Author Archive: Economist

US Senate Approves Funds to Address Border Crisis

The U.S. Senate on Wednesday approved bipartisan legislation to address the humanitarian crisis along the U.S.-Mexico border with more than $4 billion in supplemental funds and new requirements for the care of detained migrants, especially children.The 84-8 vote came amid renewed scrutiny of the Trump administration’s treatment of minors in its custody and amid widespread revulsion over the deaths of a father and daughter from El Salvador who perished trying to cross the Rio Grande River into the United States.”There is no longer any question that the situation along our southern border is a full-blown humanitarian and security crisis,” Republican Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama said, adding that there was “no excuse” for delay in addressing the situation.”Inaction is simply not an option for those who care about alleviating the suffering of desperate children and families seeking refuge in the United States,” Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy said.The Republican-led Senate approved the bill after voting down a House version that also boosted funds for U.S. Customs and Border Protection and other federal agencies stretched to the breaking point by border arrivals totaling more than 100,000 a month, the highest numbers recorded in more than a decade.Although broadly similar, the Senate version is less extensive in regulating the care of detained children. Unlike the House version, it provides $145 million for the Pentagon to assist in border operations.To reach President Donald Trump’s desk, the Senate bill would need to pass the House. Hpwever, majority-Democrats in the House have signaled they want changes to the bill. As a result, a bicameral committee is expected to be formed to try to hammer out a version that can pass both chambers. Time for swift action is growing short, as Congress will be in recess next week for America’s Independence Day holiday.Speaking with reporters before departing the White House, Trump hailed legislative movement on border funding.”I believe the House is going to be getting together with the Senate. Hopefully, they can get something done,” Trump said.Earlier in the day, the president once again blamed Democrats for the border crisis, tweeting: “The Democrats should change the Loopholes and Asylum Laws so lives will be saved at our Southern Border. They said it was not a crisis at the Border, that it was all just manufactured.’ Now they admit that I was right – But they must do something about it. Fix the Laws NOW!”On the Senate floor, Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer fired back.”We can do something about this [crisis] if the president would stop playing the political game of blame, blame, blame,” Schumer said. “Mr. President, you are the president of the United States. You are head of the executive branch. You control what’s happening at the border.”Schumer spoke alongside a blown-up photo, widely distributed by news organizations, of the drowned Salvadoran father and daughter, as reaction poured in across Capitol Hill and beyond.”I don’t want to see another picture like that on the U.S. border,” Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin said. “I hope that picture alone will catalyze this Congress, this Senate … to do something.”U.S. Customs and Border Protection has faced renewed criticism on Capitol Hill after news reports emerged earlier this week of squalid living conditions at a CBP facility in Texas that houses detained migrant children.A Senate panel on Wednesday pressed administration officials on the subject.”What are you doing to actually make sure that children are getting the care and the sanitary conditions and the food that they need?” New Hampshire Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan asked.The Border Patrol’s chief of law enforcement operations, Brian Hastings, responded that detention facilities are being upgraded with shower facilities and increased medical care. He added that more funds are being devoted to basic supplies, such as diapers and baby formula.

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Florida Voters Get Front Row Seat to Crowded Democratic Field

The Election 2020 circus has rolled into Miami, as 20 Democratic party candidates prepare to face off for two nights of debates marking the official start of the attempt to deny President Donald Trump a second  term. VOA’s Congressional correspondent Katherine Gypson reports from Miami.

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Ex-Trump Aide Manafort to Be Arraigned Thursday in New York

Paul Manafort, the former campaign chairman for U.S. President Donald Trump, will be arraigned Thursday in a New York court in Manhattan on state criminal charges, after having been convicted last year on federal fraud charges.Manafort, 70, is scheduled to appear before Justice Maxwell Wiley of the state Supreme Court at 2:15 p.m. EDT (1815 GMT) Thursday, court spokesman Lucian Chalfen told Reuters.Manafort faces 16 felony charges brought by the Manhattan district attorney. The state charges include mortgage fraud, conspiracy and falsifying business records, and relate to alleged efforts by Manafort and others to obtain millions of dollars in loans on New York properties.Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance made the indictment public in March, on the same day Manafort was sentenced on federal crimes.Manafort is serving a 7 1/2-year federal sentence for tax fraud, bank fraud and other charges.Federal prosecutors accused him of hiding $16 million from U.S. tax authorities that he earned as a consultant for pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine, and then lying to banks to obtain $20 million in loans when the money dried up.The federal charges stemmed from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.Manafort faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted on the top charges in the New York case.

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Voters Get First Up Close Look at 2020 Democratic Contenders

It is more than 16 months until the next U.S. presidential election in late 2020, but 20 Democratic presidential contenders are set to debate each other the next two nights to give Democratic voters a first look at whom they might want to pick as the party’s nominee to try to oust Republican President Donald Trump.Ten of the Democratic candidates, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, one of the current front-runners for the party nomination; senators Cory Booker of New Jersey and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota; and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas, are set to spar Wednesday night for two hours. They will appear before a live audience in Miami, Florida, with millions more watching on national television.Former Vice President Joe Biden, the leader for the nomination in national surveys, is joining other top-tier possible choices on the debate stage Thursday night, including senators Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Kamala Harris of California; Mayor Pete Buttigieg of the Midwestern city of South Bend, Indiana; along with six others.The unwieldy field of candidates, in addition to another six that did not meet the Democratic National Committee’s minimal political standards to merit a spot in the debates, all sense they might have a chance to unseat Trump after a single term in the White House.Democratic voters, however, so far seem uncertain of what they are looking for in their party standard-bearer in the Nov. 3, 2020, election — someone who best represents their political views on such contentious issues as health care, abortion, foreign policy, immigration, taxes and more, or possibly a candidate who has one overriding quality:  the best chance of defeating Trump.Democratic Contenders for first debate in Miami June 2019Attack each other or Trump?
A key unknown ahead of the debates is whether the Democratic challengers will spend more of their time attacking each other for their differences over policy issues, or chiefly aim their political barbs at Trump. Already, some of the Democrats are trying to diminish Biden’s nomination chances, attacking him for his recent recollection that 40 years ago when he was a young U.S. senator, he had working relationships in the Senate with segregationists adamantly opposed to the equality of blacks and whites. Although the candidates have been campaigning for months in the early states where Democrats next year will hold presidential party nominating contests — including Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina — for millions of Americans watching on television, it will be their first chance to size up the candidates and see whether they find someone they might favor over Trump. Despite a robust U.S. economy — a normal election-year barometer favoring an incumbent U.S. president’s re-election — Trump is by no means a shoe-in for a second four-year term.Polling shows the one-time New York real estate magnate, a surprise winner in 2016, has yet to win over many voters beyond the hard core of populist and Republican voters that has supported him through his 29-month presidency. More voters than not, surveys repeatedly show, disapprove of his performance in office.U.S. political pundits dismissed Trump’s chances of a victory three years ago, but he could win again.What latest surveys say
At the moment, however, surveys show several Democrats leading Trump, now 73. The 76-year-old Biden, President Barack Obama’s two-term vice president, holds  the biggest edge of more than 10 percentage points over Trump. But polls this far ahead of the election are not necessarily predictive and may be just a snapshot of a moment in time.In all, a dozen Democratic presidential debates are planned between now and the first months of 2020, although the number of candidates appearing in them will diminish over time as contenders drop out for lack of voter support and campaign funds. The first voting in Democratic primaries and caucuses to decide the presidential nomination starts Feb. 3 in the farm state of Iowa.All of the Democratic presidential candidates, to one degree or another, have staked out positions on key issues they think are important to reshape policy debates in Washington, while at the same time attacking Trump for his views about domestic issues and international relations during his unprecedented presidency.The Democrats running for the U.S. presidency have broadly adopted a much more expansive liberal role for the federal government than either the more conservative Trump or Republicans who control the Senate. Democrats, in philosophical political agreement with many of their presidential candidates, took control of the House of Representatives in the 2018 congressional elections.In this June 24, 2019, photo, a billboard advertises the Democratic Presidential Debates across from the Knight Concert Hall at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County, in Miami.Political differencesThe Democratic presidential candidates do have policy differences among themselves and often have emphasized a variety of issues they think might help them connect with voters when there is such a large field of candidates.Warren and Sanders, neck and neck in second place behind Biden in nomination surveys, are both pushing for far-reaching changes to the country’s economic policies to help middle-class families, paid for with higher taxes on wealthy people. Warren wants new taxes on people with more than $50 million in assets, while Sanders called this week for wiping out all $1.6 trillion in student college debt. O’Rourke, the former Texas congressman, has called for $5 trillion plan to combat climate change, an issue that resonates with many Democrats after Trump withdrew the U.S. from the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.Senators Booker and Klobuchar have advanced more moderate proposals on several issues in hopes of capturing the mass of voters not willing to go as far to the left politically as some of the other Democrats have.For his part, Biden, to a large degree, has stayed above the fray of debate over policy issues, preferring to present himself as the voice of American stability, a correction to Trump’s unpredictable, tweet-filled presidency.Mocking Trump’s long-standing political slogan, “Make America Great Again,” Biden recently told voters, “Let’s make America America again.”But appearing on the same stage with other Democrats may force him to explain and account for his four decades as a Washington political figure and twice-failed presidential candidate.Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden greets audience members after speaking at Clinton Community College, June 12, 2019, in Clinton, Iowa.Who’s debating tonight?
The other candidates debating Wednesday include Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio, Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan and former Maryland Rep. John Delaney.Thursday’s list of candidates also includes New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, California Rep. Eric Swalwell, entrepreneur Andrew Yang and self-help author Marianne Williamson.  

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Zimbabwe Says Dehorning Rhinos Paying Off

Zimbabwe says its practice of dehorning rhinos is bearing fruit, as it has kept poachers at bay and allowed the rhino population to gradually increase.

Matobo Park — about 500 kilometers southwest of Harare — is home to both the endangered black rhino and the threatened southern white rhino.

Elusive as they are today, rhinos are on the increase in Matobo, in part because of a policy to protectively remove their horns.  

Poachers kill the animals to obtain the horn, which in traditional Chinese medicine is believed to have healing powers, although there is little evidence to support this.

Verity Bowman is director of Dambari Wildlife Trust, a wildlife conservation research organization, one of the NGOs taking part in anti-rhino poaching efforts with the government. 

“The dehorning, of course, removes the incentive to poachers and increases the risk, for a low reward. And in small populations, we feel it is the way to go, and it has made a big difference to Matopo National Park by having all animals dehorned,” Bowman said.

Priscah Mupfumira, Zimbabwe’s environment, tourism and wildlife minister, told delegates at the just-ended African Union  (AU) United Nations (UN) Wildlife Economy Summit that her country is winning the anti-poaching war.

“I am happy to report the number of poachers in Zimbabwe and in KAZA region has drastically reduced. We have good conservation programs to make sure that we look after our wild animals,” Mupfumira said.

Along with dehorning rhinos, Zimbabwe ensures that national park rangers have adequate camping equipment, cameras and GPS to patrol the parks and watch out for poachers. 

But Bowman says it is not easy to stop the poaching of rhinos.

“Protection of rhinos is a very complicated affair, as you probably are aware, and there are a number of strategies which are in place,” Bowman said.

Zimbabwean officials keep the actual number of rhinos in the national parks a secret, to ensure poachers remain in the dark.

The strategies all help ensure that future generations will see rhinos in the national parks — not just in zoos.

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Brazil President Backtracks on Looser Gun Restrictions as Lawmakers Resist

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on Tuesday reversed a move to loosen gun control laws by presidential decree, in a strategic retreat after lawmakers pushed back on one of the far-right leader’s key campaign promises.

In May, Bolsonaro signed decrees easing restrictions on importing and carrying guns and buying ammunition, which needed congressional approval to become permanent law. After the Senate rejected a decree last week, Bolsonaro decided on Tuesday to revoke it and reconsider his strategy.

The former army captain vowed last year to crack down on crime and ease access to guns, rolling back decades of arms control efforts as many Brazilians clamored for a dramatic response to rising violent crime.

Bolsonaro’s reversal on Tuesday, published in a late edition of the government’s official gazette, contradicted comments made just hours earlier by his spokesman Otávio Rêgo Barros that the
president would not revoke the guns decree.

Bolsonaro also sent a new bill to Congress on Tuesday that aims to loosen restrictions on the possession of arms in rural areas, Senate President Davi Alcolumbre wrote on his Twitter
account.

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US Sanctions Put Telecoms Firms Off Cuba, Internet Task Force Says

U.S. sanctions on Cuba are deterring American firms from exploring its telecommunications sector even as Washington seeks to expand internet access on the Communist-run island, according to the final report of a U.S. government task force released on Tuesday.

Chinese companies dominate Cuba’s telecoms sector, a status quo “worth challenging given concerns that the Cuban government potentially obtains its censorship equipment from Chinese Internet infrastructure providers,” the report said.

Cuba’s government protested the U.S. State Department’s creation of a Cuba Internet Task Force last year as “foreign interference.” It remains unclear how open it would be to U.S. investment in the strategic telecoms sector.

“U.S. companies informed the subcommittees they are often deterred from entering the market due to uncertainty caused by frequent changes to U.S. regulations concerning Cuba,” according to the task force, convened last year by the State Department.

U.S. presidents have successively tightened and loosened the decades-old U.S. trade embargo on Cuba imposed in the years after its 1959 revolution.

Former President Barack Obama created a loophole for U.S. telecommunications companies to provide certain services to Cuba. His successor, Donald Trump, maintained the loophole but tightened the broader sanctions, worsening the overall business climate.

Banks are increasingly reluctant to process payments originating in Cuba. Some telecoms firms surveyed by the task force said that was putting them off offering key services and products in the country.

The task force advised the U.S. government to clear up the regulatory uncertainty and seek feedback on how to improve telecoms firms’ ability to invest.

Until 2013, the internet was largely available to the public in Cuba only at tourist hotels amid the U.S. embargo, lack of cash and concerns over the free flow of information.

The government has increased web access in recent years, installing a fiber-optic cable to Venezuela and introducing cyber cafes, Wi-Fi hot spots and mobile internet.

Cuban telecoms monopoly ETECSA signed a deal earlier this year with Alphabet’s Google on increasing connectivity, but the two have not publicly agreed on any significant investments.

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Pompeo Hopes for Afghan Peace Deal Before September

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Tuesday during a visit to Afghanistan that the Trump administration is aiming for a peace deal in the war-ravaged country by September.

His visit came as American and Taliban negotiators are scheduled to meet in Qatar later this week (June 29) for the next round of talks in their months-long dialogue aimed at finding a political settlement to the Afghan war.

“I hope we have a peace deal before September 1st. That’s certainly our mission set,” Pompeo told reporters at the U.S. embassy in Kabul after his meetings with Afghan leaders. The country is due to hold presidential elections on September 28.

The U.S.-Taliban dialogue process is primarily focused on working out a timeline for the withdrawal of American and NATO forces from Afghanistan in return for assurances international terrorists will not be allowed to use Taliban-controlled areas for attacks against other countries.

The insurgent group controls or contests more than 50% of the Afghan territory and continues to inflict battlefield losses on U.S.-backed Afghan security forces,

“We have made real progress and are nearly ready to conclude a draft text outlining the Taliban’s commitments to join fellow Afghans in ensuring that Afghan soil never again becomes a safe haven for terrorists,” Pompeo noted.

He said discussions with the Taliban regarding foreign troop withdrawal have begun.  Pompeo also said insurgent claims that Washington has agreed to pull out of Afghanistan are not true.

“While we’ve made clear to the Taliban that we are prepared to remove our forces, I want to be clear we have not yet agreed on a timeline to do so,” Pompeo explained. He acknowledged the U.S.-Taliban discussions will be the basis for intra-Afghan peace and reconciliation talks.

Pompeo visited Kabul on a day when members of opposition groups held a large public gathering in the city to protest against extension given to President Ashraf Ghani by the country’s Supreme Court. They insisted Ghani’s constitutional five-year term ended in May and demanded the president must step down. The incumbent president is seeking re-election.

“We call upon the former president (Ghani) to withdraw his candidacy if he should continue to hold office as a caretaker president for the purpose of realization of the principles of justice and impartiality,” said a post-rally statement by the Council of Presidential Candidates (CPC).

Pompeo also emphasized the need for a credible Afghan presidential election.

“I urge the Afghan government, the Independent Election Commission, and all political stakeholders to take all necessary steps to ensure that the elections are credible,”  Pompeo stressed.

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Can 2020 Democrats Do More Than Decry Trump on Immigration?

Democratic presidential hopefuls face a challenge as they gather in Miami for the opening round of primary debates: presenting immigration ideas that go beyond simply bashing the Trump administration.

Most of the proposals that the contenders have advanced combine long-held Democratic priorities — such as a pathway to U.S. citizenship for millions of people in the country illegally — with lofty rhetoric and plenty of knocks on President Donald Trump.

But many of the candidates have simply scratched the surface of a far deeper issue. Immigrant advocates say they worry that the Trump administration’s hard-line tactics, including a publicized but later delayed plan for a nationwide sweep to deport people living in the U.S. illegally, simply leave Democrats reacting to the White House rather than advancing their own priorities. They hope the debate will be an opportunity for Democrats to own the issue.

“It is hard to avoid seeming reactive when your opponent is caging children, separating families and sending storm troopers into the Hispanic communities,” said Glenn W. Smith, a longtime Democratic political operative in Texas. “Those things have to be loudly opposed, and you can’t pretend they’re not happening.”

But it’s not going to be easy for the candidates to break through, even with two nights of debate slated to be broadcast on three national television networks starting Wednesday.

Trump sees immigration as an issue that riles his base and reminds supporters of why they voted for him in the first place. During his reelection launch last week , the Republican president reiterated his pledge to build a wall along the southern border that left the crowd in a Florida stadium cheering.

That could make it more difficult for Democrats to advance the issue. Sometimes, they even struggle to decry the Trump administration’s actions in real time.

When 20-plus Democrats running for president addressed the South Carolina state party convention this weekend, there was little mention of reports that immigrant children being held at a detention center near the Texas-Mexico border said they didn’t have access to adequate food and water and sometimes couldn’t shower, wash their clothes or get toothpaste and soap.

Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke highlighted the situation in his convention speech and at a forum sponsored by Planned Parenthood Action Fund, saying, “This cannot be us. This cannot be America.” The other Texan running for president, ex-Obama administration housing chief Julian Castro, said, “This is not how the United State of America should treat people.”

The other candidates mostly stuck to more general criticisms of Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policies.

Federal authorities on Monday moved most of the children who were at the facility in Clint, Texas, where they reported a lack of access to basic amenities. But that came only after a Trump administration lawyer suggested in federal court that officials weren’t required to provide items like toothbrushes, soap and blankets at border detention centers.

That something like denying basic services to detained children didn’t more galvanize Democratic presidential hopefuls during the South Carolina convention suggests there may be only so many lines of attack they can lob at Trump given the time and logistical constraints of such a crowded field . It won’t be much easier to dive into substance on a debate stage with 10 candidates and several moderators.

“The human rights violations and basic violations of human decency are topics that should always be at the top of our list as Democrats, and, with this president, you do have to kind of pick the greatest hits because there’s so much,” said Colin Strother, a strategist who has worked with Texas border Democrats in Congress. “But, as a party, if we won’t speak out about the horrendous treatment of children on our southern border, I don’t know what we’re doing.”

Strother noted that the issue could prove problematic for Vice President Joe Biden — currently leading polls among Democratic presidential candidates — since holding children in border detention facilities began during the Obama administration amid a surge of unaccompanied minors going to the U.S.-Mexico border and seeking asylum in 2014. Separating families, however, was never the Obama administration’s policy.

Biden released part of his immigration plan on Monday, proposing that Congress grant immediate citizenship to 800,000-plus U.S. residents who were brought to the country illegally as children. But his outline was heavier on barbs at Trump, accusing the president of an “assault on the dignity” of the Latino community through policies and rhetoric designed to “scare voters.” Trump has said his immigration policies are meant to keep the country safe.

Smith said one way the Democratic presidential candidates could effectively seize control of immigration as a policy would be to explain how the Trump administration’s tougher stances have affected the whole country, not just those residing illegally. He noted labor shortages in some industries and said some communities were less safe since some people stop reporting crimes — or serving as witnesses to wrongdoing — for fear of being deported.

“Get the attention on the broad, negative consequences for everybody,” he said.

O’Rourke is planning to meet Thursday with local leaders and activists opposing a detention center in Homestead, Florida, about 40 miles (64 kilometers) southwest of Miami, where immigrant teenagers are being held. That could draw attention to the issue similar to how O’Rourke did when he toured a tent city that federal officials erected for detained immigrant children last summer in Tornillo, near his native El Paso, which he then represented in Congress.

The Homestead trip might be an important opportunity to highlight immigration away from the debate stage. Florida Democratic Rep. Debbie Jessika Mucarsel-Powell has invited other 2020 candidates to do similar visits.

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