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Voice of America’s immigration news - May 27, 2023 - 01:00
Give us 5 minutes, and we'll give you the world. Around the clock, Voice of America keeps you in touch with the latest news. We bring you reports from our correspondents and interviews with newsmakers from across the world.

UPS Strike Looms in World Reliant on Everything Delivered Everywhere All the Time

Voice of America’s immigration news - May 27, 2023 - 00:47
Living in New York City, working full time and without a car, Jessica Ray and her husband have come to rely on deliveries of food and just about everything else for their home. It has meant more free time on weekends with their young son, rather than standing in line for toilet paper or dragging heavy bags of dog food back to their apartment. "I don't even know where to buy dog food," said Jessica Ray of the specialty food she buys for the family's aging dog. There are millions of families like the Rays who have swapped store visits for doorstep deliveries in recent years, meaning that contentious labor negotiations now underway at UPS could become vastly more disruptive than the last time it happened in 1997, when a scrappy upstart called Amazon.com became a public company. UPS delivers millions more packages every day than it did just five years ago and its 350,000 unionized workers, represented by the Teamsters, still seethe about a contract they feel was forced on them in 2018. In an environment of energized labor movements and lingering resentment among UPS workers, the Teamsters are expected to dig in, with the potential to cow a major logistical force in the U.S. 'Something's got to give' The 24 million packages UPS ships on an average day amounts to about a quarter of all U.S. parcel volume, according to the global shipping and logistics firm Pitney Bowes, or as UPS puts it, the equivalent of about 6% of nation's gross domestic product. Higher prices and long wait times are all but certain if there is an impasse. "Something's got to give," said Thomas Goldsby, logistics chairman in the Supply Chain Management Department at the University of Tennessee. "The python can't swallow the alligator, and that's going to be felt by all of us." In other words, brace yourself for Supply Chain Breakdown: The Sequel. In the second half of 2021, the phrase "global supply chain" began to enter casual conversations as the world emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic. Businesses struggled to get what they needed, raising prices and wait times. Automakers held vehicles just off the assembly line because they didn't have all the parts. Some of those problems still linger and a strike at UPS threatens to extend the suffering. Household routines at risk Those who have come to rely on doorstep deliveries for the basics might have to rethink weekly schedules. "We finally reached a point where we finally feel pretty good about it," Ray said. "We can take a Saturday afternoon and do a fun family activity and not feel the burden of making everything work for the day-to-day functioning of our household." UPS workers feel they have played a part in the transformation of how Americans shop since the last contract was ratified in 2018, while helping to make UPS a much more valuable company. Annual profits at UPS in the past two years are close to three times what they were before the pandemic. The Atlanta company returned about $8.6 billion to shareholders in the form of dividends and stock buybacks in 2022, and forecasts another $8.4 billion for shareholders this year. The Teamsters say frontline UPS workers deserve some of that windfall. "Our members worked really hard over the pandemic," said Teamsters spokesperson Kara Denize. "They need to see their fair share." Union members rejected the contract they were offered in 2018, but it was pushed through by union leadership based on a technicality. The acrimony over the current contract was so fierce that last year workers rejected a candidate to lead the Teamsters favored by longtime union head James Hoffa, instead choosing the more combative Sean O'Brien. O'Brien went on a nationwide tour of local Teamsters shops preparing frontline workers ahead of negotiations. In addition to addressing part-time pay, and what workers say is excessive overtime, the union wants to eliminate a contract provision that created two separate hierarchies of workers with different pay scales, hours and benefits. Driver safety, particularly the lack of air conditioning in delivery trucks, is also in the mix. Possible ripple effect A win at UPS could have implications for the organized labor outside the company. Teamsters are attempting to organize Amazon workers and dozens of company delivery drivers and dispatchers in California joined the union last month. There are also prominent labor organization campaigns at Apple, Starbucks, Trader Joe's, Apple, even strippers at a dance club in Los Angeles. "This has just huge implications for the entire labor movement in the United States," said John Logan, the director of labor and employment studies at San Francisco State University, referring to labor talks at UPS. "There's greater assertiveness and militancy on the part of a lot of young labor activists and some sectors of the labor establishment. Sean O'Brien is representative of that." When dozens of UPS locals met with Teamsters leadership early this year, O'Brien delivered a message of urgency. "We're going into these negotiations with a clear message to UPS that we're not going past August 1," O'Brien told the gathering. It would be the first work stoppage since a walkout by 185,000 workers crippled the company a quarter century ago. UPS CEO Carol Tome has remained optimistic publicly, telling investors recently that the company and the Teamsters were not far apart on major issues. "While we expect to hear a great deal of noise during the negotiation, I remain confident that a win-win-win contract is very achievable and that UPS and the Teamsters will reach agreement by the end of July," Tome said. If Tome is wrong, Americans might need to put aside more time to shop like they used to do. "It has the potential to be significantly impactful," said Ray, the New York City resident. "My husband and I have invested a lot in figuring out how to remove the burden of just making sure we always have toilet paper."

VOA Newscasts

Voice of America’s immigration news - May 27, 2023 - 00:00
Give us 5 minutes, and we'll give you the world. Around the clock, Voice of America keeps you in touch with the latest news. We bring you reports from our correspondents and interviews with newsmakers from across the world.

Top-Level Meetings Signal Warming of US–China Ties

Voice of America’s immigration news - May 26, 2023 - 23:24
Chinese Minister of Commerce Wang Wentao was in the U.S. this week, meeting with U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai. The meetings took place days after President Joe Biden signaled a thaw in bilateral relations strained by trade and security issues and the takedown by a U.S. fighter jet of a Chinese espionage balloon over American territory in February. White House Bureau Chief Patsy Widakuswara reports.

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Voice of America’s immigration news - May 26, 2023 - 23:00
Give us 5 minutes, and we'll give you the world. Around the clock, Voice of America keeps you in touch with the latest news. We bring you reports from our correspondents and interviews with newsmakers from across the world.

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Voice of America’s immigration news - May 26, 2023 - 22:00
Give us 5 minutes, and we'll give you the world. Around the clock, Voice of America keeps you in touch with the latest news. We bring you reports from our correspondents and interviews with newsmakers from across the world.

US Revokes License of Drug Distributor Over Opioid Crisis Failures

Voice of America’s immigration news - May 26, 2023 - 21:43
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration stripped one of the nation's largest drug distributors of its license to sell highly addictive painkillers Friday after determining it failed to flag thousands of suspicious orders at the height of the opioid crisis. The action against Morris & Dickson Co., which threatens to put the company out of business, came two days after an Associated Press investigation found the DEA allowed the company to keep shipping drugs for nearly four years after a judge recommended the harshest penalty for its "cavalier disregard" of rules aimed at preventing opioid abuse. The DEA acknowledged the time it took to issue its final decision was "longer than typical for the agency" but blamed Morris & Dickson in part for holding up the process by seeking delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its lengthy pursuit of a settlement that the agency said it had considered. The order becomes effective in 90 days, allowing more time to negotiate a settlement. 12,000 unusually large orders DEA Administrator Anne Milgram said in the 68-page order that Morris & Dickson failed to accept full responsibility for its past actions, which included shipping 12,000 unusually large orders of opioids to pharmacies and hospitals between 2014 and 2018. During this time, the company filed just three suspicious order reports with the DEA. Milgram specifically cited testimony of then-company president Paul Dickson Sr. in 2019 that Morris & Dickson's compliance program was "dang good," and he didn't think a "single person has gotten hurt by [their] drugs." "Those statements from the president of a family-owned and -operated company so strongly miss the point of the requirements of a DEA registrant," she wrote. "Its acceptance of responsibility did not prove that it or its principals understand the full extent of their wrongdoing ... and the potential harm it caused." Roots go back to 1840 Shreveport, Louisiana-based Morris & Dickson traces its roots to 1840, when its namesake founder arrived from Wales and placed an ad in a local newspaper selling medicines. It has since become the nation's fourth-largest wholesale drug distributor, with $4 billion a year in revenue and nearly 600 employees serving pharmacies and hospitals in 29 states. In a statement, the company said it has invested millions of dollars over the past few years to revamp its compliance systems and appeared to hold out hope for a settlement. "Morris & Dickson is grateful to the DEA administrator for delaying the effective date of the order to allow time to settle these old issues," it said. "We remain confident we can achieve an outcome that safeguards the supply chain for all of our health care partners and the communities they serve. ... Business will continue as usual and orders will continue to go out on time." Morris & Dickson's much larger competitors, a trio of pharmaceutical distributors known as the Big Three, have already agreed to pay the federal government more than $1 billion in fines and penalties to settle similar violations. Cardinal Health, AmerisourceBergen and McKesson also agreed to pay $21 billion over 18 years to resolve claims as part of a nationwide settlement. While Morris & Dickson wasn't the only drug distributor whom the DEA accused of fueling the opioid crisis, it was unique in its willingness to challenge those accusations in the DEA's administrative court.

US Charges 2 in Beijing-Directed Targeting of Falun Gong

Voice of America’s immigration news - May 26, 2023 - 21:02
Two Los Angeles residents have been charged with acting in a Beijing-directed scheme targeting U.S.-based practitioners of the Falun Gong group that is outlawed in China, the U.S. Justice Department said on Friday. John Chen, also known as Chen Jun, and Lin Feng were arrested in California on accusations of supporting Chinese efforts to strip the tax-exempt status of a U.S. entity run by Falun Gong practitioners, the department said in a statement. The department described the scheme as part of a broader campaign by China's government to target its U.S.-based critics. The charges were announced a month after federal agents arrested two New York residents on suspicion of operating a Chinese "secret police station" in Manhattan's Chinatown district. A complaint against Chen and Lin was filed in federal court in the Southern District of New York, the department said. Reuters was not immediately able to reach them or their lawyers for comment. The Chinese Embassy in Washington did not immediately provide comment. Chen and Lin in 2023 attempted to bribe an undercover federal agent acting as a U.S. tax official to advance a complaint that would strip the Falun Gong entity's federal tax exemption, the department said. The two paid $5,000 in cash bribes and promised to pay substantially more to advance the complaint with the Internal Revenue Service's whistleblower program, it said. The bribes were intended to carry out China's aim of "toppling ... the Falun Gong," the department quoted Chen as saying on an intercepted call. Stripping the entity's exempt status would increase its federal tax obligation. Falun Gong, based broadly around meditation, was banned by China in 1999 after 10,000 members appeared at the central leadership compound in Beijing in silent protest. The group has called for people to renounce the ruling Chinese Communist Party. China's government has described the group as a cult organization that threatens national stability.

VOA Newscasts

Voice of America’s immigration news - May 26, 2023 - 21:00
Give us 5 minutes, and we'll give you the world. Around the clock, Voice of America keeps you in touch with the latest news. We bring you reports from our correspondents and interviews with newsmakers from across the world.

Elon Musk's Brain Implant Company Says It Has Approval to Begin Human Trials

Voice of America’s immigration news - May 26, 2023 - 20:57
Elon Musk's brain implant company Neuralink says it's gotten permission from U.S. regulators to begin testing its device in people. The company made the announcement on Twitter Thursday evening but has provided no details about a potential study, which was not listed on the U.S. government database of clinical trials. Officials with the Food and Drug Administration wouldn't confirm or deny whether the agency granted the approval, but press officer Carly Kempler said in an email that the FDA "acknowledges and understands" that Musk's company made the announcement. Neuralink is one of many groups working on linking the nervous system to computers. The aim is to put into humans a neural-chip implant designed to decode and stimulate brain activity. Earlier this week, for example, researchers in Switzerland published research in the journal Nature describing an implant that restores communication between the brain and spinal cord to help a man with paralysis to stand and walk naturally. There are more than 30 brain or spine computer interface trials underway, according to clinicaltrials.gov. Musk – who also owns Twitter and is the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX – said last December that his team was in the process of asking regulators to allow them to test the Neuralink device. The device is about the size of a large coin and is designed to be implanted in the skull, with ultra-thin wires going directly into the brain. Musk has said the first two applications in people would attempt to restore vision and try to help people with little or no ability to operate their muscles rapidly. He also said he envisions that signals from the brain could be bridged to Neuralink devices in the spinal cord for someone with a broken neck. After Musk made a presentation late last year about the device, Rajesh Rao, co-director of the Center for Neurotechnology at the University of Washington, said he didn't think Neuralink was ahead of other teams in terms of brain-computer interface achievements but was "quite ahead" in terms of the hardware in the devices. It's unclear how well this device or similar interfaces will ultimately work, or how safe they might be. Neuralink's interface is considered an "investigational device" at this point, and clinical trials are designed to collect data on safety and effectiveness. In its tweet this week, Neuralink said that it's not yet recruiting participants for the study and will provide more information soon.

US Trade Representative, China's Commerce Minister Clash on APEC Sidelines

Voice of America’s immigration news - May 26, 2023 - 20:54
U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai raised complaints about China's state-led economic policies during a meeting on Friday with Chinese Commerce Minister Wang Wentao, who objected to U.S. tariffs and trade policies, their offices said. But statements from the U.S. Trade Representative's office and China's Commerce Ministry both emphasized the need for Washington and Beijing to maintain communication on trade. "Ambassador Tai highlighted the need to address the critical imbalances caused by China’s state-led, nonmarket approach to the economy and trade policy," USTR said in a statement released after the meeting on the sidelines of an Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) conference in Detroit. "She also raised concerns about PRC [People's Republic of China] actions taken against U.S. companies operating there," the statement said. China's Commerce Ministry said in a statement that Wang raised complaints about U.S. economic and trade policies toward China, including U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods, economic and trade issues related to Taiwan, and on the U.S.-led Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) that excludes China. Tai on Saturday will hold a ministerial meeting of countries in the IPEF talks, which exclude China and aim to provide a U.S.-centered alternative to its influence. Last week, she announced initial trade agreements with Taiwan. China claims the self-governed island as its own territory. USTR is conducting a four-year review of U.S. tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars' worth of Chinese imports, imposed in 2018 and 2019 by then-President Donald Trump. Tai has long raised objections to China's attempts to dominate certain industries using massive state subsidies and said such issues continue to come up in the relationship. Asked during a press conference whether the U.S. would resort to using further trade tools to address China's practices, such as a new "Section 301" investigation that could lead to more U.S. tariffs, Tai said that "aspects" of the Biden administration's response were already evident in U.S economic policies. "The benefit of sitting down and having a conversation with interlocutors from Beijing is so that we can understand each other better and understand how we are experiencing the impacts that we have on each other's economies," Tai said. Cabinet-level discussion Wang's meetings with Tai in Detroit and with U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo in Washington on Thursday marked the first Cabinet-level exchanges in months between U.S. and Chinese officials, following a series of setbacks that raised tensions between the world's two largest economies. Tai stressed the importance of maintaining open lines of communication between Washington and Beijing as they spoke on the sidelines of APEC, the U.S. statement said. The Chinese statement was similar in tone to concerns raised with Raimondo about U.S. trade, investment and export policies. U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged more frequent communications at a Group of 20 summit in Indonesia last November to avoid U.S.-China tensions from turning into a new cold war.  But those plans suffered several setbacks, starting with the downing of a suspected Chinese spy balloon in U.S. coastal waters. These irritants continued through last Sunday, when Group of Seven leaders pledged to resist China's "economic coercion" and Beijing responded by declaring U.S. memory chip maker Micron Technology a national security risk, banning its sales to major domestic industries.

Rapprochement Is Fragile as US, China Put Irritants Aside 

Voice of America’s immigration news - May 26, 2023 - 20:31
U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo met with her Chinese counterpart, Wang Wentao, Thursday, the first Cabinet-level engagement in months between the world’s two largest economies. The pair raised export policies, trade and investment issues that have been straining bilateral ties, in an exchange Raimondo’s office described as “candid and substantive.” Wang also met with U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai on the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic Forum trade ministers meeting Friday in Detroit, Michigan. The meetings took place days after President Joe Biden signaled a thaw in relations that have taken a downturn since a U.S. fighter jet shot a suspected Chinese espionage balloon over American territory in February. That incident caused bipartisan uproar in the U.S. and led to the cancellation of U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s scheduled visit to Beijing. However, in a May 10-11 meeting between White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan and top Communist Party diplomat Wang Yi, both sides appeared to put the matter behind them. Taking down the balloon was “a clear message that we will not tolerate violations of U.S. airspace,” Sullivan told VOA during a May 17 press briefing. “We have made our point.” Why now? Beyond the desire to show that it can manage great-power competition with China and to seek cooperation on various issues from fighting climate change to stopping fentanyl trafficking, Washington is looking for Beijing to be a constructive force in the war on Ukraine, said Yun Sun, director of the China program at the Stimson Center. Meanwhile, China is seeking to leverage a transactional relationship on issues it cares about. In the high-tech industry, for example, she told VOA that although it's inevitable that the U.S. will reduce or end its dependence on China, Beijing sees room to negotiate on specific industries, companies or products. A mutual driving factor is the APEC leaders meeting that the U.S. is set to host in San Francisco in November, said Dennis Wilder, former National Security Council director for China, who is now a senior fellow for the Initiative for U.S.-China Dialogue on Global Issues at Georgetown University. President Xi Jinping believes that China is one of APEC’s founding members, Wilder told VOA, so “it's important to him from a national prestige point of view to be there.” Meanwhile, Biden wants “as many world leaders there as possible, except for [Russian President Vladimir] Putin.” Should Xi attend the APEC summit, there’s opportunity for a separate summit with Biden, their second face-to-face engagement as presidents since the pair met at the sidelines of the Group of 20 meeting in Bali last November. However, with less than six months, observers say time is running out to lay the groundwork for a meeting. Irritants remain "With this more conciliatory language, the Biden administration is making a sensible attempt to achieve detente in what is, essentially, a cold war relationship,” said Robert Daly, director of the Wilson Center's Kissinger Institute on China and the United States. However, since neither Washington nor Beijing has reconsidered its goals or its assessments of itself or its rival, warming ties will not change the fundamental direction of U.S.-China relations, Daly told VOA. Many irritants that could threaten the fragile rapprochement remain, including a planned executive order establishing an outbound investment screening mechanism that would restrict American companies seeking to invest in China’s semiconductor and other critical technology sectors. There is speculation in Washington that the executive order has been temporarily put on hold to smooth out relations, but the Chinese expect it to happen at some point, said Yun. “That does not necessarily help to build up their willingness to cooperate,” she said. Beijing is also anxious about the results of the FBI-led investigation of the remnants of the Chinese balloon. The FBI, the State Department and the White House did not provide answers to VOA’s queries on when the administration would release the findings. If the administration does not proceed with the executive order, Congress will likely push for legislation to do so, Wilder said. "I can't explain why there isn't more pressure on the balloon report from Congress,” he told VOA. “That one is a little perplexing to me.” Beijing has also hit back on the action plan to counter “economic coercion” targeting China, which the Group of Seven leading democracies released following their recent summit. The day after the G-7 announcement, Beijing banned products from U.S. memory chipmaker Micron Technology Inc. in computer systems that handle sensitive information, saying they posed security risks without providing details. “How do they respond to criticism over economic coercion? With economic coercion,” said John Kirby, National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications, in a Wednesday briefing to reporters. However, Kirby underscored that the Micron deal would not torpedo broader goals of reopening communication lines, noting that the relationship is complicated, and turbulence is expected. "That doesn't mean that the work shouldn't go on to try to get things back into a better position,” he said. What to watch for A key indicator of further warming ties is whether Beijing will agree to Washington’s request for a meeting between U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and his Chinese counterpart, Li Shangfu, on the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue on defense in Singapore next week. China Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Mao Ning said Washington should first lift sanctions against Li, to “create [a] favorable atmosphere and conditions for dialogue and communication.” Li, who became defense minister in March, was placed under sanctions in 2018 by the Trump administration for his role in China’s purchase of Russian combat aircraft and equipment. Biden said last week that the matter was “under negotiation.” However, State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller later told VOA the administration was not considering lifting those sanctions. Other indicators to watch are more high-level visits to Beijing by American officials, including climate envoy John Kerry, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Commerce Secretary Raimondo. Jeff Seldin and Nike Ching contributed to this report.

VOA Newscasts

Voice of America’s immigration news - May 26, 2023 - 20:00
Give us 5 minutes, and we'll give you the world. Around the clock, Voice of America keeps you in touch with the latest news. We bring you reports from our correspondents and interviews with newsmakers from across the world.

US Judge Says Fire Retardant Is Polluting Streams but Allows Continued Use

Voice of America’s immigration news - May 26, 2023 - 19:44
The U.S. government can keep using chemical retardant dropped from aircraft to fight wildfires, despite finding that the practice pollutes streams in western states in violation of federal law, a judge ruled Friday. Halting the use of the red slurry material could have resulted in greater environmental damage from wildfires, said U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen in Missoula, Montana. The judge agreed with U.S. Forest Service officials who said dropping retardant into areas with waterways was sometimes necessary to protect lives and property. The ruling came after environmentalists sued following revelations that the Forest Service dropped retardant into waterways hundreds of times over the past decade. Government officials say chemical fire retardant can be crucial to slowing the advance of dangerous blazes. Wildfires across North America have grown bigger and more destructive over the past two decades as climate change warms the planet. More than 200 loads of retardant got into waterways over the past decade. Federal officials say those situations usually occurred by mistake and in less than 1% of the thousands of loads used annually. A coalition that includes Paradise, California — where a 2018 blaze killed 85 people and destroyed the town — said a court ruling that stopped the use of retardant would have put lives, homes and forests at risk. "This case was very personal for us," Paradise Mayor Greg Bolin said. "Our brave firefighters need every tool in the toolbox to protect human lives and property against wildfires, and today's ruling ensures we have a fighting chance this fire season." State and local agencies lean heavily on the U.S. Forest Service to help fight fires, many of which originate on, or include federal land. Fire retardant is a specialized mixture of water and chemicals including inorganic fertilizers or salts. It's designed to alter the way fire burns, making blazes less intense and slowing their advance. That can give firefighters time to steer flames away from inhabited areas and in extreme situations to evacuate people from danger. "Retardant lasts and even works if it's dry," said Scott Upton, a former region chief and air attack group supervisor for California's state fire agency. "Water is only so good because it dries out. It does very well to suppress fires, but it won't last." The Oregon-based group Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics argued in its lawsuit filed last year that the Forest Service was disregarding federal law by continuing to use retardant without taking adequate precautions to protect streams and rivers. Christensen said stopping the use of fire retardant would "conceivably result in greater harm from wildfires — including to human life and property and to the environment." The judge said his ruling was limited to 10 western states where members of the plaintiff's group alleged harm from pollution in waterways that they use. After the lawsuit was filed the Forest Service applied to the Environmental Protection Agency for a permit that would allow it to continue using retardant without breaking the law. The process could take several years. Forest Service spokesperson Wade Muehlhof said the agency believes retardant can be used "without compromising public health and the environment." "The Forest Service is working diligently with the Environmental Protection Agency on a general permit for aerially delivered retardant that will allow us to continue using wildfire retardant to protect homes and communities," Muehlhof said. Climate change, people moving into fire-prone areas, and overgrown forests are creating more catastrophic megafires that are harder to fight. Many areas of the western U.S. experienced heavy snowfalls this past winter, and as a result fire dangers are lower than in recent years across much of the region.

VOA Newscasts

Voice of America’s immigration news - May 26, 2023 - 19:00
Give us 5 minutes, and we'll give you the world. Around the clock, Voice of America keeps you in touch with the latest news. We bring you reports from our correspondents and interviews with newsmakers from across the world.

Debt Ceiling Deadline Is Extended to June 5, Yellen Says

Voice of America’s immigration news - May 26, 2023 - 18:55
U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said Friday the projected debt ceiling deadline is extended to June 5, four days later than previously estimated. Yet, Yellen renewed her warning in a letter to Congress that inaction on raising the borrowing limit would "cause severe hardship." Yellen's latest letter to legislators on the "X-date" came as Congress broke for the long Memorial Day weekend. She said that the Treasury Department had deployed an extraordinary measure not used since 2015 to get the U.S. financial position to this point. The X-date arrives when the government no longer has enough of a financial cushion to pay all its bills, having exhausted the measures it's been using since January to stretch existing funds. Earlier Friday, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said his Republican debt negotiators and the White House were straining to wrap up an agreement with President Joe Biden to curb federal spending and lift the nation's borrowing limit ahead of the fast-coming deadline. They had hoped to end weeks of frustrating talks and strike a deal by this weekend. Treasury now says the government could start running out of money as soon as a week from Monday, sending the U.S. into a potentially catastrophic default with economic spillover around the world. "The world is watching," said International Monetary Fund Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva after meeting Friday with Yellen. "Let's remember we are now in the 12th hour." Democrat Biden and the Republican speaker were narrowing differences, laboring to lock in details on a two-year agreement that would restrain federal spending and lift the legal borrowing limit past next year's presidential election. Any deal would need to be a political compromise, with support from both Democrats and Republicans to pass the divided Congress. "We know it's a crunch," McCarthy said as he arrived at the empty Capitol, acknowledging more progress needed to be made. In remarks at the White House honoring Louisiana State University's champion women's basketball team, Biden gave a shoutout to one of his top negotiators saying she's "putting together a deal, hopefully." He was referring to Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young who attended the event as did Representative Garret Graves of Louisiana, a top Republican negotiator. While the contours of the deal have been taking shape to cut spending for 2024 and impose a 1% cap on spending growth for 2025, the two sides remain stuck on various provisions. The debt ceiling, now at $31 trillion, would be lifted for two years to pay the nation's incurred bills. Lawmakers are tentatively not expected back at work until Tuesday, just two days from the June 1 "X-date" when Treasury Secretary Yellen had said the U.S. could face default. Biden will also be away this weekend, departing Friday for the presidential retreat at Camp David, Maryland, and Sunday for his home in Wilmington, Delaware. The Senate is on recess and will return after Memorial Day. Weeks of negotiations between Republicans and the White House have failed to produce a deal — in part because the Biden administration resisted negotiating with McCarthy over the debt limit, arguing that the country's full faith and credit should not be used as leverage to extract other partisan priorities. Meanwhile, Fitch Ratings agency placed the United States' AAA credit on "ratings watch negative," warning of a possible downgrade.

Thai Pro-democracy Activists Urge Senate to Respect Vote

Voice of America’s immigration news - May 26, 2023 - 18:19
Thais voted for the progressive Move Forward Party to lead their next government. But over a week later, powerful political enemies are blocking the party's progress — and forcing an early climbdown over the controversial royal defamation law. Vijitra Duangdee reports from Bangkok.

Taiwanese Reporters Blocked from Covering World Health Assembly

Voice of America’s immigration news - May 26, 2023 - 18:04
Two Taiwanese reporters who had been accredited to cover this week's World Health Assembly in Geneva were told on Monday they would not be allowed to obtain their press passes in a move press freedom advocates say was likely caused by pressure from China. On Monday, Judy Tseng and Tien Hsi-ju, reporters with Taiwan's Central News Agency (CNA), were blocked from covering the 76th World Health Assembly held by the World Health Organization (WHO), even though the reporters had their press credentials approved a week earlier. This is the latest incident in which the World Health Assembly, or WHA, has denied media accreditation to Taiwanese nationals and media, which observers say underscores the intersection of press freedom and global politics. The WHA has regularly denied them accreditation since 2017, according to the press freedom group Reporters Without Borders, or RSF. The WHA also rejected Taiwan's request to join the gathering this year. A Central News Agency report on this week's incident written by Tseng and Hsi-ju cited a United Nations staff member who blamed the situation on pressure from China. "They know everything," the staff member reportedly said. Wanchi You, a member of the Association of Taiwan Journalists executive committee, said, "China has for years used its influence to restrict the participation of Taiwanese reporters in international events. And this limits the ability of Taiwanese media to report on global issues and undermines the principles of transparency, accountability and equal access to information." The Chinese Embassy in Washington said it was "not aware of the specifics" of this week's WHA incident and directed VOA to China's Permanent Mission in Geneva, which did not immediately reply to VOA's email requesting comment. Beijing claims Taiwan, a self-ruling island, as its own territory and perceives the accreditation of Taiwanese reporters at international events as an affirmation of Taiwanese sovereignty, RSF's East Asia Bureau Director Cédric Alviani said. Barring Taiwanese reporters from covering international events is just one way Beijing tries to isolate Taipei on the international stage. The Association of Taiwan Journalists said in a statement, "It is imperative for the United Nations and its affiliated organizations to uphold the value of press freedom they endorse while urging the WHA to abstain from restricting journalists' interviewing rights based on their nationality." Out of 180 countries, China ranks 179 in terms of press freedom, according to RSF. Taiwan ranks 35. "We ask for the United Nations to respect the right of journalists to do their job irrespective of their nationalities,” a CNA spokesperson said in a statement. “The World Health Organization should mend its way by opening the proceedings of the current World Health Assembly to reporters from Taiwan." "The United Nations headquarters are open to individuals in possession of identification from a State recognized by the UN General Assembly," Rolando Gómez, a spokesperson at the UN office in Geneva, told VOA in an emailed statement. Taiwan is not a U.N. member state. "The accreditation for journalists entering the premises of the United Nations (U.N.) in Geneva is handled by the U.N.," WHO spokesperson Margaret Harris said in an emailed statement. "The WHO secretariat made no decision related to the accreditation of reporters to the U.N. premises," including Tseng and Hsi-ju. There was a period between 2009 and 2016 when Taiwanese reporters had an easier time covering these sorts of international events, according to RSF, but that period ended in 2017. RSF's Alviani said that now Taiwanese reporters sometimes don't even bother requesting accreditation for these events because they assume they'll be denied. "Somehow it's about Taiwanese sovereignty," Alviani told VOA. "I want to insist on the fact that we are talking of journalists. We are not talking about government representatives." Alviani added that there is not a clear U.N. policy on how to handle these issues. "It is inconsistent, it is discriminatory and it is unacceptable," he said. U.S. State Department spokesperson Matt Miller said Washington was disappointed that Taiwan was not permitted to attend the WHA. "We did strongly encourage the WHO to invite Taiwan to participate as an observer at the World Health Assembly," Miller said during a Thursday briefing. "We were disappointed that they decided not to do so."

Pentagon Promising to Unleash Cyber Campaigns if Needed

Voice of America’s immigration news - May 26, 2023 - 18:03
U.S. military leaders are starting to unveil the updated Defense Department cyber strategy, calling for troops to "campaign in and through cyberspace" in order to defend the country.  The Pentagon on Friday announced it shared a classified version of its 2023 Cyber Strategy with Congress earlier this week and promised to produce an unclassified summary of the new strategy in the coming months. The new cyber strategy updates the previous one, issued in 2018, and "is informed by years of real-world experience of significant [Defense Department] cyberspace operations," according to a Pentagon statement. Those operations include 47 deployments to 22 countries by U.S. Cyber Command "hunt forward teams," most recently to Latvia and Albania. Hunt forward teams also played a role in securing the 2020 presidential election. U.S. officials have likewise been learning from Russia's attempts to use cyberattacks as part of its invasion of Ukraine. "The department will maximize its cyber capabilities in support of integrated deterrence, employing cyberspace operations in concert with other instruments of national power," the Defense Department said Friday in a separate, unclassified fact sheet. It also warned that U.S. military cyber teams "will campaign in and through cyberspace below the level of armed conflict to reinforce deterrence and frustrate adversaries." In line with previous statements and congressional testimony from top Pentagon officials, the new cyber strategy lists China as the main threat. "The People's Republic of China (PRC) represents the department's pacing challenge," according to the strategy fact sheet. "The PRC has made significant investments in military cyber capabilities and empowered a number of proxy organizations to pursue malicious cyber activities against the United States." Earlier this month, the director of the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, or CISA, warned that China would very likely turn to cyberspace should tensions between Beijing and Washington boil into something more. "In the event of a conflict with the U.S., we will almost certainly see China use aggressive cyber operations against our critical infrastructure and almost certainly be able to disrupt critical infrastructure," Jen Easterly told a forum organized by the Special Competitive Studies Project.   Just this past week, CISA, along with the FBI, the U.S. National Security Agency and partners from Australia, Britain, Canada and New Zealand, issued a warning about cyber activity by a China-linked threat actor known as Volt Typhoon.    A separate report this week, issued by tech giant Microsoft, warned that Volt Typhoon "is pursuing development of capabilities that could disrupt critical communications infrastructure between the United States and Asia region during future crises." It also cautioned that the Chinese-backed cyber actor already "has targeted critical infrastructure organizations in Guam and elsewhere." Other top threats in the 2023 Pentagon Cyber Strategy include Russia, North Korea, Iran, terror organizations and crime syndicates. Additionally, the Pentagon said the new strategy complements the 2023 National Cybersecurity Strategy, launched by the White House earlier this year. White House cybersecurity officials said the national strategy calls for a more aggressive response from all aspects of the U.S. government to any malicious cyber activity. "We are certainly in a more forward-leaning position to make sure that we're protecting the American people from these threats," a senior administration official said during the rollout in March, adding that that included the use of military tools. "These are options that the president has, and we're certainly open to using all of them," the official noted.  Patsy Widakuswara contributed to this report.

UN Weekly Roundup: May 20-26, 2023

Voice of America’s immigration news - May 26, 2023 - 18:00
Editor's note: Here is a fast take on what the international community has been up to this past week, as seen from the United Nations perch. Seven-day cease-fire in Sudan The United Nations welcomed the start on Monday of a U.S.-Saudi brokered 7-day cease-fire across Sudan, intended to allow civilians and humanitarians to move safely. While fighting has continued during previous cease-fires, this one was agreed upon during formal negotiations and has a basic monitoring mechanism. As of Friday, sporadic clashes had been reported between the warring Sudanese army and rival Rapid Security Forces in the capital, Khartoum and in West Darfur, which has seen deadly fighting. 7-Day Cease-Fire Starts in Sudan The U.N. refugee agency is moving tens of thousands of Sudanese refugees in Chad away from the Sudan border into new camps. UNHCR's visiting deputy says concerns about security and access to aid are increasing, along with the number of refugees. Watch this report from Henry Wilkins at the Gaga refugee site in Chad: UN Moves Sudanese Refugees in Chad Away From Border UN chief: Warring parties must protect civilians U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Tuesday that the world is failing to live up to its commitments to protect civilians, an obligation that is preserved in international humanitarian law. Guterres said international humanitarian law “is the difference between life and death” in conflict zones. UN Chief: Warring Nations Must Protect Civilians Ukrainian exports at their lowest since grain deal began Despite renewal of the Black Sea Grain Initiative on May 17, exports of grain and food from Ukraine have slowed to their lowest levels this month since they resumed under the deal in August, as Russian officials repeat complaints that Moscow is not benefiting enough from the initiative. The Istanbul-based Joint Coordination Center that oversees the implementation of the deal said Friday that only two of the three Ukrainian ports authorized to receive and send ships are working, no new vessels have been registered to participate in the initiative in nearly a month, and the number of daily ship inspections have dropped significantly. Ukrainian Exports Under Black Sea Deal Hit Lowest Levels UN rights chief urges Iran to decriminalize mandatory hijab for women The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights urged Iran on Wednesday to decriminalize mandatory veiling laws, warning that the harassment of women, including what they do or do not wear, appears to have intensified as street protests have died down. Volker Türk urged Tehran “to heed Iranians’ calls for reform,” and to begin by repealing regulations that criminalize violations of mandatory dress codes. Parliament is considering tightening penalties for people and institutions that fail to comply with regulations. UN Rights Chief Urges Iran to Decriminalize 'Mandatory Veiling Laws' Funding for Horn of Africa drought-affected countries falls far short Donors raised around $1 billion Wednesday in new commitments for the drought-stricken Horn of Africa during a pledging conference held at the United Nations but failed to close the gap on an appeal seeking $7 billion. The U.N. says the $7 billion is needed this year to assist nearly 32 million people in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia who are facing acute food insecurity after five failed rainy seasons caused unprecedented drought. UN: Substantial Funds Still Needed for Drought-Stricken Horn of Africa In brief — Secretary-General Guterres welcomed the arrest of Rwandan fugitive Fulgence Kayishema in South Africa, for allegedly committing genocide and crimes against humanity in Rwanda in 1994. The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda charged him in 2001 with having orchestrated the killings of more than 2,000 people on April 15, 1994, at a church in Nyange, Kibuye Prefecture, in western Rwanda. A U.N. spokesperson said the arrest sends a powerful message that those who are alleged to have committed such crimes cannot evade justice and will eventually be held accountable, even more than a quarter of a century later. — The humanitarian community appealed for $333 million on Tuesday to help 1.6 million people impacted by Cyclone Mocha in the Myanmar states and regions of Rakhine, Chin, Magway, Sagaing and Kachin. The U.N. says it’s in a "race against time" to provide people with shelter and prevent the spread of water-borne diseases. — The World Health Organization will begin Africa’s largest polio vaccination campaign since 2020 on Saturday, aiming to immunize 21 million children under the age of 5. Vaccinations will begin in Cameroon, Chad, Niger and the Central African Republic. The Lake Chad region has one of the highest proportions of so-called “zero dose” children – those who are unvaccinated or under-vaccinated. The campaign comes in response to 14 detections of the poliovirus this year. Quote of note “But the fact of the matter is that today’s world leaders have thus far failed miserably by putting selfish national interests ahead of urgent global needs. They have failed to see the big picture — that the world will sink or swim together — or they have decided to play a dangerous game of chicken — demanding that others do more to curb CO2 emissions.” Former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and current member of The Elders, regretting that his generation is passing the climate crisis to the next, during his commencement address to graduates at Harvard’s Kennedy School this week. What we are watching next week The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency is due to brief the Security Council on Tuesday. Rafael Grossi has been seeking a demilitarized zone around the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant for months and has made several trips to Ukraine and Russia in its pursuit. Did you know? The U.N. marked the 75th anniversary of U.N. Peacekeeping on Thursday. The first U.N. mission of military observers was deployed to the Middle East in 1948. Since then, there have been 71 operations around the world. More than 2 million peacekeepers – or “blue helmets” as they are known for their distinctive colored head gear – from 125 countries have served. Women did not really participate until the 1990s. Today, women make up about 9% of the 87,000 peacekeepers serving in a dozen missions. It is not easy or safe work; more than 4,200 have died in the line of duty since 1948.