Category Archives: News

worldwide news

German Employers Use Music to Spur Workplace Harmony

Management experts are always coming up with innovative ideas to improve the work environment, inspire employees and raise productivity. Big companies in Germany, like Lufthansa, Siemens, Daimler, BMW and Volkswagen’s Audi, are bringing harmony to the workplace by having symphony orchestras and encouraging employees to play music together. Faiza Elmasry has the story. Faith Lapidus narrates.

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China’s Xi Seen Taking More Risks at Home and Abroad in 2018

In 2017, China’s Xi Jinping rose to become the country’s most powerful leader in decades. And as he shoulders more responsibility, analysts say the government in Beijing is likely to take more risks in 2018 at home and overseas, even as it deals with economic challenges at home, a nuclear North Korea and the looming threat of trade tensions with the United States. VOA’s Bill Ide has this report.

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Trump Administration Decries Family-Based Immigration Policy

Two recent incidents have bolstered the Trump administration’s stance against the United States’ family-based immigration system, which the president says threatens national security.

Tyler Houlton, acting press secretary at the Department of Homeland Security, said in a statement Saturday that his agency could “confirm the suspect involved in a terror attack in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and another suspect arrested on terror-related money-laundering charges were both beneficiaries of extended family chain migration.”

He said both cases “highlight the Trump administration’s concerns with extended family chain migration.”

Pennsylvania case

On Friday, a gunman in Harrisburg, who was an immigrant from Egypt, fired at police and state troopers in several locations before they shot and killed him.

Ahmed Aminamin El-Mofty shot one state trooper, but officials say she is expected to make a full recovery.

A relative of El-Mofty said the family is perplexed by his actions. Ahmed Soweilam told the media that his sister had been married to El-Mofty, but they separated six years ago. He said his brother-in-law had worked as a security guard and had moved back to Egypt, but returned to the U.S. a few months ago.

“He’s not the perfect guy, but he’s not an aggressive person,” Soweilam said.

“The long chain of migration” that led to El-Mofty’s “admission into the United States was initiated years ago by a distant relative of the suspect,” said Homeland Security’s Houlton.

Pakistani woman charged

In a separate incident, a Pakistani woman who entered the U.S. through the family-based immigration system has been accused of laundering bitcoin and wiring money to Islamic State jihadists. Zoobia Shahnaz’s lawyer says her client was trying to help Syrian refugees.

Houlton said family-based migration has “been exploited by terrorists to attack our country.” He said the family-based system makes it “more difficult to keep dangerous people out of the United States and to protect the safety of every American.” He said a merit-based immigration system is “used by nearly all other countries.”

​Merit-based immigration

Proponents of merit-based immigration say the current system lowers wages and discourages assimilation.

Supporters say a merit-based system also would help lower immigration rates and ensure that the immigrants who do come are highly skilled and less likely to need public assistance.

Earlier this year, President Trump said, “For decades, the United States was operated and has operated a very low-skill immigration system, issuing record numbers of green cards to low-wage immigrants.”

“This (family-based) policy has placed substantial pressure on American workers, taxpayers and community resources,” Trump added.

Critics of merit-based system

But critics say the American economy also needs low-skilled workers and a merit-based system would hurt industries that rely on them.

A merit-based system would also cost the government more because the government would have to review the applications and pay resettlement costs that are currently covered by sponsoring families.

Critics also see the merit-based system as un-American.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has said the merit-based system “abandons the fundamental respect for family, at the heart of our faith, at the heart of who we are as Americans.” 

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U.S. Territories — and Emergency Agency — Struggle to Recover from Disasters

The year has been a tough one for Puerto Ricans, Floridians, Texans and Californians, and recovery efforts continue for those three areas hit by hurricanes and one, California, struggling to contain wildfires. In a year of disasters, even the Federal Emergency Management Agency is struggling to cope.

At a hearing before the House Appropriations Subcommittee November 30, FEMA head Brock Long asked lawmakers for supplemental funding to handle its operations after a year studded with natural disasters.

Long told lawmakers that Hurricanes Harvey, which hit Texas, Irma, which targeted Florida, and Maria, which walloped the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, added to the ongoing California fires “have compelled FEMA to push its limits.”

Long noted that about 25.8 million people were affected by the three hurricanes, which took place in rapid succession in August and September. He said that as of November 13, more than 4½ million storm survivors had registered for FEMA assistance. He asked for $23.5 billion for FEMA’s disaster relief fund for fiscal 2018 to help with continuing recovery efforts. He said the agency is “committed to the long-term recovery of all impacted individuals as well as conducting this recovery in a fiscally responsible and prudent manner.”

​Puerto Rico response criticized

But FEMA has been criticized for its response to the crisis in the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, Caribbean islands that took a double hit from Irma and Maria within the space of a month. Three months after the second storm, only 65 percent of Puerto Rico has its power restored, thanks to an aging infrastructure and bungled reconstruction deals. The Army Corps of Engineers now estimates that power may not be fully restored to all communities until May.

Puerto Rican newspaper El Nuevo Dia reported that protests broke out in the municipalities of Aguas Buenas and Trujillo Alto Thursday, among frustrated residents who want the lights back on.

Vox News, citing statistics by the research firm Rhodium Group, reports that Puerto Rico is now the site of the longest blackout in U.S. history in terms of lost customer-hours of service.

FEMA has reported that more than 450 people are still living in shelters in Puerto Rico, and it is still distributing tarps, food and water to some communities. More troubling, Florida officials say more than 269,000 people have arrived in Florida from Puerto Rico since the storm, and some 10,000 Puerto Rican children have enrolled in Florida schools.

The Center for Puerto Rican Studies at City University of New York says the exodus is likely not over. It estimates that 470,335 Puerto Ricans will leave the island by the end of 2019, driven out by poor services and slow recovery. Experts fear that many of the displaced may not return to the island; as full U.S. citizens, they are legally able to move anywhere within the United States.

Virgin Islands overshadowed

In the nearby U.S. Virgin Islands, often overshadowed by its more populous neighbor, conditions are similar. The San Juan Daily Star reports about half of electrical customers remain without power, and about one quarter of the tourism-reliant island still lacks mobile phone service.

FEMA reported Thursday that more than $870 million in federal funds have been provided to survivors of Irma and Maria in U.S. territories, including grants, low-interest loans, and flood insurance claims.

But the tough times may get tougher before they ease: FEMA’s voucher program for displaced storm victims expires January 15.

Death toll

One more major point on which U.S. officials have been criticized is the storm-related death toll in Puerto Rico. The official total was placed at 64, but both Vox news and the New York Times published analyses in the past week comparing historic death rates from September and October with the death tolls from this year. They both found more than 1,000 more deaths occurred this year than in previous years, and both publications attributed the higher tolls to the stresses of storm recovery.

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Judge Partly Lifts Trump Administration Ban on Refugees

A federal judge in Seattle on Saturday partly lifted a Trump administration ban on certain refugees after two groups argued that the policy prevented people from some mostly Muslim countries from reuniting with family living legally in the United States.

U.S. District Judge James Robart heard arguments Thursday in lawsuits from the American Civil Liberties Union and Jewish Family Service, which said the ban was causing irreparable harm and put some people at risk. Government lawyers argued that the ban was needed to protect national security.

Robart ordered the federal government to process certain refugee applications but said his directive did not apply to people without a “bona fide relationship” to a person or entity in the United States.

President Donald Trump restarted the refugee program in October “with enhanced vetting capabilities.”

Agency chiefs’ memo

The day before his executive order, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke and Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats sent a memo to Trump saying certain refugees had to be banned unless additional security measures were implemented.

It applied to the spouses and minor children of refugees who had already settled in the U.S. and suspended the refugee program for people coming from 11 countries, nine of which are mostly Muslim. 

In his decision, Robart wrote that “former officials detailed concretely how the agency memo will harm the United States’ national security and foreign policy interests.”

Robart said his order restored refugee procedures in programs to what they were before the memo and noted that this already included very thorough vetting of individuals.

The ACLU argued the memo provided no evidence for why additional security was needed and didn’t specify a time frame for implementing the changes. The groups said the process for imposing the policy violated a federal law.

August Flentje, a Justice Department attorney, told the judge that the ban was temporary and “was a reasonable and appropriate way for agency heads to tackle gaps” in the screening process.

Lawsuits consolidated

The lawsuits from the two groups were consolidated; they represent refugees who have been blocked from entering the country.

The ACLU represents a Somali man living in Washington state who is trying to bring his family to the U.S. They have gone through extensive vetting, have passed security and medical clearances, and just need travel papers, but those were denied after the ban.

Lisa Nowlin, staff attorney for the ACLU of Washington, said in a statement they were happy that their client, “who has not yet had the opportunity to celebrate a single birthday with his younger son in person, will soon have the opportunity to hold his children, hug his wife in the very near future, and be together again as a family for the first time in four years.” 

Two other refugees included in the Jewish Family Service lawsuit are former Iraqi interpreters for the U.S. Army whose lives are at risk because of their service.

Another is a transgender woman in Egypt “living in such extremely dangerous circumstances that the U.S. government itself had expedited her case until the ban came down,” said Mariko Hirose, a lawyer with the Jewish Family Service case.

Yet another is a single woman in Iraq, Hirose said. Her husband divorced her after she was kidnapped and raped by militants because she worked with an American company. Her family is in the U.S. but she’s stranded by the ban, Hirose said.

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Report: FBI Deputy Director McCabe to Retire in 2018

FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, the focus of criticism over the past year from President Donald Trump and Republicans in Congress, plans to retire in 2018, The Washington Post reported Saturday.

McCabe, 49, is the No. 2 official in the FBI and had been acting director after Trump fired the former director, James Comey, in May. According to the Post, McCabe plans to retire once he becomes eligible for a full pension in March.

Shortly after the newspaper report was published, Trump retweeted his earlier contention that McCabe’s wife, Jill, who ran unsuccessfully for the Virginia Senate in 2015, had been given nearly $700,000 by allies of Hillary Clinton at a time when Andrew McCabe was involved in the investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state.

The FBI has said McCabe did not start overseeing the Clinton investigation until his wife’s state Senate campaign was over. According to the Virginia Public Access Project, the two major donations that Jill McCabe received, totaling nearly $700,000, came from a political action committee of Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat and Clinton friend, and from the Virginia Democratic Party.

Trump, who is spending the holidays at his Florida resort, said in a second tweet Saturday, “FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe is racing the clock to retire with full benefits. 90 days to go?!!!” 

An FBI spokesperson declined to comment.

Under pressure

McCabe has come under fire from Republicans over the past year because of the bureau’s investigation into the Clinton email issue as well as the probe into possible collusion between Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and Russia. 

Earlier this year, the U.S. intelligence community released a report that stated Russia had meddled in the 2016 election, showing a preference for Trump over Clinton, his opponent. Russia denies meddling in the election, and Trump has denied any collusion.

Shortly after Comey’s firing, former FBI Director Robert Mueller was appointed special counsel of an investigation into whether any members of Trump’s campaign conspired with Russian agents during the campaign. 

McCabe faced questions about that probe as well as the email issue when he testified earlier this week before three congressional committees.

“Andy’s in a difficult position now … because of the hyperpartisan political environment,” John Pistole, who held the FBI’s No. 2 job for six years under Mueller, told the Post. He said McCabe was “weathering the storm.”

Republicans have said they want answers to why Comey publicly discussed the Clinton investigation and then announced that the bureau would not seek to bring charges. Critics say the Republicans’ focus on Clinton is merely a tactic to distract from Mueller’s investigation.

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US Holiday Travel Numbers Up

Americans are traveling in record numbers this season, according to the American Automobile Association’s (AAA) annual estimate, which forecasts more than 107 million will travel by road, rail or air between now and the start of 2018.

Despite higher gas prices, travel volume is expected to be 3.1 percent higher than last year’s holiday season, the association said.

AAA said this season marks the ninth consecutive year of rising year-end holiday travel in the United States. Since 2005, it said, holiday travel has grown by 21.6 million, an increase of 25 percent.

The majority of travelers, 97.4 million, will make their way to their destinations by road, while 6.4 million people are expected to fly to see family and friends or to take holiday vacations. Only 3.6 million are expected to take to trains, buses or cruise ships for the holiday.

Apparently, not all holiday travelers are making family visits.

AAA said, for the second year in a row, the top destinations for holiday travel are Orlando, Florida, and Anaheim, California – the homes of theme parks Walt Disney World and Disneyland.

Sunny destinations also make up the next seven entries on the top 10 destinations: Cancun, Mexico; Hawaii, Jamaica, Dominican Republic and several locations in Florida. The only non-beach destination on the list? No. 10, New York City.


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US Supports Honduran President’s Re-election

The United States on Friday backed the re-election of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez despite widespread misgivings about the vote count, prompting the opposition candidate to bow out of the race.

The Honduran electoral tribunal declared Hernandez the winner of the Nov. 26 election last weekend amid strident opposition protests over the vote count in the impoverished Central American country, which is a major hub for drug trafficking.

The vote tally had initially clearly favored opposition candidate Salvador Nasralla, a center-leftist, but it swung in favor of the incumbent after a 36-hour delay.

Nasralla contested the vote count, but after the United States backed Hernandez, he declared his bid for the presidency a “lost cause.”

“The situation is practically decided,” he said in an interview with TV network France 24. “I no longer have anything to do in politics, but the people, which are 80 percent in my favor, will continue the fight.”

The United States followed Mexico and other Latin American countries in supporting Hernandez, who has been a reliable U.S. ally.

The U.S. State Department congratulated Hernandez and said Honduras should pursue a “long-term effort to heal the political divide in the country and enact much-needed electoral reforms,” spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.

Protest, calls for new vote

The Honduras election tribunal’s declaration in Hernandez’s favor last week sparked violent protests in Honduras, and the Organization of American States (OAS) called for new elections to resolve the dispute, a proposal that was rejected by the Honduran government.

Although he has proclaimed an end to his political career, Nasralla still maintains that he is the rightful winner of the election.

“The Organization of American States has made clear that there was a monumental fraud,” he said.

Nasralla had been backed by former President Manuel Zelaya, a leftist who was ousted in a 2009 coup after he proposed a referendum on his re-election, which was barred by the constitution at the time.

“He is no longer with the Alliance,” Zelaya said of Nasralla on Friday.

Streets calm

The streets of the Honduran capital Tegucigalpa and other major cities were largely calm Friday with a few protests cleared by the armed forces. By midweek some 27 people had died in clashes, according to local human rights group COFADEH.

The State Department called for all sides to refrain from violence, for those who wish to challenge the result to use legal means, and for the government to ensure that security services respect the rights of peaceful protesters.

It also called for the electoral tribunal “to transparently and fully review any challenges filed by political parties.”

Hernandez has led a military crackdown against gangs in the Central American country, and Honduras’ notoriously high murder rate has slid since he took power in 2014.

Strategic concerns

Nasralla, a television host, traveled to Washington this week to urge the United States not to recognize the vote, but a senior State Department official said Wednesday the government had not seen any evidence that would alter the vote’s outcome.

Nasralla said the U.S. decision reflected Washington’s strategic concerns over a leftist government in Honduras.

“They’re afraid of losing Honduras,” he told local television.

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