POLSKA УКРАЇНА - My - Polacy, ale żyjemy w Ukrainie

Republican, Democratic Lawmakers Call on USAGM to Release $20M for Censorship-Evading Tech

A group of Republican and Democratic lawmakers is pressing the Trump administration to release $20 million in congressionally approved funds aimed at promoting internet access throughout the world, especially in authoritarian countries such as China and Iran.  Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement, “The Open Technology Fund provides a lifeline for people living under oppressive regimes.” He added, “Unfortunately, this critical programming is on the brink of collapse.”  Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, a Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called the funding hold “a gift to repressive governments in China, Iran and elsewhere,” according to the Washington Post.   Lawmakers spoke out after Laura Cunningham, the acting chief executive of the Washington-based Open Technology Fund, accused USAGM and its leader, Michael Pack, of forcing the OTF to halt 49 of its 60 internet freedom projects that assist human rights and pro-democracy advocates in about 200 countries, because of the funding lapse.   USAGM responded to Cunningham’s letter in a statement to VOA that did not say whether the agency plans to release the funds but said “advancing internet freedom and protecting the safety of journalists and activists are among USAGM’s highest priorities.” The statement also accused OTF of unspecified security failures that jeopardize its mission and the security of people working to advance internet freedom.  The Open Technology Fund is one of several government-funded global media entities, including Voice of America, overseen by Pack as chief executive of USAGM. He assumed control of USAGM in June after a protracted fight in Congress over his appointment by President Donald Trump.   USAGM announced last month that the agency is FILE – Michael Pack, President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the U.S. Agency for Global Media, is seen at his confirmation hearing, on Capitol Hill, in Washington, Sept. 19, 2019. Pack’s nomination was confirmed June 4, 2020.When he took over USAGM, Pack fired several heads of the government-funded media entities. But a federal appellate court in Washington recently blocked him from dismissing the board and officials at the Open Technology Fund, saying it believed the officials would eventually win their case contesting Pack’s ability to oust them.     In her letter, Cunningham said, “This arbitrary and unnecessary delay in funding has now compromised the work of our projects and jeopardized the lives of millions of users who rely on our technologies worldwide.     “This funding delay is needlessly undermining USAGM’s reach and impact abroad,” she said. “According to USAGM’s own analytics, 85% of USAGM’s audience in Iran and 40% of USAGM’s audience in China rely on OTF-supported technologies to access USAGM content.  “Most troubling is that these actions will directly strengthen the hands of internet freedom adversaries, like the Chinese and Iranian governments, who are actively working to undermine freedom and democracy around the world,” Cunningham said.   She asked Pack to release the funding “so that we can resume the truly critical work of countering repressive censorship and surveillance abroad.”  

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White House Extends Funding for National Guard Coronavirus Deployments

U.S. President Donald Trump has extended federal government funding for National Guard troops to assist individual states with their coronavirus responses.In a series of memos Monday night, the White House said the funding will now extend through the end of the year.However, the federal government will only be covering 75 percent of the costs once the existing authorization that had provided 100 percent funding expires on August 21.Two states will still get 100 percent funding – Florida and Texas.  The two states are among those that have been hardest hit as cases surged across the nation beginning in June.Governors had pushed the White House to extend the funding for the troops, who have been put to work at testing, medical and food distribution sites.

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The Eye of Hurricane Isaias Moving Inland in North Carolina

Hurricane Isaias is continuing to make landfall in southeastern North Carolina. The National Hurricane Center’s website said, radar and surface views showed the eye of Isaias first moved inland near Ocean Isle Beach, with maximum sustained winds of 85 mph (140 km/h) just after 11pm EDT. Less than an hour later, a weather station on Johnny Mercer Pier at Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, measured sustained winds of 62 mph (100 km/h).  Heavy rain and coastal storm surge flooding is expected.   Forecasters said parts of Eastern South Carolina and Eastern North Carolina can expect rainfall amounts of 7 to 15 centimeters (3 to 6 inches).  Isaias is expected to move quickly through the mid-Atlantic and Northeast on Tuesday and Tuesday night affecting the states of Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York Pennsylvania, Washington, D.C. and New England.   Tropical storm warnings are in effect from the Virginia border north to Maine, in the upper northeast. President Donald Trump declared a state of emergency in North Carolina to free up funds for federal officials to help towns and cities coordinate disaster relief efforts.  Trump made a similar declaration Saturday for Florida, which was spared the full impact of the storm.  

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Trump Moves to Limit Foreign Workers in Federal Agencies

U.S. President Donald Trump signed an order Monday requiring federal agencies to prove they are not replacing qualified American workers with people from other countries.The White House said the executive order would help prevent federal agencies from “unfairly replacing American workers with low-cost foreign labor.”The order requires all federal agencies to complete an internal audit to show whether they are hiring U.S. citizens and nationals for competitive service positions.Trump said his move was partly prompted by the announcement of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) that it intended to outsource 20% of its technology jobs to companies based in foreign countries, using H-1B visas.The executive order also comes as some foreign journalists at Voice of America await a ruling on whether their J-1 visas will be renewed following an agencywide review of such visas.This photo illustration shows a visa stamp on a foreign passport in Los Angeles on June 6, 2020.Trump told reporters Monday that he had fired the chair of the TVA, Skip Thompson, because he was hiring foreign workers and getting paid too much.He also threatened to remove other federally appointed board members if they keep hiring foreign labor.“If you betray American workers, you will hear two words: ‘You’re fired,’” he said.The TVA is a federally owned corporation created in 1933 to provide flood control, electricity generation and economic development to the Tennessee Valley, a region that was hard hit by the Great Depression.The visa review at the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), which oversees VOA, is part of the changes implemented since Michael Pack took up his appointment as chief executive officer.The VOA has 62 contractors and 14 full-time foreign employees who are in the United States on J-1 visas, an entry permit for individuals with unique skills, such as the command of multiple languages.Asked by VOA how Trump’s new executive order would impact the news organization’s J-1 visas, the White House only provided a link to a federal government The U.S. Agency for Global Media logo at Voice of America, in Washington, D.C., Nov. 22, 2019. (VOA)An unknown number of journalists at the other USAGM networks, which include Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia, the Office of Cuba Broadcasting and Middle East Broadcasting Networks, are also affected by the visa review.New entries on J-1 visas are among several categories of visas that were temporarily banned by the Trump administration in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The administration has argued that foreign workers should not take jobs away from U.S. citizens during the economic downturn.

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Spain’s Former King Leaving Country Amid Financial Scandal

Spain’s former monarch, Juan Carlos I, is leaving Spain to live in another, unspecified, country amid a financial scandal, according to a letter published Monday on the royal family’s website. The letter from Juan Carlos to his son, King Felipe VI, said: “I am informing you of my considered decision to move, during this period, out of Spain.” Juan Carlos, in the letter, said he made the decision against the backdrop of “public repercussions of certain episodes of my past private life.” He said he wanted to ensure he doesn’t make his son’s role difficult, adding that “my legacy, and my own dignity, demand that it should be so.” Juan Carlos’ current whereabouts were not known. Spain’s prime minister recently said he found the developments about Juan Carlos – including investigations in Spain and Switzerland – “disturbing.” FILE – Former Spain’s King Juan Carlos sits in a car as he leaves Quiron Hospital one week after a heart surgery in Madrid, Spain, August 31, 2019 in this still image taken from a video obtained by Reuters.Since Spain’s Supreme Court opened its probe earlier this year, Spanish media outlets have published damaging testimony from a separate Swiss investigation into millions of euros (dollars) that were allegedly given to Juan Carlos by Saudi Arabia’s late King Abdullah.  Juan Carlos allegedly then transferred a large amount to a former companion in what investigators are considering as a possible attempt to hide the money from authorities. The companion, Corinna Larsen, is a Danish-German businesswoman long linked by Spanish media to the former king. Spanish prosecutors have asked her to provide testimony in the case in September in Madrid. The 82-year-old former king is credited with helping Spain peacefully restore democracy after the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975.  But marred by scandals in the later years of his reign, Juan Carlos in 2014 abdicated in favor of his son Felipe VI, losing the immunity from prosecution Spain’s Constitution grants to the head of state. After media reports claimed Felipe was a beneficiary of an offshore account holding an alleged 65 million-euro ( $76 million) gift from Saudi Arabia to Juan Carlos, Felipe renounced any future personal inheritance he might receive from the former king. Felipe also stripped his father of his annual stipend of 194,232 euros ($228,000). FILE – Spain’s King Felipe, Queen Letizia, Princess Leonor and Infanta Sofia arrive to a state tribute in memory of Spain’s COVID-19 victims at Royal Palace in Madrid, Spain, July 16, 2020.The royal house has denied that Felipe had any knowledge of his father’s alleged financial irregularities. The royal website said in a statement that Felipe respected his father’s decision. Felipe acknowledged the historic importance of his father’s reign, the statement said, but also “reaffirmed the principles and values on which it stood, in the framework of our Constitution and the rest of our legal system.” A statement from Spain’s general prosecutor’s office in June said it was investigating whether Juan Carlos received millions of dollars in kickbacks from Saudi Arabia during the construction of a high-speed railway there by a Spanish consortium.  It called the probe one of “undeniable technical complexity.” The Supreme Court investigation centers on developments after mid-2014. That covers the second phase of the 2011 contract for the bullet train between the Saudi cities of Medina and Mecca — the so-called “AVE of the desert” in reference to the acronym for high-speed trains in Spain. The date marks the moment when Juan Carlos, struggling amid several scandals, passed on the throne to his son after holding it for nearly four decades. Though Juan Carlos’ finances have been questioned in Spanish media for years, there have so far been no legal implications for him. Spanish lawmakers have rejected at least two proposals since the first allegations emerged to open parliamentary investigations. The decision to leave Spain means Juan Carlos will vacate the 17th-century Zarzuela palace in Madrid, his home for more than 50 years. He moved there after marrying the former queen, Sofia, in 1963. “I think he didn’t have any other choice than to leave,” said Carmen Torras, a 66-year-old Barcelona resident. “I hope justice can follow its course.” In Madrid, Nadia Rodriguez, 33, welcomed the former king’s decision. “It’s better that he just goes,” said Rodriguez, a sports teacher. “The truth is that he hasn’t been giving a very good image of Spain.” 

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New Bridge Set to Open in Genoa, Italy, 2 Years After Collapse That Killed 43

With a rainbow as a backdrop, Italy’s president inaugurated a replacement bridge Monday in Genoa, but families of those killed when the Morandi Bridge collapsed boycotted the ceremony along with the firefighters who pulled many of the 43 dead from smashed cars and trucks.  Two years ago this month, a stretch of the Morandi Bridge suddenly gave way in a violent rainstorm, sending vehicles plunging to the dry riverbed below. The new structure — a key artery for the northwestern Italian port city — was erected thanks to round-the-clock construction, even during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Rain drenched the new bridge, stopping just before the ceremony, which started with a recitation of the names of those who died. Renowned architect Renzo Piano designed the bridge to evoke a ship’s bow, to honor his native city’s proud maritime history. The span has 43 lamps in memory of the collapse victims.Traffic will start crossing San Giorgio Bridge, named after St. George, popular in Genoa, on Wednesday. “We are suspended between grief” over the tragedy and “pride for the construction of the new bridge,” Piano told his fellow Genoese in a speech. Renzo Piano walks along the new San Giorgio Bridge in Genoa, Italy, August 3, 2020.The families of the dead are upset that the company that maintained Morandi Bridge will still run the new structure for a while more — even though poor maintenance is being investigated as a possible cause of the collapse. “No one can give us back our dead,” Egle Possetti, who leads an association of the bridge victims’ families, told Italian news channel Sky TG24. Possetti, who lost a sister and other family members in the collapse, said she hoped attention would stay focused on the ongoing criminal investigation into the collapse. Speaking before the ceremony with relatives of the people killed in the collapse, President Sergio Mattarella said he agreed with their decision to meet with him privately and not during the ceremony on the bridge.  The replacement bridge doesn’t cancel out what happened in Genoa, Mattarella said.  “On the contrary, I see it, in good part, as a kind of memorial stone that recalls the victims,” he said.The president added that he shared the families’ quest for justice. “Responsibility isn’t generic. It always has a first name and surname,” Mattarella said, calling for “severe, precise, rigorous action to ascertain responsibility.”FILE – A general view of the collapsed Morandi Bridge in the port city of Genoa, Italy, February 7, 2019.During the ceremony, Mayor Marco Bucci had words for those who lost loved ones in the collapse. “This must never happen again,” the mayor said. Nine Italian air force jets flew in formation over the bridge, trailing smoke in the red, white and green colors of the country’s flag.  Firefighters who extracted survivors and bodies from tons of twisted metal two years ago also boycotted the ceremony in solidarity with the families, Sky TG24 reported.  Prosecutors are probing what caused Morandi Bridge to collapse on August 14, 2018, on the eve of Italy’s biggest summer holiday. Riccardo Morandi, the engineer who designed the bridge built in the 1960s, had recommended continual maintenance to remove rust, especially from the corrosive effect of sea air in the Mediterranean port city, and pollution’s toll on concrete.  Prosecutors have said they are investigating to see whether proper maintenance was consistently carried out over the years on the heavily used span. Earlier this summer, the Italian government forged a deal in which the Benetton fashion family agreed to exit Autostrade per l’Italia, the company that manages and maintains many of Italy’s highways and bridges. Its highway concession had included Morandi Bridge. But that exit will take some time, as Autostrade becomes a public company under the deal and pays 3.4 billion euros ($4 billion) in compensation.   

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Isaias Regains Hurricane Strength Just Before Landfall in Carolinas

Isaias strengthened into a Category 1 hurricane hours before it is expected to make landfall along the coast of the Carolinas.  The U.S. National Hurricane Center issued a hurricane warning from South Santee River, South Carolina, to Surf City, North Carolina. The storm’s maximum sustained winds reached 121 kph (75 mph) Monday evening and was centered about 100 kilometers (60 miles) south of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Workers stack sandbags around a hydro-dam as they prepare for Tropical Storm Isaias in the lower Manhattan area of New York City, Aug 3, 2020.North of the expected landfall area, tropical storm warnings were in effect as far away as Long Island, New York and the Merrimack River in New Hampshire. Forecasters said the Carolinas and other states in the region can expect rainfall amounts of 7 to 15 centimeters (3 to 6 inches). Winds along the coast of the Carolinas are expected to exceed 60 kph (37 mph) in some places. The storm is also expected to bring a storm surge of up to 1.5 meters (5 feet) in portions of North and South Carolina. The mayor of Charleston, South Carolina, John Tecklenburg, said city offices would close early Monday but said he did not think there was a need to issue a curfew.  President Donald Trump declared a state of emergency in North Carolina ahead of the storm’s arrival there to free up funds for federal officials to help towns and cities coordinate disaster relief efforts. Trump made a similar declaration Saturday for Florida. 
 

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