Posts Tagged ‘University of Virginia’

White supremacist rally in Charlottesville, VA linked to three deaths

August 13, 2017

The Associated Press

© Paul J. Richards, AFP | People receive first-aid after a car accident rammed into a crowd of protesters in Charlottesville, VA on August 12, 2017.


Latest update : 2017-08-13

A car plowed into a crowd of people peacefully protesting a white nationalist rally Saturday in a Virginia college town, killing one person, hurting more than a dozen others and ratcheting up tension in a day full of violent confrontations.

Shortly after, a Virginia State Police helicopter that officials said was assisting with the rally crashed outside Charlottesville, killing the pilot and a trooper.

The chaos boiled over at what is believed to be the largest group of white nationalists to come together in a decade. The governor declared a state of emergency, and police dressed in riot gear ordered people out. The group had gathered to protest plans to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, and others arrived to protest the racism.

Matt Korbon, a 22-year-old University of Virginia student, said several hundred counter-protesters were marching when “suddenly there was just this tire screeching sound.” A silver Dodge Challenger smashed into another car, then backed up, barreling through “a sea of people.”

The impact hurled people into the air. Those left standing scattered, screaming and running for safety in different directions.

The driver was later identified by police as James Alex Fields Jr. of Ohio. Police say Fields, 20, has been charged with charged with second-degree murder, three counts of malicious wounding, and one count related to leaving the scene. A bond hearing is scheduled for Monday.

Field’s mother, Samantha Bloom, told The Associated Press on Saturday night that she knew her son was attending a rally in Virginia but didn’t know it was a white supremacist rally.

“I thought it had something to do with Trump. Trump’s not a white supremacist,” Bloom said.

“He had an African-American friend so …,” she said before her voice trailed off. She added that she’d be surprised if her son’s views were that far right.

Bloom, who became visibly upset as she learned of the injuries and deaths at the rally, said she and her son had just moved to the Toledo area from the northern Kentucky city of Florence. She said that’s where Fields grew up. She relocated to Ohio for work.

Late Saturday, the Department of Justice announced the opening of a federal civil rights investigation into the deadly car attack. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said that the FBI’s Richmond field office and Rick Mountcastle, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Virginia, will lead the investigation.

“The violence and deaths in Charlottesville strike at the heart of American law and justice,” Sessions said in a statement. “When such actions arise from racial bigotry and hatred, they betray our core values and cannot be tolerated.”

The turbulence began Friday night, when the white nationalists carried torches though the University of Virginia campus. It quickly spiraled into violence Saturday morning. Hundreds of people threw punches, hurled water bottles and unleashed chemical sprays. At least three more men have been arrested in connection to the protests

The Virginia State Police announced late Saturday that Troy Dunigan, a 21-year-old from Chattanooga, Tennessee, was charged with disorderly conduct; Jacob L. Smith, a 21-year-old from Louisa, Virginia, was charged with assault and battery; and James M. O’Brien, 44, of Gainesville, Florida, was charged with carrying a concealed handgun.

City officials said treated 35 patients altogether, 19 of whom were injured in the car crash.

State Police said in a statement that the helicopter was “assisting public safety resources with the ongoing situation” when it crashed in a wooded area. The pilot, Lieutenant H. Jay Cullen, 48, of Midlothian, Virginia, and Trooper-Pilot Berke M.M. Bates of Quinton, Virginia, died at the scene.

President Donald Trump condemned “in the strongest possible terms” what he called an “egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides” after the clashes. He called for “a swift restoration of law and order and the protection of innocent lives.”

Trump said he had spoken with the governor of Virginia, Terry McAuliffe, and “we agreed that the hate and the division must stop and must stop right now.”

But some of the white nationalists cited Trump’s victory as validation for their beliefs, and Trump’s critics pointed to the president’s racially tinged rhetoric as exploiting the nation’s festering racial tension.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson noted that Trump for years publicly questioned President Barack Obama’s citizenship.

“We are in a very dangerous place right now,” he said.

Right-wing blogger Jason Kessler had called for what he termed a “pro-white” rally in Charlottesville, sparked by the monument decision. White nationalists and their opponents promoted the event for weeks.

Oren Segal, who directs the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, said multiple white power groups gathered in Charlottesville, including members of neo-Nazi organizations, racist skinhead groups and Ku Klux Klan factions.

The white nationalist organizations Vanguard America and Identity Evropa; the Southern nationalist League of the South; the National Socialist Movement; the Traditionalist Workers Party; and the Fraternal Order of Alt Knights also were on hand, he said, along with several groups with a smaller presence.

On the other side, anti-fascist demonstrators also gathered in Charlottesville, but they generally aren’t organized like white nationalist factions, said Heidi Beirich of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Many others were just locals caught in the fray.

Colleen Cook, 26, stood on a curb shouting at the rally attendees to go home.

Cook, a teacher who attended the University of Virginia, said she sent her son, who is black, out of town for the weekend.

“This isn’t how he should have to grow up,” she said.

Cliff Erickson leaned against a fence and took in the scene. He said he thinks removing the statue amounts to erasing history and said the “counter-protesters are crazier than the alt-right.”

“Both sides are hoping for a confrontation,” he said.

It’s the latest hostility in Charlottesville since the city about 100 miles outside of Washington, D.C., voted earlier this year to remove a statue of Lee.

In May, a torch-wielding group that included prominent white nationalist Richard Spencer gathered around the statue for a nighttime protest, and in July, about 50 members of a North Carolina-based KKK group traveled there for a rally, where they were met by hundreds of counter-protesters.

Kessler said this week that the rally is partly about the removal of Confederate symbols but also about free speech and “advocating for white people.”

“This is about an anti-white climate within the Western world and the need for white people to have advocacy like other groups do,” he said in an interview.

Charlottesville Mayor Michael Signer said he was disgusted that the white nationalists had come to his town and blamed Trump for inflaming racial prejudices.

“I’m not going to make any bones about it. I place the blame for a lot of what you’re seeing in American today right at the doorstep of the White House and the people around the president,” he said.

Charlottesville, nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, is a liberal-leaning city that’s home to the flagship UVA and Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson.

The statue’s removal is part of a broader city effort to change the way Charlottesville’s history of race is told in public spaces. The city has also renamed Lee Park, where the statue stands, and Jackson Park, named for Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. They’re now called Emancipation Park and Justice Park, respectively.

For now, the Lee statue remains. A group called the Monument Fund filed a lawsuit arguing that removing the statue would violate a state law governing war memorials. A judge has agreed to temporarily block the city from removing the statue for six months.


University of Virginia student Otto Warmbier, said to be in a coma, released from North Korea

June 13, 2017

North Korea releases US citizen Otto Warmbier

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says that North Korea has released Otto Warmbier, an American serving a 15-year prison term with hard labor for alleged anti-state acts. Warmbier is on his way back to the U.S. to be re-united with his family. The announcement comes as former NBA player Dennis Rodman is paying a return visit to North Korea.

The Washington Post
June 13 at 11:45 AM
University of Virginia student Otto Warmbier has been medically evacuated from North Korea in a coma after being detained for 17 months, his parents told The Washington Post on Tuesday.Warmbier, 22, is due to arrive home in Cincinnati on Tuesday evening, after a stop at a U.S. military facility in Sapporo, Japan.

The family said they were told by North Korean officials — through contacts with American envoys — that Warmbier fell ill from botulism sometime after his March trial and fell into a coma after taking a sleeping pill. The Warmbiers said they were told their son has remained in a coma since then.

There was no immediate confirmation from U.S. officials of North Korea’s version of events — notably whether Warmbier was stricken with botulism, a potentially fatal illness that is caused by a toxin but is not usually associated with loss of consciousness.

“Our son is coming home,” Fred Warmbier told The Post on Tuesday morning after Otto Warmbier was evacuated. “At the moment, we’re just treating this like he’s been in an accident. We get to see our son Otto tonight.”

His release was announced in Washington by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Tillerson did not discuss Warmbier’s medical condition.

Tillerson called President Trump at 8:35 a.m. Tuesday to inform him that Warmbier was on an airplane en route to the United States, according to a senior administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the details. The last instruction the president left Tillerson was: “Take care of Otto,” the official said.

Warmbier was on a New Year’s Eve tour in North Korea, en route to Hong Kong, where he was to do a January study-abroad trip.

But on his final night in Pyongyang — New Year’s Eve — Warmbier apparently went to a staff-only floor of his hotel and attempted to take down a large propaganda sign lauding the regime.

He was charged with “hostile acts against the state,” and after an hour-long trial in March 2016, he was sentenced to 15 years in prison with hard labor.

He had not been seen in public since. Swedish diplomats, who represent U.S. interests in North Korea because the United States has no diplomatic relations with the country, were denied access to him.

Then suddenly, last Monday, North Korean representatives contacted American counterparts and told them that the student was in a coma.

Trump was immediately informed and ordered Otto’s medical evacuation, according to people with knowledge of the process. “This is a Trump-led effort,” one said.

The logistics were in place by Thursday. Joseph Yun, the State Department’s special representative for North Korea policy, traveled to Pyongyang on a military medical plane, accompanied by doctors, to bring Warmbier out.

State Department officials are accompanying Otto Warmbier from Sapporo to Cincinnati.

North Korea has woefully inadequate medical care, and it is not clear how North Korean doctors had been caring for Warmbier for more than a year in an unconscious state.

Warmbier was flown out of North Korea on the same day that Dennis Rodman, the controversial former basketball star, arrived for his fifth visit in Pyongyang. Rodman’s trip caused a media frenzy because of heightened tensions between North Korea and the United States, but it also raised speculation that he might be going as an envoy to secure the release of Warmbier and three other Americans being detained.

Officials involved in securing Warmbier’s release told The Post that it had nothing to do with Rodman’s trip to Pyongyang, calling it a “bizarre coincidence” that might have been a deliberate ploy from North Korea to distract from Warmbier’s condition.

One of Warmbier’s roommates at U-Va., Emmett Saulnier, said he got a call Tuesday morning from Fred Warmbier to inform him of the release.

“I’m mostly just very happy to hear that he’s coming home and alive,” Saulnier said. “The coma is obviously very concerning. I’m not really sure what to think of that at this point. . . . I’m hoping it’s not as bad as it sounds and he’ll wake up and be okay.”

Saulnier added, “I’m glad he’s going to have the best medical care, rather than whatever was going on over there.”

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), called Warmbier’s arrest and trial “unnecessary and appalling.”

“North Korea should be universally condemned for its abhorrent behavior. Otto should have been released from the start,” Portman said in a statement. “For North Korea to imprison Otto with no notification or consular access for more than a year is the utmost example of its complete failure to recognize fundamental human rights and dignity.”

Lawmakers from Virginia also hailed Warmbier’s release and denounced North Korea of its actions.

Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.) called Warmbier’s freedom “a long time coming” after facing “trumped-up charges.”

“It is horrific that a young man in a coma was incarcerated in a North Korea jail,” Connolly said in a statement.

Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), meanwhile, said he was “heartened to see the reuniting of the Warmbier family, despite the tragic circumstances.”

A former Virginia resident, Kim Dong-chul, was arrested shortly after Warmbier, on accusations of espionage, and has been held since.

In April and May, North Korea detained two other Korean Americans, both of them affiliated with the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, a private institution run by Korean American Christians.

Previous detainees have been released after visits from high-profile Americans, including former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. But efforts to persuade North Korea to release the men currently held had not been successful until Warmbier’s release Tuesday.

David Nakamura, Jenna Portnoy and Susan Svrluga in Washington contributed to this report.


U.S. Citizen Arrested in North Korea

April 23, 2017

Korean-American professor was detained at Pyongyang’s airport

Pyongyang’s skyline in February. The American arrested on Friday was detained at the city’s main airport.

Pyongyang’s skyline in February. The American arrested on Friday was detained at the city’s main airport. PHOTO: ED JONES/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

SEOUL—North Korea arrested a U.S. citizen in Pyongyang on Friday, according to people familiar with the matter, adding another potential flashpoint with the U.S. at a time of increasingly heated rhetoric.

The arrested man, a Korean-American professor named Tony Kim, had taught at a university in Pyongyang set up by a Korean-American Christian businessman, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Mr. Kim is the third known U.S. citizen to be detained by North Korea in recent months. Pyongyang last year sentenced Otto Warmbier, a University of Virginia undergraduate, and Kim Dong-chul, a Korean-American businessman, to terms of 15 years and 10 years of hard labor, respectively.

The arrest of Mr. Kim comes at a time of heightened tensions between Pyongyang and Washington. During a trip to Seoul last week, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence made an unannounced stop at the demilitarized zone that divides the Korean Peninsula and warned North Korea not to push U.S. President Donald Trump, citing recent unilateral strikes on Syria and Afghanistan.

“North Korea would do well not to test his resolve, or the strength of the armed forces of the United States in this region,” Mr. Pence said.

The U.S. has also sent an aircraft carrier, the USS Carl Vinson, toward the Korean Peninsula. The Vinson is due to arrive early this week.

South Korea’s quasiofficial Yonhap News Agency, which first reported the arrest, said Mr. Kim was detained at Pyongyang’s main airport as he was preparing to leave the country. It cited unnamed sources.

Yonhap, which identified Mr. Kim only by his surname, reported that he was a former professor at the Yanbian University of Science and Technology in northeastern China.

The university, known as YUST, was founded in 1992 by James Kim, a Korean-American businessman and Christian who in 2010 opened a sister university in Pyongyang called the Pyongyang University of Science of Technology.

Both universities have made a practice of hiring predominantly Christian faculty, and the people said that Mr. Kim, the detained professor, had taught at the Pyongyang school known as PUST. One of them said he had taught business to North Korean students there.

Phone calls to YUST went unanswered Sunday. A spokesman for PUST said that school executives were discussing the situation.

Representatives for the U.S. embassies in Seoul and Beijing didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

A woman who answered the phone at the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang said news reports about the detention of a U.S. citizen in Pyongyang “are correct,” but declined to comment further, saying that the embassy doesn’t comment on specific cases as a matter of policy.

The U.S., which doesn’t have diplomatic relations with North Korea, relies on Sweden as its protecting power.

Yonhap reported that Mr. Kim, the professor, was in his late 50s and had been involved in aid and relief work in North Korea. It said he was in the country to discuss relief activities. The reason for his arrest was unknown, Yonhap reported.

A number of humanitarian groups with ties to the U.S. do aid work in North Korea. Many of them are associated with Christian organizations.

North Korea has arrested and sentenced a handful of U.S. citizens in recent years, including Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American missionary who the state held for more than two years on charges of trying to overthrow the North Korean government. Mr. Bae was freed in November 2014 after a trip to Pyongyang by James Clapper, the U.S. Director of National Intelligence.

In the past, high-profile U.S. envoys have been dispatched to North Korea to secure the release of U.S. citizens detained there. In 2009, former U.S. President Bill Clinton traveled to North Korea and met with then-leader Kim Jong Il to secure the release of Laura Ling and Euna Lee, two journalists who had been detained for illegally entering the country.

Mr. Warmbier was arrested after allegedly trying to steal a political poster from a hotel where he was staying in January 2016. Mr. Warmbier, who was 21 years old at the time of his sentencing, made a tearful apology in a government-run news conference in Pyongyang before his sentencing.

Mr. Warmbier’s parents, Fred and Cindy, appeared on Fox News earlier this month to call on U.S. President Donald Trump to help bring their son home. “President Trump, I ask you: Bring my son home,” Mr. Warmbier’s father said.

Less is known about Kim Dong-chul, a Virginia resident who was 62 years old when he was convicted in April last year on charges of spying and stealing state secrets.

A Korean-Canadian pastor, Lim Hyeon-soo, has been detained in North Korea since February 2015. He was accused of committing “state subversive plots and activities” and sentenced to life in prison with hard labor.

Write to Jonathan Cheng at


US envoy to UN threatens further military action in Syria — “Moscow must reconsider its support for Assad.” — “Trump’s a human being and his instincts are just as flawed as anyone else’s.”

April 7, 2017


© HO, US Department of Defence, AFP | US President Donald Trump’s decision to order missile strikes on a Syrian regime airbase represents an about-turn on his Syria strategy.


Latest update : 2017-04-07

The United States on Friday threatened to take further military action in Syria following its missile strikes on an air base in the war-wracked country in retaliation for a suspected chemical attack.

“The United States took a very measured step last night,” US Ambassador Nikki Haley told the UN Security Council.

“We are prepared to do more, but we hope it will not be necessary.”

The Security Council was meeting in an emergency session to discuss the US actions in Syria that Russia branded a “flagrant violation of international law and an act of aggression” against Syria.

Haley said the air strikes destroyed an air field from which the United States believes the chemical attacks on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhun were launched.

“We were fully justified in doing so,” she said.

Eighty-six people including at least 27 children died in Khan Sheikhun in an attack the United States has blamed on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“The United States will no longer wait for Assad to use chemical weapons without any consequences,” Haley said. “Those days are over.”


While threatening further strikes, the US envoy also said it was time to press on with a political solution to the six-year war.

“Now we must move to a new phase: a drive toward a political solution to this horrific conflict.”

Haley again took a swipe at Russia for failing to rein in its ally and said Moscow must reconsider its support for Assad.

“The world is waiting for the Russian government to act responsibly in Syria. The world is waiting for Russia to reconsider its misplaced alliance with Bashar al-Assad,” she said.

The United States fired 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles from warships in the Mediterranean at the Shayrat airfield, dealing heavy damage to the base.

The strike — Trump’s biggest military decision since taking office — marked a dramatic escalation in American involvement in Syria’s six-year civil war.

It followed days of outrage at images of dead children and victims suffering convulsions from the suspected sarin gas attack in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhun.



Trump’s visceral response prompts Syria strikes

© AFP/File / by Andrew BEATTY | “When you kill innocent children, innocent babies — babies, little babies — with a chemical gas that is so lethal — people were shocked to hear what gas it was — that crosses many, many lines, beyond a red line,” Trump said of Syria

PALM BEACH (UNITED STATES) (AFP) – Donald Trump’s missile barrage on Syria — the first major military gambit of his presidency — revealed a leader fueled by instinct and emotion, and one willing to shake up strategy in an instant.

Early Tuesday, horrifying details started trickling into the White House Situation Room — a secure suite in the bowels of the West Wing that serves as the presidency’s eyes and ears on the globe.

The initial picture was sketchy, but US military and intelligence came to believe that 5,750 miles (9,250 kilometers) away in Khan Sheikhun, Syria, a fixed-wing aircraft from Bashar al-Assad’s air force unleashed a deadly harvest of sarin nerve agent on villagers who oppose his regime.

At around 10:30 am Washington time, US intelligence officers took their news to Trump as part of his top-secret daily briefing.

At the same time, news agencies with reporters on the ground, like AFP, began showing the horrifying reality of those clinical facts: heart-wrenching images of convulsing toddlers, empty-eyed men and women, and panicked efforts to hose the deadly agent off those still alive.

According to White House officials, this most visually focused of presidents — a man whose life has been defined by the power of image and television — had an immediate and visceral response to the images, asking for more information and options.

“It crossed a lot of lines for me,” Trump said in a stunningly frank Rose Garden press conference the next day.

“When you kill innocent children, innocent babies — babies, little babies — with a chemical gas that is so lethal — people were shocked to hear what gas it was — that crosses many, many lines, beyond a red line.”

– ‘I now have responsibility’ –

Before that moment, Trump had railed against his predecessors’ military adventurism in the Middle East, arguing it was time to move on from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and put “America first.”

Trump had variously argued that Assad’s brutal actions were not really America’s problem and that the Syrian dictator — and his Russian backers — could even be allies in fighting the Islamic State group.

This was a complete U-turn. Now Trump wanted a response.

“I now have responsibility, and I will have that responsibility and carry it very proudly,” he said.

Within 24 hours, a speed that shocked allies and even some inside the administration, military and national security officials had presented the president with multiple options.

At around 2:00 pm Thursday, Trump ordered the military to launch a barrage of 59 Tomahawk missiles at the Shayrat airfield from US Navy ships in the Mediterranean.

It was an overwhelming display of power, but less risky than flying sorties in an area covered by Russia’s S-400 missile defense system and less escalatory than striking Syrian military headquarters or civilian government targets.

From the relaxed atmosphere of Mar-a-Lago, there were no signs that Trump had ordered an attack that could mark his presidency and dramatically alter the geopolitical dynamic of the Middle East.

Trump, ever the CEO, was so comfortable with his decision that hours before the attack, he was cracking jokes with Chinese President Xi Jinping, who he was hosting at his Florida resort.

– Uncertain aftermath –

Top administration officials painted the decision as a display of presidential strength and resolve. The message? There was a new sheriff in town.

Under Trump, there would be none of the ignored red lines or months-long deliberations that characterized the administration of Barack Obama.

“It’s decisive, and I have no doubt that he wanted that contrast with President Obama’s indecisiveness on Syria,” Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, told AFP.

University of Virginia Center for Politics Director Larry Sabato during an event promoting his book and new revelations on the Kennedy Assassination on Oct. 15, 2013 at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. | John Shinkle/POLITICO

“But part of it is also worrisome. This is a president who doesn’t know what he doesn’t know. We’ve all seen it.”

Amid a myriad of questions about long-term strategy and the legality of the strike, top administration officials have struggled to explain the rationale beyond Trump’s reaction.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and National Security Advisor HR McMaster painted the strike both as a specific response to a specific breach of chemical weapons norms and as a warning to the world at large that Trump and America should not be messed with.

By dawn on Friday, capitals from London to Tokyo, from Tehran to Pyongyang were trying to figure out whether the strike was one-and-done or the opening salvo of a new Trump doctrine — with most leaning toward the former.

Even White House officials privately admitted that while Trump means business and the Syria strike may be repeated, it is not obviously transferable to other crises.

Striking North Korea, one official admitted on condition of anonymity, would be a much more fraught piece of business.

The US is now girding for an asymmetrical response from Assad or his backers in Tehran via Hezbollah militiamen, but the White House admits an attack on Pyongyang would almost certainly prompt a much more serious direct response targeting allies in South Korea or Japan.

What is clear from the strike is that Trump trusts and acts on his own instincts.

“I’m a very instinctual person, but my instinct turns out to be right,” he recently remarked.

Sabato however said “there’s just one problem” with that approach.

“He’s a human being and his instincts are just as flawed as anyone else’s,” he said.

by Andrew BEATTY

Obama’s ‘hope and change’ has given us ‘fear and loathing’ — ‘Truth be damned’ president moves off into history soon

November 6, 2016

So this is how Hope & Change ends. With the FBI in turmoil, with surging anti-police violence, with fears of voter fraud and foreign hacking, with a sluggish economy, with a terror warning and with two unpopular presidential candidates tearing at each other like wolves.

Heckuva job, Barack Obama!

The 44th president made history by being elected, but leaves behind a nation on the verge of a crack-up. He flatters himself by insisting his tenure has been a roaring success, but the public mood tells a different story.

Obama promised to unite America, but exits amidst far greater divisions. It is telling that he has stopped portraying himself as a uniter and, like Jimmy Carter, blames the public.

Carter saw malaise, Obama sees bitter clingers, racists and xenophobes. While Obama’s lectures convey disappointment in his fellow Americans, it never occurs to him that he is a disappointment to them.


His failure to come to grips with the polarization, combined with an aggressively liberal agenda spearheaded by executive orders and a politicized bureaucracy, means his successor will inherit a country broken along every fault line imaginable. Voices of discontent and even estrangement are rising among Americans of all stripes and persuasions.

So much so that the one universal point of agreement is that the next occupant of the Oval Office must forge a fundamental consensus before the country can begin to address its critical problems.

But forging that consensus could prove to be the most difficult problem of all, especially with Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton both better at exploiting polarization than ending it.

Indeed, polls showing a close outcome suggest the winner will take office on a wave of bitterness. Legal challenges remain a possibility, both to the legitimacy of the vote and to the candidates’ past actions.

Still, the near-universal clamor for change offers a potential opening. Grievances from across the political spectrum demonstrate that most of the country agrees our public servants are only serving themselves, and that Washington is disconnected from most Americans’ daily lives.

The necessary consensus, then, won’t be found in a new program conceived in a winner-take-all environment. While there are some areas of basic agreement — infrastructure development, tax reform, and the need to more fully confront Islamic terror — they are not the sort of things that get to the root problem.

That root, I believe, is a fundamental distrust of government. It can’t be fixed by bigger government, or even by just a smaller one.

Instead, the only solution is a more honest government, a goal that must be addressed as a distinct issue from Day One. Building trust can begin with small steps of transparency conveyed in plain English — no parsing or government mumbo-jumbo allowed.

Tragically, neither candidate is equipped for the challenge. Clinton, because of her long trail of dishonesty in public life, will never be able to summon broad national support for anything.

In fact, the campaign has undermined her claims to be ready for the presidency, and she still offers no rationale other than ambition. Her contempt for everyday Americans, expressed through the use of a private server and in words like “deplorables” and “irredeemable” directed at Trump supporters, has created a new ceiling of her own making.

Thanks to the FBI and Wiki­Leaks revelations, we know her judgment is not trusted even by her closest confidants.

If Republicans hold either house of Congress, Clinton will face hobbling probes from the start. Her arrogant resolve to keep the family foundation open guarantees an endless stream of pay-to-play suspicions. Making gender history would come at too high a price.

That leaves Trump. His defects of temperament and instinct are enormous, and it is certain he is guilty of despicable abuse of some women. Also, there are reasons why the New York business and philanthropic communities hold him in low regard.

But we are where we are, and Trump has one advantage over Clinton — a clean slate in exercising governmental power. He is a genuine outsider whose promise of change is more credible, and better matches the nation’s mood.

Unlike Clinton, he would be free to break with Obama’s failed policies on immigration, health care and Iran. Moreover, Trump’s improvement as a candidate suggests he has more potential for upside surprises. A few good Cabinet picks would reassure millions of Americans and create a valuable honeymoon for his administration.

All that said, Trump remains a long shot to be a good president. But after eight years of Hope & Change, a long shot is the only shot we have.

U. blew it, Rolling Stone

Rolling Stone magazine’s article on an alleged gang rape at the University of Virginia was tailor-made for our times. Sexual assault on campus, out-of-control fraternities and indifferent administrators — it had all the hot-button angles.

It also had something else symbolic of our times: a reckless media organization that didn’t care about, or wasn’t capable of, separating fact from fiction. It was all about the agenda, truth be damned.

With many Americans believing the presidential election will be a referendum on the conduct of liberal news organizations, the jury finding that Rolling Stone defamed a former dean is a warning shot to the fact-free, agenda-driven culture common in American journalism.

Up and down the media food chain, pushing a narrative is taking precedence over an honest reporting of facts.

Social consciousness is being sold as the new journalism, but it’s actually discredited sensationalism in liberal wrapping. Advancing a political agenda without facts is no more honorable than spinning melodramatic tales with concocted quotes and scenes. Both distort the truth to serve an ulterior purpose.

That’s the beauty of the truth — it doesn’t need to be embellished.

The two faces of Blas

Bill de Blasio records a dubious hat trick.

New York’s mayor has proven himself a double threat, showing big talents for being incompetent and corrupt. Now we can add dishonest to his résumé.

The WikiLeaks deluge catches de Blasio saying one thing publicly about Hillary Clinton and the opposite privately. The public statement is what he wanted voters to believe, the private one is what he believes.

Asked in a March TV appearance whether he thought Clinton should release the transcripts of paid speeches she gave to banks, de Blasio claimed, “I don’t care about those speeches.”

Hillary Clinton and Bill de Blasio. Photo credit Getty Images and UPI

Yet that same day he sent an e-mail to John Podesta, chair of Clinton’s campaign, saying of the speeches, “I’m trying, brother, but this one is hard to defend.”

“Hard to defend” but you can if you’re willing to lie. That’s politics, brother.


 (Who knows more about sharing U.S. government  secrets?)

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani ripped into President Barack Obama for attending a baseball game in Cuba yesterday afternoon instead of jumping on his plane and coming home after the Brussels attacks

Obama moves to implement US sanctions on North Korea — Likely to Rile China as more much-needed revenue sources are cut off

March 17, 2016


© AFP/File | The Korean peninsula remains the world’s last Cold War frontier and the two countries remain technically at war since the 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce and not a formal peace treaty

WASHINGTON (AFP) – US President Barack Obama signed an order Wednesday implementing UN-backed sanctions on North Korea after a nuclear test and missile launch this year, as Pyongyang promised reprisals.

The White House said Obama had signed an executive order targeting the volatile hermit state’s energy, financial and shipping assets.

The measures were agreed to at the United Nations in response to the January 6 nuclear test and February 7 ballistic missile launch.

“The order is not targeted at the people of North Korea, but rather is aimed at the government,” said the document signed by Obama.

Among the entities targeted are the “Propaganda and Agitation Department” of the Workers’ Party of Korea and mining firms that provide the regime with much-needed revenues.

The US Treasury Department estimates that coal revenues alone generate over $1 billion a year for the government of Kim Jong-Un.

In response to the UN sanctions and a US-South Korean drill, Kim has already ordered an upcoming nuclear warhead test and multiple ballistic missile launches.

US officials say the threats are concerning, but fit a pattern of sabre rattling by the regime.

Analysts and diplomats have said that loopholes in the UN sanctions leave room for China, Pyongyang’s key economic supporter, to continue business as usual.

In 2014, China accounted for more than 90 percent of North Korea’s $7.61 billion in total trade, according to the latest available figures from South Korea?s state-run Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency.

In response to Obama’s executive order, Beijing said Thursday that it “opposes any country’s unilateral sanctions.”

“We have stressed that the unilateral actions taken by any country must not undermine the lawful rights and interests of China,” foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a regular briefing.

On Wednesday, North Korea jailed a 21-year-old American student.

Otto Warmbier was sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor for stealing a propaganda banner from a hotel.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest accused Pyongyang of using US citizens as “pawns to pursue a political agenda” and called for his release.

“We strongly encourage the North Korean government to pardon him and grant him special amnesty and immediate release,” Earnest said.

“The allegations for which this individual was arrested and imprisoned would not give rise to arrest or imprisonment in the United States or in just about any other country in the world.”

In announcing the sentence, state news outlet KCNA said Warmbier had committed his offense “pursuant to the US government’s hostile policy” toward North Korea.


U.S. Imposes Fresh Sanctions on North Korea — finance, transportation, mining and energy all hit — Meant also to pressure China

March 17, 2016

Measures block businesses from trade with North Korean entities engaged in finance, transportation, mining and energy

A TV screen at the Seoul Railway Station in South Korea on March 10 shows file footage of a missile launch conducted by Pyongyang. On Wednesday, the U.S. placed fresh sanctions on broad swaths of North Korea’s economy in retaliation for nuclear tests.
A TV screen at the Seoul Railway Station in South Korea on March 10 shows file footage of a missile launch conducted by Pyongyang. On Wednesday, the U.S. placed fresh sanctions on broad swaths of North Korea’s economy in retaliation for nuclear tests. PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS

WASHINGTON—The Obama administration tightened the U.S. trade embargo on North Korea, explicitly placing sanctions on the Pyongyang government, its ruling party and broad sectors of the country’s economy.

The U.S action, imposed through an executive order on Wednesday, is expected to significantly increase pressure on China to cut its business dealings with the nuclear-armed state.

The White House said the new measures block any U.S. trade with dictator Kim Jong Un’s government, the Workers’ Party of Korea and any North Korean entities engaged in finance, transportation, mining and energy.

Chinese companies could also be targeted in the crackdown, U.S. officials said. Under legislation passed by Congress in February and signed by President Barack Obama, the administration must also sanction non-U.S. companies found to be doing business with blacklisted North Korean entities.

China is by far the North Korean government’s largest business partner and invests in many of the economic sectors identified on Wednesday. The U.S. said revenue, particularly from North Korea’s mining industry, is invested by Pyongyang back into programs to develop weapons of mass destruction.

“We will work closely with our international partners to continue in a strong and unambiguous way to pressure North Korea to abandon its illicit nuclear and ballistic missile programs,” said Adam Szubin, the Treasury’s top sanctions official.

The Treasury also sanctioned 17 North Korean government officials and organizations, and placed travel warnings on 20 North Korean shipping vessels.

China didn’t immediately react on Thursday. It has said it is committed to implementing U.N. sanctions on North Korea but opposes unilateral sanctions and has called repeatedly for a resumption of so-called six party talks on Pyongyang’s nuclear program between China, Russia, the U.S, Japan and North and South Korea.

The U.S. action is the latest step taken by the Obama White House to punish Pyongyang for its nuclear-weapons test in January and a ballistic-missile launch in February.

The new sanctions came as North Korea sentenced Otto Warmbier, a 21-year-old student at the University of Virginia, to 15 years of hard labor after he was convicted of subversion for allegedly stealing a political poster in January, state media reported.

U.S. officials said China is critical to its efforts to pressure North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The Obama administration hailed Beijing’s support this month for new United Nations Security Council sanctions on the North, which are seen as unprecedented in scope.

The U.N. resolution mandates countries to inspect all cargo to and from North Korea, cut off shipments of aircraft and rocket fuel, ban all weapons sales and restrict all revenues to the government unless for humanitarian purposes. Countries are required to expel North Korean diplomats affiliated with illicit programs and honor the robust list of sanctioned individuals and entities.

Still, senior U.S. officials have said in recent weeks that it remained unclear how aggressively Beijing will enforce the U.N.’s mandate. China has in the past supported penalties on Pyongyang, they said, but did little in the end to inflict real financial pain on its communist ally.

The Treasury’s blacklisting of broad sectors of North Korea’s economy borrows from a strategy the U.S. used in recent years to punish Iran for its nuclear activities. The effect was that most foreign businesses cut any ties to Iranian banks, shipping firms, or insurance companies, because of fears they could also be blacklisted by Treasury.

The U.S. said mining, particularly of coal, was crucial for Pyongyang’s finances, earning it around $1 billion annually. Treasury also said North Korea uses its finance and shipping firms to support its clandestine weapons programs.

Write to Jay Solomon at

N. Korea sentences US student to 15 years hard labour — Tearful TV Confession Made No Difference — Arrested While On A Church Sponsored Trip

March 16, 2016


© KCNA via KNS/AFP/File | US student Otto Frederick Warmbier has been sentenced in North Korea to 15 years hard labour for crimes against the state

SEOUL (AFP) – North Korea on Wednesday sentenced an American student, who admitted to stealing propaganda material, to 15 years hard labour for crimes against the state, China’s official Xinhua news agency reported.

The sentence was handed down on Otto Warmbier, a 21-year-old student from the University of Virginia, by North Korea’s Supreme Court, Xinhua said in a brief despatch datelined Pyongyang.

Otto Frederick Warmbier

There was no immediate confirmation of the sentence on North Korean state media.

Warmbier, who was arrested in early January as he was leaving the country, later said he had removed a political banner from the staff-only area of the Pyongyang hotel being used by his tour group.

His detention came at a sensitive time, as the United States took a leading role in efforts to secure tough international sanctions on North Korea over its nuclear test on January 6 and a long-range rocket launch a month later.


North Korea allowed the world to get its first glimpse of Warmbier, a student at the University of Virginia, two months after his arrest.

Warmbier is accused of trying to steal a North Korean banner, containing a political slogan that was hanging from the walls of his Pyongyang hotel.

A North Korean official with direct knowledge of Warmbier’s case says the 21-year-old held a news conference “at his own request” Monday, February 29, 2016, at the People’s Palace of Culture in Pyongyang.

The event provided insight into the bizarre charges he is facing in the secretive Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or DPRK, including allegations that he was encouraged to commit the “hostile act” by a purported member of an Ohio church, a secretive university organization and even the CIA.

The U.S. State Department said it was aware of media reports the U.S. citizen was detained in North Korea but declined to comment further “due to privacy considerations.”

North Korea says detains U.S. student for ‘hostile act’

January 22, 2016



North Korea said on Friday it had detained a U.S. university student for committing a “hostile act” and wanting to “destroy the country’s unity”, the third western citizen known to be held in the isolated state.

The North’s official KCNA news agency said Otto Frederick Warmbier entered North Korea as a tourist and “was caught committing a hostile act against the state”, which it said was “tolerated and manipulated by the U.S. government”.

Gareth Johnson of China-based Young Pioneer Tours said Warmbier, a 21-year-old student at the University of Virginia, was on one of its North Korea tours and detained on Jan. 2.

An official at the U.S. embassy in the South Korean capital Seoul said it was aware of the reported arrest. The U.S. State Department in Washington had no immediate comment.

Johnson said Young Pioneer Tours was in contact with Warmbier’s family and U.S. officials.

“We are in touch with Otto’s family, the U.S. State Department and the Embassy of Sweden in Pyongyang and doing all we can to secure his release,” Johnson told Reuters.

The Swedish Embassy represents U.S. interests in North Korea.

KCNA said Warmbier had entered the country with an “aim to destroy the country’s unity”. It did not elaborate.

According to his social media profiles, Warmbier is from Cincinnati and is an Echols Scholar, awarded to the top seven percent of incoming first year students at the University of Virginia, where he majors in economics with a minor in global sustainability.

In previous years, Warmbier visited countries including Cuba, Ireland and Israel, according to his Facebook profile.

Warmbier was detained four days before North Korea conducted its fourth nuclear test in violation of UN sanctions, drawing condemnation from its neighbors and the United States.

South Korea warned that the United States and its allies were working on further sanctions to inflict “bone-numbing pain” on North Korea after its latest nuclear test, and urged China to do its part to rein in its neighbor.

North Korea has a long history of detaining foreigners, and the U.S. and Canadian governments advise against travel there.

Pyongyang has in the past used detained U.S. citizens to extract high-profile visits from the United States, with which it has no formal diplomatic relations.

A South Korean-born Canadian pastor was arrested in North Korea last year and given a life sentence for subversion. Earlier this month, a Korean-American man told CNN in Pyongyang that he was being held by the state for spying.

In 2014, Pyongyang released three detained Americans. Last October, it freed a South Korean national with a U.S. green card after holding him for six months.

(Additional reporting by Christine Kim and Se Young Lee in SEOUL and David Brunnstromin WASHINGTON; Writing by Tony Munroe; Editing by Nick Macfie)

When Sean Penn “Found” El Chapo, Mexican Authorities Decided They Had To Find Him Too

January 17, 2016

By  Joshua Partlow
The Washington Post

Sean Penn, left, and the drug lord Joaquín Guzmán Loera in a photo taken for interview authentication purposes. Credit Rolling Stone

EL VERANO, Mexico — Four days after Sean Penn met with Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán last October, Mexican marine helicopters swooped in on the drug lord’s hideout atop a pine-studded peak in the Sierra Madre mountains.

Amid the barrage of gunfire aimed at the collection of four houses known as El Limón, Guzmán was able to make another unlikely escape. But the residents who live scattered in the forests below weren’t so lucky.

Starting that morning, local farmers said, the marines went on a shooting and looting spree that appeared like an act of collective punishment. The marines peppered homes and trucks with bullets, set fire to four-wheelers and stole money, jewelry, blankets and clothes, residents said. The military hemmed in villages, prohibiting people from leaving their homes for up to five days in their ferocious search for Guzmán, according to interviews over four days with residents in the tiny mountain villages. As many as 250 families, nearly 1,000 people, fled the mountains in search of safety, arriving in the nearest city, Cosala, starting Oct. 9, according to the municipal government’s welfare office.

“This did not seem like the Mexican government,” said Maria del Carmen Verenice, a 47-year-old housewife, who added that she crouched in a ditch while shots were fired on the village from helicopters, then spent the next two days hiding in the woods. “This was a terrorist government.”

The Mexican government discounted the allegations against the marines, saying they were unfounded. A Mexican official said the trafficker manipulates his followers to make such claims in order to keep the military out of this drug-producing region of Durango state. “In this moment I have no knowledge that there has been one person” displaced, the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.

Mexican officials allowed cameras to glimpse inside the safe house where Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman was hiding prior to his arrest on Jan. 8. The home was badly damaged in the raid that captured the fugitive. (AP)

Still, the accounts of 16 residents from communities far apart were consistent, describing unprovoked shooting from helicopters and property theft by ground forces. Some were interviewed in their hamlets in the mountains — with bullet holes visible in their houses and vehicles — while others were reached in Cosala, where they have fled.

The Mexican security forces have been dogged by allegations of human rights abuses for years. In 2014, Mexican soldiers allegedly killed 22 people, some of them execution-style, after they had surrendered in a warehouse southwest of Mexico City during an operation to pursue alleged kidnappers, according to human rights reports and charges against some soldiers. The U.S. State Department last year cut off a portion of its anti-narcotics aid after deciding Mexico failed to reach some of its human rights goals. Of the security forces, the marines have a reputation of being the best trained and equipped, and their elite teams are often given the task to hunt the country’s most dangerous drug traffickers.

Guzmán was nabbed by federal police in the adjacent state of Sinaloa this month, a victory for the Mexican government. But the ferocity of the military action seems to have further alienated the people in this region, where many of the farmers grow opium poppy and marijuana.

The marines now based at El Limón, a rustic settlement with grapefruit and guava trees and a private airstrip, refused last week to describe their operation or give a tour of the premises. They have draped metal spikes across the entryway to block visitors. They clearly have a dangerous mission: Many of the farmers in this region are heavily armed. And cartel gunmen have shot down government helicopters in other parts of the country.

One of the marines acknowledged the difficulty of separating good from bad characters in the fight against illegal drugs.

“It’s hard to know who is involved,” the marine said, “and who isn’t.”

A remote hideout

Few people live in the forested mountains where Guzmán was hiding in early October, part of the municipality of Pueblo Nuevo. Heading up into that area from the colonial town of Cosala, the road turns to dirt and becomes little more than a steep, rutted path, accessible only in four-wheel-drive vehicles. This terrain, which extends into the states of Chihuahua and Sinaloa, is known as the “Golden Triangle” — the home base of Guzmán’s Sinaloa cartel, considered the world’s most powerful drug cartel. Many of the farmers here view Guzmán as more attentive to their needs than the distant government.

Guzmán escaped from Mexico’s highest-security prison last July by sneaking through a tunnel. But even before then, his representatives had gone looking for journalists and actors to tell a life story that had grown into legend after his two escapes from federal prison. In Kate del Castillo, a famous Mexican actress, his team found a potential partner for a Chapo film and a woman the trafficker found beguiling.

“I’ll take better care of you than my own eyes,” Guzmán had texted her.

The actress presented the possible project to Penn, the American actor who instead offered to write a magazine article about the drug lord, according to his account. In October, Penn flew to Mexico. The rendezvous with the drug lord took place in a lush nature reserve associated with the Autonomous University of Sinaloa, in the foothills outside Cosala. Penn wrote about the encounter, without naming the location, in his piece, which was published online by Rolling Stone after Guzmán’s capture.

The nature reserve was one brief stop during Guzmán’s peripatetic journey. He and his men owned safe houses and apartments across the region and beyond — authorities said they searched 18 of them in their exhaustive hunt for the trafficker. With the meeting arranged by Penn and Castillo, authorities zeroed in on Guzmán. Intelligence officials were monitoring the actors’ communications and photographed them as they met the men who would take them to the trafficker. The military had a capture mission planned for the day that Penn met Guzmán, according to Mexican news reports. But it was postponed until four days later.

By that time, Guzmán had returned to El Limón, his hideout at the top of a 6,000-foot peak. El Limón, which some have mistakenly called La Piedrosa, had many advantages for the fugitive. It had visibility for miles, allowing occupants to spot approaching aircraft. And arriving by road was a slow, punishing slog.

‘Soldiers arrived attacking’

About 7 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 6, at least three marine helicopters descended on the ranch, according to interviews with five people who live in or near El Limón. Later, airplanes and drones circled overhead.

“No one attacked them; the soldiers arrived attacking,” said Lorena Zeron Nuñez, 20, who lived for the past two years at El Limón. “We had to run and hide. It didn’t matter to them whether you were carrying children; they would still shoot at you.”

Authorities said Guzmán escaped that morning, carrying the daughter of one of his cooks in his arms, a human shield that gave helicopter gunners pause. He stumbled on the steep slopes below El Limón and injured his face and leg, officials said.

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None of the area residents would confirm that Guzmán had been at the ranch, and many declined to speak about him. One said that more men than usual had arrived at the ranch in the days before the marines arrived.

A presidential spokeswoman said the operation started Oct. 8, but that was not corroborated by the residents and other news reports that say the operation started Oct. 6.

That Tuesday morning, Laura Amayrani Ayon Robles, 20, fled El Durasnito ranch, the nearest house to El Limón, when the gunfire erupted. She recalled running outside while bullets from the helicopter kicked up dirt alongside her. When a reporter visited the house Thursday it appeared ransacked, with clothes and furniture strewn on the ground. Bullet holes were visible in the roof. The desiccated remains of a slain and butchered cow lay on the ground.

Ayon said she slept that night in the woods, then reunited with other members of her family, who had taken shelter elsewhere. They began a four-day hike through the mountains in search of refuge, she recounted. The family did not eat throughout that period and survived by drinking from creeks. Her father-in-law, Jose Antonio Peña Grey, said he killed a rattlesnake with the heel of his boot.

One of the nearest houses to Guzmán’s hideout is called El Aguila, situated on a ridge about an hour’s drive down through pine forests. Jose Eraclio Peña Najera, a 30-year-old farmer who lives there with his wife and infant daughter, said a marine helicopter arrived firing not long after 7 a.m. Oct. 6. Bullets shattered the windshield of his silver Ford F-150 pickup, which was parked in the dirt lot outside, and pierced the corrugated tin roof of his home, he said. A visiting reporter saw bullet holes in the truck and roof.

When other marine forces ­arrived in pickup trucks and all-terrain vehicles, they looted his house, he said, hauling off blankets, mattresses and food, as well as supplies from the shop he runs from his home. “They robbed everything,” he said.

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“They said the order [to hunt Guzmán] came directly from the president,” he recalled. “They wanted to find that guy dead or alive.”

Over the course of the day, the marines widened their search and worked their way down the mountains. By 6 p.m., they arrived in El Verano, one of the largest communities in the area, with about a dozen houses and some 60 people. Marta Marbella Valencia was preparing tortillas in her home when she heard the rotor blades. Her husband was at work in his poppy fields, and she was alone with her 2-year-old daughter, Angela Cristela. As the marine helicopter got closer and started firing, she recalled, she scooped up her child and ran outside. Bullets smashed into the red concrete walls. She raced back inside and hid behind a yellow plastic barrel of water in the bathroom, she recalled. A bullet hit the wall above her head, spraying plaster in her hair.

“I was screaming,” she said.

Valencia said she dashed to the bedroom and hid on the dirt floor under her wooden bed and its two “Mi Amor” embroidered pillows, shielding her crying daughter, as bullets slammed through her roof. She didn’t move for eight hours, she said.

After the shooting, marines bivouacked at the one-room high school and began interrogating residents, they said. The marines set up checkpoints on the dirt roads leading out of the valley and prevented residents from leaving their homes for at least four days, local people said. The marines broke open doors, left gates open so livestock could escape and smashed solar panels that some residents use to power their homes, according to residents. Rosa Martinez, 32, said marines stole earrings, phone chargers, money and blankets from her home.

“They said they were looking for a Don. They didn’t say who,” Martinez recalled, using an honorific term in Spanish. “We didn’t think it was El Chapo. He has never come here.”

Other residents said they had heard Guzmán had been in the region — although not in their community — at least three times over the past decade.

When the marines left El Verano, villagers said, one of them scrawled a note on the high school chalkboard in Spanish. It was still there more than three months after the operation.

“Twenty years after you die you will [still] remember this night,” it read.

Miguel Angel Vega in Durango and Gabriela Martinez in Mexico City contributed to this report.