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International Child Abductions Draw Outcry on Capitol Hill

Fighting back tears before a Senate panel, American physician Chris Brann on Tuesday recounted the abduction of his son, Nicholas, who was taken to Brazil in 2012.

“This is best described as a living death,” Brann said in a halting, emotion-laden voice. “He [Nicholas] was 3 years old when he was unilaterally ripped out of my life, moved to a country he had never lived in, to a language he didn’t speak, to a culture he didn’t understand.”

Brann added, “I’ve never been allowed to be there for his birthday, to be there for Christmas. You can’t know what that feels like until you’ve been in that situation. As a father, there are times I feel like a failure because I wasn’t able to protect my boy.”

Hundreds of cases yearly

Nicholas was taken by his Brazilian-born mother, Brann’s ex-wife. The case is not unique. Hundreds of international child abductions by parents are reported in the United States each year.

According to State Department officials, the return rate hovers at about 45 percent. U.S. lawmakers of both parties say America can and must do a better job recovering its youngest citizens and preventing such abductions in the first place.

“There’s more Congress and the executive branch can do to end the kidnapping of these children,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican, said.

Hague Convention

The United States is one of 82 signatories to the 1980 Hague Convention to combat international child abduction, which commits nations to expeditiously return minors illegally taken abroad by a parent.

U.S. law also speaks to the issue. The 1993 International Parental Kidnapping Crime Act established federal penalties for a parent who removes a child from the United States in violation of another parent’s custodial rights.

The 2014 International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act gives the State Department wide latitude to punish nations that fail to cooperate in resolving overseas abduction cases involving American children, from public condemnations to suspending U.S. developmental and security assistance to canceling state visits.

Testifying before the Judiciary Committee, Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Carl Risch admitted the department has used the 2014 law’s provisions sparingly, issuing diplomatic protests rather than imposing stronger measures on nations that do not assist in the return of abducted U.S. children.

“Continued diplomatic engagement is our best tool to promote long-term institutional changes in foreign governments,” Risch said.

‘We’re so sorry’

Brann disagreed, noting that nothing the State Department has done so far has convinced Brazil’s judiciary to reunite him with his son. Brann compared the State Department’s reluctance to sternly punish uncooperative countries to a doctor who refuses to use the strongest medical tools to treat an illness.

“When the State Department says we are going to continue to engage diplomatically, what they are saying is that they are just going to pat me on the shoulder and say, ‘We’re so sorry that has happened,’ ” he said.

Another witness testified to the power of heightened pressure on foreign countries. In 2011, Kentucky resident Noelle Hunter’s ex-husband took their 5-year-old daughter, Muna, to Mali. The Senate’s Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, spearheaded a sustained effort by Kentucky’s congressional delegation to compel Malian officials to return Muna. The campaign succeeded and Hunter brought her daughter back to America in 2014.

“If every member of Congress with kidnapped constituents would begin to regularly inquire of federal agencies and the [foreign] nations in which they are held, these children are going to come home,” Hunter said.

A numbers problem

The committee’s top Democrat, Dianne Feinstein, applauded the concept of increased activism by lawmakers, but noted that her state, California, has hundreds of parents with a child missing abroad and only two senators representing all of them.

“How do you do 300 cases [in California] like your state was able to do for you?” Feinstein asked, adding that an intervention by members of Congress is “possible to do, but it’s not possible to do it every day of the year.”

Rather, Feinstein said, the solution is to “increase the clout of the State Department and others to move more personally on this [issue].”

Federal officials stressed that preventing abduction is the best outcome, adding that a program is in place to mobilize U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents when a child at risk of international abduction is identified.

“We can enter lookouts in our system if there are any attempts to travel [depart the United States],” said Don Conroy, who directs the agency’s National Targeting Center. “Returning the child is sometimes very complex. Prevention is a key piece of this.”

Lawmakers of both parties stressed they want to see more done.

“I’ve seen the extremes we go to to recover people who have been held hostage and the like, but we’re not doing that for children,” New Jersey Democratic Senator Cory Booker said.

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International Child Abductions Draw Outcry on Capitol Hill

Fighting back tears before a Senate panel, American physician Chris Brann on Tuesday recounted the abduction of his son, Nicholas, who was taken to Brazil in 2012.

“This is best described as a living death,” Brann said in a halting, emotion-laden voice. “He [Nicholas] was 3 years old when he was unilaterally ripped out of my life, moved to a country he had never lived in, to a language he didn’t speak, to a culture he didn’t understand.”

Brann added, “I’ve never been allowed to be there for his birthday, to be there for Christmas. You can’t know what that feels like until you’ve been in that situation. As a father, there are times I feel like a failure because I wasn’t able to protect my boy.”

Hundreds of cases yearly

Nicholas was taken by his Brazilian-born mother, Brann’s ex-wife. The case is not unique. Hundreds of international child abductions by parents are reported in the United States each year.

According to State Department officials, the return rate hovers at about 45 percent. U.S. lawmakers of both parties say America can and must do a better job recovering its youngest citizens and preventing such abductions in the first place.

“There’s more Congress and the executive branch can do to end the kidnapping of these children,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican, said.

Hague Convention

The United States is one of 82 signatories to the 1980 Hague Convention to combat international child abduction, which commits nations to expeditiously return minors illegally taken abroad by a parent.

U.S. law also speaks to the issue. The 1993 International Parental Kidnapping Crime Act established federal penalties for a parent who removes a child from the United States in violation of another parent’s custodial rights.

The 2014 International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act gives the State Department wide latitude to punish nations that fail to cooperate in resolving overseas abduction cases involving American children, from public condemnations to suspending U.S. developmental and security assistance to canceling state visits.

Testifying before the Judiciary Committee, Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Carl Risch admitted the department has used the 2014 law’s provisions sparingly, issuing diplomatic protests rather than imposing stronger measures on nations that do not assist in the return of abducted U.S. children.

“Continued diplomatic engagement is our best tool to promote long-term institutional changes in foreign governments,” Risch said.

‘We’re so sorry’

Brann disagreed, noting that nothing the State Department has done so far has convinced Brazil’s judiciary to reunite him with his son. Brann compared the State Department’s reluctance to sternly punish uncooperative countries to a doctor who refuses to use the strongest medical tools to treat an illness.

“When the State Department says we are going to continue to engage diplomatically, what they are saying is that they are just going to pat me on the shoulder and say, ‘We’re so sorry that has happened,’ ” he said.

Another witness testified to the power of heightened pressure on foreign countries. In 2011, Kentucky resident Noelle Hunter’s ex-husband took their 5-year-old daughter, Muna, to Mali. The Senate’s Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, spearheaded a sustained effort by Kentucky’s congressional delegation to compel Malian officials to return Muna. The campaign succeeded and Hunter brought her daughter back to America in 2014.

“If every member of Congress with kidnapped constituents would begin to regularly inquire of federal agencies and the [foreign] nations in which they are held, these children are going to come home,” Hunter said.

A numbers problem

The committee’s top Democrat, Dianne Feinstein, applauded the concept of increased activism by lawmakers, but noted that her state, California, has hundreds of parents with a child missing abroad and only two senators representing all of them.

“How do you do 300 cases [in California] like your state was able to do for you?” Feinstein asked, adding that an intervention by members of Congress is “possible to do, but it’s not possible to do it every day of the year.”

Rather, Feinstein said, the solution is to “increase the clout of the State Department and others to move more personally on this [issue].”

Federal officials stressed that preventing abduction is the best outcome, adding that a program is in place to mobilize U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents when a child at risk of international abduction is identified.

“We can enter lookouts in our system if there are any attempts to travel [depart the United States],” said Don Conroy, who directs the agency’s National Targeting Center. “Returning the child is sometimes very complex. Prevention is a key piece of this.”

Lawmakers of both parties stressed they want to see more done.

“I’ve seen the extremes we go to to recover people who have been held hostage and the like, but we’re not doing that for children,” New Jersey Democratic Senator Cory Booker said.

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Reports: Confirmation of Trump’s Pick to Lead VA May Be in Jeopardy

Confirmation of U.S. President Donald Trump’s pick to lead Veterans Affairs agency may be in jeopardy. 

The Washington Post reported late Monday that Senate lawmakers have postponed the confirmation hearing for Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson after top Republicans and Democrats raised concerns about his qualifications. 

Jackson was scheduled to testify before the Senate Committee for Veterans Affairs on Wednesday. 

Two sources told CNN that committee members have been informed of allegations of improper conduct at more than one stage in Jackson’s career. 

Jackson, who currently serves as Trump’s physician, is already facing scrutiny over his lack of experience managing an agency as large as the VA — the U.S. government’s second-largest agency.

Jackson gained a degree of fame unusual for White House physicians in 2017 when he took questions from the White House press corps on national television, discussing at length the president’s physical exam.

Trump, the oldest first-term president in American history, was plagued at the time by questions about his physical health, weight and mental stability. But Jackson gave the president top rating. “The president’s overall health is excellent,” Jackson declared at the time. 

Trump picked Jackson to replace David Shulkin, a holdover from the Obama era.

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Reports: Confirmation of Trump’s Pick to Lead VA May Be in Jeopardy

Confirmation of U.S. President Donald Trump’s pick to lead Veterans Affairs agency may be in jeopardy. 

The Washington Post reported late Monday that Senate lawmakers have postponed the confirmation hearing for Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson after top Republicans and Democrats raised concerns about his qualifications. 

Jackson was scheduled to testify before the Senate Committee for Veterans Affairs on Wednesday. 

Two sources told CNN that committee members have been informed of allegations of improper conduct at more than one stage in Jackson’s career. 

Jackson, who currently serves as Trump’s physician, is already facing scrutiny over his lack of experience managing an agency as large as the VA — the U.S. government’s second-largest agency.

Jackson gained a degree of fame unusual for White House physicians in 2017 when he took questions from the White House press corps on national television, discussing at length the president’s physical exam.

Trump, the oldest first-term president in American history, was plagued at the time by questions about his physical health, weight and mental stability. But Jackson gave the president top rating. “The president’s overall health is excellent,” Jackson declared at the time. 

Trump picked Jackson to replace David Shulkin, a holdover from the Obama era.

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New NASA Boss Gets ‘Hearty Congratulations’ From Space

NASA’s new boss is already getting cheers from space.

 

Immediately after being sworn into office Monday by Vice President Mike Pence, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine took a call from the three U.S. astronauts at the International Space Station who offered “hearty congratulations.” The Oklahoma congressman became the 13th administrator of NASA, filling a position that had been vacant for more than a year.

 

“America loves what you guys are doing,” Bridenstine, a former naval aviator, told the astronauts. He promised to do his best “as we reach for new heights and reveal the unknown for the benefit of humankind.”

 

This is the 60th anniversary year for NASA .

 

Bridenstine is the first elected official to lead NASA, something that had bogged down his nomination last year by President Donald Trump. The Senate approved his nomination last week by a narrow vote of 50-49. Monday’s swearing-in ceremony took place at NASA headquarters in Washington.

 

Pence noted that the space agency, under Bridenstine’s direction, will work to get astronauts back to the moon and then, with help from commercial space and international partners, on to Mars.

 

“NASA will lead the way,” said Pence, who heads the newly resurrected National Space Council.

 

Charles Bolden Jr., a former space shuttle commander and major general in the Marines, was NASA’s last official administrator. The space agency was led by Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot in the interim. Lightfoot retires from NASA at the end of this month.

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New NASA Boss Gets ‘Hearty Congratulations’ From Space

NASA’s new boss is already getting cheers from space.

 

Immediately after being sworn into office Monday by Vice President Mike Pence, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine took a call from the three U.S. astronauts at the International Space Station who offered “hearty congratulations.” The Oklahoma congressman became the 13th administrator of NASA, filling a position that had been vacant for more than a year.

 

“America loves what you guys are doing,” Bridenstine, a former naval aviator, told the astronauts. He promised to do his best “as we reach for new heights and reveal the unknown for the benefit of humankind.”

 

This is the 60th anniversary year for NASA .

 

Bridenstine is the first elected official to lead NASA, something that had bogged down his nomination last year by President Donald Trump. The Senate approved his nomination last week by a narrow vote of 50-49. Monday’s swearing-in ceremony took place at NASA headquarters in Washington.

 

Pence noted that the space agency, under Bridenstine’s direction, will work to get astronauts back to the moon and then, with help from commercial space and international partners, on to Mars.

 

“NASA will lead the way,” said Pence, who heads the newly resurrected National Space Council.

 

Charles Bolden Jr., a former space shuttle commander and major general in the Marines, was NASA’s last official administrator. The space agency was led by Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot in the interim. Lightfoot retires from NASA at the end of this month.

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Pence Picks Kellogg to Serve as National Security Adviser

Vice President Mike Pence has chosen retired Army Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg, a top official with the National Security Council, to serve as his national security adviser.

 

Pence selected Kellogg, a national security aide to President Donald Trump, to fill the role after his top choice, Jon Lerner, withdrew his name from consideration.

 

Lerner, an adviser to U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, pulled out of a proposed dual role after Trump learned of his planned hiring. Lerner is a longtime Republican strategist and pollster who previously worked with the Club for Growth, which aired ads critical of Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign.

 

Pence said in a statement that Kellogg “brings a wealth of experience in national security and foreign policy matters to this role and has already been an integral part of the President’s national security team.”

 

Kellogg has served as chief of staff at the National Security Council and is the latest NSC official to depart after the arrival of Trump national security adviser John Bolton. Also gone are spokesman Michael Anton, homeland security adviser Tom Bossert, and deputy national security advisers Ricky Waddell and Nadia Schadlow.

 

Kellogg served as acting national security adviser after Michael Flynn resigned in February 2017 as Trump’s first national security adviser. Flynn’s successor, H.R. McMaster, was recently replaced by Bolton.

 

Kellogg, who served in the U.S. Army for more than three decades, previously served as commander of the 82nd Airborne Division and as a top aide to Paul Bremer, who led the Coalition Provisional Authority during the reconstruction of Iraq.

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Pence Picks Kellogg to Serve as National Security Adviser

Vice President Mike Pence has chosen retired Army Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg, a top official with the National Security Council, to serve as his national security adviser.

 

Pence selected Kellogg, a national security aide to President Donald Trump, to fill the role after his top choice, Jon Lerner, withdrew his name from consideration.

 

Lerner, an adviser to U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, pulled out of a proposed dual role after Trump learned of his planned hiring. Lerner is a longtime Republican strategist and pollster who previously worked with the Club for Growth, which aired ads critical of Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign.

 

Pence said in a statement that Kellogg “brings a wealth of experience in national security and foreign policy matters to this role and has already been an integral part of the President’s national security team.”

 

Kellogg has served as chief of staff at the National Security Council and is the latest NSC official to depart after the arrival of Trump national security adviser John Bolton. Also gone are spokesman Michael Anton, homeland security adviser Tom Bossert, and deputy national security advisers Ricky Waddell and Nadia Schadlow.

 

Kellogg served as acting national security adviser after Michael Flynn resigned in February 2017 as Trump’s first national security adviser. Flynn’s successor, H.R. McMaster, was recently replaced by Bolton.

 

Kellogg, who served in the U.S. Army for more than three decades, previously served as commander of the 82nd Airborne Division and as a top aide to Paul Bremer, who led the Coalition Provisional Authority during the reconstruction of Iraq.

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Romney’s Senate Race Must Run Through Utah Primary

Mitt Romney was forced into a Republican primary in his bid for U.S. Senate in Utah after losing a nomination battle Saturday at the state’s far-right-leaning GOP convention.

Romney remains the heavy favorite overall to replace long-serving Sen. Orrin Hatch in November and said he was ready to keep campaigning hard.

If he had won the party delegate vote at the convention, he would have bypassed a primary altogether. Instead, he was edged out by state lawmaker Mike Kennedy, who got 51 percent of the vote to Romney’s 49 percent.

GOP voters will decide between the two in a June 26 primary.

Romney secured his spot on the primary ballot by gathering 28,000 voter signatures but said Saturday that choice was partly to blame for his loss.

Romney, 71, went up against 11 other candidates at the convention, including one dressed as Abraham Lincoln, complete with vest and bow tie. Some candidates questioned Romney’s past criticism of President Donald Trump.

Romney pushed back against critics who said he’s an interloper in Utah politics by referring to his role in staging the 2002 Winter Olympics in Utah.

“Some people I’ve spoken with have said this is a David vs. Goliath race, but they’re wrong,” Romney said in his speech. “I’m not Goliath. Washington, D.C., is Goliath.”

Kennedy, a doctor and lawyer, framed himself as an underdog taking on the “Romney machine.” At one point, he pitched in to sweep up tiny paper American flags that had been shot from a confetti cannon hours before.

Delegate Matt Murdoch, 28, said he voted for Kennedy because he’s a family doctor serving many of his neighbors in Alpine, south of Salt Lake City.

Stay-at-home mother Michelle Cluff said she liked Romney’s experience and believes he is ready to get to work as a senator.

Romney was governor of Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007. While in office he signed legislation that greatly expanded access to health care through state-level subsidies and individual mandates to purchase insurance, much like Obamacare.

Romney asked for delegates’ votes after spending two months on the campaign trail visiting dairy farms, taking selfies with college students and making stump speeches in small towns.

After his failed 2012 presidential campaign, he moved to Utah, where he gained popularity after running as the first Mormon presidential nominee of a major political party.

He’s worked to keep the focus on state issues rather than his history of well-documented feuds with Trump.

The two men have shown signs of making peace, and Romney has accepted Trump’s endorsement for Senate. But Romney said Saturday he hasn’t decided whether he’ll endorse the president’s 2020 re-election bid.

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Romney’s Senate Race Must Run Through Utah Primary

Mitt Romney was forced into a Republican primary in his bid for U.S. Senate in Utah after losing a nomination battle Saturday at the state’s far-right-leaning GOP convention.

Romney remains the heavy favorite overall to replace long-serving Sen. Orrin Hatch in November and said he was ready to keep campaigning hard.

If he had won the party delegate vote at the convention, he would have bypassed a primary altogether. Instead, he was edged out by state lawmaker Mike Kennedy, who got 51 percent of the vote to Romney’s 49 percent.

GOP voters will decide between the two in a June 26 primary.

Romney secured his spot on the primary ballot by gathering 28,000 voter signatures but said Saturday that choice was partly to blame for his loss.

Romney, 71, went up against 11 other candidates at the convention, including one dressed as Abraham Lincoln, complete with vest and bow tie. Some candidates questioned Romney’s past criticism of President Donald Trump.

Romney pushed back against critics who said he’s an interloper in Utah politics by referring to his role in staging the 2002 Winter Olympics in Utah.

“Some people I’ve spoken with have said this is a David vs. Goliath race, but they’re wrong,” Romney said in his speech. “I’m not Goliath. Washington, D.C., is Goliath.”

Kennedy, a doctor and lawyer, framed himself as an underdog taking on the “Romney machine.” At one point, he pitched in to sweep up tiny paper American flags that had been shot from a confetti cannon hours before.

Delegate Matt Murdoch, 28, said he voted for Kennedy because he’s a family doctor serving many of his neighbors in Alpine, south of Salt Lake City.

Stay-at-home mother Michelle Cluff said she liked Romney’s experience and believes he is ready to get to work as a senator.

Romney was governor of Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007. While in office he signed legislation that greatly expanded access to health care through state-level subsidies and individual mandates to purchase insurance, much like Obamacare.

Romney asked for delegates’ votes after spending two months on the campaign trail visiting dairy farms, taking selfies with college students and making stump speeches in small towns.

After his failed 2012 presidential campaign, he moved to Utah, where he gained popularity after running as the first Mormon presidential nominee of a major political party.

He’s worked to keep the focus on state issues rather than his history of well-documented feuds with Trump.

The two men have shown signs of making peace, and Romney has accepted Trump’s endorsement for Senate. But Romney said Saturday he hasn’t decided whether he’ll endorse the president’s 2020 re-election bid.

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