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Pentagon Orders Remaining Active-Duty Troops to Leave DC

The Pentagon will be sending back the remaining 900 active-duty troops who were sent to the Washington D.C. area to potentially respond to civil unrest, and they are expected to start heading back to their home bases, a U.S. official told Reuters.The official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the order had been signed by U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper and that the troops would be heading back to Fort Bragg in North Carolina and Fort Drum in New York.While the troops were in the National Capital Region, they were not deployed to Washington D.C. and were on standby in case they were needed.

Twitter Disables Trump Campaign’s George Floyd Video Tribute

Twitter has blocked a Trump campaign video tribute to George Floyd over a copyright claim, in a move that adds to tensions between the social media platform and the U.S. president, one of its most widely followed users.
The company put a label on a video posted by the @TeamTrump account that said, “This media has been disabled in response to a claim by the copyright owner.” The video was still up on President Donald Trump’s YouTube channel and includes pictures of Floyd, whose death sparked widespread protests, at the start.
“Per our copyright policy, we respond to valid copyright complaints sent to us by a copyright owner or their authorized representatives,” Twitter said in a statement. It did not say who made the complaint.
The Burbank, California lawyer who requested the takedown, Sam Koolaq, declined to identify his client or the copyright violation in the video. He said in an email that he also submitted takedown notices to YouTube, Facebook and Instagram, where the video was still up as of midday Friday.
Facebook, which owns Instagram, and YouTube didn’t respond to requests for comment.
The three minute and 45 second clip is a montage of photos and videos of peaceful marches and police officers hugging protesters interspersed with some scenes of burning buildings and vandalism, set to gentle piano music and Trump speaking.
Last month, Twitter placed fact-check warnings on two tweets from Trump’s own account that called mail-in ballots “fraudulent” and predicted problems with the November U.S. elections. Under the tweets, there is now a link reading “Get the facts about mail-in ballots” that guides users to a Twitter “moments” page with fact checks and news stories about Trump’s unsubstantiated claims.
It also demoted and placed a stronger warning on a third Trump tweet about Minneapolis protests that read, in part, that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” Twitter said that the tweet had violated the platform’s rules by glorifying violence.
Trump responded by threatening to retaliate against social media companies.
Last year, Twitter also removed a Trump tweet that featured a  doctored Nickelback music video clip that took aim at former Vice President Joe Biden, after receiving copyright complaints.

Parts of US Await Tropical Storm Cristobal After Heavy Rain, Flooding in Mexico

Tropical Storm Cristobal weakened overnight Thursday after dumping heavy rainfall and causing potentially deadly flooding in parts of Mexico.Campeche state Civil Protection Secretary Edgar Hernandez said the most affected municipalities were Hopelchen and Calakmul.He said Thursday evening that authorities could not yet give an assessment on damages but that more than 300 people reportedly sought temporary shelter.Meanwhile, the U.S-based National Hurricane Center said the storm is expected to reenergize over the Gulf of Mexico on Friday on its way toward the United States.Forecasters anticipate the storm could become a menace for the U.S. Gulf Coast region by Sunday.Some people in St. Tammany Parish, in the state of Louisiana, were preparing sandbags Thursday in anticipation of Cristobal’s arrival.Cristobal developed Tuesday from the remnants of Tropical Storm Amanda, which formed in the Pacific Ocean and caused severe flooding and landslides in Central America. At least 22 deaths have been reported in El Salvador and Guatemala because of the storm.

Suspect in Shooting Death of Ahmaud Arbery Accused of Using Racial Slur 

Ahmaud Arbery was called a racial slur as he lay dying shortly after being chased and fatally shot by three white men, a Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent testified Thursday. Gregory McMichael, 64, his son Travis McMichael and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan, now charged with felony murder, will face trial after Glynn County Magistrate Court Judge Wallace Harrell determined there was enough evidence to proceed. Furthermore, their testimonies could contribute to deciding if there are enough grounds for a hate crime charge. “[Arbery] was chased, hunted down and ultimately executed,” special prosecutor Jesse Evans said. “I don’t think it was self-defense by Mr. Michael. I think it was self-defense by Mr. Arbery.” Arbery was out for his morning jog on Feb. 23 when the McMichaels and Bryan used two pickups to chase down 25-year-old Arbery. Arbery attempted several direction changes and even jumped into a ditch to avoid the trucks but was ultimately confronted by Travis McMichael, who shot Arbery first in the chest, then in the hand and finally in the chest again and claimed self-defense, Richard Dial, the lead Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent on the case, testified. Bryan told investigators he heard Travis McMichael use the racial slur. No charges against either McMichael or Bryan were brought until May 7, 74 days after Arbery’s death and two days after video evidence of the shooting surfaced. Georgia is one of the few states that does not have a hate crime law. U.S. Department of Justice officials said May 11 that they are “assessing all the evidence to determine whether federal hate crime charges are appropriate.” 

This Week’s Space News

After an initial cancellation due to weather conditions, NASA and SpaceX achieved a historic launch Saturday, marking the first time in nine years that astronauts went to orbit from U.S. soil.  Many moving parts behind the scenes ensured the launch’s success.  VOA’s Arash Arabasadi spoke with two teams keeping travelers safe in This Week in Space.
Camera: NASA/AP/REUTERS/SpaceX/SKYPE  Produced by: Arash Arabasadi

Google: Chinese, Iranian Hackers Targeted Biden, Trump Campaigns

State-backed hackers from China have targeted staffers working on the U.S. presidential campaign of Democrat Joe Biden, a senior Google security official said Thursday. The same official said Iranian hackers had recently targeted email accounts belonging to Republican President Donald Trump’s campaign staff. The announcement, made on Twitter by the head of Google’s Threat Analysis Group, Shane Huntley, is the latest indication of the digital spying routinely aimed at top politicians. Huntley said there was “no sign of compromise” of either campaign. Iranian attempts to break into Trump campaign officials’ emails have been documented before. Last year, Microsoft Corp announced that a group often nicknamed Charming Kitten had tried to break into email accounts belonging to an unnamed U.S. presidential campaign, which sources identified as Trump’s. Earlier this year, the threat intelligence company Area 1 Security said Russian hackers had targeted companies tied to a Ukrainian gas firm where Biden’s son once served on the board. No detailsGoogle declined to offer details beyond Huntley’s tweets, but the unusually public attribution is a sign of how sensitive Americans have become to digital espionage efforts aimed at political campaigns. “We sent the targeted users our standard government-backed attack warning and we referred this information to federal law enforcement,” a Google representative said. Hacking to interfere in elections has become a concern for governments, especially since U.S intelligence agencies concluded that Russia ran a hacking and propaganda operation to disrupt the American democratic process in 2016 to help then-candidate Trump become president. Among the targets was digital infrastructure used by 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Moscow has denied any meddling. Commonplace attacksAttempts by foreign adversaries to break into presidential campaigns are commonplace. “We are aware of reports from Google that a foreign actor has made unsuccessful attempts to access the personal email accounts of campaign staff,” a Biden campaign spokesman said. “We have known from the beginning of our campaign that we would be subject to such attacks and we are prepared for them.” The Trump campaign, the Chinese Embassy in Washington and the Iranian mission to the United Nations in New York did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Charming Kitten, the group identified by Google as being responsible for the targeting of the Trump campaign, has also recently been in the headlines over other exploits, including the targeting of the pharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences Inc . Earlier this year, Reuters tied the group to attempts to impersonate high-profile media figures and journalists. John Hultquist, senior director of intelligence analysis with U.S. cybersecurity firm FireEye Inc, described the two hacking groups as “espionage actors” and said they were likely attempting to collect intelligence rather than steal material to leak online. The FBI and Office of the Director of National Intelligence both declined to comment.

US Accuses China of Breaking Democracy Pledge for Hong Kong 

The United States accused China on Thursday of breaking its commitment for democracy in Hong Kong, hours after the city’s legislature passed a law making it a crime to disrespect China’s national anthem. “Unfortunately, we have seen over the past several weeks, action after action … where China is once again showing the world that they break their promises, that they have empty commitments and they never, never intend to keep their word,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus told VOA. “So, we remain very concerned at the State Department. U.S. State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus attends a press briefing by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the State Department in Washington, Dec. 11, 2019.“We just hope that the world now sees Chairman Xi (Jinping) for who he is and now sees the Chinese Communist Party for who they are,” she said. Hong Kong’s mostly pro-Beijing legislature overwhelmingly voted to pass the anthem law. It carries a penalty of up to three years in prison and a maximum fine of $6,450 for those who insult the anthem — “March of the Volunteers” — in public or playing and singing it in a distorted or disrespectful way. Ortagus noted that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently was unable to certify to the U.S. Congress that Hong Kong is autonomous from China after China announced its intention to impose national security controls over the territory, which she called “a tragedy for the people of Hong Kong.” The new U.S. rebuke of China came as thousands of people gathered Thursday night in Hong Kong in defiance of a police ban on such crowds to remember the victims of the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. The crowd cheered as speakers denounced the Chinese decision to impose the national security laws on the city. They also observed a minute of silence for the Tiananmen victims, ending it with loud chants of “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our time.” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Wang Dan, Su Xiaokang, Liane Lee, Henry Li and other student leaders and survivors of the Tiananmen Square protests, June 2, 2020. (Mike Pompeo, Twitter)Ortagus said that earlier this week, Pompeo met with Tiananmen survivors, the first time a sitting U.S. secretary of state had done so. “I think that that action speaks very, very loudly to the entire world,” she said. “Secretary Pompeo and I were hosting these Tiananmen survivors. And the pictures, the stories were harrowing. And we promise to continue to tell their story to the world. It won’t be forgotten. We remember Tiananmen.” She also accused Beijing of trying to foment discord in the U.S. over the nights of protests against the death of George Floyd, a black man who died last week while in police custody in Minneapolis, Minnesota. “We know that they are trying to take this opportunity to make comparisons to try to sow discord in the U.S.,” Ortagus said. “But you know there’s a major difference,” she said. “Obviously, we have freedom of the press here. Obviously, we have freedom to assemble. And the United States will continue those fundamental rights, which Chinese citizens, if they tried to enjoy the same rights, they would be cracked down on, the way they have in Hong Kong, and the way they were in Tiananmen Square.”  

Efforts Launched to Help Immigrants Ineligible for US Federal COVID-19 Assistance

Programs have been launched in two of the largest U.S. states to provide economic assistance to undocumented immigrants who have been ineligible for benefits under massive federal stimulus packages enacted to combat financial fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.Immigrant relief funds have been set up in California and Pennsylvania. A similar initiative was launched in Baltimore, Maryland.
Immigrant advocates say that at a time when much of the U.S. workforce has been idled to slow the spread of the coronavirus, it is counterproductive to exclude those lacking legal status from assistance that has made it easier for people to stay at home.
“Immigrant rights organizations recognized immediately that this was going to exacerbate our public health crisis,” Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizen Coalition executive director Sundrop Carter told VOA.
Enacted in March, the CARES Act provided stimulus checks of up to $1,200 to low and middle-income individuals. Families were also eligible for $500 per child under the age of 17.
Passed by a Democratic-led House and a Republican-led Senate, the bill provided benefits to U.S. citizens and permanent residents but excluded undocumented immigrants and individuals in mixed-status families.
Some Democratic lawmakers criticized the exclusions as unjust, noting that many workers lacking legal status pay federal taxes.  
“COVID-19 does not care about your immigration status, so neither should our response,” Arizona Democratic Congressman Raul Grijalva said in an April statement.
President Donald Trump’s Republican allies on Capitol Hill were unmoved.Earlier this month, Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas introduced the “No Bailouts for Illegal Aliens Act.” Congressman Ken Buck of Colorado introduced a companion legislation in the House. Their goal is to block funds being sent to U.S. states giving coronavirus-related stimulus checks or other cash payments to unauthorized workers.“The federal government shouldn’t be subsidizing states’ efforts to send cash to illegal aliens,” Cotton said in a statement last month.
With federal aid restricted, California stepped in with its own initiative. America’s most populous state set up a $125 million fund that is providing a maximum of $1,000 per undocumented household.In Pennsylvania, more than 40 nonprofit groups have joined with a charitable foundation to launch the PA Immigrant Relief Fund. The program, which several cities are promoting but receives no state money, has provided financial aid to hundreds of families in its first days of operation, and organizers hope to help thousands more in the weeks and months to come.
“So many organizations really wanted to match the federal stimulus of $1,200 dollars, but we ended up on $800 (per undocumented household in Pennsylvania),” Carter said, adding that the initiative aims “to reach as many people as possible” with funds she describes as “a drop in the bucket.”
Some local governments are stepping in, as well. In Baltimore, Maryland, a mayoral office for immigrant affairs established an emergency fund to “help families achieve economic stability by using funds towards rent, utilities and/or other basic needs.”
The key requirement for federal stimulus money is a social security number given to U.S. citizens and permanent legal residents. The stipulation has served to deny benefits to mixed status families in which a citizen or resident is married to an undocumented immigrant who files taxes using an alternative to the social security number.
Multiple lawsuits are underway challenging the withholding of stimulus money to mixed-status families, as well as undocumented immigrants with children who are U.S. citizens.

US Senate Approves Trump Nominee to Head US Broadcasting

The U.S. Senate Thursday approved President Donald Trump’s nominee for the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), the federal agency that oversees Voice of America and other international broadcasting entities.    On a 53-38 party-line vote, the Republican-controlled Senate approved conservative documentary filmmaker Michael Pack to head USAGM for a three-year term. Pack’s nomination has been under consideration for two years, held up in part because of Democratic concerns about alleged financial self-dealing in his businesses.   Through his company Manifold Productions, Inc., Pack has written, directed and produced numerous documentaries, many of which have aired on PBS. He has served as CEO of the conservative Claremont Institute and held positions on the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. He has also worked on film projects with former Trump chief strategist and co-founder of Breitbart News, Stephen Bannon.Pack has previous experience with U.S. broadcasting, having served as director of WORLDNET, the global satellite network of the U.S. Information Agency that became the TV unit of Voice of America.”This man is uniquely qualified to hold this position,” Senate Foreign Relations Chairman James Risch said Thursday. “He’s done an outstanding job – everyone should look at the most recent documentary he did on the Supreme Court – it was just outstanding. There’s been a political battle fight over him for two years and one day – today is the moment of truth.”In his confirmation hearing last September, Pack addressed concerns he would attempt to impose a political bias on USAGM agencies, including VOA, which is mandated by U.S. law to be objective and balanced in its reporting.    “The whole agency rests on the belief the reporters are independent, that no political influence is telling them how to report the news and what to say. Without that trust, I think, the agency is completely undermined,” Pack told the committee.   With Pack’s nomination seemingly stalled in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, President Trump last month expressed frustration about the wait, saying it was due to Democratic obstruction. The president previously threatened to adjourn Congress to push the nomination through.  Despite reports that Pack’s business dealings were the subject of an investigation by the District of Columbia’s attorney general, the Foreign Relations Committee approved Pack’s nomination May 20, on a strict 12-10 party-line vote, and then sent it to the Senate floor for final approval.  At the time, Senator Risch said the committee was prepared to stand down on the nomination “if the United States attorney general department, Department of Justice asks to stand down; [we] will do so. That has not happened here.”  Democrats say nomination sets bad precedentFILE – Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez speaks with the media on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 5, 2019.Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey, the ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said the final vote on the Pack nomination endangered the Senate’s historic advise and consent role on presidential nominees in light of the way it was pushed through without a full airing of Pack’s business dealings.  The D.C. attorney general’s office said it has opened an investigation into whether Pack unlawfully used funds from his nonprofit, Public Media Lab, to benefit himself.“I know that the president has spoken both publicly and privately of his intense desire to confirm Mr. Pack, come what may,” Menendez said Thursday. “The objections that I have raised today and have been raising for months are not political or partisan in nature. They go to the most basic and critical question – is Michael Pack fit to serve? Should he be confirmed while he is under investigation and after having been dishonest with the Senate and the IRS?”Menendez detailed committee Democrats’ unanswered questions, alleging that Pack had “misrepresented the relationship between his nonprofit organization and his for-profit company to the IRS.   The White House dismissed Democratic concerns, stating that, “The President stands behind Michael Pack and is disappointed, but not surprised, that Do-Nothing-Democrats have once again decided to throw political mud on a public servant’s clean record.”   Pack’s film company, Manifold Productions, Inc., received millions in grants from his non-profit, Menendez said. Yet he repeatedly told the IRS that there was no relationship between the two when in fact he ran both of them. Menendez said that Pack has yet to correct misinformation provided to the IRS and to the committee regarding the status of his tax returns.Menendez said Pack had not provided the committee with requested documents detailing the relationship between his nonprofit and his business, claiming sensitive business information.   “Business interests are so sensitive that the United States senators cleared to review the most sensitive classified information cannot see them,” Menendez said.   VOA did not receive a response to a request for comment from Pack’s spokesperson.  US Broadcasting editorial stanceIn recent weeks, Trump has criticized VOA for its news coverage of China during the coronavirus crisis. When asked about the Pack nomination on May 15th, Trump said, “Voice of America is run in a terrible manner. They’re not the Voice of America. They’re the opposite of the Voice of America.”   VOA Director Amanda Bennett defended the U.S.-funded news agency’s mission and reporting in a statement last month.     “We export the First Amendment to people around the world who have no other access to factual, truthful, believable information,” she said.        “That’s why more than 80% of our 280 million audience in 47 languages in more than 60 countries say they find our work credible,” she added.      Senator Menendez said on the Senate floor ahead of the final vote Thursday that the connection with foreign audiences depends on the agency’s protections from political interference.“People around the world have come to view the products from all of the networks and grantees as reliable and trustworthy news sources as this pandemic has highlighted,” he said.“It is absolutely critical that any person in this position maintain a strong firewall between the work of its networks and grantees and political interference or influence from the White House or any others.”
The USAGM oversees five U.S. civilian broadcast networks, which include VOA, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB), Radio Free Asia (RFA), and the Arabic-language stations Alhurra Television and Radio Sawa of the Middle East Broadcasting Networks (MBN).    

False Claims of Antifa Protesters Plague Small US Cities

In the days since President Donald Trump blamed antifa activists for an eruption of violence at protests over police killings of black people, social media has lit up with false rumors that the far-left-leaning group is transporting people to wreak havoc on small cities across America.The speculation was being raised by conservative news outlets and pro-Trump social media accounts, as well as impostor Facebook and Twitter accounts.Twitter and Facebook busted some of the instigators behind the unsubstantiated social media chatter. Twitter determined Monday that a tweet promising antifa would “move into residential areas” and “white” neighborhoods was sent by the white supremacy group Identity Evropa. The tweet was shared hundreds of times and cited in online news articles before Twitter removed it Monday, a company spokesperson said.Yet the tweet continued to circulate Tuesday on Facebook and Instagram.Facebook, using information shared by Twitter, announced Tuesday night it also took down a handful of accounts on its platform that were created by white supremacy groups like Identity Evropa and American Guard, some of them posing as part of the antifa movement.For years, some social media users have tried to delegitimize controversial or political protests with baseless theories that they were organized by wealthy financiers or extremists organizations. Over the weekend, Trump singled out antifa as being responsible for the violent protests triggered by the killing of George Floyd, saying in a tweet: “It’s ANTIFA and the Radical Left.””Usually you see this when there’s an interest to deflect conversations from protests to just accusing the protests of being violent, organized or having backers that are evil,”said Filippo Menczer, a professor of informatics and computer science at Indiana University. “The president mentioning it, of course, has generated a huge spike.”The theories about antifa — short for “anti-fascists” and an umbrella term for lefitst militant groups that confront or resist neo-Nazis and white supremacists at demonstrations — have trickled through cities across the country in recent days.Police departments say people are phoning in “tips” they see on social media claiming antifa is sending buses or even planes full of antifa activists to their area.In Payette County, Idaho — a rural county of 24,000 — the calls started early Monday morning after one Facebook user said the sheriff had spotted antifa rioters in the area. The calls didn’t taper off until the sheriff’s office debunked the rumor on Facebook.”It’s really a small community, where our citizens know us pretty well,” said Payette County Sheriff Lt. Andy Creech. “When the post got out there, we started getting phone calls directly.”Meanwhile, Facebook users were also warning their friends to stay clear of a shopping center in a New Jersey suburb, saying it would be the center of antifa destruction on Tuesday.But police had “no credible information” that antifa would be present in the area, Toms River Police Department media specialist Jillian Messina said in an email. The police aren’t aware of anyone showing up at all, she added.Identical Facebook and Twitter posts about busloads of antifa protesters also stumped the Sioux Falls Police Department, where officers in the South Dakota city said they didn’t see any unusual bus activity in town. But the claims still spread for days ahead of a planned protest this Saturday, said Sam Clemens, a public information officer for the department.”Everyone heard there were going to be buses of people,” Clemens said. “It was very specific: there were three busloads.”Even the owner of a Michigan limousine business was forced to refute online rumors when two of his buses became the center of a conspiracy theory that liberal financier George Soros was funneling protesters to Milan, Michigan. Social media users widely shared a manipulated photo of his white buses, edited to show the words “Soros Riot Dance squad” emblazoned on the sides.The buses belong to Sean Duval, the owner of local transportation company Golden Limousine International, and don’t have any words printed on them.Said Duval: “It’s frustrating when people from the outside start instigating and try to turn American against American.”