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Stunning fall of Malaysia’s Najib ushers in hopes of reform

Two weeks ago, Malaysia’s Najib Razak was supremely confident of being elected prime minister for a third term. Instead, in a dizzying political drama, he lost an unlosable election and spiraled into ever-deepening disgrace while Malaysians are being feted for advancing democratic values against their global retreat.

In a series of humiliations, the patrician and luxury-loving Najib and wife Rosmah Mansor were banned from leaving the country; truckloads of luggage stashed with cash and valuables as well as hundreds of expensive designer bags were seized from their home and other properties; and anti-corruption police questioned Najib for hours this week about a multibillion-dollar corruption scandal on his watch.

After 60 years of uninterrupted National Front rule, many Malaysians are optimistic they are ushering in an era of reform that echoes the democratic transformation of giant neighbor Indonesia two decades earlier. The difference, they hope, is that it will continue to be accomplished without setting their multiethnic country in flames. A grouping of progressive Southeast Asian lawmakers has hailed Najib’s defeat as a “bright spot amid dark times” of rising authoritarianism across the region.

The May 9 election that turfed Najib and his government despite an electoral system heavily engineered in their favor was a “quiet, dignified but defining revolution at the ballot box,” said Malaysian rights activist and lawyer Ambiga Sreenevasan. “Malaysia has now set the gold standard in Southeast Asia for bringing change peacefully even through a flawed process,” said Sreenevasan, who has been appointed by the new government to a reform panel.

Najib’s ouster was in large part made possible by the return to politics of Mahathir Mohamad, premier for 22 years until 2003. Spurred by anger over the alleged looting of state investment fund 1MDB by associates of Najib, he emerged from retirement and joined with former political enemies to campaign against the ruling coalition.

Despite Mahathir being mocked by Najib for his old age and authoritarian record, his reputation as a statesman who transformed a Southeast Asian backwater into a modern economy helped soothe voters’ fears of possible chaos under a new government. Many Malaysians have been haunted for decades by racial riots in 1969 that killed more than 200 people.

Since he was sworn in as Malaysia’s seventh premier and the world’s oldest leader at 92, Mahathir has wasted no time in setting up his government and tackling the country’s financial problems. Former foes he once jailed have been appointed to the cabinet, including the first ethnic Chinese to hold the powerful finance ministry post in 44 years. Malaysia also now has its first female deputy prime minister.

Mahathir facilitated a royal pardon that freed reformist icon Anwar Ibrahim, who was jailed in 2015 in what he said was a conspiracy by Najib to crush his opposition alliance. Anwar, who is now the prime minister-in-waiting, was sacked by Mahathir in 1998 after a power struggle and jailed for sodomy and corruption. The two men reconciled in 2016, united by their resolve to oust Najib.

Mahathir has said he needs one to two years to restore order before handing power to Anwar.

The top priority is getting to the bottom of the 1MDB scandal.

Najib started the fund when he took power in 2009 but it accumulated billions in debts. U.S. investigators say $4.5 billion was stolen and laundered from 1MDB by his associates, some of which landed in Najib’s bank account and $27.3 million of it used to buy a rare pink diamond necklace for his wife.

A former attorney general and senior anti-graft official, who were on the verge of pressing criminal charges against Najib in 2015 before they, respectively, were sacked and fled in fear of arrest, have been brought back to help investigate. A 1MDB panel has been set up to liaise with foreign countries on how to retrieve the laundered billions.

New Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng said Tuesday that Najib’s government had conducted “an exercise of deception” over 1MDB and also misrepresented the country’s financial situation to parliament. The same day, the anti-corruption commission official who previously led investigations into 1MDB gave a harrowing account of how the probe was suppressed by intimidation during Najib’s rule.

“Malaysia will likely be one of the few Southeast Asian nations to put a former PM in jail,” said Bridget Welsh, political science professor at the John Cabot University in Rome, who was in Kuala Lumpur to observe the polls.

Najib “made the mistake of thinking it was about him rather than the office he held,” she said. Former Philippine President Joseph Estrada was jailed for corruption in 2007.

While the 1MDB crisis will keep officials busy, there are other worries for Mahathir and the new government.

Closer examination of the election results showed many from the country’s ethnic Malay majority still didn’t support Mahathir’s alliance.

The conservative Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party made major gains by winning control of two rural northeastern mainly Malay states. Collectively with the National Front, they hold 43 percent of seats in Parliament.

This could create difficulty for Mahathir’s government on any attempt to pare back a decades-old affirmative action policy that favors Malays in government contracts, business, jobs, education and housing.

The program is credited with lifting millions of Malays out of poverty and creating an urban middle class of the ethnic group who account for two-thirds of Malaysia’s 31 million people. But it is also blamed for a racial divide between Malays and minority Chinese and Indians who have long complained about government discrimination.

Many ethnic minorities left Malaysia over the years in search of better opportunities but the vote has revived a sense of nationalism, with social media awash with Malaysians hailing Mahathir as a “hero” and expressing pride in being part of a “reborn Malaysia.”

Anwar, a Malay, told The Associated Press in an interview after his release that the race-based policies should be discarded in favor of a merit program that helps all poor irrespective of race.

Once the election euphoria fades, he said the government has to prove there will be more freedom, good governance and a better life for all Malaysians.

“Conservative forces are still strong,” said Welsh, a Southeast Asia expert and poll observer. “Mahathir has made important steps so far that showcase a reform orientation. Malaysians place a lot of hope in his continued leadership. His harnessing of nationalism is important to overcome more divisive currents.”

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DeVos: Reporting undocumented students is a local decision


WASHINGTON — Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said Tuesday that decisions on whether to report undocumented students to authorities rest with local communities.


DeVos was asked during a congressional hearing whether teachers or principals should notify authorities that a student is undocumented.


“I think it’s a school decision, a local community decision,” she said.


DeVos added, “We have laws and we also are compassionate and I urge this body to do its job and address and clarify where there is confusion around this.”


But Lorella Praeli, director of immigration policy and campaign at the American Civil Liberties Union, disputed that. Praeli said in a statement that a school taking such action would violate the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of education to every child.


“Let’s be clear: Any school that reports a child to ICE would violate the Constitution,” Praeli said, referring to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. “The Supreme Court has made clear that every child in America has a right to be a basic education, regardless of immigration status.”

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Philip Roth, the Seminal American Novelist, Has Died

Philip Roth, the American literary icon whose novel “American Pastoral” won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, in 1998, has died, at the age of eighty-five, according to friends close to him. His great subjects, as Claudia Roth Pierpont wrote in this magazine, in 2006, included “the Jewish family, sex, American ideals, the betrayal of American ideals, political zealotry, personal identity,” and “the human body (usually male) in its strength, its frailty, and its often ridiculous need.”

Roth published his first story in The New Yorker, “The Kind of Person I Am,” in 1958; the following year, another story in the magazine, “Defender of the Faith,” prompted condemnations from rabbis and the Anti-Defamation League. “His sin was simple: he’d had the audacity to write about a Jewish kid as being flawed,” David Remnick wrote in a Profile of Roth, in 2000. “He had violated the tribal code on Jewish self-exposure.” In 1979, in its June 25th and July 2nd issues, The New Yorker published—in its entirety—“The Ghost Writer,” the first of Roth’s novels to be narrated by his fictional alter ego, Nathan Zuckerman. (As Claudia Roth Pierpont wrote, in 2013, Roth’s editor at the magazine, Veronica Geng, was the one to “march into the office of . . . William Shawn, put the manuscript on his desk, and say, ‘We should publish the whole thing.’ ”)

Zuckerman would make subsequent appearances in the magazine, in “Smart Money” (from “Zuckerman Unbound,” 1981) and “Communist” (from “I Married a Communist,” 1998). Over two issues, in 1995, The New Yorker also published excerpts from “Sabbath’s Theater” (“The Ultimatum” and “Drenka’s Men”), for which Roth won his second National Book Award. (The first was for “Goodbye, Columbus,” published in 1959.)

Roth also leaves behind a corpus of essays, criticism, and other artifacts, some of which Adam Gopnik explored in his essay “Philip Roth, Patriot,” last year. For this magazine, Roth wrote once and again about his friend Saul Bellow, exchanged letters with a dismayed Mary McCarthy on his novel “The Counterlife,” posted an open letter to Wikipedia airing objections to its entry on “The Human Stain,” and e-mailed with the staff writer Judith Thurman about how his book “The Plot Against America” foreshadowed the rise of Donald Trump. Just last summer, The New Yorker published Roth’s piece on American identity, and on his love of American place names: “The pleasurable sort of sentiment aroused by the mere mention of Spartanburg, Santa Cruz, or the Nantucket Light, as well as unassuming Skunktown Plain, or Lost Mule Flat, or the titillatingly named Little French Lick.”

David Remnick wrote about Roth’s retirement, in 2012, and, the following year, sent a dispatch from Roth’s eightieth-birthday celebration, in Newark—Roth’s home town and the site of much of his fiction. That night, Roth read a famous passage from “Sabbath’s Theater,” “death-haunted but assertive of life,” Remnick wrote. “The passage ends with his hero putting stones on the graves of the dead. Stones that honor the dead. Stones that are also meant to speak to the dead, to mark the presence of life, as well, if only for a while. The passage ends simply. It ends with the line, ‘Here I am.’ ”

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Trump casts doubt on June summit with Kim

“There’s a very substantial chance that it won’t work out,” Trump said in the Oval Office, where he was sitting for critical talks with his South Korean counterpart. “That doesn’t mean that it won’t work out over a period of time, but it may not work out for June 12.”

It was the clearest indication to date that the audacious summit Trump agreed to in March may be at risk. Last week, North Korea adopted a harsh new tone and threatened to withdraw from the meeting, which is due to occur in Singapore.

Hours after Trump spoke, his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sought to cast a more optimistic view of the talks, appearing for the first time in the State Department briefing room to insist a June 12 meet was still the goal.

“We’re working to make sure that there is a common understanding about the contents of what will be discussed. But I’m optimistic,” Pompeo said. “It could be something that comes right to the end and doesn’t happen. As the President said, we’ll see. And that is the place that we find ourselves.”

Trump also maintained that preparations were “moving along” for the talks with Kim; indeed, advance teams are surveying hotel ballrooms in Singapore as possible venues. But the President suggested there may not be enough time for the two sides to agree on mutually agreeable parameters.

“We’ll see what happens,” Trump said. “If it doesn’t happen, maybe it’ll happen later. Maybe it’ll happen at a different time. But we are talking.”

In his meetings Tuesday with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Trump hoped to gain clarity on North Korea’s nuclear intentions. Moon, meanwhile, was hoping to shore up confidence for the Kim meeting, which he helped to broker.

Some US officials believe Moon oversold Pyongyang’s promises when his government relayed Kim’s invitation to Trump for talks in March. At the time his envoy said North Korea was “committed to denuclearization,” but recent statements from the North have cast doubts on Kim’s willingness to negotiate away his nuclear weapons.

That, in turn, has led to skepticism the summit between Trump and Kim will proceed. White House aides have grown pessimistic in recent days that the talks will occur, and Trump underscored the uncertainty on Tuesday.

He again accused China of meddling in his diplomatic overtures with North Korea, saying Beijing was to blame for the new harsh tone from Pyongyang after Kim met in early May with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

“I think things changed after that meeting and I can’t say I’m happy about it,” Trump said.

But he insisted he believed Kim was earnest in his nuclear vows, and suggested Pyongyang had much to gain from striking a deal.

Fate of Trump-Kim meeting uncertain, but there will always be a coin

“We will guarantee his safety,” he said of Kim. “He will be safe, he will be happy, his country will be rich, his country will be hardworking and very prosperous.”

Moon, who has urged a diplomatic path in the belief it could forestall war, arrived in Washington in a bid to bolster confidence that the Singapore meeting will be a success. He met with Kim himself last month to great fanfare along the Korean Demilitarized Zone, a historic encounter that Trump hopes to replicate in his own talks.

Those plans were complicated last week when North Korea issued a series of harsh statements condemning joint US-South Korea military exercises and threatening to pull out of the Trump summit if the US continues to call for nuclear abandonment.

US officials were prepared to press Moon on the recent shift in tone, hoping to determine whether it is a signal of changing intentions or whether the North is simply trying to test Trump’s willingness to negotiate ahead of the summit.

Ahead of the talks, Moon’s representatives projected a positive message.

“We believe there is a 99.9% chance the North Korea-US summit will be held as scheduled,” Chung Eui-yong, Moon’s national security adviser, told reporters on the flight from Seoul to Washington. “But we’re just preparing for many different possibilities.”

US officials declined to offer their own prospects.

“I’m not a betting man. I wouldn’t care to predict whether it would happen, only to predict that we’ll be ready in the event that it does,” Pompeo said.

Trump and Moon met in the Oval Office at noon before joining a larger working lunch with aides. There was no joint news conference, and Moon spent only two hours at the White House.

Moon heads to US amid fears for Trump-Kim summit

He did meet with some of Trump’s aides earlier in the day, however, as questions about the administration’s approach to the summit continue to mount.

National security adviser John Bolton, who has been outspoken in his hawkish views toward North Korea, drew Pyongyang’s ire when he suggested Trump use a so-called “Libya model” to rid the country of its nuclear weapons. The US brokered a deal with Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi in 2003 to abandon his nuclear weapons, but he was overthrown and killed in 2011.

The Libya suggestion raised eyebrows in Seoul, where Bolton’s comments were deemed unhelpful at best and deeply damaging to the potential for diplomacy at worst. Trump later clarified that he wasn’t pursuing the Libya model in North Korea, but speculated things could end poorly for Kim if he doesn’t agree to a deal.

Pompeo has meanwhile adopted a more diplomatic approach, saying an agreement with Kim to abandon nuclear weapons could lead to economic assistance. Pompeo has met Kim twice in North Korea but didn’t emerge with any specific commitments toward dismantling the nuclear program.

He said Tuesday he was open to returning to meet Kim if it was required to keep the summit with Trump on track.

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Self-styled prophet sentenced in Utah child-rape case

CEDAR CITY, Utah (AP) — A self-styled Utah prophet who secretly married young girls because of his beliefs in polygamy and doomsday was sentenced Tuesday to up to life in prison after pleading guilty to child rape and abuse charges.

Samuel W. Shaffer was charged after police raided a remote desert compound built to house an upstart group called Knights of the Crystal Blade, The Spectrum newspaper in St. George said.

Shaffer, 34, and a friend formed the group based on arcane Mormon ideas long abandoned by the mainstream church and each believed himself to be married to two young girls, prosecutors said.

The four girls were found in December hidden in 50-gallon (190-liter) plastic water barrels and an abandoned trailer near the makeshift compound made of shipping containers about 275 miles (440 kilometers) south of Salt Lake City.

Shaffer said Tuesday he put the girls there to protect them from the winter weather, and he was glad that the girl spoke out.

“I want her to know that everything that’s happening to me is my fault and it’s not her fault. I love her and I respect her. And it’s OK that she talked,” he said.

Judge Matthew Bell said his conduct toward the children was “highly disturbing.”

“Rather than care for and protect them as you claim was your intent, you groomed, endangered and exploited these victims,” Bell said.

Child kidnapping and additional abuse courts against Shaffer were dropped when he pleaded guilty in an agreement that kept the girl from having to testify. Shaffer tried to withdraw from the deal at one point, but a judge denied the attempt.

His attorney Troy Sundquist did not immediately return a call seeking comment Tuesday.

Shaffer also faces child bigamy, child kidnapping and other charges in Sanpete County, where prosecutors say the men conducted secret marriages they thought were ordained by God before they decamped to the compound.

His fellow self-styled prophet, John Coltharp, 34, is also facing child bigamy and other charges there.

Authorities believe the two men each held the title of prophet at different points, Coltharp most recently. His lawyer did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

Each man secretly married two girls, ages 4 through 8, prosecutors have said. Each man married a relative of the other, according to court documents.

Authorities say the two older girls were sexually abused by the two men, but it doesn’t appear the two younger girls were victimized.

The charges were filed after sheriff’s deputies descended on the rural Iron County compound with helicopters and dogs after the mother of two of the girls reported them missing, along with two of her sons. The men had taken the children there months before in preparation for an apocalypse or in hopes of gaining followers, authorities said.

The boys were found in the makeshift compound, but it took police another day to find the girls in the barrels and trailer.

After Shaffer told police where to find them, the children were treated for the effects of cold and symptoms of dehydration, police said.

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Ryan losing grip on House GOP conference as midterms approach

Speaker Paul D. Ryan is losing his grip on the feuding House Republican conference just months before pivotal midterm elections, caught between dueling factions vying for power inside the party and facing scattered calls for his departure ahead of a planned year-end retirement.

The unrest comes in the wake of a humiliating defeat for Ryan and other GOP leaders last week, when conservatives sank a farm bill amid a broader dispute over immigration policy, and threatens to spark months of bitter infighting as Republican lawmakers try to make the case that they should be returned to power in Washington.

But there is no clear way out for the party. Numerous aides and lawmakers said Tuesday there is not a viable alternative to Ryan who can win enough support within the GOP for a clean transition before November — and there is little stomach at the moment for the messy battle that would ensue when Ryan departs.

“Whoever comes in is going to walk right into a buzz saw,” said Rep. David Joyce (R-Ohio), a Ryan supporter. “Who better than Paul, who came in under these circumstances, to continue to calm the waters?”

Ryan’s preferred successor is Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who helped recruit dozens of sitting Republican lawmakers and enjoys a close relationship with President Trump. Two senior Republicans who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe their view said it would be preferable if McCarthy could take the reins immediately and move to assert more control over the party’s legislating and fundraising.

Talk of a leadership change also got an unusual public airing this week when White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said at a Colorado Springs policy conference that he had spoken to McCarthy about the prospect of replacing Ryan before the midterms.

Ryan’s hand has weakened in the legislative realm even as his party sees signs of optimism for November. Some new public polls have shown the Democratic advantage in congressional races eroding, while Republicans have taken heart as more liberal — and, in their view, beatable — candidates have emerged from some key Democratic primaries.

Still, the immigration fracas and Friday’s related farm bill defeat has unleashed raw expressions of frustration from Republicans who are befuddled that they have been unable to stay united while in full control of Congress and the White House.

“Last week, if I saw that stuff shaping up, I’d say, ‘You two, go in a room . . . go figure it out and don’t leave that [expletive] room until you come out with a solution,’” said Rep. Scott W. Taylor (R-Va.), who is in a competitive race for reelection.

He declined to blame Ryan for the infighting and said he was not certain whether electing another leader would get the GOP back on track before November: “I’m totally frustrated, but I’m not sure that’s all on him.”

In the Sunday remarks by Mulvaney, first reported Monday by the Weekly Standard, the former South Carolina congressman suggested that a House speaker vote could serve as a welcome referendum on Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.).

“I’ve talked with Kevin about this privately but not as much publicly,” Mulvaney said. “Wouldn’t it be great to force a Democrat running in a tight race to have to put up or shut up about voting for Nancy Pelosi eight weeks before an election? That’s a really, really good vote for us to force if we can figure out how to do it.”

But all indications are that a speaker vote would be much more divisive for Republicans than for Democrats, who are defending relatively few competitive House seats.

McCarthy faces persistent doubts from the GOP’s hard-right, who want more influence in the party leadership, if not a leadership spot of their own. And they are hardly eager to pave the way for his ascension to the speakership.

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) — the House Freedom Caucus chairman who has frequently fomented drama in the GOP leadership ranks, to the point of sparking the resignation of former speaker John A. Boehner — sought instead Tuesday to tamp it down. “It’s reporter rhetoric,” he said of Ryan’s potential early exit. “It is not based on facts.”

Rep. Warren Davidson (R-Ohio), a Freedom Caucus member, told reporters Tuesday that it was “premature” to have leadership elections when dozens of new Republicans could be elected in November. Many conservatives, in the House and outside it, are promoting Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), a co-founder of the Freedom Caucus, as an alternative to McCarthy.

“I think the real question is, are we going to play offense while we’re on offense?” Davidson said. “We’ve got the ball right now. We’ve got things that we campaigned on and promises broadly we made.”

Lawmakers on the other end of the GOP spectrum are just as skeptical of a pre-election leadership scramble.

“If we have a speaker’s race, then it takes everyone’s eye off the ball of what’s most important, and that is keeping the majority,” said Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), who chairs the centrist Republican Main Street Caucus. “It would be the most short-lived time in the speaker’s chair that anyone could have asked for.”

Inside a closed-door meeting of Republican lawmakers Tuesday, according to attendees, Ryan expressed frustrations with the unraveling of the farm bill and argued that the political winds appeared to finally be blowing in the GOP’s direction. Sticking together, he told the group, is the only way to keep it going — prompting a standing ovation that could be heard in the hallways outside the room.

Afterward, Ryan told reporters that he was focused on passing legislation like the House farm bill, which includes a new policy favored by House conservatives that would require some food stamp recipients to look for work to receive benefits. He also twice noted that he had not sought the speakership, but rather had been drafted to run after Boehner’s resignation.

“Our members realize what we want to do is act on our agenda, improve people’s lives,” Ryan said. “And having a divisive leadership election at this time would prevent us from doing that.”

Multiple Republicans said this week that the only factor that could accelerate Ryan’s departure is intervention from Trump, who is caught between his friendship with McCarthy and conservative allies who want to force a race.

For now, the White House is not convinced that Ryan staying as speaker through the end of this term is a tenable situation, one senior White House official said. But the White House has made a concerted effort to stay out of the race to replace Ryan since he announced his retirement last month, believing there is no upside for Trump to weigh in on the matter.

Mulvaney did not consult the White House before making his remarks over the weekend, the official said. A spokeswoman for Mulvaney called the comments “purely hypothetical” and that he supports Ryan remaining as speaker.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Tuesday that it was up to Ryan and his fellow GOP lawmakers to determine whether he continues and “not something that the White House has weighed into at this point.”

The next front in the internal GOP battle will play out of the coming weeks as the immigration issue comes to a head. Twenty Republicans have signed a “discharge” petition to force a debate, which could come as soon as June 25, on a series of immigration bills — including some bills that Democrats support and conservatives hate. Its backers, which include Republicans in Democratic-friendly districts, said Tuesday that they expect to have enough signers by the end of the week.

To sidestep that possibility, top GOP leaders said this week that they plan to bring up immigration bills the week beforehand, but there are widespread doubts that they will be able to craft a bill that could pass the House with a majority of Republicans supporting it.

“I have not seen a bill at this point that can magically bring everybody together,” said Davis, who has been involved in meetings on the issue with Meadows and the leaders of other GOP factions.

Jordan, meanwhile, said “a little friendly persuasion” from Ryan and other leaders could produce a passable bill.

Several Republican lawmakers said Tuesday that there would be no discernible difference if McCarthy were in charge rather than Ryan and instead wished that the party could focus on passing more substantial bills into law before the midterms.

“We just want results,” said Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.), a veteran lawmaker who is retiring. “There is almost no scenario where we’re going to be in better shape next year — probably going to lose some seats in the House, maybe gain a Senate seat or two, maybe not. If we really want to accomplish things, there is no better time than right now.”

Paul Kane and Seung Min Kim contributed to this report.

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North Korea allows South Korea reporters to visit nuclear site, official says

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea has accepted a list of South Korean reporters to visit their nuclear testing site after a days-long tug of war with Seoul, South Korea’s unification ministry said on Wednesday.

A man walks past a TV broadcasting a news report on the upcoming dismantling of the Punggye-ri nuclear testing site, in Seoul, South Korea, May 23, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

North Korea invited a handful of media from a number of countries to witness the dismantling of the Punggye-ri testing site to uphold its pledge to discontinue nuclear tests. However, it had declined to take the list of reporters from South Korea after calling off planned inter-Korean talks in protest against U.S.-South Korean air combat drills.

The invitation to witness the dismantling of the Punggye-ri site was seen as an indication that North Korea’s unexpected offer to end its nuclear tests still held despite renewed diplomatic uncertainty.

People watch a TV broadcasting a news report on the upcoming dismantling of the Punggye-ri nuclear testing site, in Seoul, South Korea, May 23, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

Reporters from news outlets from the other countries arrived in the North Korean port city of Wonsan on Tuesday, where they are waiting to be guided to the testing site for the event, set for between Wednesday and Friday.

Slideshow (3 Images)

However, South Korean journalists returned home overnight after failing to obtain a visa from Pyongyang in Beijing.

The unification ministry said late on Tuesday the South Korean reporters could fly direct to Wonsan if the North accepted them.

“We delivered a list of eight reporters from two outlets to the North today, and the North accepted it,” the ministry said in a statement on Wednesday.

The ministry did not say when the reporters would leave for the North but said it would arrange support as quickly as possible.

Invited members of foreign media said North Korean authorities told them the weather was “too bad for travel” to the Punggye-ri site but they may in fact be awaiting the South Korean reporters, citing a forecast that shows improving weather.

Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Additional reporting by Joori Roh; Editing by Richard Pullin and Paul Tait

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Open statewide seats, House challenges down Georgia ballot

In addition to closely watched primary races for governor, Georgia voters Tuesday found plenty of contests further down the ballot that ultimately will shape the fall general elections.

Open seats for lieutenant governor, secretary of state and insurance commissioner resulted in competitive primary races for both Republicans and Democrats. Meanwhile, Georgia’s GOP state school superintendent was battling for re-election against an old political foe.

Four GOP congressmen from Georgia overcame primary opposition from fellow Republicans, while one Democratic House incumbent also faced a challenger.

Here’s a look at the key down-ballot races in Georgia:

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FILLING VACANCIES

A number of Republicans and Democrats were running for open statewide seats being vacated by Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Secretary of State Brian Kemp so they could run for governor.

The open race for lieutenant governor drew three Republicans: state Sen. David Shafer of Duluth; former state Sen. Rick Jeffares of Locust Grove and former state Rep. Geoff Duncan of Cumming. Democrat Sarah Riggs Amico, a Marietta businesswoman, defeated Triana Arnold James of Marietta.

Primary races for secretary of state drew four GOP contenders: former Alpharetta mayor David Belle Isle, state Rep. Buzz Brockway of Lawrenceville, state Sen. Josh McKoon of Columbus, and state Rep. Brad Raffensperger of Johns Creek. Former U.S. Rep. John Barrow of Athens won the Democratic nomination by defeating two primary rivals — former state Rep. Dee Dawkins-Haigler of Lithonia and former Rockdale County tax commissioner R.J. Hadley of Conyers.

Republican Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens opted against seeking re-election, leaving another vacancy to fill. Jim Beck of Carrollton, Hudgens’ former chief of staff and a lobbyist, defeated two fellow Republicans in the GOP primary. Jay Florence of Norcross, Hudgens’ former top deputy, lost the GOP race despite being endorsed by his former boss. Atlanta insurance agent Janice Laws won the Democratic primary.

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SCHOOL CHIEF SHOWDOWN

State School Superintendent Richard Woods successfully defended his job in a Republican primary race against the man who gave up the office four years ago.

John Barge stepped aside as Georgia’s school chief in 2014 to unsuccessfully challenge Gov. Nathan Deal’s re-election. Barge ran a failed attempt Tuesday to win back his old office after serving as the local school superintendent in coastal McIntosh County.

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HOUSE INFIGHTING

Ahead of the fall election battle for control of the U.S. House, four of Georgia’s incumbent Republican congressmen had to defeat challengers from within the GOP. One of the state’s Democratic House members had opposition as well.

Seeking his first re-election in west Georgia’s 3rd District, freshman Rep. Drew Ferguson of West Point defeated fellow Republican Philip Singleton of Sharpsburg, a former Army helicopter pilot. Rep. Rob Woodall of Lawrenceville beat Marine Corps veteran Shane Hazel of Cumming in the GOP primary for the 7th District in metro Atlanta.

In eastern Georgia’s 10th District, Republican Rep. Jody Hice of Monroe easily fended off two GOP businessmen — former Army Ranger Bradley Griffin of Newborn and Joe Hunt of Watkinsville, a vice president for the fast-food chain Zaxby’s.

Rep. Rick Allen of Augusta overcame fellow Republican Eugene Yu of Evans in eastern Georgia’s 12th District. Yu is a former military police officer and sheriff’s deputy who made his third unsuccessful attempt for the seat.

Democratic Rep. Hank Johnson of Lithonia faced Juan Parks in metro Atlanta’s 4th District. Parks of Lithonia is a Marine Corps veteran who now works as a JROTC high school instructor.

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TARGET: HANDEL

Four Democrats were seeking a shot at a fall challenge to Georgia’s newest member of Congress.

Republican Rep. Karen Handel won the most expensive U.S. House race in history not quite a year ago. Her chief opponent, Democrat Jon Ossoff, proved a surprise threat in a 2017 special election for a district long considered safe for the GOP. But Ossoff passed on a rematch in suburban Atlanta’s 6th District this year, when Handle must seek re-election.

Bobby Kaple of Alpharetta, a former Atlanta TV news anchor, quit his job to run as a Democrat. Another Democratic contender, Lucy McBath of Marietta, is a gun control activist whose teenage son was fatally shot in Florida in 2012.

The Democratic primary race also included businessman Kevin Abel of Sandy Springs and Steven Knight Griffin of Atlanta, a former policy worker at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Handel of Roswell ran unopposed in the GOP primary.

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PSC CHALLENGE

The newest member of the state commission that regulates Georgia utilities faced a primary challenge by a fellow Republican.

Tricia Pridemore of Marietta was appointed by the governor to fill a vacant seat on the Public Service Commission in February. Her GOP primary opponent for the District 5 PSC seat was John Hitchins III, who describes himself as a conservationist and a solar advocate.

The district covers portions of western Georgia, but all PSC members are elected statewide.

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Former Trump campaign co-chair describes meeting with alleged FBI informant

A former Trump campaign co-chairman shared details to Fox News on Tuesday night about a meeting he had with an individual who he now believes was an FBI informant.

Sam Clovis spoke out to “Tucker Carlson Tonight” amid reports the alleged FBI informant was in touch with members of the Trump campaign team during the 2016 presidential election.

Clovis told Carlson that prior to the meeting on Sept. 1, 2016, the alleged informant emailed him asking for a sit-down to discuss foreign policy and to share some writings which might help the campaign.

The meeting in Washington D.C. lasted about an hour and the pair discussed the individual’s research “and it mostly was focused on China,” Clovis said.

WEB OF INFORMANT CONTACTS WITH TRUMP CAMPAIGN EXPANDS, FUELING GOP PRESSURE ON FBI

Weeks later, Clovis told Carlson, he received an email from the alleged informant that contained “several attachments.”

“And I can be honest with you, Tucker, I haven’t even opened those attachments to this day,” Clovis said. “I have no idea what was in them but they were mostly titled, ‘papers that dealt with China.’”

Clovis said he did not know the individual before getting the initial email. He said the alleged informant claimed to know Carter Page, who also was part of Trump’s campaign team.

It wasn’t until recent reporting that Clovis said he “started to put two and two together.” 

“And then it started to make sense to me,” Clovis said, that the individual may have been “probing to find a weak spot in our campaign.”

ANOTHER ‘INFORMANT’ ATTEMPTED TO INFILTRATE TRUMP CAMPAIGN UNDER OBAMA, CAMPAIGN AIDE SAYS

“Someone who might be vulnerable to connecting things back to those elusive 30,000 emails that supposedly the Russians had,” Clovis said, adding that he thought the alleged informant’s task was “to create an audit trail back to those emails from someone in the campaign or someone associated with the campaign so that they could develop a stronger case for probable cause to continue to issue warrants and to further an investigation.”

“Because I really felt after hearing all of these other things and listening to the reports that I’ve read, that this truly was an effort to build something that did not exist,” Clovis said.

When Carlson asked Clovis why he never read the email attachments, he replied that he “was busy” and because he “didn’t think that they were going to contribute anything.”

He continued, “I’ve gone back and reviewed all my emails. I didn’t report that meeting to anyone in the campaign so the meeting was of no consequence to me as far as anything I can remember. And I’ve looked through all of my personal emails and everything, and I can’t find a record of it at all.”

TRUMP MEETS WITH ROSENSTEIN, WRAY AMID CAMPAIGN SPYING CLAIMS

Fox News reported earlier Tuesday that the alleged informant spoke with Clovis, in addition to Carter Page and foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulous.

A source told Fox News’ John Roberts that Clovis met with the alleged informant, whom he knew to be a professor, and had a conversation related to China. The source told Fox News that Russia did not come up.

The source told Fox News that Clovis received a follow-up email from the individual in the months before the election with research material on China, and another email on the day after the election congratulating the campaign.

Fox News’ Brooke Singman and John Roberts contributed to this report.

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