Democratic Candidates Voice Staunch Support for Trump’s Impeachment

All, News, Technology

Twelve U.S. Democratic presidential candidates squared off in a spirited debate Tuesday night, all looking to confront President Donald Trump in the 2020 election, even as their Democratic congressional cohorts have accused Trump of political wrongdoing and opened an impeachment inquiry against him. 
 
The dozen challengers all support the four-week-old impeachment probe, although Trump’s removal through impeachment remains unlikely. The candidates, however, wasted no time before telling a national television audience why Trump should be impeached by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives to face trial in the Republican-majority Senate. 
 
In his opening statement, former Vice President Joe Biden, one of Trump’s top challengers, declared, “This president is the most corrupt … in all our history,” an assessment echoed across the debate stage. 

‘No one is above the law’

Another leading candidate, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, said, “Sometimes there are issues that are bigger than politics. Donald Trump broke the law. No one is above the law. Impeachment must go forward.” 
 
Tuesday’s debate was the fourth in a string of almost monthly get-togethers for the Democratic challengers seeking to win the party’s nomination to face Trump. But with the 12 candidates lined up on a stage at Otterbein University in the Midwestern state of Ohio, it was the largest such gathering and came as new drama has engulfed the U.S. political world about a year before voters head to the polls in the national balloting. 
 
House Democrats opened the quick-moving impeachment probe after a whistleblower in the U.S. intelligence community raised questions about whether Trump had put his own political survival ahead of U.S. national security concerns when he asked Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy for “a favor” in a late July call. Trump called for Kyiv to open an investigation into the role played by Biden in helping oust a Ukrainian prosecutor when he was former President Barack Obama’s second in command, and also to probe the lucrative service of Biden’s son Hunter on the board of a Ukrainian energy company. 
 
Both Bidens have denied wrongdoing, although the younger Biden, 49, told ABC News this week that he exercised “poor judgment” in serving on the Burisma company board because it had become a political liability for his father. 
 
The elder Biden said he had never discussed with Hunter Biden his decision to join the Ukrainian company’s board, which he left earlier this year. Hunter Biden now has pledged not  to work for any foreign company if his father is elected president. 

Trump’s criticism
 
Trump has repeatedly described his call with Zelenskiy as “perfect,” said he has done nothing wrong and assailed the impeachment probe as another attempt to overturn his 2016 election victory. 
 
The elder Biden, at 76 on his third run for the U.S. presidency, is the nominal leader in national surveys of Democratic voters of their choice as the party’s standard bearer to face Trump, 73, and he often defeats Trump in hypothetical polling matchups. So does Warren, a former Harvard law professor, who has edged close to Biden or sometimes even surpassed him in national polls of Democrats as their favorite presidential candidate. 
 
Biden and Warren, 70, were at center stage Tuesday, alongside Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, a self-described Democratic socialist who currently stands as the third choice among Democrats. Sanders, 78, recently suffered a heart attack, raising questions about his health as the oldest of the presidential contenders. 
 
The nine other candidates on the debate stage faced a daunting challenge: how best to distinguish themselves from the front-runners and gain new traction in national polls and surveys of voters in states where Democrats are holding party nominating contests starting in February. 
 
All nine currently are polling in the single digits, compared with Biden and Warren in the upper 20% range, with Sanders about 15%. 

Next debate

The national Democratic Party has set standards even higher for those who want a place on the stage for the next debate on November 20. The candidates must have bigger polling numbers — at least 3% support in four national polls or 5% support in polls of people in states that are early on the voting calendar — and more financial support, from at least 165,000 individual donors. 
 
The nine other challengers Tuesday night were California Senator Kamala Harris, who has slipped in the polls in recent months and has refocused her efforts in going after Trump; South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg; New Jersey Senator Cory Booker; Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar; former U.S. Housing Secretary Julian Castro; former U.S. Representative Beto O’Rourke of Texas; tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang; U.S. Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii; and Tom Steyer, a wealthy environmental activist who launched national television ads calling for Trump’s impeachment long before Washington political figures undertook the current inquiry. 

Actor Huffman Starts Serving Prison Time in College Scam

All, News, Technology

“Desperate Housewives” star Felicity Huffman — aka prisoner No. 77806-112 — reported Tuesday to a federal prison in California to serve a two-week sentence in a college admissions scandal that ensnared dozens of wealthy mothers and fathers trying to get their children into elite schools. 
 
Huffman’s husband, actor William H. Macy, dropped her off at the Federal Correctional Institution, Dublin, a low-security prison for women in the San Francisco Bay Area, according to TASC Group, which represents Huffman. 
 
The prison has been described by media as “Club Fed,” making its way onto a Forbes list in 2009 of America’s 10 Cushiest Prisons. 
  
Like all inmates, Huffman would be issued a prison uniform and underwear and referred to by her number once inside the prison, where she will share a room and open toilet with three other inmates, according to a TASC Group publicist who declined to be named in accordance with company policy. 
  
Huffman, 56, “is prepared to serve the term of imprisonment Judge [Indira] Talwani ordered as one part of the punishment she imposed for Ms. Huffman’s actions,” the TASC Group said in a statement that provided no further details. 
 
Officials at the prison did not immediately return two phone calls seeking comment. 
 
The federal judge in Boston sentenced Huffman last month to 14 days in prison, a $30,000 fine, 250 hours of community service and a year’s probation after she pleaded guilty of fraud and conspiracy for paying an admissions consultant $15,000 to have a proctor correct her daughter’s SAT answers. 
 
Huffman tearfully apologized at her sentencing, saying, “I was frightened. I was stupid and I was so wrong.” 
  
Huffman was the first parent sentenced in the scandal that exposed the lengths some parents will go to to get their children into elite schools and reinforced suspicions that the college admissions process is slanted toward the rich. 
 
The judge noted that Huffman took steps “to get one more advantage” for her daughter in a system “already so distorted by money and privilege.” 
 
The facility where Huffman will serve her time has housed well-known inmates in the past, including “Hollywood Madam” Heidi Fleiss. 
  
Huffman will likely be assigned work duty, and prisoners at the Dublin institution are subjected to five bed counts a day. They have access to a gym, a library and a TV room, the TASC spokesman said. 
 
He said Huffman intends to read, walk in the courtyard and exercise as much as she can. 
 
Huffman was one of 51 people charged in the scandal. She paid $15,000 to boost her older daughter’s SAT scores with the help of William “Rick” Singer, an admissions consultant at the center of the scheme. Singer, who has pleaded guilty, was accused of bribing a test proctor to correct the teenager’s answers. 
  
The amount Huffman paid is relatively low compared with other alleged bribes in the scheme. Some parents were accused of paying up to $500,000. 
  
The scandal was the biggest college admissions case ever prosecuted by the Justice Department. 
  
Prosecutors said parents schemed to manipulate test scores and bribed coaches to get their children into schools by having them labeled as recruited athletes for sports they didn’t play. 

Health Crisis Looms as Aid Organizations Pull Out of Syria

All, News, Technology

Eight-year-old Sara hardly speaks anymore. She spends most of her time watching cartoons on a mobile phone in a rugged pink cover.   
 
One of her legs is severed above the knee, the other is broken. 
 
On Thursday, about 15 minutes after her family decided to flee the area, a bomb fell about 8 meters from Sara and her three siblings.   
 
Doctors say hospitals in northeastern Syria are already working beyond their capacity, as aid organizations evacuate their foreign staff.  As Turkey continues to fight for a strip of land along its southern border, doctors say this war is turning into an unmitigated health disaster. 
 
“Any further crisis will destroy us,” said Dr. Furat Maqdesi Elias, who heads the Al Salam Hospital in Qamishli, a city on the Syrian border with Turkey. “What do NGOs and the U.N. give us?  They give us zero.” 
 
Many Syrians here blame the United States for abandoning this region, after supporting Kurdish-led fighters against Islamic State militants for years. Turkey has long maintained it would create a buffer zone between it and the once-U.S.-supported Syrian Democratic Forces vigorously if it had to. It began assaults on the Kurdish region nearly a week ago. 
 
Turkey blames the PKK, a Kurdish militant group it equates with the SDF, which has been attacking Turkey for decades, leading to thousands of deaths. 

Sara’s mother, Nariman, weeps as she explains that her four children were injured in a bombing last week — one died and Sara lost a leg. Oct. 15, 2019. (Y. Boechat/VOA)

Sara’s mother, Nariman, blames herself. 
 
“It’s my fault,” she said. “We should have evacuated when things started happening.” 
 
‘Humanitarian situation spirals’ 
 
Sara doesn’t yet know that her 13-year-old brother Mohammad died in the bombing. Nariman whispers his name, and then hushes her daughter as she whimpers. 
 
A door closes, and Sara starts. 
 
“See what happened to her?” Nariman asked. “When she hears a door close, she thinks it’s a bomb.” 
 
Nariman and her husband, Youssef, and their other two children are now staying with friends while Sara is in the hospital. The house is still standing, she said, but they are too afraid to go home. 
 
They are among approximately 200,000 people who have been displaced since this war began less than a week ago. Roughly 70,000 are children, according to the U.N. Children’s Fund. 

A checkpoint, abandoned by Syrian Democratic Forces after Turkish military operations began last week, pictured on Oct. 11, 2019, outside Ras al-Ayn, Syria. (A. Lourie/VOA)

Families are not the only ones fleeing in northeastern Syria. On Tuesday, Doctors Without Borders announced it would be pulling its foreign staff out of the region and stopping most of its activities. The organization said the decision comes “as the humanitarian situation spirals further out of control, and needs are likely to increase.” 
 
The International Rescue Committee also suspended health services on Tuesday after one of its facilities was hit by what IRC officials think was an airstrike, and two of the organization’s ambulances were damaged.   
 
“Many hospitals have had to close, and those that remain open are overwhelmed with casualties,” said Misty Buswell, Middle East policy director at the International Rescue Committee, in a statement Tuesday. “We expect to see an increase in deaths from what are usually preventable diseases because of this, as there simply are not enough facilities to support those who have been displaced.” 
 
Chaos continues 
 
Before the crisis began, Sara was at the top of her class in school, her mother said, and liked to play soccer. 

Relatives show pictures of Sara and her younger sister Zainab, before the children were struck recently by a bomb. Oct. 15, 2019, in Qamishli, Syria. (Y. Boechat/VOA)

“Now, she doesn’t talk to us,” Nariman said, stroking Sara’s hair. 
 
Other children in Qamishli are mostly inside as she speaks, and soldiers pace the sidewalks. Some businesses are open, but the usually noisy city is mostly quiet.   
 
Reports of chaos in other cities litter the internet, with videos of Russian soldiers playing with electronic barriers, abandoned as the U.S. pulled out. Other videos show heavy fighting at the border between Syria and Turkey.   
 
Hundreds of military deaths have been reported in the past six days, and at least 42 civilians have been killed and 123 wounded, according to the International Rescue Committee. 
 

“One day everything changed,” says Sara’s father, Youseff, who also lost his 13-year-old son Mohammed in the conflict in northeastern Syria. Oct. 15, 2019. (Y. Boechat/VOA)

Soldiers say one key city has changed hands several times, with the SDF occasionally wresting it back from the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army, formerly known as the FSA, a rebel group. 
 
Some roads have been taken by the group, and families from the region are unable to get to each other, as the alternate route is a well-known haven for Islamic State sleeper cells. 
 
“This area used to be a safe place,” Youssef said. “Everyone lived together from all over Syria. Then one day everything changed.” 

Ecuador’s Moreno Scraps Fuel Subsidy Cuts in Big Win for Indigenous Groups

All, News, Technology

Ecuadorean President Lenin Moreno on Monday officially scrapped his own law to cut expensive fuel subsidies after days of violent protests against the IMF-backed measure, returning fuel prices to prior levels until a new measure can be found.

The signing of the decree is a blow to Moreno, and leaves big questions about the oil-producing nation’s fiscal situation.

But it represents a win for the country’s indigenous communities, who led the protests, bringing chaos to the capital and crippling the oil sector.

The clashes marked the latest in a series of political convulsions sparked by IMF-backed reform plans in Latin America, where increased polarization between the right and left is causing widespread friction amid efforts to overhaul hidebound economies.

Moreno’s law eliminated four-decade-old fuel subsidies and was estimated to have freed up nearly $1.5 billion per year in the government budget, helping to shrink the fiscal deficit as required under a deal Moreno signed with the International Monetary Fund.

But the measure was hugely unpopular and sparked days of protests led by indigenous groups that turned increasingly violent despite a military-enforced curfew.

Moreno gave in to the chief demand of demonstrators late on Sunday, tweeting on Monday that: “We have opted for peace.”

Then, later on Monday, he signed the decree officially reverting his previous measure. Moreno, who took office in 2017 after campaigning as the leftist successor to former President Rafael Correa, said fuel prices would revert to their earlier levels at midnight.

A demonstrator holds tires as he runs during a protest against Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno’s austerity measures in Quito, Ecuador October 12, 2019.

He added that the government would seek to define a new plan to tackle the fuel subsidies that does not benefit the wealthy or smugglers, with prices remaining at prior levels until the new legislation is ready.

“While Moreno has survived for now, he is not yet out of the woods. Once again, Ecuador’s indigenous sector has proven its strength and now will be emboldened to look for concessions from the government in other areas,” said Eileen Gavin, senior Latin America analyst at Verisk Maplecroft.

“This inevitably means a slower fiscal adjustment between now and the 2021 election,” Gavin added in an email.

Nonetheless, for the time being, Moreno’s actions brought a much-needed measure of calm to the streets of the capital Quito, where residents on Monday began to restore order and clear away the makeshift blockades that sprang up in recent days.

“We have freed the country,” indigenous leader Jaime Vargas said to cheers from supporters at a press conference. “Enough of the pillaging of the Ecuadorean people.”

The protests had grown increasingly chaotic in recent days after the government launched a crackdown against what it labeled as extremists whom it said had infiltrated protests.

Authorities reported that the office of the comptroller, a local TV station and military vehicles were set on fire.

Indigenous protesters who streamed into Quito from Andean and Amazonian provinces to join the protests piled into buses that departed the city on Monday.

“We’re going back to our territories,” said Inti Killa, an indigenous man from the Amazonian region of Napo. “We’ve shown that unity and conviction of the people is a volcano that nobody can stop.”

One of the government’s more immediate priorities will be to kick-start oil sector operations, which were suspended in some regions after protesters broke into plants.

“We need to re-establish oil production,” said Energy Minister Carlos Perez. He added that Ecuador stopped producing some 2 million barrels of oil during the protests, costing the government more than $100 million in lost income. “I expect things to be back to normal in about 15 days,” Perez said.

Pacific Northwest Tribes: Remove Columbia River Dams

All, News, Technology

Two Pacific Northwest tribes on Monday demanded the removal of three major hydroelectric dams on the Columbia River to save migrating salmon and starving orcas and restore fishing sites that were guaranteed to the tribes in a treaty more than 150 years ago.

The Yakama and Lummi nations made the demand of the U.S. government on Indigenous Peoples Day, a designation that’s part of a trend to move away from a holiday honoring Christopher Columbus.

For decades, people have debated whether to remove four big dams on the Lower Snake River, a tributary of the Columbia, but breaching the Columbia dams, which are a much more significant source of power, has never been seriously discussed.
 
Proposals to merely curtail operations, let alone remove the structures, are controversial, and the prospects of the Columbia dams being demolished any time soon appear nonexistent.

Tribal leaders said at a news conference along the Columbia River that the Treaty of 1855, in which 14 tribes and bands ceded 11.5 million acres to the United States, was based on the inaccurate belief that the U.S. had a right to take the land.

Under the treaty, the Yakama Tribe retained the right to fish at all their traditional sites. But construction of the massive concrete dams decades later along the lower Columbia River to generate power for the booming region destroyed critical fishing spots and made it impossible for salmon to complete their migration.

FILE – Water flows through the Dalles Dam, along the Columbia River, in The Dalles, Oregon, June 3, 2011.

After a song of prayer, Yakama Nation Chairman JoDe Goudy spoke Monday at the site of now-vanished Celilo Falls near The Dalles, Oregon, and said the placid Columbia River behind him looked “like a lake where we once saw a free-flowing river.”
 
“We have a choice and it’s one or the other: dams or salmon,” he said. “Our ancestors tell us to look as far into the future as we can. Will we be the generation that forgot those who are coming behind us, those yet unborn?”

Celilo Falls was a traditional salmon-fishing site for the Yakama for centuries, but it was swallowed by the river in 1957 after the construction of The Dalles Dam.

Support for dams

The three dams operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are a critical part of a complex hydroelectric network strung along the Columbia and Snake rivers in Oregon, Washington and Idaho that powers the entire region.

Government officials were unavailable for further comment Monday due to the holiday.

Supporters of dams along the Columbia and Snake rivers note the vast amount of clean energy they produce and their usefulness for irrigation and transportation. For example, they allow farmers to ship about half of U.S. wheat exports by barge instead of by truck or rail. According to the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association, about 40,000 local jobs are dependent on shipping on the Columbia and Snake rivers.

Salmon, orcas 

The Lummi Nation is in northwestern Washington state, far from the Columbia River, but it has also been touched by construction of the dams, said Jeremiah Julius, Lummi Nation chairman.

Chinook salmon are the preferred prey of endangered orcas but just 73 resident orcas remain in the Pacific Northwest — the lowest number in three decades — because of a lack of chinook, as well as toxic contamination and vessel noise. The orcas were hunted for food for generations by the Lummi Nation in the Salish Sea, he said.

“We are in a constant battle … to leave future generations a lifeway promised our ancestors 164 years ago,” he said. “Our people understand that the salmon, like the orca, are the miner’s canary for the health of the Salish Sea and for all its children.

“I choose salmon,” he added. “I will always choose salmon.”

Fish ladders built into the dams allow for the passage of migrating salmon, and migrating fish are hand-counted as they pass through. But the number of salmon making the arduous journey to the Pacific Ocean and back to their natal streams has declined steeply in recent decades.

The Columbia River Basin once produced between 10 million and 16 million salmon a year. Now there are about 1 million a year.

FILE – Water flows through the Bonneville Dam near Cascade, Oregon, June 27, 2012.

The Bonneville Dam was constructed in the mid-1930s and generates enough electricity to power about 900,000 homes — roughly the size of Portland, Oregon. The Dalles Dam followed in the 1950s and John Day Dam was completed in 1972.

Environmental groups applauded the tribes’ demand and said efforts to save salmon without removing the dams aren’t working because without the free flow of the Columbia, the entire river ecosystem is out of balance.

“The stagnant reservoirs behind the dams create dangerously hot water, and climate change is pushing the river over the edge. Year after year, the river gets hotter,” said Brett VandenHeuvel, executive director for the nonprofit group Columbia Riverkeeper. “The system is broken, but we can fix it.”
 

Changing Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day Gains National Approval

All, News, Technology

Along Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue, tens of thousands of New Yorkers and tourists celebrated the world’s largest display of Italian-American pageantry on Columbus Day, while New Mexico and a growing list of states and municipalities ditched the holiday altogether for the first time.

The Italian navigator namesake who sailed to the modern-day Americas in 1492, Christopher Columbus has long been considered by some scholars  and Native Americans as an affront to those who had settled on the land thousands of years prior to his arrival. 

While the earliest  commemoration of Columbus Day dates back to 1866 in New York City,  as a celebration to honor the heritage and contributions of the now-17 million Italian-Americans living in the United States, the movement behind “Indigenous Peoples’ Day” began more than a century later, in 1977, by a delegation of Native nations.

The resolution, presented in Geneva at the United Nations-sponsored International Conference on Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations in the Americas, paved the way for cities like Berkeley, California to officially replace the holiday 15 years later.

Yet to organizers of the 75th annual Columbus Day Parade, the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus remains worth celebrating.

“Columbus discovered America. If it weren’t for Columbus, who knows where we’d be today,” said Aldo Verrelli, Parade Chairman with the Columbus Citizens Foundation.

“[With] any of those people in those days, we have to remember the good that they did,” Verrelli said. Let’s forget about all the other controversy.”

It’s a sentiment and a suggestion that has long divided Americans: honor tradition, or correct history and rectify the past.

“There were Native Americans that were here before, but [Columbus] basically discovered the New World, and that’s why we’re here today,” said Joe Sanfilippo, a participant at the New York Columbus Day Parade.

“The Europeans essentially tried to eradicate us,” U.S. Congresswoman Deb Haaland (D-NM) told VOA. “They brought disease. They banished us to reservations later on when the U.S. government became an active force.”

Red paint covers a statue of Christopher Columbus, Oct. 14, 2019, in Providence, R.I., after it was vandalized on the day named to honor him as one of the first Europeans to reach the New World.

Since Berkeley’s decision to rename the holiday in 1992, more than 130 cities have followed suit. Joining several states — including Minnesota, Alaska, Vermont, Oregon and South Dakota — New Mexico became the latest state to legally replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day in 2019, celebrated for the first time on Monday.

One of the first two Native American women elected to U.S. Congress and member of the Laguna Pueblo, Haaland describes her mission as one to “correct history” and honor the resilience of America’s Indigenous Peoples on the national stage. On October 11, she co-sponsored a national resolution to designate the second Monday in October as “Indigenous Peoples’ Day.”

“There’s 573 distinct tribes right now in our country. And we’re all diverse. And I just I think that it’s an excellent way for us to celebrate the diversity and recognize that when other indigenous people come to this country, that there’s a place for them also,” Haaland said of the renamed holiday.

People taking part in a rally to mark Indigenous Peoples’ Day in downtown Seattle sing as they march toward Seattle City Hall, Monday, Oct. 14, 2019. The observance of the day was made official by the Seattle City Council in 2014.

America, she adds, was never “discoverable” in the first place, a “misnomer” that runs in direct contradiction to decades-old American history textbooks and the people who defend Christopher Columbus’s legacy.

“In their minds, accepting the truth, is somehow shifting the power — [in] that it contributes to the loss of power by minority over the majority,” said Regis Pecos, former governor of Cochiti Pueblo. “I think that these attitudes and behaviors are so deeply entrenched, that it is really based upon fear of losing a narrative, as false as that narrative is.”

Festival attendees in the state’s capitol, Santa Fe, say the celebration of Indigenous Peoples Day marks progress.

“History is always written by the winners. And then now, we[ve] come to a generation [where] we start to think about what we used to think is right is wrong now,” said attendee Silvia Sian.

At the Columbus Day Parade in New York, others argue it shouldn’t be an either-or decision.

“Those who want to honor Columbus, then they keep that day,” said New York resident Heather Fitzroy. “But those who want to honor the ones who lived before us, like the indigenous people of America, if they want to honor them, then that’s OK too.”

Pakistan Set to Welcome British Royal Couple

All, News, Technology

Britain’s Prince William and his wife Kate are making their first official visit to Pakistan Monday that will “pay respect to the historical relationship” between the two countries.

They are the first royals to visit Pakistan since 2006, when Charles and Camilla, the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, toured the country.

🇬🇧🇵🇰 Coming soon…#RoyalVisitPakistan@UKinPakistanpic.twitter.com/F7pKLrrFgY

— Kensington Palace (@KensingtonRoyal) October 13, 2019

William and Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, will be accorded a red carpet welcome when they land in the capital Islamabad under special security arrangements.

“They are looking forward to building a lasting friendship with the people of Pakistan,” British High Commissioner to Pakistan Thomas Drew said in a video message on the eve of the five-day trip.

The British royals will meet Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and senior civilian as well as military leaders before traveling to the historical eastern city of Lahore, the mountainous countryside in the north and the rugged border regions to the west.

But the visit, Drew noted, will largely focus on showcasing Pakistan “as it is today -a dynamic, aspirational and forward-looking nation.”

The royals will visit programs in Pakistan empowering young people and learn how communities are adapting to climate change, he said.

William’s late mother Diana, Princess of Wales, visited Pakistan in 1991on her first solo tour before returning to the country in 1996 to attend a fundraising event for a cancer hospital Khan built in Lahore after ending his successful careerr as the captain of the Pakistani cricket team.

Diana also visited Pakistan in 1997 to spend time with her friend Jemima Goldsmith, who was then married to sports-man-turned politician Khan who became prime minister of Pakistan last year.

“This is the most complex tour undertaken by the Duke and Duchess to date, given the logistical and security considerations,” said the couple’s communication secretary Christian Jones while announcing details of the tour starting Monday.

Pakistan’s counterterrorism operations as part of a U.S.-led coalition and retaliatory militant attacks over the past decade has led to deterioration in security conditions in the country. But officials say the threat has subsided due to a sustained nationwide counter militancy campaign.

The improvement in security conditions prompted British Airways to resume direct flights to Islamabad this past June, more than a decade after halting the service due to security concerns stemming from terrorist attacks at the time, including a deadly bombing in Islamabad.

 

Report: South Korean Pop Star Sulli Found Dead at Home

All, News, Technology

News reports say South Korean pop star and actress Sulli has been found dead at her home south of Seoul.
 
A report by Yonhap news agency said the 25-year-old was found Monday afternoon. The report said police have said there were no signs of foul play at her home in Seongnam.
 
Repeated calls to the Seongnam Sujeong Police Department and Sulli’s agency weren’t answered.
 
Sulli’s legal name is Choi Jin-ri. She debuted in 2009 as a member of the girl band “f(x)” and also acted in numerous television dramas and movies.

Spain at Odds With US on Venezuela’s Former Spy Chief

All, News, Technology

For weeks, Spain has rejected repeated U.S. requests for the extradition of former Venezuelan spy chief Hugo Carvajal, wanted in the United States on drug trafficking and narco-terrorism charges.

Now, the reasons for Madrid’s refusal are emerging: he is cooperating in Spain’s efforts to mediate Venezuela’s drawn out political crisis.  Spanish court documents say Carvajal was operating under “directions and orders from the Presidency of Venezuela,” and analysts say Spain’s protection of him may be influenced by his importance as an intelligence asset to the Spanish Foreign Intelligence Service, CNI.

The weight of the charges levied by the United States is hefty. The indictment, sent to Voice of America by the Department of Justice, alleges that Carvajal “worked with terrorists and other drug traffickers to dispatch thousands of kilograms of cocaine” to the United States. U.S. Justice department officials say that to accomplish this, he worked with the leadership of the militant Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, FARC, during his near decade-long tenure as head of Venezuela’s powerful military counterintelligence service, DGCIM.
 
Carvajal and his alleged shady dealings have long been on the U.S. radar.  In 2008, the United States Department of the Treasury accused Carvajal of assisting the FARC in protecting Colombia’s Arauca Department, a region known as a center of cocaine production, and providing the FARC with official Venezuelan government identification.
 
 FARC used profits from its drug trafficking networks to fund its decades-long insurgency against the Colombian government. The United States designated the FARC as a terrorist group in 1997. 
 
The Department of Justice further alleged that Carvajal was a member of the Cartel De Los Soles. According to the indictment, the cartel is a group of high-ranking Venuezelan officials who not only cooperate with the drug traffickers, but also provide heavily armed security, military grade weapons, and intelligence to protect some of these drug shipments.

FILE – Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro, right, speaks next to retired General Hugo Carvajal as they attend the Socialist party congress in Caracas, July 27, 2014.

After serving under the Nicolas Maduro and Hugo Chavez Venezuelan governments for nearly two decades, Carvajal defected in February. In a direct rebuke to Maduro, he filmed a video expressing support for Juan Guaido as interim president before fleeing the country in dramatic fashion.

Carvajal secured a boat for a night trip to the Dominican Republic, evading the Venezuelan military before boarding a direct flight to Madrid. According to testimony, Spanish intelligence agents escorted Carvajal from the plane and into a four wheel drive vehicle, bypassing immigration and customs inspections. The escort ended at a luxury apartment, rented by his son, where Carvajal resided until his arrest on an Interpol warrant some weeks later.
 
Carvajal’s VIP treatment by Spanish intelligence officials indicates that he is benefiting from his previous cooperation with the Spanish government, say analysts. Court records do not specify how long Carvajal has been in service to the CNI, but his relationship precedes his arrival in Spain. The records show that he collaborated in botched uprisings and negotiations to try and ease current Venezuelan president Maduro out of power.  
 
The Spanish continue to see Carvajal as valuable despite his break with the Maduro government. As a member of the Cartel de los Soles, Carvajal was privy to highly sensitive information on the Venezuelan government’s involvement with drug trafficking. Carvajal claims to have specific information on the group’s money laundering operations, including those of the group’s top officials. What he knows could prove important, as the US Department of Justice believes officials as high in the government as Vice President Tareck El Aissami are involved.

Carvajal’s claim on information, however, may be just that. It is unclear how involved he was with the group’s activities after his tenure as intelligence chief ended, and the information could be too dated to prove useful.
 
Carvajal has escaped U.S. warrants before. In 2011, the Netherlands refused to turn over Carvajal to American authorities after apprehending him in Aruba. The Netherlands freed Carvajal after accepting Venezuela’s claim that the general enjoyed diplomatic immunity as their consul-general appointee for the island.
 
Spain, and the European Union, appear ready to again frustrate any further U.S. efforts to extradite Carvajal. The Spanish government maintains a strong interest in its former colony, with 200,000 dual nationals residing there. Madrid is in the lead role for the EU in mediating the current crisis in Venezuela, and these efforts are taking precedence over U.S. efforts to prosecute former members of the Maduro government.
 

 

Hunter Biden Defends His Ukraine, China Business Deals

All, News, Technology

Hunter Biden, the son of former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, on Sunday defended his work in Ukraine and China after calls by President Donald Trump that the two countries investigate his business dealings, pleas that have engulfed Trump in an impeachment inquiry.

The younger Biden, whose father is one of the leading Democratic candidates seeking to face Trump in the 2020 presidential election, said in a statement issued by his lawyer that despite Trump’s accusations of improprieties while he was a board member of the Burisma energy company in Ukraine for five years, no foreign or domestic law enforcement agency has accused him of any wrongdoing.

Hunter Biden left the Burisma board last April and said, without giving an explanation, that he would leave the board of China’s BHR (Shanghai) Equity Investment Fund Management Company at the end of October.

Published accounts say that he was paid as much as $50,000 a month to serve on the Burisma board, although his Sunday statement did not mention the salary he received. The younger Biden’s lawyer, George Mesires, said the position with the Chinese investment firm was unpaid, but that Hunter Biden two years ago invested $420,000 for a 10% equity stake in the firm, which he still holds, although has not received any return on his investment.

“Hunter undertook these business activities independently,” Mesires said. “He did not believe it appropriate to discuss them with his father, nor did he.”

But Trump in a late July call to Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy asked for “a favor,” that Ukraine investigate the younger Biden’s business activities there and Joe Biden’s efforts while he was President Barack Obama’s second in command to get a Ukrainian prosecutor dismissed, a demand that by numerous accounts did not relate to Burisma’s activities and at the time was supported by other Western countries. Trump subsequently publicly asked China to investigate the younger Biden.

With disclosure of Trump’s demands by an U.S. intelligence community whistleblower, and the White House’s subsequent release of a rough account of the Trump-Zelenskiy call confirming the U.S. leader’s call for a Ukrainian investigation, Democrats in the House of Representatives opened an impeachment inquiry against Trump. The elder Biden says Trump “has convicted himself,” and “should be impeached.”

Mesires said that when Hunter Biden “engaged in his business pursuits, he believed that he was acting appropriately and in good faith. He never anticipated the barrage of false charges against both him and his father by the president of the United States.”

The lawyer said that if Joe Biden is elected president, Hunter Biden “will readily comply” with any White House strictures on “purported conflicts of interest, or the appearance of such conflicts,” along with refraining from serving on any boards of foreign companies or working for them.

Until Sunday, the younger Biden had remained silent as Trump called him “a loser” with few business skills and assailed him at a political rally last week for being kicked out of the U.S. Navy Reserve in 2013 for cocaine use.

“Hunter, you know nothing about energy,” Trump said. “You know nothing about China. You know nothing about anything, frankly. Hunter, you’re a loser.”

On Sunday, Trump tweeted, “Where’s Hunter? He has totally disappeared! Now looks like he has raided and scammed even more countries!”

Where’s Hunter? He has totally disappeared! Now looks like he has raided and scammed even more countries! Media is AWOL.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 13, 2019