Report: Pompeo Warns Russia Against Taliban Bounties

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has warned Russia’s foreign minister about alleged bounty payments to Taliban militants for killing U.S. troops in Afghanistan, according to The New York Times.The Times reported Friday that Pompeo made the warning to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov during a July 13 phone call, citing unidentified U.S. officials.It said Pompeo’s warning was the first known rebuke from a senior U.S. official to Russia over the alleged bounties program.Pompeo has previous declined to say whether he specifically raised the bounty allegations with Russia. However, he told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last month that he has “raised all of the issues that put any Americans at risk” each time he has spoken to Lavrov.Trump has called the reports of Russian bounties on U.S. troops “another Russian hoax” despite concerns about them from the intelligence community.Trump told reporters in Florida last month, “It was never brought to my attention and it perhaps wasn’t brought because they didn’t consider it to be real. And if it is brought to my attention, I’ll do something about it,” he said.During an interview with “Axios on HBO,” Trump said he had not raised the bounty allegations in a recent phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin.“That was a phone call to discuss other things, and, frankly, that’s an issue that many people said was fake news,” Trump said.White House officials have said that Trump was not briefed on the suspected bounties because the assessment was not conclusive. However, several media outlets, including the Times, have reported that the issue was included in one of the president’s written daily briefings in February. Trump has said he was never personally told about the issue.Russia has denied that it paid bounties to Taliban militants for killing U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

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Canada to Impose Retaliatory Tariffs on US Goods, Hopes for Resolution

Canada will slap retaliatory tariffs on C$3.6 billion ($2.7 billion) worth of U.S. aluminum products after the United States said it would impose punitive measures on Canadian aluminum imports, a senior official said on Friday.Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland told a news conference the countermeasures would be put in place by Sept. 16 to allow consultations with industry.The move marks the latest ruction in a choppy relationship between the neighbors and close allies since President Donald Trump took office in 2017.Trump moved on Thursday to reimpose 10% tariffs on some Canadian aluminum products on Aug 16 to protect U.S. industry from a “surge” in imports. Canada denies any impropriety.”At a time when we are fighting a global pandemic … a trade dispute is the last thing anyone needs – it will only hurt the economic recovery on both sides of the border. However, this is what the U.S. administration has chosen to do,” said Freeland.”We do not escalate and we do not back down,” she said later, variously describing the U.S. decision as “entirely unacceptable,” absurd and ludicrous.The Canadian list of goods that might be subject to tariffs includes aluminum bars, plates, refrigerators, bicycles, washing machines and golf clubs. Trump is a keen golfer.”I think the very best outcome would be for the United States to reconsider,” said Freeland, adding that she was confident common sense would prevail.The list of goods subject to tariffs is narrower than the last time Ottawa struck back at Trump because the two sides agreed in 2019 to limit the scope of retaliation in disputes over steel and aluminum, said a Canadian government source who requested anonymity.In 2018, Ottawa slapped tariffs on C$16.6 billion ($12.5 billion) worth of goods ranging from bourbon to ketchup after Washington imposed sanctions on Canadian aluminum and steel.Ottawa may be calculating its measures will be short-lived. A source briefed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office said Canadian officials are increasingly sure Trump will lose the Nov. 3 presidential election.Trump acted just weeks after a new continental trade pact between the United States, Canada and Mexico took effect. The North American economy is highly integrated and Canada sends 75% of all its goods exports to the United States. 

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New Study Shows Human Ancestors Had ‘Complicated Love Life’

Researchers have confirmed that hundreds of thousands of years ago, Neanderthals mated with at least four other contemporary species of ancient humans, or hominids, and the evidence lives on in the genes of modern men and women.A study published Thursday in the science journal PLOS Genetics shows how researchers from Cornell University analyzed the genomes, the complete genetic “map,” from Neanderthals, a prehistoric human ancestor called Denisovans, and modern humans.Analysis of the genomes revealed new evidence of gene flow between these species, bolstering earlier theories that the species intermated. The researchers found 3% of the Neanderthal genome came from interbreeding with other ancient humans that lived at the same time.The new study estimates this intermixing happened between 200,000 and 300,000 years ago — far earlier than previous estimates indicated.The researchers also found that 1% of the Denisovan genome contained genetic material that came from an “archaic human ancestor” that was neither human, nor Neanderthal, nor Denisovan. They suggested it came from Homo erectus, an early human ancestor believed to be the first to spread to what is now Eastern Europe and parts of Asia.Homo erectus looked much like we do today, but with elongated legs and shorter arms. They are believed to have outlived contemporary hominids, dying out as recently as 117,000 years ago.The new study suggests that 15% of the genetic pieces that came from Homo erectus have been passed on to humans today. They suggest it split off from the lineage that would become modern humans about 1 million years ago, which would fit the timeline for intermingling with its contemporary hominid species.The genome for Homo erectus has not been sequenced so it is difficult to precisely figure out how all the different human ancestors got together. But the researchers theorize that migration habits combined with the fact that all four species did overlap for several thousand years made it likely that they intermingled.

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School Teachers in US Protest Going Back to Classrooms

In early August, thousands of parents, educators, students, and community members took to the streets in over 25 U.S. states to call for safe and equitable schools.  The protests, organized as a National Day of Resistance, were called to raise concerns that with the coronavirus still spreading reopening schools for in-person learning is dangerous.  The issue has become political, with pressure growing from the White House and many state governors to reopen the classrooms.  Nina Vishneva has this report narrated by Anna Rice on the demonstrations in New York City. Camera:  Max Avloshenko, Alex Barash, Olga Terekhin

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US Sees Election Threats From China, Russia and Iran

The director of US intelligence on Friday raised concerns about interference in the 2020 election by China, Russia and Iran.U.S. intelligence has assessed that China is hoping President Donald Trump does not win reelection, Russia is working to denigrate Democrat Joe Biden and Iran is seeking to undermine democratic institutions, said Bill Evanina, director of the National Counterintelligence Security Center.In a statement, Evanina provided the U.S. intelligence agencies’ most recent assessment of election threats to the November presidential election.“Many foreign actors have a preference for who wins the election, which they express through a range of overt and private statements; covert influence efforts are rarer,” Evanina said. “We are primarily concerned about the ongoing and potential activity by China, Russia, and Iran.”China views Trump as “unpredictable” and does not want to see him win reelection, Evanina said. China has been expanding its influence efforts ahead of the November election in an effort to shape U.S policy and pressure political figures it sees as against Beijing, he said.“Although China will continue to weigh the risks and benefits of aggressive action, its public rhetoric over the past few months has grown increasingly critical of the current administration’s COVID-19 response, closure of China’s Houston consulate and actions on other issues,” he wrote.On Russia, U.S. intelligence officials assess that Russia is working to “denigrate” Biden and what it sees as an anti-Russia “establishment” among his supporters, Evanina said. He said that would track Moscow’s criticism of Biden when he was vice president for his role in Ukraine policies and support of opposition to President Vladimir Putin inside Russia.On Iran, the assessment said Tehran seeks to undermine U.S. democratic institutions as well as Trump and divide America before the election.“Iran’s efforts along these lines probably will focus on on-line influence, such as spreading disinformation on social media and recirculating anti-U.S. content,” Evanina wrote. “Tehran’s motivation to conduct such activities is, in part, driven by a perception that President Trump’s re-election would result in a continuation of U.S. pressure on Iran in an effort to foment regime change.”

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Citing Security Concerns, Trump Orders Bans on TikTok, WeChat

U.S. President Donald Trump Thursday ordered sweeping bans on two Chinese consumer apps.He ordered the bans prohibiting U.S. companies from doing business with ByteDance, the owner of the video-sharing app TikTok, and Tencent, the owner of the messenger app WeChat. The executive orders targeting the Chinese companies go into effect in 45 days.Whether Trump has the legal authority for such actions is not immediately clear, analysts said.The move comes amid data collection and privacy concerns the Trump administration and U.S. lawmakers have expressed about the apps. However, no evidence has been cited to support the claims.Both companies have said they do not share their data with the Chinese government.“I am the first to yell from the rooftops when there is a glaring privacy issue somewhere,” mobile security expert Will Strafach told The Associated Press last month. ”But we just have not found anything we could call a smoking gun in TikTok.”Analysts said they expect China to retaliate.Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday that the U.S. would not allow U.S. stores to sell Chinese apps because of security concerns.Millions of people around the world use the two apps.

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US Forecasters Predict ‘Extremely Active’ Atlantic Hurricane Season

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has updated its prediction for this year’s North Atlantic hurricane season, saying it will be “extremely active,” possibly record breaking.NOAA and its National Climate Prediction Center gave their initial seasonal predictions in May. But in its August update, issued late Thursday, forecasters say the 2020 season has already broken records, with nine storms through the end of July, five of them hitting the U.S. mainland. Historically, NOAA says only two named storms form by early August.  In a teleconference with reporters, NOAA’s lead hurricane forecaster, Jerry Bell, said they now see 19 to 25 named storms during the season ending November 30.  Bell say seven to 11 of those are expected to become hurricanes and three to six could become major hurricanes.  Those numbers include the nine storms already recorded this season.Bell says oceanic and atmospheric conditions are now even more hospitable for hurricane formation and intensification than they saw in May, when they predicted 13 to 19 named storms. He said these conditions are predicted to continue for the next several months.  Bell does not believe 2020 will break the record for storms set in 2005, when there were 28 names storms as warmer oceans and other atmospheric conditions were more favorable.  But he believes 2020 will be one of the stronger seasons on record.   NOAA reminded people in hurricane-prone regions to keep the COVID-19 pandemic in mind when making hurricane preparations, particularly if they are required to evacuate their area.

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Doctors Ask Medical Schools to Drop MCAT Tests During Pandemic

A professional society of 163,000 physicians, trainees and fellows of internal medicine in the United States is asking medical schools to waive the entrance exam because the COVID-19 pandemic has made testing unmanageable. COVID-19 is the disease caused by the coronavirus.The American College of Physicians (ACP) suggests the schools look at applicants holistically – considering factors including grades and experience – and dispense with the Medical College Admission Test – known as the MCAT – for entrance year 2021.“Applicants have experienced disruptions in taking the MCAT examination, whether due to personal health and safety concerns, vendor-initiated scheduling changes, or difficulties in accessing testing centers,” the ACP stated.“Furthermore, applicants of color and those from lower socioeconomic groups are disproportionately impacted by factors such as venue changes to distant testing centers. The ACP is concerned that mandatory MCAT testing in the midst of the current public health emergency will increase disparities in career opportunity among people of color and those of lower socioeconomic status,” it added.COVID-19 has made standardized testing for college entrance exams difficult, at best, because arranging for large groups of students to sit for exams in person increases the odds the disease will be shared. The germs are spread through droplets emitted during breathing, sneezing and coughing. It can also be contracted by touching a surface on which it has landed and then touching one’s face, where it makes its way to the eyes, nose or mouth.  Several universities, including most of the top schools in the U.S., have waived the testing requirement for standard entrance exams during the pandemic.Harvard Drops SAT/ACT Scores for New AdmissionsIvy League schools lessen demand on applicants during COVID“ACP supports the needs of learners as they pursue entry into medical school in the midst of the current COVID-19 public health emergency,” said Dr. Jacqueline W. Fincher, the group’s president. “Now more than ever, during these challenging times facing health care, we need to help reduce barriers for students who seek to continue their education and training on a path to join the physician workforce and medical community, which continues to fulfill a vital need in our country.”The American College of Physicians is the largest medical specialty organization in the U.S. with members in more than 145 countries worldwide, according to its website. 

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Red Carpet – Season 1, Episode 65

This week on Red Carpet, reactions to Beyoncé’s new visual album “Black is King” and a look at how African music is making its way around the world. Also, a new exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Ohio spotlights artists standing up to racism. These stories and more on the show this week.

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Harvard Enrollments Drop by 20%

Harvard College is likely to see a more than 20 percent drop in enrollment this fall, according to the student-staff The Harvard Crimson news outlet.  Harvard, considered among the top three universities in the United States, has been besieged with the complications of the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19 is the disease caused by the coronavirus. Many students cannot travel, do not want to be on campus in close quarters with others, or are deferring while classes are online because those classes are not deemed a good value financially. Students Give Online Learning Low MarksMany call on universities to end the semester earlyAbout 5,231 undergraduates intend to enroll for fall classes, the Crimson reported. Last year, Harvard had 6,755 enrolled undergraduates. Among admitted students, 340 freshmen – or 20 percent — deferred their enrollment to next year.  “Between 80 and 110 students take a gap year under typical circumstances, according to the College’s website,” the Crimson reported.Harvard will hold all undergraduate classes virtually this fall. The Crimson stated that of “5,231 undergraduates who intend to enroll this fall, the majority — 3,599 students — will learn remotely, while 1,168 freshmen and 464 upperclassmen will live in residence.”Harvard “now projects that only 25 percent of students will live on campus.”Not all students will be online, however. The university has invited back to campus more than 1,000 students for whom remote learning was nearly impossible because they were lacking “sufficient computer, fast internet, a quiet place to work, or unhindered time to commit to coursework; those who faced challenging home and family circumstances or shelter and food insecurities; and those who require accessible learning resources or technology on campus.”The majority of staff will also continue to work from home.

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US Approaches 4.9 Million Coronavirus Cases

The number of COVID-19 cases around the world continues its steady climb with more than 19.1 million infections, according to Johns Hopkins University.  The U.S. continues to have more cases than any place else with nearly 4.9 million, followed by Brazil with 2.9 million and India with two million.Vaccine prospects
The top U.S. infectious disease expert says the world will never be able to eradicate the coronavirus, but he is hopeful hundreds of millions of doses of vaccine could be available by the end of this year. “There will be, I think, enough vaccine if everything turns out to be successful,” Dr. Anthony Fauci told VOA contributor Greta Van Susteren. “To get vaccine not only to the countries that are the classical rich countries but those who are low and middle income that would not be able to readily have access to a vaccine. That’s what we’re hoping to do.” But Fauci has said in the past that there’s no guarantee a vaccine will give long-term protection against COVID-19 since it is a new coronavirus and scientists are still learning about it. In a separate interview with Reuters, Fauci said the reason the virus will never go away is because of its “highly transmissible” nature. But he said with “the combination of a good vaccine and attention to public health measures … then I think we can get behind this.” According to Johns Hopkins University, there were more than 2,000 COVID-19 deaths in the United States over the past 24 hours as of Thursday night – the highest one-day number since early May.Student suspended for posting mask-less gathering online
At least one student was suspended at a high school in the southern U.S. state of Georgia for posting a photograph online of a crowded hallway, showing most of the students not wearing masks. Dr. Harry Heiman, a clinical associate professor at Georgia State University’s School of Public Health told the Atlanta Journal Constitution newspaper after seeing the photograph that ”It’s not a question of if that’s going to cause spread of the pandemic. It’s only a question of how quickly and to how many people.”Superintendent Brian Otott said the school staff had worked hard to create a safe return for the students.  He said most of the school’s hallways were one way, but the one in the photograph had students moving in both directions to cut down on student travel time between classes.  Students and staff are not required to wear masks at the school, a proven way to curb the spreading of the virus. FILE – Ohio Governor Mike DeWine speaks during an interview at the Governor’s Residence in Columbus, Ohio, Dec. 13, 2019.Ohio governor tests positive, then negative
Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, a Republican, canceled plans to meet with President Donald Trump in Cleveland on Thursday when he got word that he had tested positive for COVID-19 and immediately went into quarantine.  In a second more sensitive COVID-19 test administered later Thursday in Columbus, DeWine tested negative for the coronavirus, according to the governor’s office.International travel restrictions liftedThe U.S. State Department and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lifted the recommendation to Americans to avoid all global travel and replaced it with a number of high-level warnings against heading to individual nations. “With health and safety conditions improving in some countries and potentially deteriorating in others, the department is returning to our previous system of country-specific levels of travel advice,” the State Department said. Thirty countries are on the Level Four “Do Not Travel” list, including India, Russia, Egypt, Libya, Honduras and Kazakhstan.Vietnam, Liberia, Armenia, the Philippines and the entire European Union are in the Level 3: Reconsider Travel category, even though the E.U. is currently closed to Americans. Travel Safely Ambassador Carlos Hernandez hands out face masks to an airline passenger at LAX airport, as the global outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Los Angeles, California.Discussions about European travel
The U.S. and E.U. are in talks to allow Americans to once again visit Europe.  In Europe, Britain has added Andorra, the Bahamas and Belgium to the list of countries whose visitors must enter a 14-day quarantine when arriving in the U.K.And Norwegian Prime Minister Ern Solberg said the country is canceling plans to ease coronavirus restrictions because of a slight rise in the number of cases.“We need to slow down now to avoid a full stop down the road,” Solberg told reporters Thursday.Among the measures that are now suspended was a plan to allow some travel from several non-European countries, which has been banned since March.  

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Trump Orders Bans on 2 Chinese Apps, Citing Security Concerns

U.S. President Donald Trump Thursday ordered sweeping bans on two Chinese consumer apps.He ordered the bans prohibiting U.S. companies from doing business with ByteDance, the owner of the video-sharing app TikTok, and Tencent, the owner of the messenger app WeChat. The executive orders targeting the Chinese companies go into effect in 45 days.Whether Trump has the legal authority for such actions is not immediately clear, analysts said.The move comes amid data collection and privacy concerns the Trump administration and U.S. lawmakers have expressed about the apps. However, no evidence has been cited to support the claims.Both companies have said they do not share their data with the Chinese government.“I am the first to yell from the rooftops when there is a glaring privacy issue somewhere,” mobile security expert Will Strafach told The Associated Press last month. ”But we just have not found anything we could call a smoking gun in TikTok.”Analysts said they expect China to retaliate.Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday that the U.S. would not allow U.S. stores to sell Chinese apps because of security concerns.Millions of people around the world use the two apps.

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Thai Protesters Demand Drastic Changes in Political System

Protesters in Thailand are pressing on with their demands for the dissolution of parliament, new elections and changing the constitution.Leaders said Friday they would step up pressure on the government of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha if it failed to act on changes.”(Our demands) are clear enough for the government to hear and follow,” said protest leader Tattep Ruangprapaikitseree. “To set up a committee to have hearings is like an act. It’s like a show with no meaning. Is it to buy time? They think that we will disappear. They believe that we will fade away. So, they set up this committee to buy time. But the fact is we want real change. We want to send our demands to those with powers to make decisions, not to some rubber stamp committee.”Meeting in front of Bangkok’s iconic Democracy Monument, eight leaders of the Free People Movement, formerly known as Free Youth, announced plans for a big rally on August 16.Protesters held signs reading: “Constitution needed to be amended. Democracy must come from the people” and “We don’t hate our nation. We hate dictatorship. No coup.”Prayuth said early this week he will consider protester’s demands, but protest leader Tattep suggested the premier’s statement was just a delaying tactic, as the prime minister is unlikely to agree to dissolve parliament or call new elections.After more than five years of relative calm since a military coup in 2014, anti-government protests have erupted again, mostly on school and university campuses in the capital Bangkok and other Thai cities.Protesters, majority of them young people, are highly dissatisfied with the current administration.A former army chief, Prayuth first took power in 2014, then held a tight grip on it through the 2019 elections, widely seen as manipulated in his favor. 

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Mexico Megachurch Leader Remains Jailed

Bail for the leader of a Mexican megachurch nearly doubled to $90 million after prosecutors expanded charges against him, including child rape, and possession of child pornography.The new bail ruling by a Los Angeles judge ensures Naason Joaquin Garcia, of the Guadalajara-based La Luz del Mundo church (Light of the World church) will remain in custody until his trial.Garcia, who says he has a million followers worldwide, was initially jailed on sex crimes charges last year with a $50 million bail.The attorney general’s office of California filed dozens of new felony charges, including rape, against Garcia and two co-defendants last week 

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Once Again, Lebanon Picks Up the Pieces

Lebanon’s Chernobyl.  That is how some are describing the mammoth blast that shook the capital city Beirut  and left thousands injured. At least 300,000 people lost their homes and a number of hospitals also bore the brunt.  Among the signs of international support was a visit by French President Emmanual Macron, who got a firsthand look at the worst-affected neighborhood. Anchal Vohra reports from Beirut.

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Trump Orders US Ban on WeChat, TikTok in 45 Days

U.S. President Donald Trump issued executive orders on Thursday banning any U.S. transactions with ByteDance, the Chinese company that owns video-sharing app TikTok, and Tencent, owner of the WeChat app, starting in 45 days.The orders come as the Trump administration said this week it was stepping up efforts to purge “untrusted” Chinese apps from U.S. digital networks and called the Chinese-owned short-video app TikTok and messenger app WeChat “significant threats.”The TikTok app may be used for disinformation campaigns that benefit the Chinese Communist Party, and the United States “must take aggressive action against the owners of TikTok to protect our national security,” Trump said in one order.In the other, Trump said WeChat “automatically captures vast swaths of information from its users. This data collection threatens to allow the Chinese Communist Party access to Americans’ personal and proprietary information.”The order would effectively ban WeChat in the United States in 45 days by barring “to the extent permitted under applicable law, any transaction that is related to WeChat by any person, or with respect to any property, subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, with Tencent Holdings Ltd.”Trump said this week he would support the sale of TikTok’s U.S. operations to Microsoft Corp if the U.S. government got a “substantial portion” of the sales price but warned he will ban the service in the United States on September 15.Tencent and ByteDance declined to comment.    

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