Trump Tweets, Golfs Amid Hurricane Preparations

After canceling a trip to Poland to stay stateside to oversee the federal government’s response to an approaching hurricane, President Donald Trump took time out to golf and to send a thinly veiled warning to his ousted Oval Office gatekeeper.

The president, on Saturday morning, was flown on Marine One from Camp David in Maryland to his Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Virginia.
 
Camp David has a driving range and a single golf hole with multiple tees, but the president, keeping to his weekend routine when the weather is fair, chose to head to the nearest of his private 18-hole courses.

Before departing the presidential retreat, which he rarely has used, Trump dispatched a blizzard of tweets – at a rate of nearly one per minute over an hour – on his personal @realDonaldTrump account.

Some of his tweets referenced Hurricane Dorian, a Category 4 storm poised to damage the southeastern U.S. coast, with Trump noting it could pose more of a threat to South Carolina and Georgia than the original forecast of landfall in Florida.

Looking like our great South Carolina could get hit MUCH harder than first thought. Georgia and North Carolina also. It’s moving around and very hard to predict, except that it is one of the biggest and strongest (and really wide) that we have seen in decades. Be safe!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 31, 2019

“He’s being briefed every hour” about the hurricane, according to White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham.

Amid continuing questions about why Trump postponed his trip to Poland for a hurricane that is not expected to hit any of the United States until after the time the president would have returned from Europe, Grisham said, “Obviously, being here domestically is better. … We’re more nimble and all his agencies are here.” 

After time at his golf course, Trump was to receive another briefing, back at Camp David, about the hurricane.

On Sunday, Trump is scheduled to return to the White House and then visit the headquarters of the Federal Emergency Management Agency in downtown Washington.

FILE – President Donald Trump’s personal secretary Madeleine Westerhout stands outside the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, April 2, 2018.

A pair of Saturday tweets by Trump focused on the abrupt departure of Oval Office gatekeeper Madeleine Westerhout, who had dished gossip to a group of reporters during an off-the-record dinner and drinking session about the president’s eating habits. She also disparaged daughter Tiffany Trump, claiming the president does not like being photographed with her because he thinks she is overweight.

Book publishers reportedly have been seeking to contact Westerhout after she was not permitted to return on Friday to her job as a personal assistant to the president.

Trump, on Twitter, said Westerhout had signed a confidentially agreement, but “I don’t think there would ever be reason to use it. She called me yesterday to apologize, had a bad night. I fully understood and forgave her! I love Tiffany, doing great!”

While Madeleine Westerhout has a fully enforceable confidentiality agreement, she is a very good person and I don’t think there would ever be reason to use it. She called me yesterday to apologize, had a bad night. I fully understood and forgave her! I love Tiffany, doing great!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 31, 2019

In a subsequent tweet, the president claimed he is “currently suing several people for violating their confidentiality agreements,” including former White House aide Omarosa Manigault Newman, who was fired after one year as the communications director in the White House Office of Public Liaison.

…Yes, I am currently suing various people for violating their confidentiality agreements. Disgusting and foul mouthed Omarosa is one. I gave her every break, despite the fact that she was despised by everyone, and she went for some cheap money from a book. Numerous others also!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 31, 2019

A number of former federal lawyers and private attorneys rebutted Trump on Twitter, asserting that the non-disclosure agreements are not legally enforceable unless classified information is revealed.

Trump himself is facing some criticism about revealing sensitive U.S. government information after he tweeted on Friday a detailed photograph of a launchpad explosion of an Iranian rocket that was set to put a satellite into space.  

Analysts say the public release of an image with such resolution is unprecedented and was probably taken by a KH-11 American spy satellite known as USA-224.

“We had a photo and I released it, which I have the absolute right to do,” Trump told reporters on Friday.

U.S. presidents are able to declassify information at their discretion – the most prominent example being John Kennedy’s decision in 1962 to make public pictures taken by a U-2 spy plane that revealed Soviets troops were placing missiles in Cuba aimed at the United States.

 

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9 FARC Rebels Killed in Raid by Colombian Military

The Colombian military has killed nine rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces in Colombia (FARC), President Ivan Duque said.

A FARC commander and eight other guerrillas were killed in a bombing raid in southern Colombia on Friday, just days after the group announced it was taking up arms again to ensure their political rights under an historic peace agreement.

Duque said the attack occurred in the municipality of San Vicente del Caguan, located in the province of Caqueta, after he authorized a military operation in rural areas in the southern part of the country.

Duque said Friday’s bombing sends “a clear message” to FARC members to lay down their weapons.

Among those killed was a rebel known by his alias, Gildardo Cucho, a member of a group led by former FARC chief negotiator Luciano Marin, who was trying to recruit potential rebels for a new guerrilla movement.

On Thursday, former FARC commander Ivan Marquez announced in a video that a new offensive would be launched, three years after FARC signed a peace deal with the government, ending five decades of armed conflict in the South American country.

“This is the continuation of the rebel fight in answer to the betrayal of the state,” Marquez, in a 32-minute YouTube video. “We were never beaten or defeated ideologically, so the struggle continues.”

Marquez, a former chief rebel negotiator, appeared alongside some 20 heavily armed guerrillas when he made the announcement, which comes amid severe challenges to the complex peace agreement.

In response to the FARC announcement, Duque said “Colombia takes no threats. Not of any nature.”

Colombia’s peace tribunal also has issued arrest warrants for Marquez and the others who have pledged to take up the insurgency again.

President Duque is offering an $863,000 reward for information leading to the capture of anyone who appeared in the YouTube video, according to Reuters.

Hundreds of former rebels and human rights activists have been murdered since the accord was signed.  That, coupled with delays in funding for economic efforts by former rebels — has exacerbated deep political divisions within the country.

Marquez said the group’s objective is to ensure the installation of a government that will promote peace. Marquez said the group will fight corruption and fracking (the hydraulic fracturing crude oil extraction process) and demand payments from participants in illicit economies and from multinational corporations.

About 7,000 rebels surrendered their weapons to United Nations observers as part of the agreement that was negotiated with the support of the United States, Cuba and Norway. But smaller rebel groups and drug traffickers have filled the void, leaving many citizens frustrated with the slow pace of implementing the agreement.

Security sources estimate the force commanded by Marquez could number 2,200 fighters.

 

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Thousands March in Moscow Protest Defying Authorities

Current Time TV is a Russian-language network led by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA.

MOSCOW — Thousands of Russians defied authorities and marched in central Moscow, ignoring officials’ warnings and pressing demands to let independent candidates run in upcoming city council elections.

Police did not interfere with the August 31 protest, which was markedly smaller than previous ones.

However, camouflaged officers linked arms to keep marchers out of the road when demonstrators arrived at Pushkin Square — a symbolically important public park closer to the Kremlin. A heavy presence of detention buses and water-cannon trucks were visible on nearby side streets.

Neither police nor independent watchdogs reported any arrests or detentions from the action — in contrast to other recent protests in which thousands were detained, sometimes violently.

The August 31 action was the latest in a series of confrontations between liberal activists, and Moscow city authorities — and the Kremlin.

Demonstrators clapped and chanted “Russia Will Be Free!” and “Down With The Tsar!” (in a reference to President Vladimir Putin, who has been in power in Russia for two decades), as they walked along a leafy boulevard just a few kilometers north of the Kremlin.

A leading opposition figure and one of the organizers of the march, Lyubov Sobol, led people chanting “Freedom For Political Prisoners.”

“People of different ages have come out because everyone wants justice. They want Russia to be free and happy and to not drown in lawlessness and mayhem. We demand this and we will not back down,” she told reporters.

At Pushkin Square, the ending point for the march, participants milled around, occasionally yelling political chants. One group entered the crowd carrying a large banner citing the clause in the constitution that gives Russians the right to gather peacefully, and yelled “We Need Another Russia!”

Unofficial estimates put the crowd size in the low thousands.

Protesters also yelled “Let Them Through!” as they marched — a reference to the City Duma elections scheduled for Sept. 8.

The refusal by election officials to register some independent candidates has been the impetus for the protests that have been held weekly since mid-July.

However, they’ve also turned into a major challenge for the Kremlin and a reflection of growing impatience among Russians with President Vladimir Putin.

The weekly protests first erupted in July as election authorities blocked some independent candidates from registering to run on September 8.

The initial rallies drew tens of thousands of people in some of the largest political demonstrations seen in the country since 2012. Some, though not all, were authorized by officials ahead of time.

Police have violently dispersed several of the earlier demonstrations, some of which authorities described as “illegal mass gatherings.” More than 2,000 people have been detained, some preemptively, drawing international condemnation.

 

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Taiwan’s Tsai Expresses Thanks over Approval of F-16V Sale

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen thanked the United States on Tuesdsay for approving the sale of 66 advanced F-16V fighter jets and urged rival China to respect Taiwan’s right to defend itself.
 
President Donald Trump announced approval of the $8 billion deal on Sunday. The sale is expected to further inflame U.S. relations with China, which claims Taiwan as its own territory to be annexed by force if necessary.

Tsai on Tuesday also applauded previous arm sales already announced by Trump’s administration, saying those reaffirmed the United States’ “long-standing commitment to helping maintain peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.”

Trump’s announcement begins a period of consultation with Congress, and a formal announcement of the sale could be made as early as next month unless lawmakers object. The State Department, which would ultimately authorize the sale, declined to comment, but members of Congress from both parties welcomed the proposal.

China fiercely opposes all arms sales to Taiwan but has specifically objected to advanced fighter jets such as the F-16V, whose Active Electronically Scanned Array, or AESA, radar is compatible with the F-35 stealth fighters operated by the U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marines. The U.S. is also installing upgraded electronics, including AESA radars, on Taiwan’s existing fleet of 144 older F-16s.
 
While the U.S. cut formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan in 1979 in order to recognize Beijing, U.S. law requires Washington to ensure Taiwan has the means to defend itself.

Since 2008, U.S. administrations have notified Congress of more than $24 billion in foreign military sales to Taiwan, including in the past two months the sale of 108 M1A2 Abrams tanks and 250 Stinger missiles, valued at $2.2 billion. The Trump administration alone has notified Congress of $4.4 billion in arms sales to Taiwan.

Tsai has rejected Chinese pressure to unite Taiwan and China under a “one-country, two-systems” framework and soon after her 2016 inauguration, Beijing cut contacts with her government over her refusal to endorse its claim that Taiwan is part of China.
 
Beijing has sought to increase Taiwan’s international isolation by reducing its diplomatic allies to just 17 and stepped up military intimidation, including by holding military exercises across the Taiwan Strait and circling the island with bombers and fighters in what are officially termed training missions.

On Monday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Beijing had made solemn complaints'' to the U.S. over the planned F-16V sale. Geng called on Washington tofully recognize the serious dangers of the arms sale to Taiwan” and cancel it immediately or bear the consequences.

 “China will take necessary measures to safeguard its own interests according to the development of the situation,” Geng said.

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Lufthansa Boss Sees Only ‘Dozen’ Long-Haul Airlines in Future

Only a dozen airlines will eventually share the aviation market for major international routes, predicts Lufthansa’s CEO, while a possible future economic crisis could “accelerate” a consolidation in air travel.

“The sector is evolving towards a dozen companies operating worldwide” on major international routes, in addition to smaller national or regional airlines, Lufthansa boss Carsten Spohr told reporters late Monday.

Without naming them, Spohr forecast there would be “three in the United States, three in China, three in the Gulf and three in Europe”.

The Lufthansa chief executive warned that any future economic crisis could hit European airlines particularly hard, but predicted a downturn could “accelerate” mergers and acquisitions.

“If there is one positive aspect to the flattening of the global economy, and certainly also the worsening figures for all airlines — unfortunately also for us — it is that the consolidation process will tend to accelerate,” Spohr added.

The recent bankruptcies of German low-cost airlines Air Berlin and Germania have enabled Lufthansa to buy back flight routes and aircraft.

The airline industry is “much more cyclical” and at the mercy of economic developments than others, Spohr said, with the sector suffering from international trade tensions.

Lufthansa wants to “and will play an active role” in any future consolidation in the sector, said the airline boss, whose company’s net profit dropped by 70 percent in the second quarter.

Spohr said Lufthansa faced strong competition from low-cost airlines in a “unique price war”, however “we will not be driven out of our domestic market” by low-cost companies like Ryanair, because the German airline “has the financial strength to resist” competition.

 

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Unmanned Indian Probe Enters Lunar Orbit

An unmanned Indian space probe successfully entered lunar orbit Tuesday, passing a crucial step towards a historic milestone for the country’s fledgling space program.

The arrival of the $141 million Chandrayaan-2 probe comes nearly a month after it was launched into space aboard India’s powerful Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark Three rocket.  The probe will orbit the moon for two weeks before its Vikram lander — named after Vikram Sarabhai, the scientist regarded as the “father” of India’s space program — will undock from the mothership and land on the moon’s South Pole.  It will then release a small rover dubbed Pragyan that will roam for 14 days, mapping the moon’s surface, conducting experiments to search for signs of water and assessing its topography and geology.

If the planned September 7 landing is successful, India will join the United States, Russia and China as the only nations to achieve a soft landing of a spacecraft on the moon.  It will also become the first nation to attempt a controlled landing on the moon’s South Pole.

Although India was a relative latecomer to the space race, it has developed a reputation for conducting its space explorations at a fraction of the cost spent by countries like the United States.  It first placed an unmanned spacecraft in lunar orbit in 2008, which helped confirm the presence of water on the lunar surface.   

Among other goalposts India has set in the coming years is to put a space station in orbit, an astronaut in space by 2022, a robotic mission to Mars and a mission to explore the sun.

 

 

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Census Figures Show Economic Gap Narrows with Citizenship

New figures from the U.S. Census Bureau show that citizenship appears to narrow the economic gap between the foreign-born and native-born in the United States.

The 2018 figures released Monday offer a view of immigrants’ education, wealth, and the jobs they work in. They also look at differences between naturalized immigrants and those who aren’t citizens.
 
Their release come as the U.S. is engaged in one of the fiercest debates in decades about the role of immigration.
 
Stopping the flow of immigrants into the U.S. has been a priority of the Trump administration, which has proposed denying green cards to immigrants who use Medicaid and fought to put a citizenship question on the decennial Census questionnaire.
 
Monday’s figures show naturalized immigrants had a slightly smaller median income than the native-born.

    

 

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US Scraps West Bank Conference over Palestinian Protests

The U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem on Monday was forced to postpone a conference it organized in the West Bank city of Ramallah after Palestinian officials and factions called for a boycott and threatened to organize protests.  
 
The Palestinians cut all ties with the U.S. after it recognized disputed Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in 2017, and view the Trump administration as unfairly biased following a series of actions seen as hostile to their aspirations for an independent state.

The embassy had organized a conference this week to bring together alumni of U.S. educational and cultural programs, including dozens of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip who received permission from Israel to attend. The territory has been under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade since the Islamic militant group Hamas seized power there in 2007.

The Palestinian leadership viewed the conference as an attempt to circumvent its boycott of the U.S. administration.

“We are aware of recent statements regarding a planned event for alumni of U.S. educational and cultural programs,” the U.S. Embassy said. “In order to avoid the Palestinian participants being put in a difficult situation, we have decided to postpone the event for now.”
 
It said this and other events “are designed to create opportunities for exchange and dialogue between Americans and Palestinians at the grassroots level.”

“This event in particular is intended to give alumni of all ages and backgrounds from Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza an opportunity to network with each other and to engage in leadership and capacity building activities,” it said.

Israel captured east Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza in the 1967 Mideast war, territories the Palestinians want for their future state. The Trump administration is at work on a long-awaited peace plan, but has not endorsed a two-state solution to the conflict. The Palestinians have already dismissed the plan, saying it is certain to be slanted toward Israel.
 
Representatives of several Palestinian factions held a press conference Monday at the hotel where the meeting was to have taken place.

Spokesman Isam Baker told The Associated Press that the Palestine Liberation Organization, an umbrella group, had reached out to the hotel management and the invitees asking them to boycott the meeting.

“Most of the invitees and the hotel administration agreed with us that the invitation has political implications and it is not innocent,” he said.
“The U.S. administration, which has cut off all aid to our people, shut down our office in Washington and placed huge pressure on our leadership to accept a pro-Israel political plan will not do any good for our people” he said. “Therefore, we are boycotting any activities it organizes.”

The U.S. cut more than $200 million in development aid to the Palestinians last year, gutting several long-running programs .

A statement released Sunday by the “national and Islamic forces of the Ramallah governorate” said they were determined to thwart the conference, calling it an attempt to “break the will of the Palestinian people.” It said they planned to organize a “mass popular event to prevent this activity by all available means,” calling for a sit-in and marches.

The youth wing of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party also called for a boycott. It vowed to “exercise all forms of legal and popular pressure to express rejection of this conference being held on occupied Palestinian land.” It also called for an “apology” from the hotel.

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Ugandan Coach Scouts Major League Baseball Talent in Africa

In Uganda, a coach’s passion for baseball is getting schools to embrace America’s favorite pastime.  But a lack of government support means baseball in Uganda is heavily dependent on donations.  Halima Athumani reports from Kampala.

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UN Bans Sending Baby Elephants from Wild to Zoos and Circuses

Delegates at a U.N. wildlife conference in Geneva voted Sunday to ban the practice of taking baby elephants from their natural habitat and placing them in zoos and circuses.

Forty-six countries at the UN Convention ion International Trade in Endangered Species voted to outlaw the practice, white 18 voted against it, including the United States. Nineteen abstained.

The ban proclaims entertainment venues to be “unacceptable and inappropriate destinations” for elephants.

“This decision will save countless elephants from being ripped away from their families in the wild and forces to spend their lifetimes imprisoned in substandard conditions at zoos,” the Humane Society International said Sunday. “The capture of baby elephants is horribly cruel and traumatic to both the mothers, their calves and the herds that are left behind.”

Sunday’s decision specifically targets Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe.

CITES says Zimbabwe has sent more than 100 baby elephants to China since 2012, traumatizing the animals who it says are beaten, kicked, and treated cruelly by their handlers. Several have died.

 

 

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US Talks Secretly to Venezuela Socialist Boss

The U.S. has opened up secret communications with Venezuela’s socialist party boss as members of President Nicolas Maduro’s inner circle seek guarantees they won’t face retribution if they cede to growing demands to remove him, a senior administration official has told The Associated Press.
 
Diosdado Cabello, who is considered the most-powerful man in Venezuela after Maduro, met last month in Caracas with someone who is in close contact with the Trump administration, said the official. A second meeting is in the works but has not yet taken place.
 
The AP is withholding the intermediary’s name and details of the encounter with Cabello out of concern the person could suffer reprisals. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because they aren’t authorized to discuss the talks, which are still preliminary.
 

Cabello is a major power broker inside Venezuela, who has seen his influence in the government and security forces expand as Maduro’s grip on power has weakened. But he’s also been accused by U.S. officials of being behind massive corruption, drug trafficking and even death threats against a sitting U.S. senator.
 
The administration official said that under no circumstances is the U.S. looking to prop up Cabello or pave the way for him to substitute Maduro. Instead, the goal of the outreach is to ratchet up pressure on the regime by contributing to the knife fight the U.S. believes is taking place behind the scenes among competing circles of power within the ruling party.
 
Similar contacts exist with other top Venezuelan insiders, the official said, and the U.S. is in a listening mode to hear what it would take for them to betray Maduro and support a transition plan.
 
Cabello did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
 
But an aide said the U.S. has been increasingly knocking on his door, desperately looking to establish contact. The aide rejected the notion Cabello was somehow betraying Maduro, saying that Cabello would only meet with Americans with the president’s permission and if it contributes to lifting sanctions he blames for crippling the oil-dependent economy. The aide spoke on the condition of anonymity because he isn’t authorized to discuss political affairs publicly.
 

A person familiar with the July encounter said Cabello appeared savvy and arrived to the meeting with the U.S.-backed envoy well prepared, with a clear understanding of Venezuela’s political problems. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because they aren’t authorized to discuss the matter.
 
As Venezuela’s crisis grinds on, a predictable pattern has emerged where Juan Guaido, who the U.S. and dozens of other countries recognize as Venezuela’s rightful leader, has been unable to woo the military and take power but Maduro lacks enough strength to apprehend his rival or rescue the collapsed economy amid ever-tightening U.S. sanctions. This month, the U.S. slapped a new round of sanctions that seizes all of the Maduro government’s assets in the U.S. and threatens to punish companies from third countries that continue to do business with him.
 
Talks sponsored by Norway between the opposition and government have been slow-going and were suspended this month by Maduro, who accused Guaido of celebrating the U.S.’ “brutal blockade.” Neither Cabello, the Venezuelan military or U.S. government are a party to those talks.
 
To break the stalemate, some conspirators are looking to the U.S. to devise a plan to protect government insiders who turn against Maduro from future prosecution. The U.S. has repeatedly said it would offer top socialists relief from sanctions if they take “concrete and meaningful actions” to end Maduro’s rule. In May, it quickly lifted sanctions against Maduro’s former spy chief, Gen. Manuel Cristopher Figuera, after he defected during a failed military uprising.
 

As head of the constitutional assembly, Cabello has the power to remove Maduro, a position that could come in handy in any negotiated transition. But to date he’s run the institution, which the U.S. considers illegitimate, as a rubber-stamping foil to the opposition-controlled congress, showing no signs of possible deception.  
 
It’s not clear who initiated the contact with Cabello. But the U.S. official said Cabello was talking behind the back of the embattled socialist despite his almost daily displays of loyalty and frequent harangues against President Donald Trump.
 
An opposition politician briefed on the outreach said Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino and Interior Minister Nestor Reverol are among those in indirect contact with the Americans, underscoring the degree to which Maduro is surrounded by conspirators even after an opposition-led military uprising in April was easily quashed. The politician spoke on the condition of anonymity because they aren’t authorized to discuss the talks. The AP was unable to verify the opposition politician’s account.
 
Cabello, 56, has long been seen as a rival to Maduro, someone who has more pragmatic economic views and is less ideologically aligned with communist Cuba. He sat to the right of Hugo Chavez when the late socialist designated Maduro, to his left, to be his successor in his last public appearance before dying of cancer in 2013.
 
By all accounts Cabello was not among the high-placed officials who were in on a plot to remove Maduro in April, when Guaido and his mentor Leopoldo Lopez appeared on a bridge in eastern Caracas surrounded by a small contingent of armed troops. Since the uprising’s failure, the retired army lieutenant has seen his influence in the government and security forces expand, with the appointment of a cousin to head the army and the placement of another ally atop the feared SEBIN intelligence police.
 
He also remains popular with the Chavista base, having crisscrossed the country the past five years with a much-watched program on state TV that is a vehicle for pounding the opposition and U.S.
 
“A fraternal salute, brother President,” Cabello said in the most-recent program, where Maduro called in as a special guest. “We have no secrets, no lies here. Every time we do something we will inform the people, so that with a clear conscience they can take informed decisions and fix positions.”
 
The U.S. has tried to negotiate with Cabello before. In 2015, Thomas Shannon, who was then counsellor to Secretary of State John Kerry, met with Cabello in Haiti to pave the way for legislative elections that the opposition won by a landslide.
 
But until now, the Trump administration has shown deep scorn for Cabello, hitting him with sanctions last year for allegedly organizing drug shipments and running a major graft network that embezzled state funds and invested the stolen proceeds in Florida real estate. The U.S. also believes he discussed a plot to kill Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, who has called him “Venezuela’s Pablo Escobar.”
 
“Cabello is one of the worst of the worst inside of Venezuela,” said Fernando Cutz, a former senior national security adviser on Latin America to both President Barack Obama and Trump. “If the strategy is to try to negotiate with the mafia boss, he’s your guy. But that’s a strategy that carries some heavy risks.”

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Iceland Bids Farewell to First Glacier Lost to Climate Change

Mourners in Iceland gathered Sunday to bid a final farewell to 700-year-old Okjokull, the first Icelandic glacier lost to climate change.

After about 100 people, including Iceland’s Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir, Environment Minister Gudmundur Ingi Gudbrandsson, and former Irish President Mary Robinson, made a two-hour hike up the Ok volcano for the ceremony.

Children installed a memorial plaque to the glacier, now called just “Ok,” its name missing “jokull”, the Icelandic word for glacier.

People climb to the top of what once was the Okjokull glacier, in Iceland, Aug. 18, 2019.

The plaque bears the inscription “A letter to the future”, and is intended to raise awareness about the decline of glaciers and the effects of climate change.

“In the next 200 years all our glaciers are expected to follow the same path. This monument is to acknowledge that we know what is happening and what needs to be done. Only you know if we did it,” it reads.

The dedication, written by Icelandic author Andri Snaer Magnason, ends with the date of the ceremony and the concentration of carbon dioxide in the air globally – 415 parts per million (ppm).

“We see the consequences of the climate crisis,”Jakobsdottir said. “We have no time to lose.”
 

A girl holds a sign that reads ‘pull the emergency brake’ as she attends a ceremony in the area which once was the Okjokull glacier, in Iceland, Aug. 18, 2019.

Jakobsdottir said she plans to make climate change a priority when Nordic leaders and German Chancellor Angela Merkel meet in Reykjavik on Tuesday.

Okjokull was was officially declared dead in 2014 when it was no longer thick enough to move. but now all that’s left of the glacier is a small patch of ice atop a volcano.

Glaciologist Oddur Sigurdsson of the Icelandic Meteorological Office was the first to declare Okjokull dead.

When enough ice builds up, the pressure forces the whole mass to move. “That’s where the limit is between a glacier and not a glacier,” Sigurdsson explains. “It needs to be 40 to 50 meters thick to reach that pressure limit.”

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Suicide Bombing of Wedding Party in Kabul Killed 63

Authorities in Afghanistan say the death toll has risen to more than 63 and injured to 183 in the overnight suicide bombing at a packed wedding hall in the capital, Kabul.

The victims were mostly members of the minority Shi’ite Hazara community. 

Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi confirmed the casualty toll in a statement issued early Sunday, saying women and children were among the victims.

There were no immediate claims of responsibility for the carnage, one of the worst attacks against Afghan civilians in recent years.

The Taliban denied its involvement and condemned the bombing. A spokesman for the insurgent group said “such barbaric deliberate attacks against civilians including women and children are forbidden and unjustifiable.”

Afghan police men stand guard outside the wedding hall after an explosion in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, Aug.18, 2019.

Almost all recent bombings in the city, particularly against the Hazara community, have been claimed by Islamic State’s Afghan branch, known as Khorasan Province. 

Rahimi in a statement he issued shortly after the attack said the blast occurred just before midnight on Saturday and police and ambulances quickly reached the site to transport victims to Kabul hospitals.

Civilians continue to bear the brunt of the conflict in Afghanistan, where more than 1,500 were killed or wounded in July alone, according to the United Nations.

The latest Afghan violence comes as peace talks between the United States and the Taliban have come close to reaching an agreement to end the 18-year-old war.  

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Intelligent Threat-Sensing Building on Horizon

As back to back mass shootings in the U.S. prompt more difficult debates on gun laws, researchers at University of Southern California (USC) are working on a different, perhaps less controversial method of keeping people inside buildings safe and deterring people who want to commit acts of mass violence.  

Design and Behavior

Engineers and computer scientists are exploring building design and technology seeking ways to protect people. Recent innovations offer many possibilities, from placement of exits to the number of hiding spots and even walls that move.  But before designs can be put in place, researchers must first observe the behavior of the building’s occupants.

How do the people inside a building respond when an active shooter is present? Will their behavior change if the building is designed in a different way? Virtual reality (VR) is the first step to answering these questions and helping engineers create a safer building according to USC assistant professor Gale Lucas, who conducts research in the USC Viterbi School of Engineering Computer Science Department and Institute for Creative Technologies.  

“We’re interested in looking at how different building attributes affect responses to incidents of extreme violence, and that’s something that we can’t manipulate easily in the real world, but in virtual reality all of that is possible and it’s possible safe and ethically,” Lucas said. 

Building design features that could make a building safer in mass shooting incidents include the number of exits and hiding places in a building or even whether glass windows are clear or frosted. Many of the features are based on recommendations from government agencies and security experts.

“There are so many recommendations out there and there’s so much money being invested on these recommendations but they’re not well tested in the real world in terms of how they play out,” said Burcin Becerik-Gerber, professor of civil and environmental engineering at USC. She and Lucas co-direct USC’s CENTIENTS, the Center for Intelligent Environments.  

Virtual reality can safely and cheaply simulate real world situations.  Virtual building designs can also easily be changed and adapted for different types of buildings said Becerik-Gerber. 

Later this year, various building designs in a school and an office setting will be tested out in the virtual world with more than 200 real world teachers and office workers on treadmills, using VR so they can run away from the shooter in the virtual world.  

Building features however may not be one size fits all.  For example, frosted glass on doors to a room that may keep people safe in an active shooter situation may not be ideal during a normal school day when people want to be able to look inside a classroom to deter child predators. 

“I think the answer is having more dynamic kinetic elements instead of thinking building elements as static. We’re talking about maybe frosted versus normal glass, but they can have the intelligence when the building senses the threat,” said Becerik-Gerber.

Intelligent Threat-Sensing Building

Instead of an either or, why not have a glass window that can do both said Becerik-Gerber.  Artificial intelligence and sensors in a building can allow it to frost a clear window when it senses a threat.   

“It could be the case where there are sensors when they pick up the noise levels. If there is a shooting, obviously there it will come with some increased noise levels and shouting and other clues. So the building can have for example, dynamic walls that lock up maybe the bad actors in the building,” suggested Becerik-Gerber. 

An intelligent building can also produce digital signage that points occupants to the safest exits, away from the violence.

Researchers said having intelligent buildings can be possible not too far in the future.  The technological elements needed to make a building sense danger and respond to keep its occupants safe are available.  There just has to be the willingness to incorporate the elements and implement them into buildings.  

Through their three-year project on building design and virtual reality, funded by the National Science Foundation, the researchers at USC aim to better understand how different design features influence people’s behavior.  Once they have the data, they can present their findings to security experts and other stakeholders so one day, in the near future, better buildings with intelligence incorporated into the building’s DNA can be created to keep it’s occupants safe from acts of mass violence. 

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Virgin Galactic Reveals Futuristic Outpost for Space Tourism

Spaceport America is no longer just a shiny shell of hope that space tourism would one day launch from this remote spot in the New Mexico desert.

The once-empty hangar that anchors the taxpayer-financed launch and landing facility has been transformed into a custom-tailored headquarters where Virgin Galactic will run its commercial flight operations.

The interior spaces unveiled Thursday aim to connect paying customers with every aspect of the operation, providing views of the hangar and the space vehicles as well as the banks of monitors inside mission control.

Two levels within the spaceport include mission control, a preparation area for pilots and a lounge for customers and their friends and families, with each element of the fit and finish paying homage to either the desert landscape that surrounds the futuristic outpost or the promise of traveling to the edge of space.

Virgin Galactic employees gather at the coffee bar that serves as the heart of the company’s social hub at Spaceport America near Upham, New Mexico, Aug. 15, 2019.

From hotel rooms to aircraft cabins, the Virgin brand touts its designs for their focus on the customer experience. Spaceport is no different.

 A social hub includes an interactive digital walkway and a coffee bar made of Italian marble. On the upper deck, shades of white and gray speak to Virgin Galactic’s more lofty mission.

Company officials say the space is meant to create “an unparalleled experience” as customers prepare for what Virgin Galactic describes as the journey of a lifetime.

Timeline not set

Just how soon customers will file into Virgin Galactic’s newly outfitted digs for the first commercial flights to space has yet to be determined. A small number of test flights are still needed.

“We were the first company to fly a commercial space ship to space with somebody in the back who was not a pilot — first time that somebody like that has been able to get out of their seats and float around the cabin,” Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides said. “So it’s happening. We have a bit more work to do before we get to commercial service.”

Billionaire Richard Branson, who is behind Virgin Galactic, and former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat, first pitched the plan for the spaceport nearly 15 years ago.

There were construction delays and cost overruns. Virgin Galactic’s spaceship development took far longer than expected and had a major setback when its first experimental craft broke apart during a 2014 test flight, killing the co-pilot.

Critics suggested the project was a boondoggle, but supporters argued that there were bound to be hard and sometimes costly lessons.

A digital walkway with mirrored ceiling serves as the entrance to the social hub of Virgin Galactic’s digs at Spaceport America near Upham, New Mexico, Aug. 15, 2019.

Democratic state Sen. George Munoz has enduring concerns about the business model for commercial, low-orbit travel for passengers.

“You can have all the money in the world and come back and say, ‘Was my 30 seconds of fame worth that risk?'” he said.

Munoz says New Mexico’s anticipated return on investment in terms of jobs and visitors is still overdue, with more than $200 million in public funds spent on Spaceport America in cooperation with Virgin Galactic as the anchor tenant.

New facility

At the facility Thursday, the carrier plane for Virgin’s rocket-powered passenger ship made a few passes and touch-and-goes over a runway.

Behind the spaceport’s signature wall of curved glass, mission control sits on the second floor with an unobstructed view of the runway and beyond.

There’s also space behind two massive sliding doors to accommodate two of Virgin Galactic’s carrier planes and a fleet of six-passenger rocket ships.

Virgin Galactic employees gather in the ground floor lounge at Spaceport America near Upham, New Mexico, Aug. 15, 2019.

Virgin Galactic posted on social media earlier this week that its main operating base was now at the spaceport. And Branson said the wing of Virgin’s next rocket ship has been completed.

Chief Pilot Dave Mackay said the crew in the coming days will fly simulated launch missions to ensure in-flight communications and airspace coordination work as planned. The pilots also will be familiarizing themselves with New Mexico’s airspace and landmarks.

“New Mexico is on track to become one of the very few places on this beautiful planet which regularly launches humans to space,” Mackay said.

Whitesides said that once the test flights are complete, commercial operations can begin. He envisions a fundamental shift in humanity’s relationship with space, noting that fewer than 600 people ever have ventured beyond the Earth’s atmosphere.

“We’re going to be able to send way more than that to space from this facility here,” he said. “In another 15 years, I really hope that we’ve had thousands of people go.”

About 600 people have reserved a seat, according to the company, at a cost of $250,000 a ticket.

That buys them a ride on the winged rocket ship, which is dropped in flight from the carrier airplane. Once free, it fires its rocket motor to hurtle toward the boundary of space before gliding back down.

The latest test flight reached an altitude of 56 miles (90 kilometers) while traveling at three times the speed of sound.

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Florida Leaders Move to Condemn White Nationalism 

TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA – Florida legislators are moving to officially condemn white nationalism, with Democrats and Republicans alike drafting resolutions against hate-spurred violence, but the unity could be short-lived as elected officials plunge into debates over how the government should intervene to prevent more mass killings and rein in white supremacists. 
 
The condemnations come amid an outcry over a mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, in which authorities believe the gunman posted a racist screed online shortly before the attack.  
  
Following the shooting, Florida Senate President Bill Galvano, a Republican, called the violence a “reminder that we have more work to do,” and he called on a legislative committee to review what can be done to address white nationalism.    

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris speaks at the Presidential Gun Sense Forum, Aug. 10, 2019, in Des Moines, Iowa.

Earlier this week, Sen. Kamala Harris of California, a Democratic presidential hopeful, called for a federal “red flag” law that would allow law enforcement to take away guns from white nationalists, if a judge agrees if a person poses an imminent danger. 
 
While Galvano says he’s open to possibly expanding the Florida’s “red flag” laws, he told the Associated Press on Thursday that the two issues should be addressed separately. 
 
“Do both issues need to be considered and talked about? The answer is yes, but I don’t know if you can just merge them,” Galvano said. 
 
Since Florida’s “red flag” law went into effect in March 2018, there have been 2,434 risk protection orders reported to the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which prompted the agency to suspend 595 concealed weapons licenses. The protection orders give law enforcement the authority to temporarily confiscate guns. 

Rubio’s call
 
Following the 2018 mass shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio called on Congress to follow his state’s lead in enacting a federal “red flag” law — a call that  he again made following the mass shootings in Texas and Ohio that killed 31 people. 
 
In the wake of those shootings, Florida Republicans have focused their condemnation on hate groups and their attention on keeping guns away from those with mental illness. 
 
A trio of Republican state senators began circulating a resolution on Thursday that rejects white nationalism as “hateful, dangerous and morally corrupt.” 
 
That followed a move earlier in the week by Democrats in the Florida House, who introduced legislation spurning white supremacy as “hateful expressions of intolerance that are contradictory to the values that define the people of Florida and the United States.” 
 
But while both parties were united in their condemnation of race-based hate, it remains to be seen what policy changes will be enacted.  

FILE – Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, participates in debate April 17, 2019, in Tallahassee, Fla.

“We can have lots of discussions about hate as it relates to white supremacy and white nationalism, but it does not get us to the solution of dealing with guns — and that’s the bottom line for any discussion that should be done,” said Sen. Audrey Gibson, the Democratic leader in the Republican-controlled state Senate. 
 
In a letter sent to Galvano on Wednesday, she said it was still too easy to access a gun in Florida. 
 
Gun-control activists are trying to place a measure on the 2020 ballot that would ban assault weapons. 

Common thread
 
“Whether the massacre unfolded in El Paso, Dayton or Las Vegas, Newtown, Parkland or Pulse, the one inescapable common thread that has bound each and every one of these horrific mass shootings is the presence of an assault weapon,” Gibson said. She said the state could do better in controlling access to guns, strengthening background checks for private gun sales and expanding the state’s “red flag” laws to allow relatives, not just law enforcement, to seek a court order when they think a family member might pose a risk. 
 
Galvano said “everything would be on the table” as his chamber begins work on strengthening laws to curb mass violence and to expand the laws enacted in response to the Parkland shootings. But when pressed, Galvano said he would leave it to legislative committees to come up with specific legislation. 
 
“In the best-case scenario, the most effective way to begin to approach the state’s role in these things is to look comprehensively — everything from law enforcement and how we’re doing it, and policy changes in funding, mental health screenings, red flags and gun safety.” 

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