News, August 4th

‘Just come home’ grandma asks teenager wanted in connection to Rapid City shooting

The grandmother of a Rapid City teenager who’s been missing for weeks and is now wanted for questioning about a shooting is begging for him to come home.

“I really want him to come home. I’ll go with him to talk to the detectives and be with him at all times, so he won’t be mistreated,” Ruby Pederson, grandmother of 14-year-old Loyalty Morrison, said Monday. “Just come home. Wherever you are, just come home and we’ll get this taken care of without the SWAT team.”

Pederson also has a message to anyone who may be with her grandson.

“Please let him go so we can get this settled with the questioning,” she said. “We’re worried. We don’t know where he’s at.”

Pederson hasn’t heard from her grandson since he ran away in late July, just four or five days after he returned from a residential treatment center on July 16. She’s knocked on doors and messaged his friends to no avail.

Then, on Saturday, Pederson said the Rapid City Police Department contacted her to say they wanted to question him about a shooting that happened late Thursday night.

She said police contacted her again on Sunday but did not notify her before the Rapid City-Pennington County Special Response Team — which has negotiators, military-style vehicles, communication devices and other advanced equipment used for armed and high-risk situations — arrived at a Crescent Drive home he’s ran away to in the past.

Pederson said she drove to the scene after her sister called to tell her about the SRT call out, which she learned about on social media.

She said Morrison sent a Facebook message to his mother during this time saying he loves her and his grandmother but had to give back the phone now. Pederson said her grandson didn’t mention where he was or who he was with.

Pederson, Morrison’s mother, and the police and sheriff’s office continue to look for Morrison after he wasn’t found at the Crescent Drive home.

Officers want to speak with Morrison, who they say was present when another teenager — who now has “serious, life-threatening injuries” — was shot, spokesman Brendyn Medina told the Journal. They want to learn if Morrison was the shooter or a witness, whether anybody else witnessed the shooting, and whether it was a self-inflicted gunshot or if someone else purposefully or accidentally shot the teen.

A handgun was found at the scene and police believe Morrison is now in possession of another handgun, Medina said.

“We’re going to use every tool in our toolbox to find him safely,” he said.

Pederson said her grandson has “been through a lot” in his life.

She said Morrison struggles with mental health and substance abuse issues, has a history of running away, and has been hanging out with a group of teenagers and adults she referred to as a “gang.”

He’s “easily influenced” by others and it’s “not right” when adults give him drugs and alcohol, Pederson said. “He’s a pretty good kid when he’s not around these people” and had been hoping to stay out of trouble, find a job and buy a car.

Pederson said Morrison returned to Rapid City after a five-month stay at a residential treatment center in Wyoming, which he was sent to after stealing a car.

She said Morrison’s friends began showing up at her home as soon as he returned, and he ran away just a few days later before she had the chance to buy him a cell phone and set him up with local mental health treatment.

Pederson brought her grandson home that day after finding him at the same house on Crescent Drive that the SRT went to Sunday. But he ran away again later that day.

Pederson said she reported Loyalty — who is without his mental health medicine — as a runaway and searched for him by visiting homes he hangs out at and messaging his friends on social media, who ended up blocking her. She said she doesn’t believe police put much effort into finding Loyalty until he was wanted in connection to the shooting.

Medina says police did search for him by tracking down leads from family and friends and searching areas he’s been known to frequent.

He said the department receives more than 700 runaway reports each year and only posts cases on its social media when it had reason to believe the child is in danger, has exhausted all methods of finding them, and needs to turn to the public for help.

Morrison was not among the runaways named on social media.

“If we did this for every runaway, the ability of the public to provide assistance in these instances would be severely diminished by the oversaturation of information,” Medina said.

The shooting at Hemlock Street was reported at 11:55 p.m. on Thursday, Medina said.

Police found a seriously injured teenager, he said.

Medina said officers also found a handgun and initially believed the gunshot may have been self-inflicted. But after speaking with people in the neighborhood, officers learned Morrison was present at the shooting and it began looking more “suspicious.”

Pederson said officers stopped at her home on Saturday and Sunday to tell her they were looking for her grandson in relation to the shooting and ask if she knew where he was.

“If I knew where he was at, I would go get him,” Pederson said she told the officers.

The public learned about the shooting around noon Sunday when the police department posted it on its Facebook page. The post included Morrison’s name and photos.

The Rapid City Police Department and other law enforcement agencies usually don’t share information about minors wanted in connection with criminal matters or those charged in juvenile court.

But in this case, the department got the OK from the Pennington County State’s Attorney Office to share the information since detectives need to learn about the shooting and believe Morison may be armed, Medina said.

We’re “very careful with juvenile information as it relates to crime,” but this “was a public safety decision,” he said.

Pederson said police didn’t tell her about the SRT call out but later told her they went to the Crescent Drive home because Morrison had recently made a Facebook post from the location.

She said she offered to go inside the home to look for her grandson — “I know he wouldn’t hurt me” — but police said it wasn’t safe. SRT did let her record a message to Morrison, which was played over the LRAD, or Long-Range Acoustic Device.

Police arrived at the home just before 2 p.m. and announced at 10 p.m. that they searched homes but didn’t find Morrison.

Police Captain James Johns said at the time that the SRT missed Morrison but are confident he was there earlier in the day.

The SRT searched the original home of interest and gained consent searches to look through neighboring homes in case Morrison was able to sneak into one, Medina said.

The SRT searched the neighboring duplex by breaking down the door after no one answered and law enforcement couldn’t contact the owner and residents, Medina said. He said the homeowner can contact the City Attorney’s Office to arrange reimbursement for the damage.

Pederson said the SRT call out was “overboard” and wouldn’t have helped encourage her grandson to surrender if he had been at the home.

“I wouldn’t come out of that house either with that many rifles in my face,” she said. “He’s been traumatized, he has mental issues, and you’re out here with rifles.”

Medina defended the department’s decision to use the SRT when asked if police could have instead brought a negotiator and fewer officers with protective gear and a megaphone rather than the entire SRT.

He said he understands the public is concerned about the appearance of armored vehicles, but the SRT is “very highly trained with dealing with barricaded subjects who are armed.”

Medina said the SRT often serves as a “rescue operation that keeps everyone safe.”

Pederson said she and Morrison’s mother — who’s driving in from Nebraska — plan to continue looking for the teenager. She said she’s concerned about trying to communicate with him because his Facebook page was deleted Monday afternoon.

Investigators are “very committed to working to getting contact with Loyalty in the safest way possible,” Medina added. ​

Community members planned a vigil for the shooting victim and Morrison’s safe return on Thursday evening at the band shell in Memorial Park.

3 New Zealand citizens killed by landslides in South Korea

Three New Zealand citizens have died after landslides triggered by heavy rains destroyed and buried their vacation cottage near Seoul, South Korean officials said Tuesday.

They were among 14 people in South Korea who died in landslides and floods caused by days of torrential rains that began Saturday, the Ministry of the Interior and Safety said.

A ministry official identified the three New Zealand citizens as a 77-year-old woman surnamed Kim, her 36-year-old daughter surnamed Song and Song’s 2-year-old son.

The official said they were found dead Monday at their vacation cottage in Gapyeong, just northeast of Seoul. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak to the media on the matter.

Gapyeong police confirmed the deaths of the three New Zealanders.

A local police officer said the 77-year-old woman ran a complex of vacation cottages in Gapyeong and had been living there. Her daughter, who had worked in New Zealand, recently came to the cottage complex with her baby son to help with her work, the officer said, requesting anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak to the media.

The rainfall pounded much of South Korea, leaving 12 other people missing and more than 1,000 homeless. All 14 deaths and most of the property damage were reported in Seoul, nearby towns, and the central province of Chungcheong.

COVID-19 forced businesses in Ghana to reduce wages for over 770,000 workers, and caused about 42,000 layoffs – research reveals

The shock caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has had considerable impacts on Ghanaian businesses, forcing many firms to cut costs by reducing staff hours, cutting wages, and in some cases laying off workers. 

This is according to results from a new COVID-19 Business Tracker Survey conducted by the Ghana Statistical Service (GSS), in collaboration with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), and the World Bank. The results show that about 770,000 workers (25.7% of the total workforce), had their wages reduced and about 42,000 employees were laid off during the country’s COVID-19 partial lockdown. The pandemic also led to reduction in working hours for close to 700,000 workers.

“Government has already put in place diverse supports for businesses including the establishment of a Coronavirus Alleviation Program to protect jobs, livelihoods and support small businesses. And, also is the Government’s GH¢600 Million Stimulus Package to small and medium scale enterprises (SMEs). The findings of the Business Tracker provide specificity on the pathways of effects, variation in the effects for different categories of businesses, their geographical areas, and the extent of effects”, Professor Samuel Kobina Annim, Government Statistician noted.

The survey was carried out between May 26 and June 17, 2020 across the country to assess how the novel coronavirus has impacted private businesses. Some 4,311 firms were interviewed.

The data also show that during the lockdown, about 244,000 firms started adjusting their business models by relying more on digital solutions, such as mobile money and internet for sales. Firms within the agriculture sector and other industries used relatively more digital solutions (56%), with establishments in the accommodation and food sector being the least that adopted digital solutions (28%).

“If businesses, especially SMEs are provided with the needed support to adopt best practices, particularly in the use of digital solutions, this could go a long way to increase their productivity and resilience to future challenges”, said Fredrick Mugisha, UNDP Economic Advisor for Ghana and The Gambia. 

Generally, the results indicate that during the country’s COVID-19 partial lockdown, businesses received shocks in supply and demand for goods and services. Close to 131,000 businesses had challenges accessing finance and expressed uncertainty in business environment. 

The average decrease in sales, according to the findings, was estimated at 115.2 million Ghana Cedis, with firms in the trade and manufacturing sectors (including exporting firms) largely affected.  More than half of these firms had difficulties in sourcing inputs due to non-availability or increase in costs, leading to challenges in covering revenue shortfalls. 

Even though the lockdown measures have been relaxed, the survey results show a high degree of uncertainty in the expectations of firms regarding sales and employment over the next 6 months. 

“The survey shows that COVID-19 has had a deep impact on Ghana’s private sector, through several channels. Firms are experiencing lower demand for their products, difficulties in accessing finance and sourcing inputs, and face an extended period of uncertainty. The World Bank is working closely with the Government of Ghana to mitigate these negative impacts and assist businesses to survive the pandemic and build resilience in the face of the changed economic conditions”, noted Pierre Laporte, World Bank Country Director for Ghana, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. 

To lessen the impacts of COVID-19, the survey results suggest the need for policies to support firms in the short and medium term. The most desired policies cited by the private sector include measures to improve liquidity such as subsidized interest rates, cash transfers and deferral of tax payments. Many firms were not aware of the Government’s support programs, suggesting the need for increased awareness and clarity on the guidelines and requirements of current interventions.

The results of the survey also suggest that efforts should be concentrated on re-establishing channels that were adversely affected during the pandemic. These should include re-establishing supply chains by providing credit guarantee schemes for those accessing finance, facilitating input procurement, and access to foreign markets to boost demand. The report also proposes support for firms with grants and business development services to upgrade technologies to increase productivity.

The Business Tracker Survey is part of a global Business Pulse Survey (BPS) initiative of the World Bank, surveying the impact of COVID-19 on the private sector in more than 40 countries.

Egypt invites Elon Musk to see whether aliens built pyramids

One of Egypt’s top government officials has invited multi-billionaire tech mogul Elon Musk to visit the country and see for himself that the great pyramids were not built by aliens.

Tesla and SpaceX CEO Musk earlier tweeted: “Aliens built the pyramids obv (obviously” which was retweeted more than 88,000 times.

“The Great Pyramid was the tallest structure made by humans for 3,800 years. Three thousand, eight hundred years,” he posted, sharing a Wikipedia link about the Great Pyramid of Giza.

This prompted Egypt’s Minister of International Co-operation, Rania al-Mashat, to reply to Musk: “I follow your work with a lot of admiration. I invite you & SpaceX to explore the writings about how the pyramids were built and also to check out the tombs of the pyramid builders. Mr. Musk, we are waiting for you”.

Egyptian archaeologist Zahi Hawass also responded in a short video in Arabic posted on social media over the weekend, claiming that Musk’s argument was a “complete hallucination”.

“I found the tombs of the pyramids builders that tell everyone that the builders of the pyramids are Egyptians and they were not slaves,” he was quoted as saying by Egypt Today.

It is estimated that this pyramid was made from 2.3 million blocks of rock, weighs 5.9 million tons and it is one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

Eurozone economy faces increasing difficulties

The European economy has officially entered recession as the second quarter of 2020 statistics show that the economic growth rate of the Eurozone has decreased by 12.1% compared to the same period last year. The COVID-19 pandemic and the euro’s appreciation are among the obstacles that are making it difficult for the European economy to escape from its current difficulties.

According to the Statistical office of the EU, in the second quarter of 2020, the Eurozone economy was strongly affected by the COVID-19 crisis as Gross Domestic Product (GDP) decreased by 12.1%, the strongest decline since 1995. Worryingly, all of the region’s leading economies, including those that have stood up to previous financial crises such as Germany and France, have witnessed a strong decline.

The National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies of France said that the French economy dropped by 13.8% in the second quarter due to the impact of anti-epidemic measures. The French economy has thus experienced negative growth for three consecutive quarters. The French Finance Minister has affirmed that France is not powerless in the face of the current disease crisis. However, reviving France’s plunging economy in the current context could be “a mission impossible”.

Meanwhile, statistics in other major European economies have also highlighted the dark economic picture for the Old Continent. Germany announced a GDP decline of 10.1%, while Italy, Portugal and Spain recorded GDP reductions of 12.4%, 14.1% and 18.5%, respectively.

China’s Xinhua News Agency quoted German economic experts as saying that the above figures showed that the economic recession of the EU members is even worse than previous predictions. Although the new statistics are preliminary estimates and may be slightly adjusted in the next few weeks, it can be seen that the Eurozone economy has been negatively affected in recent months.

According to economic experts, the main reason for the sharp decline is due to strict blockade measures in Europe since early March to prevent the spread of the epidemic, resulting in the suspense of most industrial production activities, affecting consumer and business confidence, as well as slowing down global trade.

At present, the COVID-19 pandemic and the appreciation of the euro are also major obstacles to EU member countries’ economic recovery. Although Europe is no longer the center of the global epidemic, the risk of a second wave is still greatly hindering efforts to revive the continent’s economic activity.

Meanwhile, the recent appreciation of the euro against the US dollar has also made it difficult for European enterprises to export. Since mid-May, the euro has increased more than 10% against the US dollar. Some economists say that the main reason for the price rise is the prospect of a better economic recovery in Europe than in the US, where the COVID-19 pandemic is still rampant.

For EU exporters, price increases are a disadvantage because European goods will be more expensive. Another significant challenge for the European economy is that public debt is rising sharply across the Eurozone and even rising to dangerous levels in some Southern European countries, especially Italy.

In the context that the economy is in an extremely difficult situation, the biggest hope and fulcrum for countries to escape the crisis at this time is the European economic recovery fund, which was recently approved for use by EU leaders.

EU leaders clinched an historic deal on a massive stimulus plan for their coronavirus-throttled economies after a fractious summit lasting almost five days. They hope the EUR750 billion (US$857.33 billion) recovery fund and its related EUR1.1 trillion 2021-2027 budget will help repair the continent’s deep recession.

It is expected that the EU members will eliminate existing disagreements and work together to fight against disease and revive growth momentum so that the regional economy will hopefully soon see “the light at the end of the tunnel”.

Hundreds march on San Quentin

Five hundred participants marched on San Quentin’s West Gate on Aug 2 protesting California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s cruel decision to keep thousands of incarcerated people exposed to the virus in prison.

Two prisoners called into the protest, reporting the disorganization at the state’s oldest prison. “They still haven’t cleaned out the air vents here,” Troiano Hudson said, “we’re breathing in trash and dust. Medical is not the same.”

The action was called by the No Justice Under Capitalism Coalition, which has organized a number of car caravans around San Quentin as well as a protest at the gates of Gavin Newsom’s mansion.

A number of local activists and organizations spoke at the gates of the prison, while prison guards lined up on the other side.

In an interview with KCBS Radio, NJUC organizer Courtney Morris explained, “Gavin Newsom does have the opportunity to grant mass releases, and that’s what we’re demanding today: No state execution by COVID-19.” Despite Newsom’s executive order against the death penalty in March, prison deaths keep mounting.

“We can’t say we have a moratorium on the death penalty if we’re dying due to criminal state negligence at the hands of the state,” Morris added.

More than half of the population of San Quentin has been infected by COVID-19. Running at more than 112 percent capacity, nearly half — 42 percent — of those imprisoned at San Quentin are considered to be at high medical risk. And, six out of ten prisoners are classified as being the lowest risk of committing another crime once out of prison.

There were no known cases of infection until May 30, well into the pandemic, when California Dept of Corrections transferred 121 people from a prison in San Bernadino County that was a known hot spot of the virus. Some of those transferred were sick on the bus as they arrived.

The 2,000 cases are almost certainly an undercount. The North and West cell blocks, which hold 1,600 prisoners, have windows that are welded shut. Prisoners are only allowed to shower once every five days, showering with 40 to 50 other people at a time. Some have reported that prison medical staff were not even changing their gloves between tests.

“We are dying in here,” said prisoner Than Tran.

The virus is a fact of nature. But mass incarceration is not. It is a tool of repression built up by Democrats and Republicans alike.

Imran Ghazali Appointed as First Ever General Manager for Digital Media for Govt of Pakistan

Imran Ghazali is a Digital Media expert with over 14 years of experience in this industry. He is also one of the pioneers of social media campaigning in Pakistan with over 120,000 followers on his personal accounts. He has been speaking as a Social Media strategist at various public events and has been consulting various global organizations on digital media.

Imran Ghazali has recently worked as a Head of Social Media Consultant at DFID’s family planning project – DAFPAK.

Before this he was leading the digital strategy as a consultant to UNICEF for Clean Green Pakistan initiative at the Ministry of climate change.

He was also involved in the implementation of KP Government’s Digital Policy and working closely with KP IT Board as World Bank Pakistan Consultant for Digital Youth Summit.  

Imran has also been managing Digital Media presence and digital PR of Nutshell Forum, Pakistan’s leading conference management organization.

He was also responsible for 360-degree digital coverage of Pakistan’s biggest corporate summits Leaders In Islamabad Business Summit & The Future Summit prime events of Nutshell with hundreds of foreign delegates from over 30 countries.

Voluntarily he was also training the Government of Pakistan officials on the effective ways of using digital platforms for government and held few workshops at NITB in collaboration with Facebook.

From Dec 2016 to August 2018, Imran worked as Head of National Campaigning – Digital at Alif Ailaan, which has been recognized as the biggest campaign on education reforms in Pakistan. He was the architect of the digital strategy for the last two years of the campaign that resulted in increased reach and engagement on social media platforms.

At Alif Ailaan he also led the initiative for the development of a citizen reporting mobile app “Taleem Do!” This App was available for both Android and iOS that got 60,000 downloads in two months and was in the top 3 rated apps on android in news category. He was also responsible for getting an innovative and dynamic website developed and getting over 1.5 million visits in two months of the election campaign.

Before this he has worked as Chief Digital Officer at M&C Saatchi World Services where he was responsible for the whole digital business and was leading digital strategy for key accounts. He has advised for the digital strategy and led the social media roll-out of their Pakistan-US Friendship campaign.

While working as Business Director, Digital at ZenithOptimedia (ZO), Imran had the opportunity to reset a business unit and lead a team of enthusiastic young individuals. He led a young dynamic team of 30 and developed the digital line of business as a new unit and transformed it into a fully organized unit with strategy, creative, content, planning, social media management and analytics as core functions.

Imran is also one of the founding members of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Social Media, as he was the one to create online presence of PTI and Prime Minister Imran Khan on social media including their Facebook pages and Twitter accounts.

He has been involved with PTI Web team since 2007, and played a central role to recruit, train and organize hundreds of volunteers. He was appointed as Head of Social Media for Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf during 2013 elections, where he built the team structure, initiated, planned, strategized and executed the digital campaign – which is still termed as the most successful social media campaign in Pakistan’s political history.

After the 2013 elections, he was appointed as the Head of PTI Social Media Operations, where he organized and coordinated with over 300 team members across Pakistan. He played a strategic and advisory role as he got over 30 PTI Pages verified on Facebook and Twitter including top leadership accounts, which later on helped the party in 2018 elections.

In the past he also headed the Pakistani American Students Association and turned it into the best student organization at The Ohio State University.

Imran graduated with a bachelor’s with Honors degree from Ohio State University in 2009.

McCarthy leaves Intel spot open months after Ratcliffe confirmation

House Republicans aren’t rushing to fill an empty seat on the high-profile House Intelligence Committee that has remained vacant for months, even as Congress grapples with potential foreign interference in the upcoming elections.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is taking his time deciding who should replace former Rep. John Ratcliffe — now the Director of National Intelligence — on the prestigious panel, according to sources familiar with the California Republican’s thinking, and a pick isn’t expected anytime soon. President Donald Trump tapped Ratcliffe to be the nation’s spy chief five months ago, and the Senate confirmed him in May.

McCarthy’s selection will surely create some sore feelings in the conference as dozens of House Republicans are vying for a spot on the panel, despite it becoming a hotbed for some of Capitol Hill’s most public partisan brawls the last few years, culminating with the president’s impeachment.

And McCarthy’s choice could signal whether he wants to reverse the partisanship that’s wracked the panel in the era of Trump or continue down a more similar path. With two more Republicans on the panel set to retire, the committee — the smallest one in the House with 21 total current members — could undergo a revamp.

But Democrats contend that leaving the slot open this long is another symptom of the disregard Republicans have displayed for intelligence matters, pointing to the GOP’s recent boycott of the committee’s proceedings since the coronavirus pandemic forced the panel to conduct hearings, briefings and roundtables virtually.

“It’s reflective of a lack of seriousness that the minority is bringing to the responsibilities of the committee,” Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) told POLITICO.

“It’s a disservice to their caucus and to the country,” he said, adding the incomplete roster “impedes the minority’s voice in the process. They’re undermining themselves.”

The committee’s top Republican, California Rep. Devin Nunes, repeatedly declined to comment.

Other Republicans on the panel, who have begun attending the committee’s limited closed-door sessions in recent weeks — including briefings from the Trump administration on election security threats and intelligence reports that Russia offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants to kill U.S. troops in Afghanistan — contend that being down to just eight members hasn’t impeded their oversight efforts. And they say it’s natural for leadership to take its time with such a weighty decision.

“They have no idea how much time we’re spending down in Intel and going about our own work. I don’t report to them when we’re doing Intel work, the phone calls I’m having,” said Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio), adding he recently had a secure phone call with outgoing Defense Intelligence Agency chief Army Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley about supply chain issues.

“And you tell me how much Intel work they were doing during impeachment and the last three years? Give me a break,” he added.

The Intelligence Committee is the only permanent committee in Congress whose members are hand-picked unilaterally by the Republican and Democratic leaders in the House, meaning they retain tight control over the committee’s business and tend to appoint close allies.

And McCarthy is fielding interest from all across the GOP conference.

Wenstrup said that even before Ratcliffe was confirmed, over a dozen younger members had casually approached him about how to get a spot on the committee, asking: “‘What did you do? How did you make your case?’”

Further complicating McCarthy’s decision-making process: There is a chamber rule that each side of the aisle must have at least one member who also serves on the House Judiciary Committee. Ratcliffe sat on both panels when he served in Congress. That means Ratcliffe’s replacement must also be plucked from the Judiciary Committee, leaving McCarthy a more limited bench to choose from.

Speculation has run rampant about who might get the seat, according to sources on both sides of the aisle, with names rising and falling as the game of musical chairs has dragged on for months. At one point, there was even the possibility that Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, a top ally of the president who temporarily served on the committee during Trump’s impeachment hearings and is now the top Republican on Judiciary, might somehow return.

Rep. Guy Reschenthaler (R-Pa.), a Navy veteran who serves on Judiciary and is well-liked within the GOP conference, was considered a possible contender, but his freshman status likely prohibits him from receiving such a prestigious appointment; same goes for freshman Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-N.D.).

Other Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee include Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana, a former attorney who served as one of Trump’s impeachment surrogates; several members of the hardline Freedom Caucus, including Freedom Caucus Chair Andy Biggs of Arizona; and veteran Rep. Steve Chabot of Ohio, who unsuccessfully sought the top GOP spot on Judiciary.

McCarthy will have more flexibility whenever he selects members to replace retiring Texas Reps. Will Hurd, a former CIA officer, and Mike Conaway, who led the panel’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election after Nunes recused himself.

Outside of the Judiciary Committee, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), chair of the House Republican Conference and a vocal foreign policy hawk, has also been mentioned as a potential candidate for Intel, though that was before her colleagues accused her of undermining Trump’s administration for criticizing its response to the coronavirus and foreign policy decisions during a recent closed-door meeting.

Other names that have been floated include Reps. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-Mo.) and Andy Barr (R-Ky.). Both sit on the House Financial Services Committee and could apply their fiscal knowledge to intelligence and national security matters.

The momentum around Barr’s candidacy has stalled, though, after the unexpected death of his wife in June. The Kentucky Republican, who said he is focused on raising his two daughters, returned to Capitol Hill just before the August recess.

Historically, the panel has attracted lawmakers who want to do serious intelligence work; committee members deal with the nation’s most closely held secrets and most often meet in secure classified settings, away from the glare of the C-SPAN cameras. But the panel has transformed in the Trump era and become more of a partisan breeding ground, as evidenced when the committee’s Republicans called on Schiff to resign.

Despite the lack of a full roster, the committee’s work has continued.

Last week the panel approved its annual intelligence policy bill — though in a straight party-line vote, instead of unanimously by voice vote. It’s also working with the U.S. intelligence community to finalize its “deep dive” on China, focused on the various national security threats posed by Beijing, and reviewing the pandemic and how the clandestine community is postured to analyze global health issues.

McCarthy initially came under fire at the start of this Congress, accused of slow-rolling the committee’s work when he took weeks to name someone to an open spot on the panel while Democrats were eager to restart the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

McCarthy eventually tapped Ratcliffe for the role, but personally informed at least 70 lawmakers who sought the spot on the panel and didn’t get the seat, which delayed the announcement.

“If anyone were to read anything into this other than it’s a procedural process, they would be wrong,” Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) told POLITICO. “It’s just going to take a little while and of course we take our Intel responsibilities seriously.”

Democrats, however, say leaving Ratcliffe’s spot empty is a sign of the GOP’s disconnect at a critical time. With less than 100 days until the election, top Democrats including Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) have criticized the Trump administration for withholding information on possible Russian election meddling.

“Honestly, I wish that the minority would just be a little more involved in what’s going on in the oversight of the intelligence community,” said Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois, one of four new Democrats named to the panel last year.

“We can’t oversee the intelligence community in a partisan way, it has to be bipartisan,” he added, especially when the Trump administration is “trying to hide the ball in terms of information about the intelligence community, not communicating with us in the way that they should and also preventing career public servants from doing their duty and showing up to testify about vital matters.”

Missing sailors rescued from Pacific island after SOS signal spotted in the sand

Three men were rescued from a small, uninhabited Pacific island after writing a giant SOS sign in the sand, the Australian Department of Defense said on Monday.

The men had been missing in the Micronesia archipelago near the Philippines for three days before their internationally recognized distress signal, which originated from Morse code, was spotted Sunday on the uninhabited Pikelot Island by searchers on Australian and U.S. aircraft.

Located in the western Pacific Ocean, the Federated States of Micronesia is comprised of more than 600 islands. The three-person crew aboard a 23-foot skiff set out from Pulawat atoll on Thursday. They intended to travel about 27 miles to Pulap atoll when they sailed off course and ran out of fuel, the defense department said in a statement.

The Australian Defense Force was asked for search and rescue support by the Rescue and Coordination Center in Guam on Saturday. The military ship, Canberra, which was returning to Australia from exercises in Hawaii, diverted to the area and joined forces with U.S. searchers from Guam.

The men were found in good condition about 118 miles from where they had set out. Their SOS message was first spotted by a U.S. Air Force plane and an Australian Army helicopter was able to land on the beach to give the men food and water. A Micronesian patrol vessel was due to pick them up.

“I am proud of the response and professionalism of all on board as we fulfill our obligation to contribute to the safety of life at sea wherever we are in the world,” Canberra’s commanding officer, Capt. Terry Morrison, said in a statement.

Modi to lay Hindu temple foundations at flashpoint holy site

The flashpoint Indian town of Ayodhya geared up Tuesday for a ceremony attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to lay the foundations for a Hindu temple on the ruins of a mosque destroyed by a mob in 1992.

The building of the temple in northern India, starting on Wednesday with a colorful rite broadcast live on TV, has long been a pledge of Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.

A mosque stood on the site for almost 500 years until it was demolished by Hindu zealots in 1992.

That sparked riots across the country in which 2,000 people, mainly Muslims, died — some of independent India’s worst sectarian violence.

Devout Hindus believe that Lord Ram, the warrior god, was born in Ayodhya some 7,000 years ago but that a mosque was constructed on top of his birthplace in the 16th century.

In November, India’s top court after a legal battle lasting decades awarded the site to Hindus, giving Muslims another location to build a new mosque.

It was a stunning victory for the BJP, but for critics, it marked another step in Modi’s agenda to turn officially secular India into a Hindu nation, marginalizing its 200 million Muslims — something he denies.

Wednesday also marks one year since Modi’s government imposed direct rule on Muslim-majority Kashmir, another long-standing BJP pledge.

The Ayodhya ceremony, held at a time recommended by astrologers, has been curtailed because of the coronavirus, with at least two priests as well as Modi’s right-hand-man and Home Minister Amit Shah testing positive.

But it will still be a grand affair beamed onto large screens around India and even on the huge displays at Times Square in New York, reports said.

Hindus around India have also been asked to light earthenware lamps.

Those attending include 135 “revered saints” and Mohan Bhagwat, the head of the BJP’s hardline and militaristic parent organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), who will share the stage with Modi.

Soil from almost 2,000 holy sites around India and water of around 100 holy rivers will be used in the foundations, as well as silver bricks and a “time capsule” with information written in Sanskrit on copper plates, reports said.

The temple will also include a shed for cows — considered sacred by Hindus — as well as a huge prayer hall.

“Tomorrow is the foundation of a very different kind of structure for the Indian Constitution,” Pratap Bhanu Mehta, former president of the Centre for Policy Research (CPR), told AFP.

“It’s not a reflection of a new temple but it’s a reflection of the fact that the fundamental constitutional structure of India is changing.”

Presidential Message on the 230th Birthday of the United States Coast Guard

On this day in 1790, Congress authorized Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton to assemble a group of vessels to protect our newborn Nation’s commerce and revenue streams.  What started as just a few small cutters has evolved into the world’s premier maritime governance, security, and safety service, now known as the United States Coast Guard.

In the 230 years that have passed since the creation of the Coast Guard, our Nation has grown stronger because of the Coast Guard’s dedication to its motto Semper Paratus— “Always Ready.”  Each day, the more than 40,000 active duty and civilian and more than 7,000 reserve men and women of the Coast Guard help secure and advance our national preparedness, response, and economic prosperity.  These courageous individuals defend our borders, rescue mariners in distress, facilitate the passage of trillions of dollars of commerce safely into and out of our ports, and combat drug smugglers and human traffickers, among a host of other tasks essential to the security of the American people.

Last month, I was proud to visit the United States Southern Command in the great State of Florida.  I was heartened by the tremendous work that our Coast Guard and their fellow service members have accomplished through Southern Command’s counter narcotics surge operations.  Since its launch, this whole-of-government and international operation against transnational organized criminals and their networks has produced more than 1,000 arrests and interdicted 120 metric tons of narcotics—including billions of dollars’ worth of fentanyl, heroin, cocaine, and countless other deadly substances.   These efforts are keeping the American people safe while advancing our Nation’s interests both at home and abroad.

On the 230th birthday of the United States Coast Guard, the First Lady and I send our best wishes to all Coast Guard service members and their families as they celebrate this special occasion.  We join a grateful Nation in thanking these brave men and women, along with all of America’s service members, for their service and sacrifice to our country.

Study shows face coverings in public helps mitigate spread of COVID-19

U.S. communities that mandated the use of face masks in public saw an ongoing decline in the spread of coronavirus, according to a study reported by CNN on Monday.

After five days of mask mandates, the daily coronavirus growth rate slowed by just under 1 percent, while after 21 days, the growth rate slowed by about 2 percent, researchers from the Department of Health Management and Policy at the University of Iowa College of Public Health reported in the journal Health Affairs.

Between April 8 and May 15, governors of 15 U.S. states and the mayor of Washington, D.C. signed orders to place mask mandates in public. The researchers studied changes in the daily county-level COVID-19 growth rates between March 31 and May 22.

The researchers also projected the number of averted COVID-19 cases with the mandates for face mask use in public by comparing actual cumulative daily cases with daily cases predicted by a model if none of the states had enacted the public face cover mandate at the time they did.

The model estimates suggested that 230,000-450,000 cases may have been averted by May 22 due to these mandates.

UN chief outlines ‘bold steps’ for education in the face of COVID-19 disruption

The COVID-19 pandemic has created the largest disruption to education in history and prolonged school closures could further entrench inequalities in access to learning, the UN Secretary-General said on Tuesday, underlining the need for “bold steps” to address the crisis.

Describing education as “the key to personal development and the future of societies”, António Guterres issued recommendations to get children back in the classroom in a policy brief launched alongside a new global campaign called Save our Future.

“As the world faces unsustainable levels of inequality, we need education – the great equalizer – more than ever,” he said in a video message.

“We must take bold steps now, to create inclusive, resilient, quality education systems fit for the future.”

The UN estimates that the pandemic has affected more than one billion students worldwide.

Despite efforts to continue learning during the crisis, including through delivering lessons by radio, television and online, many are still not being reached.

The UN chief said learners with disabilities, members of minority or disadvantaged communities, as well as refugees and displaced persons, are among those at highest risk of being left behind.

Even those students who can access distance learning face challenges, as success depends on their living conditions, and other factors such as fair distribution of domestic duties.

A learning crisis existed even before the pandemic, the Secretary-General said, as more than 250 million children were out of school.

Furthermore, only a quarter of secondary school children in developing countries were leaving school with basic skills.

“Now we face a generational catastrophe that could waste untold human potential, undermine decades of progress, and exacerbate entrenched inequalities,” said Mr. Guterres. “The knock-on effects on child nutrition, child marriage and gender equality, among others, are deeply concerning.”

Children work from home in Guatemala following guidelines received from the Ministry of Education during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The policy brief calls for action in four key areas, starting with the re-opening of schools once local transmission of COVID-19 is under control.

The UN chief also called for greater investment in education, as low- and middle-income countries had already faced an annual funding gap of $1.5 trillion prior to the pandemic.

“Education budgets need to be protected and increased,” he said.

“And it is critical that education is at the heart of international solidarity efforts, from debt management and stimulus packages to global humanitarian appeals and official development assistance.”

Education initiatives must also seek to reach those at greatest risk of being left behind, he continued. They also should be sensitive to the specific challenges faced by girls and boys, and women and men, while also addressing the digital divide.

For his final recommendation, the UN chief highlighted what he sees as the “generational opportunity” to deliver quality education for all children, in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The 17 goals, which world leaders adopted five years ago, provide a pathway to a more sustainable future that benefits both people and the planet.

“To achieve this, we need investment in digital literacy and infrastructure, an evolution towards learning how to learn, a rejuvenation of life-long learning and strengthened links between formal and non-formal education,” said Mr. Guterres.

“And we need to draw on flexible delivery methods, digital technologies and modernized curricula while ensuring sustained support for teachers and communities.”

Published by jim

Curator of things...

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