Category: USA

news from USA

Ian’s Catastrophic Impact and Trail of Destruction in Southwest Florida

As Florida reels from the effects of Hurricane Ian, the staggering damage and death toll from the powerful storm reveal the level of devastation. Residents of hard-hit Lee County recount the horrors of the hurricane. VOA Turkish’s Begum Donmez Ersoz has this report. Camera: Tezcan Taskiran

your ad here

Archives: Records from Trump White House Staffers Remain Missing

The National Archives and Records Administration informed lawmakers that a number of electronic communications from Trump White House staffers remain missing, nearly two years since the administration was required to turn them over.

The nation’s record-keeping agency, in a letter Friday to the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, said that despite an ongoing effort by staff, electronic communications between certain unidentified White House officials were still not in their custody.

“While there is no easy way to establish absolute accountability, we do know that we do not have custody of everything we should,” Debra Steidel Wall, the acting U.S. archivist, wrote in a letter to Oversight Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, a New York Democrat.

The letter went on to specify that the National Archives would consult with the Justice Department about how to move forward and recover “the records unlawfully removed.”

It has been widely reported that officials in President Donald Trump’s White House used non-official electronic messaging accounts throughout his four years in office. The Presidential Records Act, which says that such records are government property and must be preserved, requires staff to copy or forward those messages into their official electronic messaging accounts.

The agency says that while it has been able to obtain these records from some former officials, a number remain outstanding. The Justice Department has already pursued records from one former Trump official, Peter Navarro, who prosecutors accused of using at least one “non-official” email account — a ProtonMail account — to send and receive emails while he worked as the president’s trade adviser.

The legal action in August came just weeks after Navarro was indicted on criminal charges after refusing to cooperate with a congressional investigation into the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

The House committee has jurisdiction over the Presidential Records Act, a 1978 law that requires the preservation of White House documents as property of the U.S. government. The request is the latest development in a monthslong back-and-forth between the agency and the committee, which has been investigating Trump’s handling of records.

The letter on Friday also comes nearly two months after the FBI recovered more than 100 documents with classified markings and more than 10,000 other government documents from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate. Lawyers for Trump had provided a sworn certification that all government records had been returned.

Maloney and other Democratic lawmakers on the panel have been seeking a briefing from the National Archives but haven’t received one due to the Justice Department’s ongoing criminal investigation into the matter.

your ad here

US Supreme Court Set to Start Potentially Tumultuous Term

Fresh off an unusually rocky term in which it ended the constitutional right to abortion, the U.S. Supreme Court is embarking on another potentially tumultuous calendar of consequential cases.

The new term opens Monday, with Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson joining her eight colleagues as the first Black woman to sit on the bench.

But the period will likely be remembered for more than Jackson’s historic debut. Tackling issues such as voting rights and affirmative action, the new term features some high-profile cases that will likely be decided along ideological lines.

“On things that matter most, get ready for a lot of 6-3s,” Irving Gornstein, executive director of the Supreme Court Institute and a professor at Georgetown Law Center, said at a recent press event.

The high court’s decision to overturn its 1973 abortion ruling known as Roe v. Wade followed an unprecedented leak of the draft majority opinion that sparked weeks of protests.

Last term featured several other 6-3 rulings, including one that held that Americans have a right to carry firearms outside the home for self-defense.

But not every case will likely result in a conservative-majority opinion this term, Gornstein said.

He noted that Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh joined the court’s three liberals last term to produce at least five 5-4 cases.

Kavanaugh, one of former President Donald Trump’s three nominees on the court, has developed a penchant for writing concurring opinions that “declare the limits of right-side majority decisions,” Gornstein said.

“This is Justice Kavanaugh’s court,” Gornstein said.

The Supreme Court hears 60-70 cases a year out of the more than 7,000 petitions it receives. To date, it has agreed to review 27 cases during the upcoming term.

Here is a look at five major cases.

Two voting rights cases

The two voting rights cases, Merrill v. Milligan and Moore v. Harper, involve controversial plans by state legislatures to redraw their congressional maps and may have wide-reaching implications for how elections are conducted.

Merrill v. Milligan

Merrill v. Milligan is about the Southern state of Alabama’s congressional redistricting plan created after the 2020 census.

For decades, Alabama’s seven-member congressional delegation has included only one African American. But with the state’s growing Black population, civil rights advocates say Alabama should have at least two.

Arguing that the redistricting map packs Alabama’s Black residents largely into a single congressional district, a group of voters and rights advocates challenged the plan in federal court.

A three-judge panel agreed that the plan violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits voting practices that discriminate on the basis of race or color.

The judicial panel ordered a new map. But the U.S. Supreme Court overrode the ruling, agreeing to review the case during its 2022-23 term while keeping the contested congressional map in place.

Alabama says it seeks a race-neutral redistricting process. But voting rights advocates say that keeping the state’s redistricting plan in place will undermine minority voters’ ability to elect candidates of their choice.

Moore v. Harper

The second case, Moore v. Harper, involves North Carolina’s new congressional map and carries potentially even greater consequences for how federal elections are run.

It centers on a controversial legal doctrine known as the “independent state legislature theory,” which holds that the U.S. Constitution gives state legislatures near total authority to regulate federal elections.

Enter the North Carolina Legislature.

After the state gained an extra congressional seat because of the 2020 census, the GOP-controlled Legislature drew a map that would give Republican candidates a 10-4 advantage, even though the state’s voters are evenly split between Democrats, Republicans, and independents.

Voting rights advocates, suspecting illegal partisan gerrymandering, went to state court.

The state Supreme Court, with four Democrats and three Republicans, voted along party lines to declare the map in violation of the state constitution and ordered a new draft.

The U.S. Supreme Court denied the state Legislature’s motion to stay the state court ruling but agreed to hear the case. As a result, the court-drawn map will remain in effect during the midterm elections.

The case will be among the most closely watched of the upcoming term, and not only because of its long-term implications.

Voting rights advocates say a broad ruling in the case would give state legislatures near total authority to enact voter suppression laws and otherwise affect the outcome of elections.

Hashim Mooppan, a former counselor to the solicitor general during the Trump administration, said the fear that the case could spell “the end of democracy” is overblown.

Both sides in the case have presented the Supreme Court with “a menu of options,” and it’s far from clear whether the justices will adopt the most extreme version, Mooppan said at the Georgetown court preview.

But even if the justices adopt the “broadest possible theory,” state legislatures would not be able to “override the result of the election after they happen,” he said.

Legal challenges to affirmative action

Two cases — Students for Fair Admissions Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College, and Students for Fair Admissions Inc. v. University of North Carolina — present legal challenges to affirmative action.

A ruling against Harvard and UNC, some legal experts warn, could spell the end of affirmative action, a policy that American colleges and universities have followed for more than half a century to boost admissions of minority students.

Americans are divided over affirmative action. Proponents say the policy has promoted campus diversity by providing opportunities for disadvantaged students. Opponents say it gives preferential treatment to Black, Hispanic and other minorities at the expense of white and Asian applicants, undermining the goal of a “color blind” society.

In 2014, Students for Fair Admissions, a group headed by conservative legal activist and affirmative action opponent Edward Jay Blum, sued Harvard and UNC, accusing the former of discriminating against Asian applicants and the latter of disfavoring white students.

In their defense, Harvard and UNC said race is one of many factors they consider in student admissions, citing previous Supreme Court decisions over the past two decades reaffirming the practice.

Lower courts sided with the two universities. But Students for Fair Admissions appealed to the Supreme Court, asking it to overturn a 2003 ruling that upheld the use of race in college admissions for the benefit of diversity.

The court could choose to uphold or restrict affirmative action rather than outlaw it. But with a conservative supermajority of six justices in control, the judicial tides appear to have turned against the policy, experts say.

“If you were just trying to count noses, I think you would think that there are more votes to be skeptical of these programs now than ever before,” said Roman Martinez, a Supreme Court litigator at Latham & Watkins said at Georgetown.

Speaking at a virtual event hosted by the American Constitution Society earlier this month, Deborah Archer, president of the American Civil Liberties Union, said that Black and Hispanic students remain underrepresented at America’s top colleges, and that ending affirming action would make “the system less equitable.”

Right to refuse service

The question of whether a business owner can refuse service to a customer based on the vendor’s religious beliefs returns to the high court with a new case out of Colorado.

In 2018, the court considered the case of a Colorado baker who refused to make a cake for a same-sex couple in violation of the state’s anti-discrimination laws.

Siding with the baker, the court found that the so-called public accommodations law itself violated his right to freedom of religion, but it shied away from ruling on the larger question of whether forcing the baker to design a cake would violate his free speech rights.

With the new case, the justices will weigh in on that issue.

The case was brought by Lorie Smith, the owner of a Colorado graphic design company called 303 Creative LLC, who says she wants to build wedding websites for couples of the opposite sex but not for same-sex couples because she’s opposed to gay marriage for religious reasons.

She wants to post a message on her website explaining her opposition to designing wedding sites for same-sex couples. But because of Colorado law, she has been unable to do so.

Smith sought an exemption from the law in federal court on the grounds that it would force her to “speak messages” that violated her deeply held beliefs.

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court agreed to hear her case during the new term but limited the review to her free-speech claim.

Colorado says the case is not about free speech but rather about whether a business can refuse service based on a customer’s race or other protected characteristics.

But with the conservative Supreme Court increasingly siding with religious groups in recent years, the state is unlikely to encounter a sympathetic court, experts say.

“The court is expanding both its understanding of what speech is and its protection of it,” Kent Greenfield, a Boston College law professor, said during the American Constitution Society event.

your ad here

Hurricane Ian Death Toll Tops 40

The death toll from Hurricane Ian, one of the most powerful storms ever to hit the United States, soared above 40 Saturday, as President Joe Biden heads to Florida later in the week to survey the devastation.

Shocked Florida communities were only just beginning to face the full scale of the destruction, with rescuers still searching for survivors in submerged neighborhoods and along the state’s southwest coast.

Homes, restaurants and businesses were ripped apart when Ian roared ashore as a powerful Category 4 hurricane on Wednesday.

The confirmed number of storm-related deaths rose to 44 statewide, the Florida Medical Examiners Commission said late Saturday, but reports of additional fatalities were still emerging county by county — pointing to a far higher final toll.

Hard-hit Lee County alone recorded 35 deaths, according to its sheriff, while U.S. media including NBC and CBS tallied more than 70 deaths either directly or indirectly related to the storm.

In the coastal state of North Carolina, the governor’s office confirmed four deaths related to Ian there.

Biden and his wife, Jill, will visit Florida on Wednesday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre tweeted, but the couple will first head to Puerto Rico on Monday to survey the destruction from a different storm, Hurricane Fiona, which struck the U.S. territory last month.

In Florida’s Lee County on Saturday, rescuers and ordinary citizens in boats were still saving the last trapped inhabitants of the small island of Matlacha. Debris, abandoned vehicles and downed trees littered the pummeled hamlet’s main street and surroundings that are dotted by colorful wooden houses with corrugated roofs.

The community, home to about 800 people, was cut off from the mainland following damage to two bridges, and those who fled early were only just beginning to return home to survey the destruction.

Sitting in the shadow of a deserted Matlacha house, Chip Farrar told AFP that “nobody’s telling us what to do, nobody’s telling us where to go.”

“The evacuation orders came in very late,” the 43-year-old said. “But most people that are still here wouldn’t have left anyway. It’s a very blue-collar place. And most people don’t have anywhere to go, which is the biggest issue.”

Sixteen migrants were missing from a boat that sank during the hurricane, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. Two people were found dead, and nine others rescued, including four Cubans who swam to shore in the Florida Keys.

More than 900,000 customers remained without power in Florida on Saturday night, hampering efforts by those who evacuated to return to their homes to take stock of what they lost.

In Fort Myers Beach, a town on the Gulf of Mexico coast which took the brunt of the storm, Pete Belinda said his home was “just flipped upside down, soaking wet, full of mud.”

Ian barreled over Florida and into the Atlantic Ocean before making U.S. landfall again, this time on the South Carolina coast Friday as a Category 1 hurricane, with maximum sustained winds of 140 kph.

It was later downgraded to a post-tropical cyclone, and it was dissipating over Virginia late Saturday.

More than 45,000 people remained without power across North Carolina and Virginia, tracking website poweroutage.us said Saturday.

CoreLogic, a firm that specializes in property analysis, said wind-related losses for residential and commercial properties in Florida could cost insurers up to $32 billion, while flooding losses could reach $15 billion.

“This is the costliest Florida storm since Hurricane Andrew made landfall in 1992,” CoreLogic’s Tom Larsen said.

Rescues continue

As of Saturday morning, Gov. Ron DeSantis’s office said more than 1,100 rescues had been made across Florida.

DeSantis reported that hundreds of rescue personnel were going door-to-door “up and down the coastline.”

Many Floridians evacuated ahead of the storm, but thousands chose to shelter in place and ride it out.

Two hard-hit barrier islands near Fort Myers — Pine Island and Sanibel Island — were cut off after the storm damaged causeways to the mainland.

Aerial photos and video show breathtaking destruction in Sanibel and elsewhere.

A handful of restaurants and bars reopened in Fort Myers, giving an illusion of normalcy amid downed trees and shattered storefronts.

Before pummeling Florida, Ian plunged all of Cuba into darkness after downing the island’s power network.

Electricity was gradually returning, mainly in Havana, but many homes remain without power.

A new storm in the Pacific, Hurricane Orlene, intensified to Category 2 strength off the Mexican coast, where it was forecast to make landfall in the coming days.

Human-induced climate change is resulting in more severe weather events across the globe, scientists say.

your ad here

Iran Allows US Citizen Out of Prison Temporarily

Siamak Namazi, an Iranian American imprisoned in Iran for nearly seven years on espionage-related charges rejected by Washington as baseless, has been allowed out of Tehran’s Evin prison on a one-week furlough, officials said Saturday.

Separately, his father and former United Nations official Baquer Namazi, who was also convicted on charges of “collaboration with a hostile government,” has been allowed to leave Iran for medical treatment, U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said in a statement.

Dujarric said U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres “is grateful that, following his appeals to the President of the Islamic Republic or Iran . . . Baquer Namaze has been permitted to leave.”

It was unclear if the moves might be a step toward Siamak’s full release, nor whether it signals the possible furlough or release of other U.S. citizens detained in Iran.

Soon after news of Siamak’s furlough broke, Iran’s Nournews said an unnamed regional nation had mediated between Tehran and Washington for the “simultaneous release of prisoners.”

The semi-official news agency also reported that “billions of dollars of Iran’s frozen assets because of the U.S. sanctions will be released soon.”

U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said: “We were deeply gratified to learn from the U.N. Secretary-General today that Iran has lifted the travel ban imposed on Baquer Namazi.”

The department was grateful that Siamak Namazi, “has been granted a humanitarian furlough in order to be with his father,” Price said in a release.

It was unclear what motivated Tehran’s decisions on both men. Neither the Iranian foreign ministry in Tehran nor the Iranian mission to the U.N. immediately responded to requests for comment.

Iran is grappling with the biggest show of opposition to its clerical authorities since 2019 with dozens of people killed in unrest across the country ignited by the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman from Iranian Kurdistan, in police custody.

Baquer Namazi, 85, was convicted in Iran of “collaboration with a hostile government” in 2016 and sentenced to 10 years in prison. Iranian authorities released him on medical grounds in 2018 and closed his case in 2020, commuting his sentence to time served but effectively barring him from leaving the country.

His son Siamak, 51, has been held in Evin prison since 2015 and was convicted of the same charge as his father in 2016. The U.S. government has described the charges against both as baseless.

“I am thrilled for the Namazi family that for the first time in seven years Siamak Namazi is sleeping at home with his family,” lawyer Jared Genser, who represents the family, told Reuters, saying Siamak was staying with his parents at their Tehran apartment and was on a one-week renewable furlough.

“This is a critical first step but of course we will not rest until the entire family is able to return to the United States and their long nightmare is finally over,” Genser added.

Iranian Americans, whose U.S. citizenship is not recognized by Tehran, are often pawns between the two nations, now at odds over whether to revive a fraying 2015 pact under which Iran limited its nuclear program in return for sanctions relief.

In addition to the Namazis, other U.S. citizens detained in Iran include environmentalist Morad Tahbaz, 67, who also has British nationality, and businessman Emad Shargi, 58. A separate State Department spokesperson said the United States is working to bring those two home as well as Siamak Namazi.

Karim Sadjadpour, an analyst with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace think tank in Washington, said the Namazis should never have been imprisoned.

“The Islamic Republic deserves no credit for temporarily releasing hostages that never deserved to spend a single day in prison,” Sadjadpour said.

Price thanked U.S. allies and partners who worked to help the Namazis, including the U.N. Secretary-General, Switzerland, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and the United Kingdom.

your ad here

Venezuela Releases 7 Jailed Americans; US Frees 2 Prisoners

In a rare softening of hostile relations, the White House said Saturday that Venezuela freed seven Americans imprisoned in the South American country and the United States released two nephews of President Nicolás Maduro’s wife who had been jailed for years on drug smuggling convictions. 

The swap of the Americans, including five oil executives held for nearly five years, is the largest trade of detained citizens ever carried out by the Biden administration. 

“These individuals will soon be reunited with their families and back in the arms of their loved ones where they belong,” President Joe Biden said in a statement. “Today, after years of being wrongfully detained in Venezuela, we are bringing home” the seven men, whom the president cited by name. “We celebrate that seven families will be whole once more.” 

The White House said Biden had spoken with the families and that the men were in stable health and have been offered a range of support services, including medical care. 

Maduro’s government said in a statement that it was releasing the American citizens as a humanitarian gesture. It praised the diplomacy that resulted in the freeing of the two “unjustly imprisoned” Venezuelans imprisoned in the United States and said it “hopes for the preservation of peace and harmony with all the nations of our region and the world.” 

The exchange amounts to an unusual gesture of goodwill by Maduro as the socialist leader looks to rebuild relations with the U.S. after vanquishing most of his domestic opponents. The deal follows months of back-channel diplomacy by Washington’s top hostage negotiator and other U.S. officials — secretive talks with a major oil producer that took on greater urgency after sanctions on Russia put pressure on global energy prices. 

The transfer took place in a country between the U.S. and Venezuela after the men in the deal arrived in separate planes, the Biden administration said. 

Those freed include five employees of Houston-based Citgo — Tomeu Vadell, Jose Luis Zambrano, Alirio Zambrano, Jorge Toledo and Jose Pereira — who were lured to Venezuela right before Thanksgiving in 2017 to attend a meeting at the headquarters of the company’s parent, state-run-oil giant PDVSA. Once there, they were hauled away by masked security agents who busted into a Caracas conference room. 

“I can’t believe it,” said Vadell’s daughter, Cristina, when contacted in Houston by The Associated Press. Holding back tears of joy on her 31st birthday, she said: “This is the best birthday present ever. I’m just so happy.” 

Also released was Matthew Heath, a former U.S. Marine corporal from Tennessee who was arrested in 2020 at a roadblock in Venezuela on what the State Department has called “specious” weapons charges, and Florida man, Osman Khan, who was arrested in January. 

The United States freed Franqui Flores and his cousin Efrain Campo — nephews of “First Combatant” Cilia Flores, as Maduro has called his wife. The men were arrested in Haiti in a Drug Enforcement Administration sting in 2015 and immediately taken to New York to face trial. They were convicted the following year in a highly charged case that cast a hard look at U.S. accusations of drug trafficking at the highest levels of Maduro’s administration. 

Both men were granted clemency by Biden before the release. 

The Biden administration has been under pressure to do more to bring home the roughly 60 Americans it believes are held hostage abroad or wrongfully detained by hostile foreign governments. While much of the focus is on Russia, where the U.S. has so far tried unsuccessfully to secure the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner and another American, Paul Whelan, Venezuela has been holding the largest contingent of Americans suspected of being used as bargaining chips. 

At least four other Americans remain detained in Venezuela, including two former Green Berets involved in a slapdash attempt to oust Maduro in 2019, and two other men who, like Khan, were detained for allegedly entering the country illegally from neighboring Colombia. 

“To all the families who are still suffering and separated from their loved ones who are wrongfully detained — know that we remain dedicated to securing their release,” Biden said in his statement. 

His administration did not release another prisoner long sought by Maduro: Alex Saab, an insider businessman who Venezuela considers a diplomat and U.S. prosecutors a corrupt regime enabler. Saab fought extradition from Cape Verde, where he was arrested last year during a stopover en route to Iran and is now awaiting trial in Miami federal court on charges of siphoning off millions in state contracts. 

The oil executives were convicted of embezzlement last year in a trial marred by delays and irregularities. They were sentenced to between eight years and 13 years in prison for a never-executed proposal to refinance billions in the oil company’s bonds. Maduro at the time accused them of “treason,” and Venezuela’s supreme court upheld their long sentences earlier this year. The men have all pleaded not guilty and the State Department has regarded them — and the two other Americans freed Saturday — as wrongfully detained. 

your ad here

Turkish Minister Says Deadly Gun Attack Was ‘America-Based

Turkey’s interior minister Saturday described a gun attack that killed a police officer in the country’s south as an “America-based” operation.

Two suspected Kurdish militants opened fire on security force lodgings in the Mediterranean province of Mersin late Monday, killing one officer and wounding a second officer and a civilian.

The female attackers, who Turkish authorities said were affiliated with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, later killed themselves by detonating suicide bombs.

“This action is an America-based action,” Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu told ruling party officials in the Black Sea province of Giresun, according to the private Demiroren news agency and other outlets.

Soylu also said U.S. authorities had requested the serial numbers of the firearms used in the attack from the Turkish police, without specifying which U.S. agency made the request.

Turkish government officials have previously accused Washington of supporting the PKK by arming and training the group’s Syrian branch, known as the YPG.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed in the 38-year on-off conflict between the PKK and the Turkish state. The PKK is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S. and the European Union. The U.S. does not recognize the YPG, which helped combat the Islamic State group in Syria, as a terrorist entity.

Soylu last year alleged American involvement in a failed coup attempt in Turkey in 2016 that killed more than 250 people. In 2018, he was placed on a sanctions list by Washington over the arrest and detention of U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson.

The minister said Monday’s attackers, who targeted accommodations for security personnel in Mersin’s Mezitli district, had arrived in Turkey from the YPG-controlled Syrian city of Manbij by motorized parachute.

your ad here

Malaysia Aims To Add US Flights After Safety Rating Boost

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has upgraded Malaysia’s air safety rating to Category 1, allowing the country’s carriers to expand flights to the United States after a three-year hiatus, Transport Minister Wee Ka Siong said Saturday.

Wee said the move will bolster tourism and economic growth in Malaysia, which opened from pandemic shutdowns in April.

“With the return to Category 1, our airlines can now mount new flights to the U.S. and have code sharing with American carriers. There is no more barrier now,” said Wee, who was in Montreal for an ICAO assembly. “This is good news after the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Riad Asmat, CEO of low-cost carrier AirAsia Malaysia, said it was a “very good start.” He said AirAsia, currently the only Malaysian carrier that flies to the United States — from Kuala Lumpur to Honolulu — will seek opportunities to expand in the U.S.

The FAA lowered Malaysia’s rating in November 2019 to Category 2 due to non-compliance with safety standards. The FAA identified deficiencies in areas including technical expertise, record keeping and inspection procedures.

Under the FAA system, countries are listed either as Category 1, which meets International Civil Aviation Organization standards, or Category 2, which doesn’t meet standards.

Wee told an online news conference that the downgrade prompted Malaysia to restructure its Civil Aviation Authority and make various efforts to strengthen its aviation workforce, documentation processes and inspection methods to ensure effective safety oversight.

He said the FAA was satisfied the issues identified in 2019 had been rectified but found 29 new problems in its December assessment. Those issues were swiftly rectified in the first half this year, he said, and the FAA has restored Malaysia’s Category 1 rating.

Malaysia Airlines CEO Izham Ismail said the national carrier will resume flight plans with its partners, especially American Airlines, but didn’t elaborate. 

your ad here

US Judge Dismisses Mexico’s $10 Billion Lawsuit Against Gun Makers

A U.S. judge on Friday dismissed Mexico’s $10 billion lawsuit seeking to hold U.S. gun manufacturers responsible for facilitating the trafficking of a deadly flood of weapons across the U.S.-Mexico border to drug cartels.

The decision by Chief Judge F. Dennis Saylor in federal court in Boston is a victory for Smith & Wesson Brands Inc, Sturm, Ruger & Co and others accused of undermining Mexico’s strict gun laws by designing, marketing and selling military-style assault weapons that cartels could use.

Mexico said it would appeal the decision.

“This suit by the Mexican government has received worldwide recognition and has been considered a turning point in the discussion around the gun industry’s responsibility for the violence experience in Mexico and the region,” Mexico’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

Saylor said federal law “unequivocally” bars lawsuits seeking to hold gun manufacturers responsible when people use guns for their intended purpose. He said the law contained several narrow exceptions, but none applied.

“While the court has considerable sympathy for the people of Mexico, and none whatsoever for those who traffic guns to Mexican criminal organizations, it is duty-bound to follow the law,” Saylor wrote in a 44-page decision.

Other defendants included Barrett Firearms Manufacturing Inc, Beretta USA Corp, Colt’s Manufacturing Co and Glock Inc.

Representatives for the companies either declined to comment or did not respond to requests for comment. Lawrence Keane, the general counsel of firearm industry trade group National Shooting Sports Foundation, welcomed the dismissal of the “baseless lawsuit.”

“The crime that is devastating the people of Mexico is not the fault of members of the firearm industry, that under U.S. law, can only sell their lawful products to Americans exercising their Second Amendment rights after passing a background check,” he said.

In its August 2021 complaint, Mexico estimated that 2.2% of the nearly 40 million guns made annually in the United States are smuggled into Mexico, including as many as 597,000 guns made by the defendants.

Mexico said the smuggling has been a key factor in its ranking third worldwide in the number of gun-related deaths. It also claimed to suffer many other harms, including declining investment and economic activity and a need to spend more on law enforcement and public safety.

But the judge said Mexico could not overcome a provision in a U.S. law, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, that shields gun makers from lawsuits over “the harm solely caused by the criminal or unlawful misuse of firearm products … by others when the product functioned as designed and intended.”

Other defendants included Barrett Firearms Manufacturing Inc, Beretta USA Corp, Colt’s Manufacturing Co and Glock Inc. 

your ad here

US Captives ‘Prayed for Death’ on Brutal Ride From Ukraine

Even after three months of captivity that included execution threats, physical torture, solitary confinement and food deprivation, it was the ride to freedom that nearly broke Alex Drueke, a U.S. military veteran released last week with nine other prisoners who went to help Ukraine fight off Russian invaders.

His hands were bound. His head was covered by a plastic bag, and the packing tape holding it in place was secured so tightly it it caused welts on his forehead. Drueke said he and fellow American prisoner Andy Huynh reached their limit in this state during the transit, which occurred in a series of vehicles from eastern Ukraine to an airport in Russia that was surrounded by armed guards.

“For all we went through and all the times we thought we might die, we accepted that we might die, we were ready to die when it came, that ride was the only time that each of us independently prayed for death just to get it over with,” Drueke told The Associated Press in an interview Friday.

“The mental and emotional torture of those last 24 hours in captivity, that was the worst,” he said.

Drueke, 40, is healing: The swelling is going down on his head and he’s trying to regain some of the 13.6 kilograms he figures he lost eating a poor diet. But awful memories remain, and he’s unsure what comes next aside from trying to focus attention on fellow prisoners who remain in Russian hands.

“The war has not ended,” he said, speaking at the home he shares with his mother and other relatives in Tuscaloosa.

Drueke and Huynh, a 27-year-old fellow military veteran from Alabama, were among hundreds of Americans who went to Ukraine early on to help in the fight against Russia.

On June 9, they were captured during what Drueke described as a reconnaissance mission associated with Ukraine’s international legion, composed of foreign volunteers.

“Everyone else managed to make it back to the base safe,” he said.

Russian soldiers took the two men to their camp, and then into Russia for “intensive interrogation.” While declining to go into specifics, Drueke said the treatment was brutal.

“Every one of our human rights were violated,” he said. “We were tortured.”

The men were taken back to Ukraine to a “black site” in Donetsk for nearly a month of additional interrogation, he said. They were eventually taken to an isolation cellblock within a former Ukrainian prison. There, Drueke and Huynh were forced to record propaganda statements for a Russian video camera with soldiers in the room.

“On the positive side, there were times they would put us in a closet, bound and blindfolded, … while they were waiting for whatever reporter to show up, and it gave Andy and I just a few seconds to whisper things back and forth to check in on each other,” he said. “It was the first time we had talked in weeks at that point.”

Eventually, after weeks of confinement that included multiple threats, it became apparent that something — either a release, a prison transfer or execution — was in the works, said Drueke, who joined the U.S. Army Reserve after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and served two tours in Iraq.

“We knew something was happening because our normal routine was being skewed and they were having us clear all of our personal stuff out of the cell,” he said.

But even then, the mental torture continued, he said. “One of the guards said a couple of times, ‘I’m pretty sure you guys are getting executed,’” he said.

Instead, they were part of a group of 10 men who were released Sept. 21 in a deal brokered by Saudi Arabia. The others who were released with them were from Croatia, Morocco, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

No one relaxed until the plane was in the air and an official from Saudi Arabia explained what was happening, he said. Landing in New York after a flight from Saudi Arabia, Drueke said he and Huynh were met by a Homeland Security official from an office that investigates war crimes.

Press aides with Homeland Security didn’t immediately return an email seeking comment, but the U.N. human rights investigators have said Ukrainian prisoners of war appear to be facing “systematic” mistreatment by Russian captors that includes torture.

your ad here

After Devastating Florida, Hurricane Ian Rakes South Carolina

Deadly Hurricane Ian, one of the most powerful storms ever to hit the United States, roared into South Carolina on Friday, delivering a powerful second punch after walloping Florida.

The National Hurricane Center (NHC) said Ian made landfall near Georgetown, South Carolina, as a Category 1 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 140 kph.

It was later downgraded to a post-tropical cyclone, but the NHC said Friday evening that Ian is bringing heavy rain, flash flooding and high winds to both South Carolina and North Carolina. Some areas can expect up to 20 centimeters of rain.

As for storm-ravaged Florida, President Joe Biden said: “We’re just beginning to see the scale of the destruction.

“It’s likely to rank among the worst in the nation’s history,” he said of Ian, which barreled into Florida’s southwest coast on Wednesday as a Category 4 storm, a tick shy of the most powerful on the Saffir-Simpson wind scale.

The death toll from the storm stands at 23, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said Friday evening.

News outlets quoting county officials have given even higher tolls, with CNN saying 45 fatalities have been blamed on Ian.

Seventeen migrants also remain missing from a boat that sank during the hurricane on Wednesday, according to the Coast Guard. One person was found dead and nine others rescued, including four Cubans who swam to shore in the Florida Keys.

With damage estimates running into the tens of billions of dollars, Biden said it’s “going to take months, years to rebuild.”

“It’s not just a crisis for Florida,” he said. “This is an American crisis.”

CoreLogic, a firm that specializes in property analysis, said wind-related losses for residential and commercial properties in Florida could cost insurers up to $32 billion while flooding losses could go as high as $15 billion.

“This is the costliest Florida storm since Hurricane Andrew made landfall in 1992,” CoreLogic’s Tom Larsen said.

‘We made it through’

Rescue teams were assisting survivors Friday in devastated Florida communities and the U.S. Coast Guard said it had made 117 rescues using boats and helicopters of people trapped in flooded homes.

Governor Ron DeSantis said hundreds of other rescue personnel were going door-to-door “up and down the coastline.”

DeSantis said the coastal town of Fort Myers where the hurricane made landfall, was “ground zero” but “this was such a big storm that there are effects far inland,” including serious flooding in the city of Orlando.

Many Floridians evacuated ahead of the storm, but thousands chose to shelter in place and ride it out.

More than 1.4 million Florida residents were still without electricity on Friday and two hard-hit barrier islands near Fort Myers — Pine Island and Sanibel Island — were cut off after the storm damaged causeways to the mainland.

Aerial photos and video show breathtaking destruction in Sanibel and elsewhere.

The causeway is seen broken and washed out, with one section covered by calm waters lit up with reflections of the sun.

In Fort Myers Beach, a recreational boat called Crackerjack sits atop a pile of debris like an abandoned toy. A trailer park was blasted away to almost nothing recognizable.

Meanwhile in North and South Carolina, nearly half a million customers were without power, according to tracking website poweroutage.us, as a weakened Ian nevertheless lashed the states.

In Fort Myers, a handful of restaurants and bars reopened, giving an illusion of normalcy amid downed trees and shattered storefronts.

Dozens of people sat out on terraces under a bright sun, drinking beer and eating.

Dylan Gamber, 23, said he had been waiting for two hours at a pizzeria to get food to bring home.

“It was kind of bad, but we made it through,” Gamber said. “The roof of our house came off, a big tree collapsed across our vehicles, our yard was flooded, but other than that we were pretty good.

“As a community, we seem to be coming together and helping each other out.”

‘All submerged’

In nearby Bonita Springs, Jason Crosser was inspecting the damage to his store.

“The water went over the whole building,” said Crosser, 37. “It was all submerged. It’s all saltwater and water damage.”

After making landfall in South Carolina, Ian is expected to weaken fast and dissipate by Saturday night.

Before pummeling Florida, Ian plunged all of Cuba into darkness after downing the island’s power network.

Electricity was gradually returning, but many homes remain without power.

Human-induced climate change is resulting in more severe weather events across the globe, scientists say — including with Ian.

According to a rapid and preliminary analysis, human-caused climate change increased the extreme rain that Ian unleashed by over 10%, U.S. scientists said.

your ad here

Harris, Yellen Focus on Community Finance at Freedman Forum

Vice President Kamala Harris and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen plan to use this year’s Freedman’s Bank Forum to highlight how federal coronavirus pandemic relief program funds have helped support Black- and minority-owned businesses.

The Treasury Department said in a statement that “the importance of expanding the community finance system will be front and center” at the Oct. 4 forum. In 2015, then-Treasury Secretary Jack Lew launched the annual Freedman’s conference to develop strategies to address persistent racial economic disparities.

Roughly 96% of Black-owned businesses are sole proprietorships and single-employee companies. These businesses have the hardest time finding funding and are often the first to suffer during economic downturns. They often turn to financial institutions for the underserved and other non-traditional lenders for micro-loans and grants.

Earlier this month, Treasury announced that it had disbursed roughly $8.28 billion in relief funds to 162 community financial institutions across the country through its Emergency Capital Investment Program.

The forum will include a panel on new support for community finance institutions, small businesses and low wealth communities, “all in an effort to unlock the economic potential of communities of color, rural areas, and others that have experienced limits on economic opportunity,” the department said.

A February Government Accountability Office report outlined how various agencies could improve efforts to increase banking access for people who don’t have access to bank accounts.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., the National Credit Union Administration and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency were all identified for improvements.

your ad here

Former US President Jimmy Carter Turns 98

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, the longest living former U.S. president in American history, marks his 98th birthday on October 1. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, while Carter’s health has prevented him from being publicly active in recent years, he is still engaged with his global nonprofit Carter Center to promote peace and health throughout the world.

your ad here

Space Telescopes Captured Asteroid Strike With Striking Clarity

The world now has stunning new photos of this week’s asteroid strike, the first planetary defense test of its kind.

NASA on Thursday released pictures of the dramatic event taken by the Hubble and Webb space telescopes.

A few hours later, SpaceX joined NASA in announcing that they’re studying the feasibility of sending a private mission to Hubble, potentially led by a billionaire, to raise the aging telescope’s orbit and extend its life.

Telescopes on all seven continents watched as NASA’s Dart spacecraft slammed Monday into the harmless space rock, 7 million miles (11 million kilometers) from Earth, in hopes of altering its orbit.

Scientists won’t know the precise change until November; the demo results are expected to instill confidence in using the technique if a killer asteroid heads our way one day.

“This is an unprecedented view of an unprecedented event,” Johns Hopkins University planetary astronomer and mission leader Andy Rivkin said in a statement.

All these pictures will help scientists learn more about the little asteroid Dimorphos, which took the punch and ended up with a sizable crater. The impact sent streams of rock and dirt hurtling into space, appearing as bright emanating rays in the latest photos.

The brightness of this double asteroid system — the 525-foot (160-meter) Dimorphos is actually the moonlet around a bigger asteroid — tripled after the impact as seen in the Hubble images, according to NASA.

Hubble and Webb will keep observing Dimorphos and its large companion Didymos over the next several weeks.

The $325 million Dart mission was launched last year. The spacecraft was built and managed by Johns Hopkins’ Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland.

As for Hubble, NASA officials stressed Thursday that the observatory launched 32 years ago is in good shape and might have another decade of life left.

Hubble’s orbit constantly is decaying, but the telescope could have even more years ahead if it were boosted from its current 335 miles (540 kilometers) above Earth to 375 miles (600 kilometers) or more. The six-month technical feasibility study also will consider whether any parts could be replaced, presumably by a crew.

Jared Isaacman, a Pennsylvania tech entrepreneur who bankrolled his own SpaceX flight last year with contest winners, said a Hubble mission, if approved, would fit nicely into his planned series of spaceflights. But he stopped short of saying whether he was volunteering.

“We’re working on crazy ideas all the time,” NASA’s science mission chief, Thomas Zurbuchen, told reporters. “Frankly, that’s what we’re supposed to do.”

your ad here

New York Film Festival Fetes 60 Years with Eye to the Future

The past and future of film mingle like a pair of moviegoers huddled in debate outside a movie theater at the New York Film Festival, which on Friday launches its 60th edition with the premiere of Noah Baumbach’s Don DeLillo adaptation “White Noise.” 

In those six decades, the Lincoln Center festival has been arguably the premier American nexus of cinema, bringing together a teeming portrait of a movie year with films from around the globe, anticipated fall titles and restored classics. It’s a festival that’s traditionally more stocked with questions than answers. 

“One question we ask ourselves is: What is a New York Film Festival main-slate film? It shouldn’t be something expected,” says Dennis Lim, artistic director of the festival. “It shouldn’t be something that automatically seems like it should belong in the pantheon.”

Canon — and stretching its definitions — has always been top of mind at the New York Film Festival, where films by Satyajit Ray, Akira Kurosawa, Agnès Varda, Pedro Almodovar and Jane Campion have played over the years. The first edition of the festival, in 1963, featured Luis Buñuel, Yasujirō Ozu, Robert Bresson, Roman Polanski and Jean-Luc Godard. NYFF, which gives no awards and offers no industry marketplace, is strictly defined as a showcase of what programmers consider the best. 

“We honor those 60 years of the festival by continuing to be true to its mission, why it was created, what it was intended to serve and the relationship, first and foremost, that it has had with the city of New York,” says Eugene Hernandez, executive director. “It’s a bridge between artists and audiences and has been for 60 years now.”

In the last two years, Lim and Hernandez have sought to reconnect the festival with New York, expanding its footprint around the city. But the pandemic made that difficult. 

The 2020 festival was held virtually and in drive-ins around the city. Last year’s festival brought audiences back, although with considerable COVID-19 precautions. “It’s been a three-year journey to get to this moment,” says Hernandez, who departs after this festival to lead the Sundance Film Festival. 

The 60th NYFF, which will hold screenings in all five boroughs during its run through Oct. 16, this year emphasizes those New York connections with a series of galas for hometown filmmakers. Those include the opening night with Baumbach; a centerpiece for Laura Poitras’ Nan Goldin documentary “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed”; closing night with Elegance Bratton’s semi-autobiographical “The Inspection”; and an anniversary celebration featuring James Gray’s “Armageddon Time,” based on his childhood in Queens. Another high-profile New York story, “She Said,” a drama about The New York Times investigative journalists who helped expose Harvey Weinstein, is also one of the festival’s top world premieres. 

In many ways, little has changed in 60 years. (Godard will be back again this year, with the late iconoclast ‘s “Image Book” playing for free on a loop.) Except, perhaps, that it’s gotten larger, with more sidebars and a busier main slate. 

“The festival for much of its life had only 20, 25 films in its main slate. I think if you tried  to do that now, you’re not really going to really get a full picture of contemporary cinema,” says Lim. “The landscape is so immense.”

Every NYFF brings a mingling of master auteurs and younger filmmakers, but the dichotomy between the two is especially rich this year. Aside from seasoned veterans like Claire Denis (“Stars at Noon”) and Park Chan-wook (“Decision to Leave”), the festival will welcome back longtime regulars Frederick Wiseman (“A Couple”), Martin Scorsese (“Personality Crisis: One Night Only,” a documentary about New York Dolls singer-songwriter David Johansen) and Paul Schrader (“Master Gardner”). Jerzy Skolimowski (“EO”), the 84-year-old Polish filmmaker, and 94-year-old James Ivory (“A Cooler Climate”) will each bookend their inclusion at the third New York Film Festival, more than half a century ago. 

A film like “EO,” which trails a donkey between brutal interactions with humans, is directly engaged with cinema history, paying homage to Robert Bresson’s “Au Hasard Balthazar.” But it also beats a ragged path of its own, something Schrader, the “Taxi Driver” writer and maker recently of “First Reformed” and “The Card Counter,” has been doing, himself, with torturous rigor for decades. These are filmmakers for whom cinema is an unending crusade, full of pain and transcendence. 

Other filmmakers are earlier on their journeys. Several standouts at the festival are debuts. Bratton’s first narrative feature, “The Inspection,” is deeply personal for the 43-year-old director and photographer. Led by a striking performance by Jeremy Pope, it dramatizes Bratton’s own experience as a gay man in boot camp. The treatment he receives there is brutal, with echoes of Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket.” But in some ways, it’s an improvement from his harsh reality back home. 

The Scottish filmmaker Charlotte Wells also channels personal experience in her brilliantly composed, acutely devastating first feature, “Aftersun,” starring Paul Mescal and Frankie Corio as a father-daughter pair on vacation in Turkey. To a remarkable degree, the film is attuned to every fleeting gesture between the two, and the currents that may be driving them apart. 

Intimacy might seem less relevant to “Till,” the Emmett Till drama making its world premiere. Films about such indelible moments in American history often take a wide lens to capture the full societal scope. But Chinonye Chukwu, in her follow-up to her 2019 breakthrough film “Clemency,” keeps her film centered, often profoundly so, on Till’s mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, played spectacularly by Danielle Deadwyler. “Till,” like many of the films at the festival, is a reminder of just how powerful one person’s testimony can be.

your ad here

New York Film Festival Fetes 60 Years with Eye to the Future

The past and future of film mingle like a pair of moviegoers huddled in debate outside a movie theater at the New York Film Festival, which on Friday launches its 60th edition with the premiere of Noah Baumbach’s Don DeLillo adaptation “White Noise.” 

In those six decades, the Lincoln Center festival has been arguably the premier American nexus of cinema, bringing together a teeming portrait of a movie year with films from around the globe, anticipated fall titles and restored classics. It’s a festival that’s traditionally more stocked with questions than answers. 

“One question we ask ourselves is: What is a New York Film Festival main-slate film? It shouldn’t be something expected,” says Dennis Lim, artistic director of the festival. “It shouldn’t be something that automatically seems like it should belong in the pantheon.”

Canon — and stretching its definitions — has always been top of mind at the New York Film Festival, where films by Satyajit Ray, Akira Kurosawa, Agnès Varda, Pedro Almodovar and Jane Campion have played over the years. The first edition of the festival, in 1963, featured Luis Buñuel, Yasujirō Ozu, Robert Bresson, Roman Polanski and Jean-Luc Godard. NYFF, which gives no awards and offers no industry marketplace, is strictly defined as a showcase of what programmers consider the best. 

“We honor those 60 years of the festival by continuing to be true to its mission, why it was created, what it was intended to serve and the relationship, first and foremost, that it has had with the city of New York,” says Eugene Hernandez, executive director. “It’s a bridge between artists and audiences and has been for 60 years now.”

In the last two years, Lim and Hernandez have sought to reconnect the festival with New York, expanding its footprint around the city. But the pandemic made that difficult. 

The 2020 festival was held virtually and in drive-ins around the city. Last year’s festival brought audiences back, although with considerable COVID-19 precautions. “It’s been a three-year journey to get to this moment,” says Hernandez, who departs after this festival to lead the Sundance Film Festival. 

The 60th NYFF, which will hold screenings in all five boroughs during its run through Oct. 16, this year emphasizes those New York connections with a series of galas for hometown filmmakers. Those include the opening night with Baumbach; a centerpiece for Laura Poitras’ Nan Goldin documentary “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed”; closing night with Elegance Bratton’s semi-autobiographical “The Inspection”; and an anniversary celebration featuring James Gray’s “Armageddon Time,” based on his childhood in Queens. Another high-profile New York story, “She Said,” a drama about The New York Times investigative journalists who helped expose Harvey Weinstein, is also one of the festival’s top world premieres. 

In many ways, little has changed in 60 years. (Godard will be back again this year, with the late iconoclast ‘s “Image Book” playing for free on a loop.) Except, perhaps, that it’s gotten larger, with more sidebars and a busier main slate. 

“The festival for much of its life had only 20, 25 films in its main slate. I think if you tried  to do that now, you’re not really going to really get a full picture of contemporary cinema,” says Lim. “The landscape is so immense.”

Every NYFF brings a mingling of master auteurs and younger filmmakers, but the dichotomy between the two is especially rich this year. Aside from seasoned veterans like Claire Denis (“Stars at Noon”) and Park Chan-wook (“Decision to Leave”), the festival will welcome back longtime regulars Frederick Wiseman (“A Couple”), Martin Scorsese (“Personality Crisis: One Night Only,” a documentary about New York Dolls singer-songwriter David Johansen) and Paul Schrader (“Master Gardner”). Jerzy Skolimowski (“EO”), the 84-year-old Polish filmmaker, and 94-year-old James Ivory (“A Cooler Climate”) will each bookend their inclusion at the third New York Film Festival, more than half a century ago. 

A film like “EO,” which trails a donkey between brutal interactions with humans, is directly engaged with cinema history, paying homage to Robert Bresson’s “Au Hasard Balthazar.” But it also beats a ragged path of its own, something Schrader, the “Taxi Driver” writer and maker recently of “First Reformed” and “The Card Counter,” has been doing, himself, with torturous rigor for decades. These are filmmakers for whom cinema is an unending crusade, full of pain and transcendence. 

Other filmmakers are earlier on their journeys. Several standouts at the festival are debuts. Bratton’s first narrative feature, “The Inspection,” is deeply personal for the 43-year-old director and photographer. Led by a striking performance by Jeremy Pope, it dramatizes Bratton’s own experience as a gay man in boot camp. The treatment he receives there is brutal, with echoes of Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket.” But in some ways, it’s an improvement from his harsh reality back home. 

The Scottish filmmaker Charlotte Wells also channels personal experience in her brilliantly composed, acutely devastating first feature, “Aftersun,” starring Paul Mescal and Frankie Corio as a father-daughter pair on vacation in Turkey. To a remarkable degree, the film is attuned to every fleeting gesture between the two, and the currents that may be driving them apart. 

Intimacy might seem less relevant to “Till,” the Emmett Till drama making its world premiere. Films about such indelible moments in American history often take a wide lens to capture the full societal scope. But Chinonye Chukwu, in her follow-up to her 2019 breakthrough film “Clemency,” keeps her film centered, often profoundly so, on Till’s mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, played spectacularly by Danielle Deadwyler. “Till,” like many of the films at the festival, is a reminder of just how powerful one person’s testimony can be.

your ad here