say he is optimistic that U.S. productivity is rising, a view that suggests he would not see faster economic or wage growth as necessarily feeding into higher inflation or, necessarily, requiring higher interest rates. But he also sounded a mild warning. "There is some evidence of global slowing," Clarida said. "That's something that is going to be relevant as I think about the outlook for the U.S. economy, because it impacts big parts of the economy through trade and through capital markets and the like." Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas President Robert Kaplan, in a separate interview with Fox Business, also said he is seeing a growth slowdown in Europe and China. "It's my own judgment that global growth is going to be a little bit of a headwind, and it may spill over to the United States," Kaplan said. . The Fed raised interest rates three times this year and is expected to raise its target again next month, to a range of 2.25 percent to 2.5 percent. As of September, Fed policymakers expected to need to increase rates three more times next year, a view they will update next month. Over the last week, betting in contracts tied to the Fed's policy suggests that even two rate hikes might be a stretch. The yield on fed fund futures maturing in January 2020, seen by some as an end-point for the Fed's current rate-hike cycle, dropped sharply to just 2.76 percent over six trading days. At the same time, long-term inflation expectations have been dropping quickly as well. The so-called breakeven inflation rate on Treasury Inflation Protected Securities, or TIPS, has fallen sharply in the last month. The breakeven rate on five-year TIPS hit the lowest since late 2017 earlier this week. Those market moves together suggest traders are taking the prospect of a slowdown seriously, limiting how far the Fed will end up raising rates. But not all policymakers seemed that worried. Sitting with his back to a map of the world in a ballroom in Chicago's Waldorf Astoria Hotel, Chicago Federal Reserve Bank President Charles Evans downplayed risks to his outlook, noting that the leveraged loans that some of his colleagues have raised concerns about are being taken out by "big boys and girls" who understand the risks. He told reporters he still believes rates should rise to about 3.25 percent so as to mildly restrain growth and bring unemployment, now at 3.7 percent, back up to a more sustainable level. Asked about risks from the global slowdown, he said he hears more talk about it but that it is not really in the numbers yet. But the next six months, he said, bear close watching. “There’s not a great headline” about risks to the economy right now, Evans told reporters. “International is a little slower; Brexit — nobody’s asked me about that, thank you; [the slowing] housing market: I think all of those are in the mix for uncertainties that everybody’s facing,” he said. "But at the moment, it's not enough to upset or adjust the trajectory that I have in mind." Still, Evans added, the risks should not be counted out: "They could take on more life more easily because they are sort of more top of mind, if not in the forecast."

  • Immigrant Advocates Sue US Government Over 'Surveillance,' Arrests
    An immigrant advocacy group is suing the U.S. government over what it claims are years of surveillance and harassment in retaliation for the organization's pro-immigrant activism. The lawsuit, filed Nov. 14 by Vermont-based Migrant Justice, alleges that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) "targeted, surveilled, and spread disinformation" about the group and arrested at least 20 of its members. "In the course of its advocacy, Migrant Justice has loudly and publicly criticized U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. ICE has retaliated, and continues to retaliate, by disrupting Plaintiffs' advocacy and infringing upon their First Amendment rights," the plaintiffs allege in the lawsuit. ICE responded to VOA in a statement Friday, saying, "In keeping with ICE agency policy that we do not offer comment on pending litigation, we are going to decline to comment on this legal action." The agency referred VOA to statement made by ICE Acting Deputy Director Matthew Albence in a March 2018 interview with National Public Radio: "U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement does not target unlawfully present aliens for arrest based on advocacy positions they hold or in retaliation for critical comments they make. Any suggestion to the contrary is irresponsible, speculative and inaccurate. ... ICE focuses its enforcement resources on individuals who pose a threat to national security, public safety and border security." Migrant Justice lobbies for labor rights and has campaigned to prevent deportations, as well as to create identification cards that would allow Vermont residents to drive in the state regardless of immigration status. And like many U.S. groups that champion the rights of migrant and undocumented workers, Migrant Justice has members who are themselves undocumented. The Trump administration has put a public and concerted focus on detaining and deporting undocumented immigrants, and some of Migrant Justice's own have been detained in the last 18 months, according to the lawsuit filed in federal court this week. But the alleged infiltration and surveillance of the organization predates Trump's tenure, the lawsuit says, claiming Migrant Justice has been targeted since 2014. While the lawsuit is new, the public allegations by Migrant Justice are not. It, along with the ACLU, has raised the issue that ICE is targeting activists before, and filed a lawsuit in 2017, accusing ICE and U.S. Customs and Border Protection of targeting the organization's activists. That case remains open. Albence, executive associate director for ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations, is named as a defendant in the lawsuit, as are U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, ICE Acting Director Ronald Vitiello, and Wanda Minoli, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles.

  • Canada's Trudeau Uses Trump Card to Attack Main Political Rival
    Donald Trump is so unpopular in Canada that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is using the spectre of the U.S. president to attack his conservative rival ahead of a national election set for next year. Trudeau, whose ruling Liberals have a 12-seat majority in the 338-seat parliament, calls Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer a climate change "ideologue" who stokes "fear and division" on immigration. Only 25 percent of Canadians have confidence in Trump, a fraction of the 83 percent garnered by former President Barack Obama two years ago, according to a Pew Research Center survey published last month. Trudeau and Trump have traded barbs. The U.S. president tweeted in June that the Canadian leader was "very dishonest and weak" and later threatened to impose tariffs on Canadian-made cars that he said would be the "ruination" of Canada's economy. Liberals gain ground The Conservatives led in the polls in March, but the Liberals drew ahead in July after Trudeau's spat with Trump and now hold a one-point lead in the latest survey by Ipsos Public Affairs. "It's political manna from heaven (for Trudeau) to have a fight with Donald Trump," said a source familiar with the thinking of the Conservative leadership. Party officials are concerned that comparisons with Trump could turn off supporters, the source said. Scheer, still relatively unknown to voters after taking over as party leader last year, is choosing his words carefully on issues like climate change and immigration, while Trudeau is attacking his rival's position on the environment as being tantamount to Trump's. The U.S. government announced last year that it intended to formally withdraw from the 2015 Paris climate accord. Canada, a major oil and gas producer, remains committed to the agreement. Trudeau, 46, portrays Scheer as someone — like Trump — who denies climate change is man-made. Polls show Canadians overwhelmingly agree climate change is real and must be tackled. Trudeau plans to tax carbon emissions, a measure which Scheer opposes on the grounds it will force "suburban moms and dads" to spend a lot more money on gas. Speaking in Ottawa's National Gallery in front of a wall-sized picture of an old-growth forest on Oct. 29, Trudeau said Scheer's criticism shows the Conservatives want to "make pollution free again.” Scheer doesn't deny climate change The phrase mimicking Trump's "Make America Great Again" campaign slogan has since been repeatedly used by Liberal ministers and legislators. Scheer, 39, does not deny climate change and has said he will present his own strategy to combat carbon emissions without raising taxes by the time Canadians are due to vote on Oct. 21, 2019. While the Conservative source said the attempts to link Scheer to Trump were calculated, an official close to Trudeau declined to comment. The official said Trudeau's characterization of Scheer's position on climate change is "very factual." Pressure on immigration Ipsos pollster Darrell Bricker said the Liberal strategy to paint Scheer as a northern Trump could work in the ruling party's favor given Canadians' "very poor view" of the U.S. leader. Scheer is also under Liberal pressure on immigration. In July, the Conservative Party withdrew an ad that had been posted on its Twitter feed showing a black asylum seeker entering Canada through a broken fence while walking over the text of a 2017 Trudeau tweet that read: "Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength." The ad alleged that Trudeau's tweet lured thousands of people into Canada from the United States to file refugee claims. Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen said the Conservatives were "peddling false information to stoke fear." Bannon appearance draw protests Canadians' view of Trump, who has adopted hard-line policies on immigration, was highlighted earlier this month when the mere presence of former Trump strategist Steve Bannon at a Toronto debate drew hundreds of protesters, resulting in 12 arrests. The protesters "were calling the audience fascists and taking their pictures and threatening to put them online," Bannon said in an interview. "It was a tough audience. They hated Trump."

  • Judge Allows Class-Action Lawsuit by Mentally Ill Veterans
    Thousands of Navy and Marine Corps veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan who developed post-traumatic stress disorder but were denied Veterans Affairs health benefits have been given a green light to sue the military, under a ruling by a federal judge in Connecticut. Senior U.S. District Judge Charles Haight Jr. in New Haven on Thursday certified a class-action lawsuit against Navy Secretary Richard Spencer by veterans who say they were unfairly given less-than-honorable discharges for minor infractions linked to their untreated mental health problems. The discharge designation prevents them from getting VA benefits including mental health treatment. "This decision is a victory for the tens of thousands of military veterans suffering from service-connected PTSD and TBI (traumatic brain injury)," lead plaintiff and Marine veteran Tyson Manker, of Jacksonville, Illinois, said in a statement Friday. "The fact that the Court has now recognized this class of veterans is further evidence of the Department of Defense's disgraceful violation of the legal rights of the men and women who have served their country." Manker developed PTSD after serving in the 2003 invasion of Iraq and received an other-than-honorable discharge for a single incident of self-medicating himself with an illegal drug, according to the lawsuit. The Naval Discharge Review Board rejected his request for a discharge upgrade, as it has done with similar applications by thousands of other veterans. Navy officials did not immediately return messages seeking comment Friday. The Connecticut U.S. Attorney's Office, which is defending the Navy against the lawsuit, declined to comment. In a court filing, a federal prosecutor listed several reasons why a class-action lawsuit should be rejected, including that the plaintiffs could reapply for discharge upgrades under new rules put in place last year that call for more leniency for veterans with mental health problems. Yale Law School students are representing the veterans and have filed a similar lawsuit against the Army. They say nearly a third of the more than 2 million Americans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan suffer from PTSD and related mental health conditions and the military is issuing less-than-honorable discharges at historically high rates, often for minor infractions attributable to undiagnosed mental illness. Last year, the discharge review boards for the Army and Air Force granted about 51 percent of discharge upgrade applications involving PTSD, while the Navy board granted 16 percent. Haight called the discrepancy "stark." Another plaintiff in the Navy lawsuit, which was filed in March, is the Connecticut-based National Veterans Council for Legal Redress, a group of veterans with less-than-honorable discharges. "We filed this lawsuit to make sure that the Iraq and Afghanistan veterans with service-connected PTSD do not suffer the same injustices as the Vietnam generation," said Garry Monk, executive director of the veterans group. "We are thrilled with the court's decision and look forward to creating a world where it doesn't take years of wading through unlawful procedures for these veterans to get relief."

  • UN: Number of Hungry Children in Africa's Sahel Hits 10-year High
    The number of hungry children in West Africa's Sahel region reached a 10-year high in 2018 because of poor rains, conflict and high food prices, the United Nations said Friday.  More than 1.3 million children under age 5 suffered from severe malnutrition this year in the six worst-hit countries in the semi-arid belt below the Sahara — a 50 percent increase from 2017, the U.N. children's agency UNICEF said.  "When children suffer from severe acute malnutrition, they are more vulnerable to illnesses such as malaria and waterborne diseases," Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF regional director for West and Central Africa, said in a statement.  Hunger is a recurrent scourge in the region, whose growing population grapples with high poverty rates and periodic droughts, the agency said.  This year the problem was particularly acute across Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Senegal, it added.  6 million hungry people An estimated 6 million people did not have enough to eat across the region during the lean season, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.  Pastoralist communities were among the worst hit because poor rains meant there was not enough vegetation for grazing, said Coumba Sow, the FAO's regional coordinator for resilience.  The Sahel has only one growing season, and if it goes poorly because of climate shocks or conflict, people must survive on whatever they have until the next one.  Global warming exacerbates the problem by making rainfall more erratic, said Sow, adding the rains were late and suffered a prolonged break, causing many farmers to lose half their seeds.  U.N. agencies and local governments are currently evaluating production levels for the new season, she said.  "We still hope that we will be able to get some good results in harvest, but it is too early to say," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. 

  • Secret US Charges Against Assange Revealed
    WikiLeaks says its founder Julian Assange has been charged in the United States. WikiLeaks posted on its Twitter account that the news of the charges was "accidentally" revealed in a "cut-and-paste error" in an unrelated case in Virginia. The unsealed charges against Assange were disclosed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Kellen Dwyer as she made a filing in an unrelated case and urged a judge to keep the filing sealed. Dwyer later wrote that these charges "need to remain sealed until Assange is arrested in connection with the charges in the criminal complaint and can therefore no longer evade or avoid arrest and extradition in this matter." Joshua Stueve, a spokesman for the Eastern District of Virginia, has told news outlets the court filing was made in error. U.S. federal officials have not commented. Assange's U.S.-based lawyer, Barry Pollack, responded to the news with a statement: "The notion that federal criminal charges could be brought based on the publication of truthful information is an incredibly dangerous precedent to set." An Australian lawyer advising Assange, Greg Barns, told the Reuters news agency in an email it was "no surprise" that the United States was seeking to charge Assange. He said Australian officials should allow the Australian national to return home. Assange has lived since 2012 in Ecuador's embassy in London. He successfully sought asylum there to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he faced allegations of sex crimes. He has denied any wrongdoing. The Swedish investigation was closed about a year ago, but Assange, who was on bail when he entered the embassy, faces arrest by British authorities for violating his bail terms if he steps outside. Assange is responsible for releasing hundreds of thousands of classified documents and posting them on Wikileaks to the anger of governments worldwide.  Ben Wizner, ACLU's director of Speech, Privacy, and Technology Projects said, in a statement, "Any prosecution of Mr. Assange for Wikileaks' publishing operations would be unprecedented and unconstitutional and would open the door to criminal investigations of other news organizations." Wizner added, "Moreover, prosecuting a foreign publisher for violating U.S. secrecy laws would set an especially dangerous precedent for U.S. journalists, who routinely violate foreign secrecy laws to deliver information vital to the public's interest." Last year, then-U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said that Assange's arrest was a "priority." Wikileaks plays a role in the independent investigation, headed by Robert Mueller, of Russian involvement in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. During the campaign, Wikileaks published emails taken from the Democratic National Committee and John Podesta, the campaign manager of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. U.S. officials allege the email accounts were broken into by Russian intelligence officers and the contents given to Wikileaks. The documents in which Assange's name mistakenly appeared twice deal with a 29-year-old man accused of coercing a minor into sex. The suspect, Seitu Sulayman Kokayi, has since been indicted.

  • US Senate Judiciary Chair Grassley's Move to Leave Key Opening
    U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley on Friday said he planned to relinquish the position next year, leaving a vacancy at the top of the panel, which is among those investigating alleged Russian political interference. In a statement, the Iowa Republican said he would instead seek to return as chair of the Senate Finance Committee, which he had previously run. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, an initial Trump skeptic who has turned into one of his fiercest supporters, has publicly stated that he would aim to take over the chairmanship of the Judiciary panel if there was a vacancy. The move could have significant implications regarding the federal probe into Moscow's alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The Judiciary panel, along with several others in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, had been probing the allegations. The U.S. Special Counsel's Office is also investigating. On Thursday, Graham met with acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, who now oversees the special counsel's probe in the U.S. Department of Justice, and said Whitaker had said he was comfortable with the ongoing investigation. As head of the Finance panel, Grassley said he would focus on additional tax relief and tax fairness, U.S. exports and improving health care. Senate Republicans, who control the chamber, will finalize the posts when the next Congress convenes in January.

  • Disputed Sri Lankan PM Faces 2nd No-Confidence Motion
    Lawmakers in Sri Lanka's Parliament supporting disputed Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa threw books, chairs and chili powder mixed with water to try to block the proceedings Friday, a day after a fierce brawl between rival lawmakers worsened political turmoil in the island nation. Police who escorted Speaker Karu Jayasuriya into the chamber held boards around him to protect him from being hit by the angry Rajapaksa loyalists, who did not allow him to sit in the speaker's chair. Several opposition lawmakers and policemen were wounded. Sri Lanka has been in a political crisis since Oct. 26, when President Maithripala Sirisena abruptly sacked Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and appointed Rajapaksa. Wickremesinghe says he still has the support of a majority in Parliament. Jayasuriya, using a microphone, conducted the proceedings while standing on the floor of Parliament, which for the second time passed a no-confidence motion against Rajapaksa and his government by a voice vote. Jayasuriya first offered to take the vote by name, but was unable to do so because of the commotion and opted for a voice vote. He then adjourned the house until Monday. Lawmakers loyal to Rajapaksa hooted and continued to hurl abuse at Jayasuriya until he left the chamber. Arundika Fernando, a lawmaker allied with Rajapaksa, sat in the speaker's chair while others shouted slogans. Sirisena vowed not to dissolve Parliament and called upon "all parties to uphold principles of democracy and parliamentary traditions at all times." Sirisena dissolved Parliament a week ago and ordered new elections, but the Supreme Court on Tuesday suspended Sirisena's directive. Opposition lawmaker R. Sampathan accused Rajapaksa loyalists of preventing a roll-call vote on the no-confidence motion, as requested earlier by Sirisena. On Thursday, Sirisena held an emergency meeting with the leaders of the opposition parties that voted for the first motion against Rajapaksa and asked them to take up the motion again and allow it to be debated and then put to a roll-call vote. Sirisena held the meeting following the chaos in Parliament on Thursday, when rival lawmakers exchanged blows, leaving one injured, after the speaker announced the country had no prime minister or government because of Wednesday's motion against Rajapaksa. Refusing to step down Rajapaksa has refused to accept the no-confidence motion, also saying it should not have been done by voice vote. He also insisted the speaker had no authority to remove him and said he is continuing in his role as prime minister. Rajapaksa, a former president, is considered a hero by some in the ethnic Sinhalese majority for ending a long civil war by crushing ethnic Tamil Tiger rebels. However, his time in power was marred by allegations of wartime atrocities, corruption and nepotism. Tensions had been building between Sirisena and Wickremesinghe for some time, as the president did not approve of economic reforms introduced by the prime minister. Sirisena has also accused Wickremesinghe and another Cabinet member of plotting to assassinate him, a charge Wickremesinghe has repeatedly denied.

  • DeVos Proposes Overhaul to Campus Sexual Misconduct Rules
    Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Friday proposed a major overhaul to the way colleges and universities handle sexual misconduct complaints, adding protections for students accused of assault and harassment and narrowing which cases schools would be required to investigate. Under the plan, schools would have to investigate complaints only if the alleged incidents occurred on campus or other areas overseen by the school, and only if they were reported to certain campus officials with the authority to take action. The Education Department said the proposal ensures fairness for students on both sides of accusations, while offering schools greater flexibility to help victims who don’t want to file formal complaints that could trigger an investigation. “Throughout this process, my focus was, is, and always will be on ensuring that every student can learn in a safe and nurturing environment,” DeVos said in a statement. “That starts with having clear policies and fair processes that every student can rely on. Every survivor of sexual violence must be taken seriously, and every student accused of sexual misconduct must know that guilt is not predetermined.” DeVos previously said the existing rules pressure schools to take heavy action against students accused of misconduct without giving them a fair chance to defend themselves. Her new proposal adds several provisions meant to protect accused students. They would be allowed to review and respond to all evidence collected by the school, for example, and have a presumption of innocence throughout the disciplinary process. They could cross-examine their accusers, although it would be done indirectly through a representative to avoid personal confrontation. Opponents say the proposal would deter victims from reporting assaults, and allow schools to shirk responsibility when they do receive complaints. “If these draft rules go into effect, schools will become more dangerous for all students and more schools will shield harassers and rapists,” Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center, said in a statement. Virginia Rep. Bobby Scott, the top Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, said the proposal would be “a damaging setback for our efforts to prevent campus sexual harassment and assault.” But supporters say the new rules do a better job providing equal treatment to all students. “By taking the rights of both complainants and accused students seriously, these proposed regulations make important strides toward ensuring that complaints of sexual misconduct will be neither ignored nor prejudged,” said Samantha Harris, vice president for procedural advocacy at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. The proposal would effectively tell schools how to apply the 1972 law known as Title IX, which bars discrimination based on sex in schools that receive federal dollars. Schools for years have relied on a series of guidance letters issued by the Obama administration instructing them how to respond to complaints of sexual misconduct. Colleges were required to investigate all student complaints, on campus or off, and any misstep could put them under federal investigation. Advocacy groups for victims say the Obama rules forced schools to stop sweeping the issue under the rug, while advocates for accused students say it tipped the scales in favor of accusers. Some college leaders complained that the rules were too complex and could be overly burdensome. DeVos rescinded an important guidance letter in September 2017, declaring that “the era of ‘rule by letter’” was over. In its place, she issued the 150-page proposal released Friday. Among other changes, it narrows what constitutes sexual harassment. While the 2011 guidance defined it as “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature,” the new proposal defines it as unwelcome sexual conduct that’s so severe “it effectively denies a person equal access to the school’s education program or activity.” It also allows schools to use a higher standard of proof when weighing cases. The Obama guidance told schools to use a “preponderance of the evidence” standard, meaning the allegation is “more likely than not” true. The new proposal would allow a “clear and convincing” standard, meaning the claim is highly probable. Even if victims don’t file a formal complaint, the proposal encourages schools to offer a range of measures to help them continue their studies, including counseling, class schedule changes, dorm room reassignments and no-contact orders for those accused of harming them. It has yet to be seen whether schools would change policies in response to the rules. A statement from the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities says it expects schools to “far exceed” the minimum that’s required in Title IX rules. Before the rules can be finalized, the Education Department will gather public input from the public.

  • Trump Says He Has Finished Answers to Special Counsel's Questions
    President Donald Trump said Friday that he had answered written questions from special counsel Robert Mueller but hadn't yet submitted them. Trump told reporters in the Oval Office that he answered the questions "very easily'' this week about the special counsel's probe into 2016 election interference and possible ties between Russia and the president's campaign. "You have to always be careful when you answer questions with people that probably have bad intentions,'' said Trump in his latest swipe at the integrity of the probe. "But, no, the questions were very routinely answered by me.'' The president did not say when he would turn over the answers to Mueller. The special counsel had signaled a willingness to accept written answers on matters of collusion, but Trump's attorney, Rudy Giuliani, had said repeatedly that president would not answer Mueller's questions on possible obstruction of justice.  Trump had huddled with lawyers at the White House this week but made clear: "My lawyers don't write answers, I write answers.'' The president continued to maintain his innocence while launching a fresh round of attacks on the probe, saying "there should have never been any Mueller investigation'' while claiming it was a waste of millions of dollars. But he denied being "agitated'' by the probe, despite his outburst of critical tweets the day before.  "The inner workings of the Mueller investigation are a total mess,'' Trump tweeted Thursday as part of a series of morning posts. The investigators don't care "how many lives they can ruin,'' he wrote.  While the special counsel was publicly quiet in the run-up to last week's midterm elections, his investigation has suddenly returned to the forefront of Washington conversation and cable news chyrons. Rumors are reverberating that Mueller may be preparing more indictments and there has been widespread media coverage of two Trump allies — Roger Stone and Jerome Corsi — who say they expect to be charged.  Trump's flurry of attacks came despite repeated warnings from his aides to refrain from targeting the special counsel.

  • Trump to Honor Donor's Wife with Presidential Award
    Miriam Adelson is a doctor, philanthropist and humanitarian, but is perhaps best known as the wife of Sheldon Adelson, a Las Vegas casino magnate considered one of the nation's most powerful Republican donors. She gets to add a new title Friday when President Donald Trump honors her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Miriam Adelson is among seven people Trump is recognizing with the medal, the highest honor America can give a civilian.   The other recipients are retiring Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, one of the longest-serving senators in U.S. history; Alan Page, who was elected to the Minnesota Supreme Court after an NFL career with the Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears; and Roger Staubach, the Hall of Fame Dallas Cowboys quarterback.   Posthumous honors are being granted to Elvis Presley, Babe Ruth and Antonin Scalia, the conservative Supreme Court justice.   The Adelsons gave Trump's presidential campaign a $30 million boost in the final months of the 2016 race. The couple followed up this election cycle by donating $100 million to the Republican Party for last week's midterms.   Miriam Adelson, 73, is an Israeli-born, naturalized U.S. citizen who earned a medical degree from Tel Aviv University and founded a pair of drug abuse treatment and research centers in Las Vegas and Tel Aviv. She and her husband own the Las Vegas Review-Journal and Israel Hayom newspapers.   The Adelsons are also avid supporters of Israel. Their passion for strengthening the country, along with Israel-U.S. relations, has helped keep such policy priorities as relocating the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem front and center in the Republican Party and the Trump administration.   Trump moved the embassy in May, and Sheldon Adelson, who had offered to personally fund the move, sat in the front row for the ceremony.   Robert Weissman, president of the public interest group Public Citizen, questioned whether the decision to recognize Miriam Adelson was based on merit.   "It's emblematic of the corrupt and transactional presidency of Donald Trump, and it is a shame, but not a surprise, that he is corroding and corrupting a civic treasure, an honor like the Medal of Freedom," Weissman said.   Elliott Abrams, who held foreign policy roles under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, called the complaints "ridiculous." Abrams noted that Miriam Adelson has donated her time and her money to combatting addiction. He contrasted her award with those given by President Barack Obama to Chita Rivera, Robert De Niro, Barbra Streisand, Ellen DeGeneres and Warren Buffett, among others.   "People who said nothing about all of that and now criticize the medal for Dr. Adelson are simply being nasty and partisan, and are not actually taking a look at her remarkable knowledge and charity in the chemical addiction field,'' Abrams said.   White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said Trump used the process follow by previous administrations to settle on his group of honorees. It was coordinated by the staff secretary's office, incorporating recommendations from the public, relevant presidential advisory bodies, the Cabinet and senior White House staff, she said.   The award is given to individuals "who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors."   Miriam Adelson said she is "deeply humbled and moved by this exceptional honor."   "Liberty is at the heart of my decades of work against substance abuse. Drug dependency is enslavement, for the user and his or her family and society, and treatment an emancipation," she said in a statement Thursday.   E. Fletcher McClellan, a political science professor at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania, said presidents have no limits on making these awards.   "He has total discretion as to who and when and how," said McClellan, who has studied the Presidential Medal of Freedom.   Christopher Devine, a politics professor at the University of Dayton, questioned Miriam Adelson's impact on American culture or national interests as compared to past recipients like Oprah Winfrey or Bruce Springsteen. Both Winfrey and Springsteen received medals from Obama, whom they supported politically.   "This is what leaves many people wondering whether President Trump singled her out for an award as something of a thank-you for her and husband Sheldon Adelson's very substantial donations to Republican candidates and causes over the years, including ones in support of Trump's election in 2016," said Devine, who wrote a book about the Presidential Medal of Freedom.   Devine said that while Miriam Adelson isn't the first campaign contributor to receive a Presidential Medal of Freedom, the size of her campaign contributions sets her apart from the rest.    

  • Report: Russia Has Access to UK Visa Processing
    Investigative group Bellingcat and Russian website The Insider are suggesting that Russian intelligence has infiltrated the computer infrastructure of a company that processes British visa applications. The investigation, published Friday, aims to show how two suspected Russian military intelligence agents, who have been charged with poisoning a former Russian spy in the English city of Salisbury, may have obtained British visas. The Insider and Bellingcat said they interviewed the former chief technical officer of a company that processes visa applications for several consulates in Moscow, including that of Britain. The man, who fled Russia last year and applied for asylum in the United States, said he had been coerced to work with agents of the main Russian intelligence agency FSB, who revealed to him that they had access to the British visa center's CCTV cameras and had a diagram of the center's computer network. The two outlets say they have obtained the man's deposition to the U.S. authorities but have decided against publishing the man's name, for his own safety. The Insider and Bellingcat, however, did not demonstrate a clear link between the alleged efforts of Russian intelligence to penetrate the visa processing system and Alexander Mishkin and Anatoly Chepiga, who have been charged with poisoning Sergei Skripal in Salisbury in March this year. The man also said that FSB officers told him in spring 2016 that they were going to send two people to Britain and asked for his assistance with the visa applications. The timing points to the first reported trip to Britain of the two men, who traveled under the names of Alexander Petrov and Anatoly Boshirov. The man, however, said he told the FSB that there was no way he could influence the decision-making on visa applications. The man said he was coerced to sign an agreement to collaborate with the FSB after one of its officers threatened to jail his mother, and was asked to create a "backdoor" to the computer network. He said he sabotaged those efforts before he fled Russia in early 2017. In September, British intelligence released surveillance images of the agents of Russian military intelligence GRU accused of the March nerve agent attack on double agent Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury. Bellingcat and The Insider quickly exposed the agents' real names and the media, including The Associated Press, were able to corroborate their real identities. The visa application processing company, TLSContact, and the British Home Office were not immediately available for comment.

  • Nigerian Millennials Fuel Domestic Tourism
    Deola Akeju stood under the gushing waterfalls of Ikogosi in western Nigeria, laughing with her friends and other travelers as they explored the forest's pools and streams. She is one of a growing number of Nigerian holiday-makers keen to explore their country, one whose unenviable reputation for violent crime and corruption largely deters international travelers. Nigeria thus loses out on tourism revenues to other countries perceived to be safer such as Kenya, Ghana and the Gambia. Small, social media-savvy companies like Social Prefect Tours (SPT) and TVP Adventures are hoping young professionals like Akeju will form a burgeoning market of tourists wanting to discover the natural beauty and culture in their own backyard. "At first you would not think there are this many exciting places here, but when you travel you realize that ... there are a lot of fun places, so it is a very good experience to see the beauty of the country," said Akeju, 23, who works in IT insurance. From lush forests sheltering waterfalls and warm springs in the west to the Alpine-like mountains of the east, from festivals to historical sites, attractions are in no shortage in the west African country. But unlike African tourist destinations such as Kenya, South Africa and Tanzania, Nigerian governments have invested little in nurturing the industry. "The government is more focused on other sources of income and has not really developed the tourist sector," said Chiamaka Ntia, SPT's founder. "People as well are not really informed that there are places that they can go to for leisure, for holiday and also, these places are not properly taken care of, they are not up to standard when you compare ... to those other African countries." Visas on arrival Nigeria brought in $1.09 billion from international tourism in 2016, the latest year available, according to the World Bank. By comparison, Kenya received $1.62 billion that year, Tanzania got $2.16 billion and South Africa $8.81 billion. Information and Culture Minister Lai Mohammed has said the government has implemented policies — including the introduction of visas on arrival last year and efforts to improve the ailing power, road and rail infrastructure — to make Nigeria more attractive for overseas travelers. "There is no doubt that Nigeria is fast becoming a destination of choice for international tourists," he said in August. His ministry, however, said an uptick in tourist numbers was based on anecdotal evidence since it lacks data. Persistent problems Despite the minister's assertion, problems persist for Nigeria's tourism industry. "The downside will be the roads, not so good roads, they are not that great at all," said Chinedu Ahanonu, a Lagos-based training consultant in her thirties, also on the SPT tour. Infrastructure is a major challenge: As well as decrepit roads, trains are a rarity and flights are notorious for delays and cancellations. Travel can also be dangerous. Many roads are plagued by kidnappings and accidents, police are more likely to ask for money than offer a service, and deadly communal clashes have erupted across much of Nigeria's hinterland states, particularly this year. Despite those hurdles, the travel firms say they focus on safe, accessible spots. For Ahanonu, the effort is worth it. "It is so much richer, because, you know, it is like finding a diamond inside the rough, in your own place," she said.

  • Votes Hand Recounted in Florida US Senate Race
    A hand recount of the votes cast in Florida's U.S. Senate race began Friday after a federal judge angrily told election officials they are making a mockery of the state around the globe.   "We have been the laughingstock of the world election after election, but we've still chosen not to fix this," an angry Walker said Thursday. His remarks were an apparent reference to the 2000 presidential election which had to be decided by the Supreme Court when a state-wide vote recount in Florida was turning into a mess of confusion, charges, and counter charges.   Florida law requires a hand recount if a machine count finds the margin of victory is less than 0.25 percent.   As of late Thursday, Democratic incumbent Senator Bill Nelson trailed his Republican challenger, Governor Rick Scott, by just 0.15 percent.   Election officials missed a Thursday deadline for recounting the ballots for the Senate, saying counting machines in Palm Beach kept breaking down.   Officials in Tampa Bay declined to turn in their recount result because it came up more than 800 votes short of the original election day tally.   Federal Judge Mark Walker refused to extend the deadline and berated election officials for not anticipating problems. Both Democrats and Republicans have filed a number of lawsuits relating to vote counting. He was no doubt also thinking about the 2000 presidential election which had to be decided by the Supreme Court when a state-wide vote recount in Florida was turning into a mess of confusion, charges, and counter charges.     Judge Walker has also given voters until Saturday afternoon to correct their ballots if they weren't counted because of mismatched signatures.   Florida officials testified in court that nearly 4,000 ballots had already been rejected by local election officials because the signatures mailed in didn't match the signature on file. The new deadline would apply to many ballots likely cast by young Democratic voters.   A study conducted before the elections by the American Civil Liberties Union in Florida discovered mail-in ballots from young voters were more likely to be dismissed, partially because the young voters – who primarily use computer keyboards – have not used handwriting enough to develop a consistent signature.   Democrats, meanwhile, continue to gain seats in the House of Representatives, after taking back the lower chamber last week for the first time in eight years. Democrats now have a 231 to 198 edge, with six races still undecided. The latest Democratic victory was announced Thursday night. Katie Porter ousted two-term Congresswoman Mimi Waters in California's 45th District, once a nationally known Republican stronghold. A law professor and champion of consumer rights, she ran on a progressive platform that included overturning U.S. President Donald Trump's and the Republicans' tax plan, Medicare for All and a ban on assault weapons. Earlier Thursday, Jared Golden was declared the winner in a race in Maine against incumbent Republican Representative Bruce Poliquin. That contest represented the first test of a new state ranked-choice voting system, designed to prevent candidates in races featuring at least three contenders from winning office without majority support. Golden is a Marine veteran who also campaigned on progressive policies such as Medicare for everyone.   The day after the election, Trump boasted that "It was a big day yesterday. The Republican Party defied history to expand our Senate majority while significantly beating expectations in the House."   "It was very close to a complete victory," he trumpeted.   As results rolled in on election night, it appeared Republicans might add three or four seats to their current 51-49 Senate majority.   But a Republican lead for a contest in the southwestern state of Arizona collapsed, giving Democrat Kyrsten Sinema a seat that been held by Republicans for 30 years.   With Senate races in Florida and Mississippi yet to be decided, Republicans at most will add two seats to their majority.