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NASA Readies for Dramatic Landing of Asteroid Sample to Earth

The climactic end of a seven-year voyage comes Sunday when a NASA capsule is to land in the Utah desert, carrying to Earth the largest asteroid samples ever collected.

Scientists have high hopes for the sample, saying it will provide a better understanding of the formation of our solar system and how Earth became habitable.

The Osiris-Rex probe’s final, fiery descent through Earth’s atmosphere will be perilous, but the U.S. space agency is hoping for a soft landing, around 9 a.m. local (15H00 GMT), in a military test range in northwestern Utah.

Four years after its 2016 launch, the probe landed on the asteroid Bennu and collected roughly nine ounces (250 grams) of dust from its rocky surface.

Even that small amount, NASA says, should “help us better understand the types of asteroids that could threaten Earth” and cast light “on the earliest history of our solar system,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said.

“This sample return is really historic,” NASA scientist Amy Simon told AFP. “This is going to be the biggest sample we’ve brought back since the Apollo moon rocks” were returned to Earth.

But the capsule’s return will require “a dangerous maneuver,” she acknowledged.

Osiris-Rex is set to release the capsule — from an altitude of more than 108,000 kilometers — about four hours before it lands.

The fiery passage through the atmosphere will come in the last 13 minutes, as the capsule hurtles downward at a speed of more than 43,453 kph, with temperatures of up to 2,760 Celsius.

Its rapid descent, monitored by army sensors, will be slowed by two successive parachutes. Should they fail to deploy correctly, a “hard landing” would follow.

If it appears that the target zone 60 by 15 kilometers might be missed, NASA controllers could decide at the last moment not to release the capsule.

The probe would then keep its cargo and make another orbit of the sun. Scientists would have to wait until 2025 before trying a new landing.

If it succeeds, however, Osiris-Rex would head toward a date with another asteroid.

Once the tire-sized capsule touches down in Utah, a team in protective masks and gloves will place it in a net to be airlifted by helicopter to a temporary “clean room” nearby.

NASA wants this done as quickly and carefully as possible to avoid any contamination of the sample with desert sands, skewing test results.

On Monday, assuming all goes well, the sample will be flown by plane to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. There, the box will be opened in another “clean room,” the beginning of a days-long process.

NASA plans to announce its first results at a news conference on Oct. 11.

Most of the sample will be conserved for study by future generations. Roughly one-fourth of it will be immediately used in experiments, and a small amount will be sent to Japan and Canada, partners in the mission.

Japan had earlier given NASA a few grains from the asteroid Ryugu, after bringing 5.6 grams of dust to Earth in 2020 during the Hayabusa-2 mission. Ten years before, it had brought back a microscopic quantity from another asteroid.

But the sample from Bennu is much larger, allowing for significantly more testing, Simon said.

Asteroids are composed of the original materials of the solar system, dating to some 4.5 billion years ago, and have remained relatively intact.

They “can give us clues about how the solar system formed and evolved,” said Osiris-Rex program executive Melissa Morris.

“It’s our own origin story,” she said.

By striking Earth’s surface, “we do believe asteroids and comets delivered organic material, potentially water, that helped life flourish here on Earth,” Simon said.

Scientists believe Bennu, which is 500 meters in diameter, is rich in carbon — a building block of life on Earth — and contains water molecules locked in minerals.

Bennu had surprised scientists in 2020 when the probe, during the few seconds of contact with the asteroid’s surface, had sunk into the soil, revealing an unexpectedly low density, sort of like a children’s pool filled with plastic balls.

Understanding its composition could come in handy in the distant future.

There is a slight, but non-zero, chance (one in 2,700) that Bennu could collide catastrophically with Earth, though not until 2182.

But NASA last year succeeded in deviating the course of an asteroid by crashing a probe into it in a test, and it might at some point need to repeat that exercise, but with much higher stakes. 

Second Texas City at ‘Breaking Point’ as Migrants Flood Border, Mayor Says

The surge of migrants crossing the U.S. border from Mexico has pushed the city of El Paso, Texas, to “a breaking point,” with more than 2,000 people per day seeking asylum, exceeding shelter capacity and straining resources, its mayor said Saturday.

“The city of El Paso only has so many resources and we have come to … a breaking point right now,” Mayor Oscar Leeser said.

The crush of largely Venezuelan asylum-seekers is part of a larger swell of immigrants who traveled dangerous routes on buses and cargo trains to Mexican border towns near San Diego, California, and the Texas cities of El Paso and Eagle Pass.

Migrant numbers had plummeted in recent months, and the recent dramatic increase has generated a new wave of political attacks on U.S. President Joe Biden heading into the 2024 election.

Lesser told a news conference that El Paso plans to open a new shelter, and on Saturday chartered five buses to take migrants to New York, Chicago and Denver.

Republican governors in Texas and Florida have been criticized for sending migrants to cities perceived as liberal such as New York and Sacramento. But Leeser, a Democrat, said all of the migrants on the El Paso buses were going voluntarily to the cities of their choice.

Leeser said the Biden had been a good partner. But he said the overall U.S. immigration system was broken.

Many migrants from Venezuela, he said, lacked transportation to their desired destinations, while El Paso’s current shelter houses only 400 people, and must also be available to help the homeless.

As recently as six weeks ago, about 350-400 people were crossing into El Paso per day, but the past few days have brought 2,000 or more.

Over the past 10 days, the city has worked with the U.S. Border Patrol to provide shelter for 6,500 people, he said.

About two-thirds of those crossing into El Paso recently are single men, he said. About 32% are families and 2% are unaccompanied children.

“I think it’s really important to note that we have a broken immigration system,” he said. “It’s the same thing over and over again.”

Галущенко уточнив, чи планується підвищення тарифів для населення

«Енергосистема України «повністю готова до проходження осені та зими у питаннях забезпечення ресурсів, генерації та системи передачі»

US Auto Workers Could Expand Strike, But Not Without Risk

Even after escalating its strike against Detroit automakers on Friday, the United Auto Workers union still has plenty of leverage in its effort to force the companies to agree to significant increases in pay and benefits. 

Only about 12% of the union’s membership is so far taking part in the walkout. The UAW could, if it chose to, vastly expand the number of workers who could strike assembly plants and parts facilities of General Motors, Ford and Stellantis, the owner of the Jeep and Ram brands. 

Yet the UAW’s emerging strategy also carries risks for the union. By expanding its strike from three large auto assembly plants to all 38 parts distribution centers of GM and Ford, the UAW risks angering people who might be unable to have their vehicles repaired at service centers that lack parts. 

The union’s thinking appears to be that, by striking both vehicle production and parts facilities, it will force automakers to negotiate a relatively quick end to the strike, now in its second week. To do so, though, some analysts say the union might have to act even more aggressively. 

“We believe the next step for UAW is the more nuclear option — going for a much more widespread strike on the core plants in and around Detroit,” said Daniel Ives, an analyst with Wedbush Securities. “That would be a torpedo.” 

Sam Abuelsamid, an analyst at the consulting firm Guidehouse Insights, suggested that with so many workers and factories still running, the union has a number of options with which to squeeze the companies harder. 

“They could add more assembly plants to the list,” Abuelsamid said. “They could target more of the plants that are building the most profitable vehicles.” 

As examples, he mentioned a plant in Flint, Michigan, where GM builds heavy-duty pickups, and a Stellantis factory in Sterling Heights, Michigan, that produces Ram trucks. 

All three companies said that talks with the union continued on Saturday, though officials said they expected no major announcements. 

Workers in Canada vote

In Canada on Saturday, Ford workers began voting on a tentative agreement that their union said would increase base pay by 15% over three years and provide cost-of-living increases and $10,000 ratification bonuses. The tentative deal was forged earlier this week, hours before a strike deadline. 

The union, Unifor, said the deal, which covers 5,600 workers, also includes better retirement benefits. If the deal is ratified in voting that will end Sunday morning, the union will use it as a pattern for new contracts at GM and Stellantis plants in Canada. 

UAW tries to increase pressure

In the United States, the UAW began its walkout more than a week ago by striking three assembly plants — one each at GM, Ford and Stellantis. In expanding the strike on Friday, the UAW struck only the parts-distribution centers of GM and Stellantis. Ford was spared from the latest walkouts because of progress that company has made in negotiations with the union, said UAW President Shawn Fain. 

Striking the parts centers is designed to turn up pressure on the companies by hurting dealers who service vehicles made by GM and Stellantis, the successor to Fiat Chrysler. Service shops are a profit center for dealers, so the strategy could prove effective. Millions of motorists depend on those shops to maintain and repair their cars and trucks. 

“It severely hits the dealerships, and it hurts the customers who purchased those very expensive vehicles in good faith,” said Art Wheaton, a labor expert at Cornell University. “You just told all your customers, ‘Hey we can’t fix those $50,000 to $70,000 cars we just sold you because we can’t get you the parts.'” 

Unionn keeps companies guessing

The union has declined to discuss its strike strategy publicly. Fain has said repeatedly that a critical part of its plan is to keep the companies guessing about the UAW’s next move. Indeed, the union has shown unusual discipline in sticking to its talking points. 

On a picket line Friday, Fain was asked whether striking against the spare-parts centers would hurt — and potentially alienate — consumers. 

“What has hurt the consumers in the long run is the fact the companies have raised prices on vehicles 35% in the last four years,” he shot back. “It’s not because of our wages. Our wages went up 6%, the CEO pay went up 40%.” 

Selling parts and performing service is highly profitable for car dealers. AutoNation reported a gross profit margin of 46% from service shops at its dealerships last year. The problem for the companies is that dealerships and other repair shops typically have lean inventories and depend on receiving parts quickly from the manufacturers’ warehouses. 

Mike Stanton, president of the National Automobile Dealers Association, said his members want to avoid anything that would impair customer service, “so we certainly hope automakers and the UAW can reach an agreement quickly and amicably.” 

To make up for the loss of striking workers, the automakers are weighing their options, including staffing the parts warehouses with salaried workers. 

“We have contingency plans for various scenarios and are prepared to do what is best for our business and customers,” said David Barnas, a GM spokesman. “We are evaluating if and when to enact those plans.” 

Similarly, Jodi Tinson, a Stellantis spokeswoman, said, “We have a contingency plan in place to ensure we are fulfilling our commitments to our dealers and our customers.” She declined to provide additional details. 

In negotiating with the companies, the union is pointing to the carmakers’ huge recent profits and high CEO pay as it seeks wage increases of about 36% over four years. The companies have offered a bit more than half that amount. 

The companies have said they cannot afford to meet the union’s demands because they need to invest profits in a costly transition from gas-powered cars to electric vehicles. They have dismissed out of hand some of the demands, including 40 hours’ pay for a 32-hour work week. 

Стефанчук розповів, за яких умов у Шуфрича можна забрати мандат

20 вересня Верховна Рада відкликала народного депутата Нестора Шуфрича з посади голови парламентського комітету з питань свободи слова

 VOA Immigration Weekly Recap, Sept. 17–23

Editor’s note: Here is a look at immigration-related news around the U.S. this week. Questions? Tips? Comments? Email the VOA immigration team: ImmigrationUnit@voanews.com.

Texas City Sees Jump in Irregular Migrant Crossings

U.S. immigration authorities reported a significant uptick in unauthorized border crossings at the U.S.-Mexico border Thursday, particularly in areas such as Eagle Pass, Texas, where the mayor has issued a state of emergency. U.S. Border Patrol officers apprehended about 9,000 migrants along the entire border in a 24-hour period, according to media reports on Wednesday. VOA asked the Border Patrol to confirm the number of apprehensions, but an official, who spoke on background, said they were waiting to release monthly migrant encounter numbers. VOA’s immigration reporter Aline Barros has the story.

New York Mayor Urges UN Leaders to Act on Migration Crisis

New York City is hosting world leaders at the United Nations this week. But it is also facing a crisis because border states such as Texas are sending hundreds of migrants to the city each day. Jorge Agobian has the story in this report narrated by Aline Barros.

Biden Grants Protection to Hundreds of Thousands of Venezuelans

The Biden administration said Wednesday that it was granting temporary legal status to hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans who are already in the country as it grapples with growing numbers of people fleeing the South American country and elsewhere to arrive at the U.S. border with Mexico. The Associated Press reports. Watch the VOA60 American story.

VOA in Photos:

Migrants seeking asylum in the United States cross a razor-wire fence near a border wall on the banks of the Rio Bravo, as it’s known in Mexico, on the border between the U.S. and Mexico, as seen from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Sept. 18, 2023.

Immigration around the world

VOA60 Africa – UNHCR said over 1,200 children have died in Sudanese refugee camps since May

More than 1,200 children have died in refugee camps since May, while thousands of newborns are likely to die across the war-torn country by year’s end, the United Nations said Tuesday.

Rights Groups, Refugees Wary of Thailand’s New Asylum Program

Days before Thailand launches a new protection program for foreign asylum-seekers, rights groups and refugees are expressing concern that many worthy hopefuls will be turned down or feel too frightened of arrest and deportation to even apply. Story by Zsombor Peter.

Migrants Burst Into Southern Mexico Asylum Office Demanding Papers

Migrants, mostly from Haiti, burst into an asylum office in southern Mexico on Monday, demanding papers. Throngs of migrants knocked over metal barricades and rushed into the office in the city of Tapachula, pushing past National Guard officers and police stationed at the office. Some of the migrants were trampled in the rush.

Italy Toughens Asylum Laws Amid Surge in Migrant Arrivals

Italy’s government Monday passed measures to build new migrant detention centers and allow for the rapid deportation of failed asylum-seekers. Italy is facing another surge in migrant arrivals on the small island of Lampedusa. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Protesters Urge Compassion for Migrants Left in Limbo in Australia

Campaigners are urging Australia to allow thousands of migrants whose asylum claims were rejected under a controversial policy to stay. A weeklong protest starts Monday outside the offices of Australian Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil over the cases of up to 12,000 asylum-seekers who have spent more than a decade on temporary bridging visas but face the threat of deportation. Produced by Phil Mercer.

European Leaders Visit Lampedusa

European Union Commission President Ursula von de Leyen and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni toured a migrant center Sunday on the small Italian island of Lampedusa. The center was recently overwhelmed with almost 7,000 migrants in a 24-hour period, a total that is nearly equivalent to the number of people who live on the island. VOA News reports.

News brief

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced the extension and redesignation of Afghanistan for temporary protected status for 18 months, from November 21 to May 20, 2025, because of  continuing armed conflict and extraordinary and temporary conditions in Afghanistan that prevent individuals from safely returning.

Померла мама співака та музиканта Кузьми Скрябіна

У 2012 році Андрій Кузьменко написав пісню «Мам», присвячену своїй матері

Native American News Roundup September 17 to 23, 2023

Here are some of the Native American-related stories making headlines this week:

Lawmakers seek to combat child abuse, neglect and family violence 

The U.S. House of Representatives this week passed the Native American Child Protection Act to help Native American communities respond to and head off family violence and child abuse.

Introduced by Representative Ruben Gallego, the Native American Child Protection Act revises programs that were originally established in 1990 and passed as part of then-Senator John McCain’s Indian Child Protection and Family Violence Prevention Act.

Its provisions are aimed at helping tribes develop programs to identify, investigate and prosecute cases of child abuse, child neglect and family violence.

“For too long, Congress has failed to uphold its promise to address the disproportionate levels of child abuse in tribal communities,” said Gallego, former chairman of the House Subcommittee on Indigenous Peoples of the U.S. “My bipartisan Native American Child Protection Act corrects that by providing tribes the resources they need to prevent, prosecute, and treat instances of family violence and child abuse.” 

The bill now passes to the Senate for consideration.

BIA’s Missing and Murdered Unit steps in where law enforcement has failed 

Agents from the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Missing and Murdered Unit are reexamining the case of Kaysera Stops Pretty Places, who went missing on August 24, 2019, in a suburban neighborhood of Hardin, Montana, less than 0.8 kilometers from the Crow Reservation boundary. 

Law enforcement found her body five days after she disappeared but did not notify her family until September 11. Since then, the family says it has not heard from the Big Horn County Sheriff’s office, the FBI or the Montana Justice Department about investigations into her death.

The BIA unit was formed in 2021 by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and has received 845 case referrals, primarily from victims’ families. Nearly 375 cases are still under review or being investigated.  

Read more:

White House to boost restoration of Columbia River Basin salmon

The Biden-Harris administration this week announced a historic agreement with the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, and the Spokane Tribe of Indians to reintroduce salmon into blocked habitats of the Upper Columbia River Basin.

Salmon were once abundant in the upper Columbia, Sanpoil, and Spokane rivers but disappeared after their habitats were blocked by the construction of hydroelectric dams in the 20th century.

As a result, tribal communities have had to change their traditional diets and traditional ways of life, and this in turn has changed the way they once taught and raised children in the cultural and spiritual beliefs centered around these fish.

“Since time immemorial, tribes along the Columbia River System have relied on Pacific salmon, steelhead, and other native fish species for sustenance and their cultural and spiritual ways of life. Today’s historic agreement is integral to helping restore healthy and abundant fish populations to these communities,” said Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said.  

The agreement includes funding to support implementing these plans, including $200 million over 20 years from the U.S. Energy Department and $8 million over two years through the Bureau of Reclamation. 


Southern Baptists expel church after pastor defended racist role play 

The Southern Baptist Convention, America’s largest Protestant organization, this week voted to oust an Oklahoma pastor in Ochelata who failed to respond to allegations that his church “affirms, approves, or endorses discriminatory behavior on the basis of ethnicity.”

While the convention didn’t offer further details, it is believed to be related to two Matoaka Baptist Church events in which pastor Sherman Jaquess dressed in blackface and as a “Native American.”  

The Convention’s Executive Committee voted Tuesday that the Matoaka Baptist Church was “deemed not in friendly cooperation with the convention” — the official terminology for an expulsion.

In a video released on Facebook earlier this year, Jaquess can be seen at a 2017 Valentine’s Day event dressed in blackface at a piano, posing as singer Ray Charles. 

A separate Facebook photo shows Jaquess at a 2012 youth camp event dressed in red face, wearing “Native American” braids and a feathered headband. 

Jaquess defended his actions, saying that it is “repugnant to have people think you’re a racist” and claimed that he was paying tribute to the iconic soul singer.

“It wasn’t derogatory, wasn’t racial in any way, and we’re not racist at all,” he said. “I don’t have a racist bone in my body. I have a lot of racial friends.” 

He also stated he is of part-Cherokee heritage. 

Read more: 

Native American earthworks listed as World Heritage Site

The UNESCO World Heritage Committee this week added 27 new sites to the World Heritage List, among them the Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks in southern Ohio. Those are eight enormous earthen enclosure complexes that American Indians — known as the Hopewell Culture — built between 1,600 and 2,000 years ago. 

These served as centers for Hopewell feasts, funerals, and other social and spiritual gatherings. Archaeologists excavating the site have found pottery, copper and shell ornaments, and carved pipes made from raw materials obtained through trade with tribes in the Great Lakes, Carolinas, the Rocky Mountains and elsewhere. 

Read more:

Danish trolls come to Seattle 

John “Coyote” Halliday, an artist enrolled in the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe in Washington State, helped design one of six gigantic trolls that have appeared in the Puget Sound area. 

Standing as tall as 6 meters, they are all made from recycled materials. 

It is part of a larger body of work conceived by Danish artist/activist Thomas Dambo, to bring attention to sustainability and the environment. 

VOA reporter Natasha Mozgovaya spoke with Halliday and Dambo in Seattle and filed this report. 

UPDATE:  Seattle’s KOMO News reports that vandals defaced the troll sculpture featured in Natasha Mozgovaya’s video report.  Read more:


Former FBI Agent Pleads Guilty to Concealing Loan From Former Intelligence Officer

Former FBI official Charles McGonigal pleaded guilty on Friday to accepting $225,000 from Albanian-American Agron Nezaj, a former Albanian intelligence officer who McGonigal admitted was helping him foster relationships in Albania to help lay the groundwork for future business opportunities in the country.

According to court documents, Nezaj became an informant for the FBI’s investigation into McGonigal’s contacts in Albania.

In Washington, McGonigal faced a nine-count indictment charging him with failing to report cash payments, contacts with foreign officials and trips to Europe he took with Nezaj in 2017 and 2018 that neither he nor the FBI paid for.

The guilty plea was entered in U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia in Washington, based on a deal between prosecutors and McGonigal’s lawyers. He pleaded guilty to one count of the indictment — concealing material evidence — and prosecutors dropped the other eight counts.

The settlement means the case will not go to trial.

McGonigal apologized to the court for his actions.

“Before I left the FBI in September 2018, I was planning to launch a security consulting business with a friend. I knew that my government contacts and international relationships might be useful to me when I later launched the business,” he told U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly.

“I did not disclose an approximately $225,000 loan I received from my friend and prospective business partner in the U.S. for several meetings I attended with foreign nationals. These meetings were an effort to develop potential business relationships for my future consulting business. And the loan was intended to help start the business,” McGonigal said.

Those contacts included several meetings in 2017 and 2018 with Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama in the presence of Nezaj and an adviser to the prime minister, who had business interests in arranging the meetings.

In one instance, McGonigal opened a criminal investigation in New York into a U.S. lobbyist who was working for an Albanian opposition party. According to the indictment, he received this information from the Albanian prime minister’s office. The indictment does not identify the American lobbyist nor the Albanian party.

But on November 14, 2017, lobbyist Nick Muzin — an ex-Trump aide — filed on the lobbying activity on behalf of the Albanian Democratic Party, the main opposition party, with the Department of Justice. While lobbying for a foreign political force is not illegal for a registered lobbyist, Muzin had filed that activity months after an initial filing that was not complete.

The payment he received eventually became the subject of an investigation in Albania over the suspect origin of the money.

McGonigal told the court he had an ongoing relationship with the prime minister.

Rama has denied any wrongdoing.

McGonigal’s lawyer Seth DuCharme said after the hearing that his client takes full responsibility for his actions and looks forward to putting the case behind him.

“While he may have had or did have, I think, some pretty legitimate interests that aligned with the United States in keeping up those relationships, he also clearly had a personal interest,” DuCharme said.

McGonigal led the FBI’s counterintelligence division in New York before retiring in 2018.

In a separate case in New York, McGonigal pleaded guilty in August to a conspiracy charge, admitting that after leaving the FBI he agreed to work for Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska. McGonigal went to work for Deripaska, whom McGonigal had once investigated, to dig up dirt on the oligarch’s wealthy rival in violation of U.S. sanctions on Russia. He faces up to five years in prison when he is sentenced in mid-December.

The District of Columbia court charge carries a maximum of five years in prison, but prosecutors will likely seek a more lenient sentence as part of the plea agreement.

The judge said McGonigal will be sentenced in February and said he will not be able to appeal it.

Some information for this report was provided by Reuters and The Associated Press.

Стефанчук: «закон про олігархів» показав свою ефективність, але його імплементація розпочнеться після завершення війни

Спікер парламенту не визнає, що закон, який ухвалила Верховна Рада України був юридично недосконалим, спікер каже, що «практика покаже»

Стефанчук вважає, що в парламенті наразі немає голосів для заборони діяльності Московського патріархату в Україні

У День Незалежності 24 серпня 2023 року у Верховній Раді зібрали понад 125 підписів депутатів під зверненням до спікера Руслана Стефанчука із закликом розглянути законопроєкти про заборону УПЦ (МП)

Flamethrower, Comments About Book Burning Ignite Political Firestorm in US

A longshot candidate for governor in the U.S. state of Missouri and his supporters describe his use of a flamethrower at a recent “Freedom Fest” event outside St. Louis as no big deal. They said it was a fun moment for fellow Republicans who attended, and that no one talked about burning books as he torched a pile of cardboard boxes.

But after the video gained attention on social media, State Sen. Bill Eigel said he would burn books he found objectionable, and that he’d do it on the lawn outside the governor’s mansion. He later said it was all a metaphor for how he would attack the “woke liberal agenda.”

“From a dramatic sense, if the only thing in between the children in the state of Missouri and vulgar pornographic material like that getting in their hands is me burning, bulldozing or launching (books) into outer space, I’m going to do that,” Eigel said in an interview with The Associated Press. “However, I would I make the point that I don’t believe it’s going to come to that.”

Experts say Eigel’s use of the flamethrower is a sign that rhetoric and imagery previously considered extreme are now being treated as normal in American politics. While Eigel didn’t actually destroy books, his later statement about burning ones he deemed offensive ratcheted up fears that the video’s circulation and his words on social media could help take the U.S. to a darker place.

“The slippery slope is that everything is a joke — everything can be kind of waved away,” said Kurt Braddock, an assistant professor of public communications at American University in Washington. “Everything can be seen as just rhetoric until it can’t anymore and people start using it as an excuse to actually hurt people.”

The 30-second video that put Eigel at the center of a social media storm is from a Sept. 15 event for Republicans at a winery near tiny Defiance, Missouri, about 48 kilometers west of St. Louis. He and another state senator shot long streams of flame onto a pile of cardboard in front of an appreciative crowd.

The video posted on the X platform, formerly known as Twitter, caught the attention of Jonathan Riley, a liberal activist in Durham, North Carolina, who posted Sunday that it showed “Missouri Republicans at a literal book burning,” though he’d later walk that statement back to a “metaphorical” book burning.

“It fit a narrative that they wanted to put out there,” Freedom Fest organizer Debbie McFarland said about claims that Eigel burned books. “It just didn’t happen to be the truth.”

Some of Republicans’ skepticism over the online outrage stems from Eigel’s status as a dark horse candidate to replace term-limited Republican Gov. Mike Parson. The best known candidates for the August 2024 GOP primary are Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft and Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe.

The Ashcroft campaign declined to respond to the video, the uproar it caused or Eigel’s follow-up statement. Kehoe’s campaign had no official comment, but Gregg Keller, a Republican consultant working on Kehoe’s campaign, said Eigel’s promise to burn objectionable books is “typical electioneering hyperbole.”

He added, “I would challenge you to find me any non-psychotic Republican who has actually burned” a book deemed objectionable by conservatives.

Eigel posted on the X platform that his flamethrower stunt was meant to show what he would do to the “swamp” in the state capital of Jefferson City, but “let’s be clear, you bring those woke pornographic books to Missouri schools to try to brainwash our kids, and I’ll burn those too — on the front lawn of the governor’s mansion.”

Republicans across the U.S. are backing conservative efforts to purge schools and libraries of materials with LGBTQ+ themes or books with LGBTQ+ characters. The issue resonates with Republicans in Missouri. An AP VoteCast survey of Missouri voters in the 2022 midterm elections showed that more than 75% of those voting for GOP candidates thought the K-8 schools in their community were teaching too much about gender identity or sexual orientation.

The outcry also comes after Missouri’s Republican-supermajority Legislature banned gender-affirming health care for transgender minors and required K-12 and college students to play on sports teams that match their sex assigned at birth. Eigel has sponsored measures to ban schools from teaching about gender identity or gender-affirming care and to make it a crime to perform in drag in public.

Aggressive and even violent imagery have long been a part of American politics. It can sometimes backfire.

Large guns have been a popular prop for some Republicans. Last year, a Black candidate seeking the Republican nomination in an Arizona congressional district aired an ad in which he held an AR-15 rifle as people wearing Ku Klux Klan robes and hoods tried to storm a home. He finished last.

In Missouri in 2016, Republican candidate and ex-Navy SEAL Eric Greitens ran an ad featuring him firing 100 rounds from a machine gun on his way to winning the governor’s race. After a sex and invasion-of-privacy scandal in 2018 forced him to resign, he attempted a political comeback in the state’s 2022 U.S. Senate race, running an ad featuring him with a shotgun declaring he was going hunting for RINOs, or Republicans in Name Only. He finished third in the primary.

Flamethowers also have popped up previously. In 2020, a GOP congressional candidate in Alabama showed her support for then-President Donald Trump by torching a mockup of the first articles of impeachment against him. She finished third in the primary. And in South Dakota, Gov. Kristi Noem’s staff gave her a flamethrower last year as a Christmas gift.

Experts who study political extremism said images involving fire or bonfires have long been associated with extremist groups. Eigel’s critics quickly posted online images involving the Ku Klux Klan and Nazi book burnings before World War II.

Evan Perkoski, an associate political science professor at the University of Connecticut, said it’s been “traditional” for extremist groups to use images of fire to “simultaneously intimidate people and signal their intentions to destroy what exists and to rebuild or start over.”

“We’ve seen this time and time again from groups across countries where groups will burn effigies, crosses and other items, or even just film themselves around large conflagrations,” he said in a email to AP. “A large part of their motivation is the symbolic, frightening nature of fire.”

Experts continue to worry about how social media can spread extreme or violent images or words to potentially millions of people, increasing the chances of a single person seeing the material as a call to violence.

Javed Ali, a former senior FBI counterterrorism official who’s now an associate professor at the University of Michigan, said law enforcement agencies struggle with thwarting homegrown political violence. He said the sheer volume of social media postings means, “Sometimes, you almost have to get lucky in order to stop it.”

Braddock, the American University professor, said that after portraying a flamethrower as a weapon against “the woke agenda,” Eigel’s supporters don’t need “that big a leap of logic” to see it as a tool for settling actual political grievances. Talking about book burning enough can plant the idea in people’s minds so that “people think it’s actually a righteous thing to do.”

Ali added: “That’s a pretty dangerous game to play.”

Eigel said he’s not worried the video will inspire violence in “reasonable, everyday Missourians,” which he said is the majority of people. But he said he’s concerned about the number of threats he, his family and his staff have received as a result.

Tropical Storm Ophelia Heads to North Carolina Coast

Tropical Storm Ophelia was expected to make landfall on the North Carolina coast early Saturday morning with the potential for damaging winds and dangerous surges of water, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

Life-threatening flooding caused by the weather system was forecast for parts of eastern North Carolina and southeastern Virginia, the center said in an update at 11 p.m. Friday.

Ophelia was about 115 kilometers south of Cape Lookout, North Carolina, and heading north-northwest at 19 kph late Friday after spinning into tropical storm during the afternoon.

The system had maximum sustained winds of 113 kph with some higher gusts, but was forecast to weaken after landfall, the hurricane center reported.

Ophelia was expected to turn north Saturday and then shift northeast on Sunday. The storm promised a weekend of windy conditions and heavy rain up to 18 centimeters in parts of North Carolina and Virginia and 5-10 centimeters in the rest of the mid-Atlantic region through Sunday.

A storm surge warning, indicating danger from rising water moving inland, was in effect from Bogue Inlet, North Carolina, to Chincoteague, Virginia. Surges between 1.2 and 1.8 meters were forecast in some areas, the hurricane center said.

A tropical storm warning was issued from Cape Fear, North Carolina, to Fenwick Island, Delaware. A hurricane watch was in effect in North Carolina for the area north of Surf City to Ocracoke Inlet, the center reported.

The governors of North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland declared a state of emergency Friday as some schools closed early and several weekend events were canceled.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper issued his state’s emergency declaration, aiming to expedite preparations and help provide a swift response.

“The storm’s path has been difficult to predict and we want to ensure that farmers, first responders and utility crews have the tools necessary to prepare for severe weather,” Cooper said.

The North Carolina Ferry System on Friday suspended service on all routes until conditions improve, officials said.

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s executive order sought to ease response and recovery efforts.

“We want to ensure that all communities, particularly those with the greatest anticipated impact, have the resources they need to respond and recover from the effects of this storm,” Youngkin said, encouraging residents to prepare emergency kits and follow weather forecasts closely.

Maryland Gov. Wes Moore said in a statement Friday evening that the state expected an extended period of strong winds, heavy rainfall and elevated tides.

In Annapolis, Maryland’s capital, water taxi driver Scott Bierman said service would be closed Saturday.

“We don’t operate when it’s going to endanger passengers and or damage vessels,” Bierman said.

In Washington, the Nationals baseball team postponed its Saturday game until Sunday.

It is not uncommon for one or two tropical storms, or even hurricanes, to form off the East Coast each year, National Hurricane Center Director Michael Brennan said.

“We’re right at the peak of hurricane season, we can basically have storms form anywhere across much of the Atlantic basin,” Brennan said.

Scientists say climate change could result in hurricanes expanding their reach into mid-latitude regions more often, making storms like this month’s Hurricane Lee more common.

One study simulated tropical cyclone tracks from pre-industrial times, modern times and a future with higher emissions. It found that hurricanes would track closer to the coasts including around Boston, New York and Virginia and be more likely to form along the Southeast coast.

Nancy Shoemaker and her husband Bob stopped by a waterside park in downtown Annapolis to pick up sandbags. A water surge in a storm last October washed away sandbags they had in their yard.

“We’re hoping it won’t be that way this time,” Nancy Shoemaker said. “If we have a lot of wind and a lot of surge, it can look like the ocean out there, so that’s a problem.”

Україна і Канада розширили угоду про вільну торгівлю

Передбачено розширення дії угоди на товари, які мають складові з Євросоюзу, Британії та Ізраїлю

Biden Taps Harris to Lead New Office to Prevent Gun Violence

Amid stalled progress on gun control legislation in the U.S. Congress, President Joe Biden announced the creation of a new federal office for gun violence prevention, tapping Vice President Kamala Harris, a former prosecutor of gun homicide cases, to lead it.

“Guns are the number one killer of children in America,” Biden said Friday during the launch event in the White House Rose Garden. “More than car accidents, more than cancer or other diseases.”

On average, more than 116 people in the U.S. die from gun violence every day, according to data from the Giffords Law Center.

The new federal office will support implementation of existing legislation and executive actions, and work with lawmakers, state officials and advocates to push for further gun violence prevention efforts.

The office, Biden said, will also coordinate more support for survivors, families and communities affected by gun violence, including mental health care and financial assistance, in the same way that the Federal Emergency Management Agency responds to natural disasters.

The National Rifle Association, a pro-gun-rights lobbying group, slammed Biden’s move as “another distraction, crafted to divert America’s and the media’s gaze from the Biden crime wave and their soft-on-crime policies.”

“Instead of confronting the real challenges and holding accountable the [district attorneys] who turn a blind eye to crime, this administration unfairly targets law-abiding citizens exercising their Second Amendment rights,” Randy Kozuch, director of NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, said on social media. 

Activists’ support 

U.S. Representative Lucy McBath, a Democratic lawmaker and advocate for stricter gun legislation, lost her son to gun violence in 2012. She said the new office would increase coordination among states and ensure proper implementation of gun safety legislation already passed in Congress.

The new office was also applauded by gun violence prevention groups, who have pressed Biden to create such an office to coordinate efforts across the federal government and to exert more leadership on the issue.

“It’s all about implementing new strategies and interventions and supporting the community-based organizations already doing great work,” said Chethan Sathya, director of Northwell Health’s Center for Gun Violence Prevention, who attended the Rose Garden event.

“From a health care perspective, we need to treat gun violence for what it is, a public health crisis,” Sathya, who is also a pediatric surgeon who has treated children who have been shot, told VOA.

Biden appointed Stefanie Feldman, his longtime gun policy adviser, to direct the office, and gun control advocates Greg Jackson and Rob Wilcox to serve as deputy directors.

Second Amendment 

In general, Democrats support tighter gun laws while Republicans are concerned that such laws will infringe upon the Second Amendment of the Constitution, which protects Americans’ right to bear arms.

During Friday’s event, Harris rejected the argument that the two stances are at odds. “President Biden and I believe in the Second Amendment, but we also know common sense solutions are at hand,” she said.

Earlier this week, a group of House Republicans introduced a bill called the Protecting the Right to Keep and Bear Arms Act of 2023.

The bill would explicitly prohibit the president from declaring an emergency for the purposes of imposing gun control. It would also block government officials from prohibiting the manufacturing, sale or transfer of firearms and ammunition during a major disaster or emergency.

Illegal trafficking

It’s unclear what kind of bearing the new office for gun violence prevention will have on actual policy, including the impact on neighboring Mexico, which has repeatedly asked the Biden administration to curb illegal gun trafficking. The majority of all arms used in Mexico, where gun control laws are very strict, are bought in the U.S.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre maintains that the administration’s policy on guns is “comprehensive.”

The office will have regular contact with the National Security Council and the Department of Homeland Security, Jean-Pierre told VOA during her briefing to the press Friday. “We’re going to do everything that we can to combat international trafficking and smuggling as well.”

In June 2022, less than a month after 19 children and two teachers were gunned down in an elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, Biden signed the most significant gun control legislation in decades, although it was more limited than what the president had sought.

The bipartisan law enhances background checks for potential gun buyers and strengthens laws against straw purchasing and trafficking of guns. It provides millions of dollars for states to implement intervention programs, such as the so-called red flag laws that allow officials to temporarily confiscate guns from people deemed in court to be too dangerous to own them.

Biden has also signed several executive actions aimed at reducing gun violence, including steps to increase the number of background checks for gun sales and to crack down on “ghost guns,” or home-assembled firearms, which are difficult to track.

On Friday, he again called for the banning of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

Research Warns White Supremacists Are Building a Shadow Militia 

White supremacists appear to have settled on a new strategy to grow their numbers and ready capable fighting forces across the United States, Canada and Europe while avoiding the scrutiny of law enforcement.

New research, presented Friday by the Counter Extremism Project (CEP), warns the past several months have seen a proliferation of small, loosely affiliated combat sports and fitness clubs — known as Active Clubs — that publicly advertise fitness, self-improvement and brotherhood.

But behind the scenes, researchers say, club members are pushing a white supremacist narrative geared at preparing members to take part in a potential race war.

“They are trying to build a militia undercover,” said Alexander Ritzmann, a CEP senior adviser and the author of the new report. “The underlying assessment is there is no leadership in the U.S. for targeted violence, for a strong national event or leadership. But once such a thing occurs, you need soldiers.”

Ritzmann and his colleagues warn that more than 100 of the Active Clubs have been created since late 2020, and that at least 46 are currently active in 34 U.S. states.

They further identified another 46 clubs in 14 countries across Europe and 12 clubs in Canada.

No centralized leadership

Yet despite the spread of these clubs, there is no centralized or hierarchical leadership.

They adhere to a philosophy, sometimes called White Supremacy 3.0, espoused by Robert Rundo, the founder of the white supremacist Rise Above Movement, who was extradited to the U.S. from Romania in August to face charges connected to planning and participating in a series of riots in California.

Anyone who wants to start a club is encouraged to do so, and most clubs are relatively small, thought to have five to 25 members. Participating in events with other clubs is also encouraged.

And they do not seem to shy away from attention.

“The strategy is hiding in plain sight,” Ritzmann said. “They try to show that they’re actually just a bunch of white men doing sports together, being rather on the nice and friendly side so that law enforcement would look at this and would say, ‘This is a bit odd, but definitely, you know, not a priority for us to research now.’” 

Guidelines pushed by Active Club members seek to play up the fitness-focused persona.

Members are told to avoid any display of obvious Nazi or white supremacist symbols and imagery. They are also instructed not to talk about Jews or about history. And most refrain from posting images on social media that show them engaged in military-style training.

‘Young and active people’ sought

At the same time, members are encouraged to mingle with the public to recruit new members.

“Activism at events like concerts, NASCAR races and local festivals are also much more likely to reach young and active people,” according to a post on one Active Club website, cited by the CEP report. “These demographics are far more likely to become useful members.”

The same post encouraged club members to recruit from high schools where “changing demographics … have led to gang-beatings of minority White youth.”

Once recruited, new members are gradually indoctrinated and, according to Ritzmann, subtly taught skills designed to make them part of a capable militia using marginally legal or illegal activities like banner drops, stickering, and painting graffiti on public and private property.

“Make sure they know how to organize, to spot locations, to organize transport, to avoid law enforcement,” Ritzmann said. “It’s like an open-air militia training camp.”

In some ways, the warnings in the new CEP report on Active Clubs mirror warnings by U.S. officials, who have said for more than a year that the U.S. remains mired in a “heightened threat environment,” with the biggest threat coming from U.S.-based extremists motivated by “enduring racial, ethnic, religious and anti-government ideologies.”

U.S. homeland security and law enforcement officials have also emphasized that the greatest danger comes from small groups or individuals.

But the extent to which the U.S. government is aware of the Active Clubs in unclear.

The Department of Homeland Security has yet to respond to a VOA query about the warnings in the new CEP report. The FBI said it had no comment.

Other researchers, though, agree there is reason for concern.

The Active Club network in the U.S. “really continues to be the most active element of the white supremacist landscape, regularly hosting fight nights and streaming propaganda and hosting demonstrations,” said Morgan Lynn Moon, an investigative researcher with the Anti-Defamation League, speaking during a webinar on the report’s findings.

“These groups continue to form and currently represent an enduring threat,” she said, adding the clubs also appear to be at the vanguard of another worrisome trend.

“We’re seeing recently white supremacist groups and neo-Nazis becoming increasingly anxious about perceived threats, particularly to the white race, and this increased willingness to work together to send a message,” she said. “In this case, [that message is] uniting behind the idea of raising white racial consciousness despite their key ideological differences.”

Members of other groups

CEP’s research found that in some cases, Active Club members are current or former members of other extremist groups like Patriot Front, Proud Boys, Oath Keepers and White Lives Matter.

Some researchers even fear the clubs are starting to make the sort of inroads that the other groups could not.

“The Active Clubs are who the Proud Boys thought they were. The Active Clubs are who the Proud Boys wanted to be,” said Jon Lewis, a research fellow at George Washington University’s Program on Extremism.

“This isn’t just merely a traditional white supremacist fight club as much as it’s individuals who really do see themselves as … harkening back to Greek and Roman soldiers fighting back against their kind of core enemies,” he said, speaking at the CEP report’s rollout. “The Active Clubs have really, truly become the tip of that fascist spear.”

Стефанішина: попри «емоції» щодо імпорту зерна, Польща підтримує євроінтеграцію України

«Важливо, що Україна, попри емоційні заяви з різних сторін, обрала конструктивну позицію, яка базується на правилах»

Зеленський перерахував «основні труднощі» для проведення виборів під час війни

«Мільйони українців перебувають за кордоном і поки ніхто не може знайти відповідь, як організувати їхнє голосування»

How Journalism Students Helped Revive Town’s Local Media Coverage

For about a decade, Eudora, Kansas, counted itself among the many small towns across the U.S. that no longer had their own newspapers.

The recession marked the end of its local paper in 2009, turning Eudora into what is known as a “news desert” — a region that has no dedicated media coverage.

Then Teri Finneman, a journalist-turned-media professor at the University of Kansas, stepped in. Her solution: The Eudora Times, a student-led outlet that has brought news back to this town of 6,500 people.

“A lot of the coverage that we do wouldn’t be considered newsworthy with a capital N,” Finneman told VOA. But that doesn’t matter to The Eudora Times, because that’s not the point of the outlet, she said.

“We very much want to be a service organization and a partner with our community,” Finneman said. The paper’s focus: covering what matters to residents.

Tough times

The Times is a rare good-news story at a difficult time for the industry. By bringing back local news, the paper helped to reinvigorate the community while pioneering a road map that may help address news deserts elsewhere.

“Before we had The Eudora Times, I didn’t know really anything that was going on in the community, other than things a customer would come in and tell me,” said Kathy Weld, owner of Zeb’s Coffeehouse in Eudora. “Before I opened the coffee shop, I didn’t know anything.”

Finneman, who is from a small town in western North Dakota, wanted to fix that.

After some newsy social media posts, the first article was about the 2018 opening of Weld’s coffee shop — named after her dog, Zeb.

Once the article was written, Finneman realized she needed a website to put it on.

“I would get an F in business school for this business plan,” she told VOA as she recalled the paper’s early days from the coffee shop that was first featured. She used online software to create a website within five minutes. “I’m like, Eudora Times – that sounds good. And then we just put it online.”

Lucie Krisman, one of the paper’s founding reporters, said that from that small start, the idea “sort of ramped up.”

“We realized what kind of potential there was to create an honest-to-God newspaper here,” she said. “It grew from literally nothing.”

Thousands of closures

The outlet’s slow beginnings belie its significance not just for Eudora but for local media across the country.

Around a fourth of local and regional newspapers — or 2,500 — have closed since 2005 and one-third are expected to shutter by 2025, according to a report by the Northwestern Medill Local News Initiative.

The hard work is paying off. A member of the Kansas Press Association, The Eudora Times has won several awards, including for its reporting on government and education.

But there are far more communities that will remain or become news deserts, and that’s something that worries Finneman.

“It’s not just the current crisis that needs to be addressed, but it’s the pending crisis,” she said, particularly in the Midwest. “It’s going to be disastrous.”

With the closure of local media outlets across the U.S., more than 14 million Americans are getting their news from student reporters, according to the Center for Community News at the University of Vermont.

Like the Times, those outlets cover everything from local government and politics to school board meetings and high school sports.

“That’s not Watergate-type of coverage,” Finneman said. But it is the kind of coverage that breathes life into towns that are often ignored by the media and are at risk of being left stagnant as a result.

“People want to feel that community connection,” Finneman said.

A difference noticed

Her approach appears to be working, with several Eudora residents telling VOA they have noticed a clear difference since the Times came to town. Eudora is a case study in what happens when a town loses its newspaper — and what happens when the news comes back.

“There’s so much divisiveness in our country. Local news has a way of bringing us together,” Weld, the coffee shop owner, said.

People had relied on getting information “through the grapevine,” said Laura Smith, who helps in-need residents access resources as the town’s community resource navigator.

“With The Eudora Times, they’re everywhere, and they do such a phenomenal job of covering things, that everyone just feels connected,” she said.

For Krisman, now a reporter at the Shawnee Mission Post in Kansas, the paper helps people “be proud of their community.”

“It creates a sense of connectivity that you just can’t really get without having your own news outlet,” Krisman said.

Studies show that the decline of local news often contributes to a rise in polarization and government corruption, the spread of disinformation and misinformation, and a decline in civic engagement.

The Eudora Times had to win the town’s trust when it started.

“Because they did not have local news for so long, because we were still in the era when people were frequently being told that the press was an enemy of the people, there was a lot of concern from people that we were going to be a partisan news outlet,” Finneman said.

Funded by donations, some of which help cover reporters’ expenses, the Times hosted community meetings to help address those concerns. And most interviews are conducted in person to help build trust.

Cami Koons, a former features reporter at the paper, said she thinks people are more likely to trust national media when they have positive experiences with journalists at the local level.

“I really think that just having a positive interaction with a reporter, with some news media, makes such a big difference in people’s opinion of news, and hopefully leads them to trust it a little bit more,” Koons, now a reporter at Kansas City PBS, said. “If you don’t have a paper in town, how are you going to do that?”

Finneman wishes she could fix all the news deserts in the country. For now, she’s turning her sights on the nearby town of De Soto, where Panasonic’s $4 billion electric vehicle battery factory will be located.

De Soto will need media coverage more than ever once the factory opens, and The Eudora Times is preparing to step in, Finneman said. “They also don’t have a newspaper.”

Arizona Governor: Taiwan Firm’s Semiconductor Plant Back on Schedule

Earlier this year, Taiwanese semiconductor giant TSMC announced that it was delaying the opening of a computer chip plant in the U.S. state of Arizona because of a shortage of specialized workers. But during a visit to Taiwan this week, Arizona Governor Katie Hobbs told officials that the project is back on schedule and should have no further delays. From Phoenix, Arizona, Levi Stallings has our story.

Зеленський у Канаді обговорив із Трюдо оборонні потреби України

Голова канадського уряду Джастін Трюдо раніше привітав Зеленського в парламенті Канади

Генштаб: у Токмаку російські військові забирають харчі в місцевих через затримки забезпечення

Штаб зафіксував 25 бойових зіткнень протягом доби і називає «складною» обстановку на сході та півдні України

Удар по Кременчуку: відомо про одного загиблого і 15 поранених – Лунін

Серед 15 постраждалих – одна дитина, заявив голова області

Екскерівника київської філії «Приватбанку» підозрюють у причетності до заволодіння майном банку

СБУ підозрює ексголову філії в допомозі Ігорю Коломойському в заволодінні коштами банку