The political action committee for a group founded by former Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams has reported raising $3.9 million in the past six months.
Abrams founded Fair Fight to support voting rights after narrowly losing to Republican Gov. Brian Kemp in November. She accused Kemp of using his previous position as Georgia’s chief election officer to suppress votes in their race, which Kemp has vehemently denied.
The report filed Monday with the state ethics commission shows Fair Fight PAC has raised $4.1 million since its inception and made $3 million in expenditures, leaving $1.1 million in cash on hand. Expenditures include more than $1.2 million given to the group’s nonprofit arm and $100,000 given to abortion rights groups after Georgia’s passage of a restrictive abortion ban.
They also include political contributions to various candidates, payments to consultants, staff salaries and travel expenses.
Many of the contributions came from small donors around the country. The group says that it has had more than 15,000 individual contributions from all 50 states.
The largest contribution was over $1 million from Silicon Valley-based physician and philanthropist Karla Jurvetson. The group banked another $250,000 from the Service Employees International Union, a labor union with 2 million members in service occupations including within the health care industry.
“Fair Fight PAC is grateful for the overwhelming support we have received from across Georgia and around the country,” Fair Fight CEO Lauren Groh-Wargo said in a statement. “Fair Fight is advocating for voting rights, supporting progressive organizing and advocacy, and keeping the heat on those who suppress the vote.”
She said the group would soon share details for nationwide voter protection programs to mitigate “attempts to suppress the vote of people of color in this critical election cycle.”
Turkish-born NBA basketball player Enes Kanter is a wanted man by Turkey, which has revoked his passport and considers him a terrorist for his association with an exiled spiritual leader accused of fomenting a 2016 coup attempt against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. A longtime critic of Erdogan, Kanter has had his life threatened and sleeps with a panic button next to his bed. But the basketball star remains focused on his sport and career, despite these hardships, as VOA’s Saba Shah Khan reports.
As he reveled in the huge display of military might during last week’s Independence Day celebration on the National Mall, U.S. President Donald Trump encouraged Americans to enlist in the military.
“To young Americans across our country, now is your chance to join our military and make a truly great statement in life, and you should do it,” Trump said in his speech at the Lincoln Memorial.
Speaking to reporters outside the White House the following day, Trump predicted that his display would boost military enlistment. “Based on that, we’re going to have a lot of people joining our military,” he said.
However, with a 2016 Department of Defense report finding that nearly three-quarters of young Americans are unfit to serve in America’s military, Trump’s encouragement and military display may not be enough to reverse declining military recruitment.
According to the Department of Defense, the Navy, Marines, and Air Force met their recruiting goals in 2018, but the Army, the military’s largest branch, fell more than 6,500 recruits short – about 8% below its target of 76,500.
A 2018 report by Mission: Readiness, a group of 750 retired military professionals that makes policy recommendations to increase the percentage of young Americans eligible to serve in the military, found that 71% of Americans between the ages of 17 and 24 fail to meet all of the basic requirements for military service.
The biggest disqualifier is obesity, with roughly 31% of American youths disqualified because they are overweight. Other factors explaining the shortage of eligible recruits are inadequate education, criminal history and drug use. According to Army Major Gen. (Ret.) Allen Youngman, a member of Mission: Readiness, almost 25% of high school graduates are unable to pass the basic military entrance exams, which not only disqualifies them from technical positions within the service but also from military service as a whole.
Not only is the pool of eligible recruits shrinking, but the number of young Americans interested in military careers is dropping as well, the report found. This is partly the result of a strong national economy, since plentiful civilian jobs may make military careers seem less appealing, according to Youngman.
As the number of people serving in the military declines, the problem is likely to get worse. “The number of what we call influencers in a young person’s life – people who may have had military service of their own who would serve as a role model or even encourage a young person to consider military service – is down because the number of persons who participate in the military over the years has gone down,” said Youngman. The U.S. Army Recruiting Command reports that 79% of recruits have a relative who also served in the military.
Relaxing education or criminal history standards in order to enlarge the recruiting pool in light of the obesity issue isn’t an option, said General Youngman. “The position today is that the standards are the standards. We’ve just got to work harder to find young people who can meet them.”
However, the trends are not encouraging.
By age two, 14% of American children are already considered obese, and the proportion of overweight or obese children increases with age, the Mission: Readiness report finds. In the 16-19 age group, 42% of Americans are overweight. These statistics carry over into adulthood, with 70% of overweight teens becoming overweight or obese adults.
The problem is especially acute in southern states, which provide a disproportionately large percentage of military recruits, but also have some of the highest rates of obesity in the nation.
Efforts are under way to improve the health of America’s youth.
As an example, Youngman cited the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which provides improved nutrition guidelines for school lunches. The program is the latest in a series of initiatives beginning with the National School Lunch Program in 1946.
“A lot of people don’t realize that the School Lunch Program started right after World War II as a national security program,” General Youngman said. “There was such concern about the overwhelming numbers of young people who were not qualified for military service in World War II because they grew up during the Great Depression and they had all sorts of nutrition issues that resulted in health issues later on.”
In the wake of the Great Depression, the goal of the School Lunch Program was to ensure that kids got enough calories from their school lunches. Today, calories are in general much easier to come by, so modern school lunch programs focus on helping students make healthier food choices. A 2014 study of 1,030 elementary-school children found that students selected 23% more fruit for their lunches and ate 16% more vegetables after the implementation of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.
Programs that seek to improve nutrition for school-aged children as well as encourage active lifestyles are important not only for military readiness, but also for society as a whole.
“There are some bright spots out there, but as a nation we still have a long way to go,” Youngman said.
The powerful Mojave Desert earthquakes that rocked California ended a years-long lull in major seismic activity and raised new interest in an early warning system being developed for the West Coast.
The ShakeAlert system is substantially built in California and overall is about 55% complete, with much of the remaining installation of seismic sensor stations to be done in the Pacific Northwest, said Robert de Groot of the U.S. Geological Survey.
Areas that have the appropriate number of sensors include Southern California, San Francisco Bay Area and the Seattle-Tacoma region, de Groot said.
The system does not predict earthquakes. Rather, it detects that an earthquake is occurring, rapidly calculates expected intensity levels and sends out alerts that may give warnings ranging from several seconds to perhaps a minute before potentially damaging shaking hits locations away from the epicenter.
Depending on the distance, that could be enough time to automatically slow trains, stop industrial machines, start generators, pull a surgical knife away from a patient or tell students to put the “drop, cover and hold” drill into action.
For alerts to be useful, delivery has to be timely, and that’s a problem with current cellphone technology. For cellphone delivery, the USGS ultimately intends to use the same system that delivers Amber Alerts, sending signals to everyone in reach of cellphone towers in defined areas where damaging shaking is expected.
Pilot programs involving select users have been underway for several years. In October, the USGS announced the system was ready to be used broadly by businesses, utilities, schools and other entities following a software update that reduced problems such as false alerts typically caused by a big quake somewhere in the world being misidentified as a local quake.
Currently, the only mass public notification is possible through a mobile app developed for the city of Los Angeles and functional only within Los Angeles County.
The ShakeAlertLA app did not send alerts for last week’s two big quakes, but officials said it functioned as designed because the expected level of shaking in the LA area – more than 100 miles from the epicenters- was below a trigger threshold.
Thresholds for alerting are important because California has daily earthquakes.
“Imagine getting 10 ShakeAlerts on your phone for really small earthquakes that may not affect you,” de Groot said. “If people get saturated with these messages it’s going to make people not care as much.”
In the Mojave Desert on Monday, rattled residents cleaned up and officials assessed damage in the aftermath of Thursday’s magnitude 6.4 earthquake and Friday’s magnitude 7.1 quake centered near Ridgecrest.
President Donald Trump on Monday declared an emergency exists in California because of the quakes, paving the way for federal aid. The declaration authorized the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate disaster relief efforts.
It could be several more days before water service is restored to the small town of Trona, where officials trucked in portable toilets and showers, said San Bernardino County spokesman David Wert.
Ten residences in Trona were red-tagged as uninhabitable and officials expect that number to increase as inspectors complete surveys. Wert said he’s seen homes that shifted 6 feet (nearly 2 meters) off their foundations.
Electricity was restored to Trona over the weekend, allowing people to use much-needed air conditioners as daytime temperatures approached 100 degrees (38 Celsius).
Teams will need several more days to finish assessments in nearby Ridgecrest, where the number of damaged buildings will likely be in the dozens, Kern County spokeswoman Megan Person said.
Person says officials are bringing in counselors to help residents still on edge as aftershocks rattle the area.
“You can’t feel every single one, but you can feel a lot of them,” she said. “Those poor people have been dealing with shaking ground non-stop since Thursday.”
Lawmakers must pass legislation easing “abhorrent conditions” facing children held at the southern border, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Monday as she tried taking the offensive on an issue that badly split Democrats and has raised questions about their unity on other issues.
Pelosi, D-Calif., tried rallying Democrats against a common foe — Republicans led by President Donald Trump — less than two weeks after a $4.6 billion border bill drove a bitter rift into her party. Although the measure passed Congress easily and became law, many House progressives and Hispanics voted “no” because they said the measure lacked real controls on how the government must handle children, while the party’s moderates and senators said the measure was the best compromise they could craft with the GOP-run Senate.
In a letter to colleagues returning from an 11-day Fourth of July recess, Pelosi said Democrats must lead “a Battle Cry across America to protect the children.” Citing another fight over blocking a citizenship question Trump wants added to the 2020 census, Pelosi said, “In both the case of the Census and the abhorrent conditions for children and families at the border, we must hold the Trump Administration and the GOP accountable.”
Although divisions within both parties are common, seldom are things as openly nasty as when the House approved the border legislation. Progressives accused moderates and their own party leaders of blindsiding them and caving to demands by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., while Senate Democrats and centrists said liberals had implausible expectations for what could be produced by divided government.
“I think people are going to be walking on eggshells,” Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., said Monday about the mood he expected when lawmakers return Tuesday. He also said he’d spoken to an ideological range of colleagues over the break, and they’d expressed a “need to come together and get things done.”
Gottheimer and other centrist Democrats had rebelled and prevented Pelosi from holding a vote to add care requirements for children to the $4.6 billion package, enraging progressives.
The bitter feelings suggest that it might be hard for Democrats to band together on upcoming bills, including an annual defense policy bill that liberals are often reluctant to support.
“I think this is going to extend into other debates as well,” said Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., a progressive leader. He said the defense bill “is not going to be a picnic” and noted that many progressives routinely oppose the defense legislation.
The rift seems certain to be discussed when House Democrats hold a weekly closed-door meeting on Wednesday.
“At the end of the day, it’s the red team or the blue team, and we’ll have to figure out how to get along,” said Rep. Lou Correa, D-Calif., a leading moderate and member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
While Pelosi’s letter didn’t promise action on any particular bill, she highlighted several measures that liberal and Hispanic Democrats have pushed. These included proposals barring the separation of families unless it is to protect children, requiring specific standards of care like thorough medical screenings, and limiting how long unaccompanied children may be kept at temporary holding facilities, many of which are overcrowded.
Congress approved the legislation at a time when the number of migrants entering the U.S. across the southwest border with Mexico surged above 100,000 monthly, the highest levels in years. Federal agencies’ facilities, designed for much smaller influxes, have been overwhelmed as the government detains them and the Trump administration enforces strict policies aimed at discouraging others from coming.
The sharp elbows also echoed over the weekend.
Pelosi told The New York Times that four freshmen who were the only Democrats to oppose an earlier version of the border bill “have their public whatever and their Twitter world” but “didn’t have any following.”
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., one of the four rebels, tweeted in response, “That public ‘whatever’ is called public sentiment.”
VOA’s Patsy Widakuswara and Elizabeth Cherneff contributed to this report.
WHITE HOUSE — In remarks widely panned by environmental organizations, U.S. President Donald Trump defended his record on the environment in a White House speech Monday.
“A strong economy is vital to maintaining a healthy environment,” Trump said.
Radical environmental plans would not make the world cleaner, according to Trump — who pulled the United States out of the Paris climate accord — but rather, he claimed, would put many Americans out of work.
Trump took another shot of the Green New Deal environmental plan, backed by a number of Democratic Party lawmakers, saying it would “cost our economy $100 trillion.”
The president added that “I will not stand for it.”
Trump did claim some environmental progress for his administration, predicting carbon emissions in the United States would drop this year and in 2020 and stating the government is now strengthening standards of lead and copper in drinking water for the first time in nearly 30 years.
The U.S. ranking for “access to clean drinking water” is now No. 1 globally, he noted.
Trump called several members of his Cabinet to the lectern in the East Room to praise his administration’s policies on the environment.
“Today we have the cleanest air on record,” said Andrew Wheeler, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and a former lobbyist for the country’s largest privately-owned coal company. “When other nations need help cleaning up their land, water and air they turn to us — not China, not Russia.”
Trump received credit from his interior secretary, David Bernhardt, who is a former oil industry lobbyist, for repairing frayed federal-state relations on wildlife conservation.
Technological breakthroughs on clean energy are “literally cascading” across the country and around the world, according to Energy Secretary Rick Perry.
“That’s your record, President Trump,” said Perry, a 2016 presidential primary rival of his boss.
Among others called to the podium by Trump was the owner of a bait-and-tackle shop in Port St. Lucie, Florida.
Bruce Hrobak praised the president for authorizing the repair of the Herbert Hoover Dike at Lake Okeechobee and for policies that have led to reducing destructive marine algae.
“You bring my heart to warmth for everything you’re doing,” Hrobak said.
“That’s better than any speechwriter I could get,” the president replied.
Leading environmentalists not invited to the White House event were not impressed.
“President Trump has a political problem, one that he created and certainly didn’t solve by today’s surreal press event,” ,” according to Joe Bonfiglio, the president of EDF Action, which is the lobbying arm of the Environmental Defense Fund. “The Trump administration’s record on the environment is beyond dismal and voters know it. It is one of the reasons suburban voters across the country elected politicians that would challenge the administration on climate change and a whole host of environmental policies.”
Samantha Gross, a fellow with the Cross-Brookings Initiative on Energy and Climate, is bothered by Trump’s assertion that previous administrations had to choose between protecting the environment and growing the economy.
“I just find this completely untrue,” Gross, a former director of the Energy Department’s Office of International Climate and Clean Energy, told VOA. “Environmental improvement and economic growth has gone hand in hand for decades.”
The executive director of the Sierra Club, Michael Brune, accuses the president of resorting to “greenhouse gaslighting the public to try and cover up the fact that he is the worst president in history for the environment, climate and public health.”
Trump, according to Brune, has been relentlessly attacking the country’s air, water, climate and public lands, “posing a threat to the health and safety of millions of Americans, and no speech he gives can ever change the reality of his actions.”
White House statistics
EPA Administrator Wheeler disagrees.
“The Sierra Club is ignoring all the environmental progress this country has made,” Wheeler responded when VOA asked him about the 127-year-old organization’s criticism.
For example, Wheeler points out, the United States has “doubled our natural gas productions since 2000 but at the same time reduced our methane emissions by 16%.”
Mary Neumayr, chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality at the White House, defends what she calls a “practical, balanced approach” on environmental issues by Trump, that allows for supporting business growth nationwide.
Both Wheeler and Neumayr, on a conference call with reporters prior to the president’s speech, were repeatedly questioned as to why they were citing statistics showing improvements since 1970, the year the EPA was established by then-President Richard Nixon.
Asked to cite more recent improvements, Wheeler pointed to “double-digit decreases in lead and sulfur dioxide” in the air in the United States during the Trump administration.
“We continue to clean up the air. We continue to clean up the water,” Wheeler said.
But these assertions ring hollow to many environmentalists.
“It’s not like the president or the administration has been subtle about their environmental agenda,” said EDF Action’s Bonfiglio. “President Trump has repeatedly and often gleefully taken to Twitter or appeared at rallies, railing against big things like the Paris climate agreement and little ones like energy-efficient light bulbs.”
The race for the Democratic nomination for president has only recently begun, yet the first candidate has already dropped out of the contest.
Eric Swalwell, a U.S. congressman representing a district in California, announced Monday that he will not continue to seek the presidential nomination but will instead run for a fifth term in the U.S. House of Representatives.
“Today ends our presidential campaign, but it is the beginning of an opportunity in Congress,” he said during a news conference in his East Bay congressional district.
Swalwell was a long-shot candidate in a crowded field of more than 20 vying for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination and he had languished near the bottom of the polls since he entered the race in April.
The congressman tried to raise his profile at the June debate in Miami by forcefully calling on front-runner former Vice President Joe Biden to “pass the torch” to a younger generation. While the moment received media coverage following the debate, it failed to improve Swalwell’s poll numbers.
Swalwell, 38, was one of the younger candidates in the race, along with Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and Representative Tulsi Gabbard from Hawaii, both of whom are 37.
Swalwell has represented northern California in the U.S. Congress since 2012 and has used his seat on the House Intelligence Committee to become frequent cable-news guest talking about the investigation between the Trump campaign and Russia.
The congressman said tackling gun violence and fixing the student debt crisis were two of the issues that compelled him to run for the presidential nomination.
The British government was hunting Monday for the source of a leak of diplomatic cables from Britain’s ambassador in Washington that branded President Donald Trump’s administration dysfunctional'' andinept.”
British officials are embarrassed by the publication of Kim Darroch’s unflattering assessment _ but more alarmed that sensitive confidential information has been leaked, possibly for political ends.
The leaked cables were intended for senior U.K. ministers and civil servants, and officials believe the mole will be found among British politicians or officials, rather than overseas.
“I’ve seen nothing to suggest hostile state actors were involved,” said Prime Minister Theresa May’s spokesman, James Slack.
The inquiry is being led by civil servants in the Cabinet Office, and Slack said police would only be called in “if evidence of criminality is found.”
It’s possible the leaker could be charged with breaching the Official Secrets Act, which bars public servants from making “damaging” disclosures of classified material. Breaching the act carries a maximum sentence of two years in prison, though prosecutions are rare.
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said there would be “very serious consequences” if the culprit was caught.
He said the ability to communicate frankly was “fundamental” to diplomacy.
Slack said May had “full faith” in Darroch, a long-serving diplomat, although she didn’t agree with his characterization of the Trump administration.
He said ambassadors were hired to provide “honest, unvarnished assessments” of politics in the countries where they served, which didn’t necessarily reflect the views of the British government.
In the leaked cables _ published in the Mail on Sunday newspaper _ Darroch called the Trump administration’s policy toward Iran incoherent,'' said Trump might be indebted tododgy Russians” and raised doubts about whether the White House “will ever look competent.”
“We don’t really believe this administration is going to become substantially more normal; less dysfunctional; less unpredictable; less faction riven; less diplomatically clumsy and inept,” one missive said.
The cables cover a period from 2017 to recent weeks. Darroch has served as Britain’s envoy to Washington since 2016.
After the cables were published, Trump said the ambassador “has not served the U.K. well, I can tell you that.”
“We are not big fans of that man,” Trump said.
The leak is an embarrassment for outgoing prime minister May, who has sometimes clashed with Trump, and could make things difficult for Darroch, who is accused by some Brexit-backing U.K. politicians of a lack of enthusiasm for Britain’s departure from the European Union.
The journalist who reported the leak, Isabel Oakeshott, is a strong supporter of Brexit and ally of Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage, Britain’s leading champion of Trump.
Trump said in 2016 that Farage would “do a great job” as ambassador to Washington.
Farage brushed off that idea on Monday, saying “I’m not a diplomat, and I think that’s quite an understatement.”
But Farage said Darroch’s comments were “pretty irresponsible.”
Robin Renwick, who served as Britain’s ambassador to Washington in the 1990s, said Darroch had done nothing wrong, but the leak had made his position “untenable.”
“There will of course be a decent interval. He will then have to be moved on,” Renwick told the BBC.
International Trade Secretary Liam Fox, who was meeting U.S. officials in Washington Monday, called the leak “malicious.”
“I think it is unconscionable that any professional person in either politics of the civil service can behave in this way,” he said.
Fox, who is due to meet Trump’s daughter Ivanka, told the BBC that he would apologize for the fact that standards of either our civil service or elements of our political class'' hadlapsed in a most extraordinary and unacceptable way.”
Iran’s nuclear energy agency said Monday the country has surpassed the limits on how much it was allowed to enrich uranium under the 2015 international nuclear deal.
Iran said it had passed 4.5% enrichment, breaching the 3.67% limit set in the accord aimed at restraining Tehran’s nuclear weapons development.
Iran said it could consider enriching uranium to 20% as the next step in its move to back away from its commitments under the nuclear deal, unless it gets the help it wants from the accord’s other signatories to overcome the crippling effect of U.S. economic sanctions imposed by U.S. President Donald Trump after he withdrew from the pact last year.
Uranium enriched to 5% is sufficient to produce fuel for nuclear power plants, but still far below the 90% needed for building a nuclear weapon.
The United Nations atomic watchdog agency said it was in the process of verifying the Iranian claim that it had breached the enrichment limit.
The European Union, one of the signatories to the deal with Iran, said it was “extremely concerned” about Tehran’s action.
“We strongly urge Iran to stop and reverse all activities that are inconsistent with the commitments” it had made under the international agreement, the EU said in Brussels.
Russia said it is concerned about the Iranian action, but Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it had warned that Trump’s withdrawal from the pact would have negative consequences for global security.
Trump warned Iran on Sunday it “better be careful.”
He did not specify to reporters any specific reactions his administration was considering, but reiterated the position that “Iran will never have a nuclear weapon.”
Trump made his comment hours after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted that Iran’s decision will lead to “further isolation and sanctions.”
“Nations should restore the longstanding standard of no enrichment for Iran’s nuclear program. Iran’s regime with nuclear weapons would pose an even greater danger to the world,” Pompeo wrote.
Iran has threatened further steps away from the deal within 60 days if the remaining signatories do not help it avoid the effects of the U.S. sanctions. The remaining parties, along with Russia and the EU, are Britain, Germany, France and China.
Meanwhile, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif contended that Britain’s seizure of an Iranian oil tanker in Gibraltar last week has set “a dangerous precedent and must end now.”
Zarif said on Twitter, “Iran is neither a member of the EU nor subject to any European oil embargo. Last I checked, EU was against extraterritoriality. UK’s unlawful seizure of a tanker with Iranian oil … is piracy, pure and simple. It sets a dangerous precedent and must end now.”
British Royal Marines impounded the tanker on suspicion it was carrying oil to Syria in violation of European Union sanctions, a claim Iran denied.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said last week Iran was prepared to enrich “any amount that we want” beyond the 3.67% level. He further pledged to resume construction of the Arak heavy water reactor, a project Iran agreed to shut down when it signed the 2015 deal. Iran has also already gone past the 300-kilogram limit for the amount of enriched uranium it is allowed to keep in its stockpile.