The US Is Hot And Getting Hotter

A large portion of the United States is in the midst of a heat wave.

Temperatures in the Northeast and Midwest are already high and are expected to climb to record breaking numbers during the weekend.  People have been warned to stay hydrated.

Forecasters say more than 87 million Americans live in areas where record temperatures will likely be set Saturday.

The temperature in Washington, DC, the nation’s capital, is expected to reach 43.3 degrees Celsius.  Meteorologists say for a short while, it will feel just as hot in Washington as Death Valley, California.

National Weather Service forecaster Greg Carbin said the heat wave will be “short and searing.”

Tourists take photos of the U.S. Capitol (not seen) from a tour boat-like bus on a hot day in Washington, DC. (Photo by Diaa Bekheet)

The NWS warned: “Dangerous high temperatures and humidity could quickly cause heat stress or heat stroke, if precautions are not taken.  The very young, the elderly, those without air conditioning, and those participating in strenuous outdoor activities will be the most susceptible.  Also, car interiors can reach lethal temperatures in a matter of minutes.”

A recent Environmental Protection Agency live air quality tracker reported “unhealthy” air for sensitive groups, including the elderly and young children, along the East Coast from Baltimore, Maryland to Bridgeport, Connecticut, a stretch that includes New York City.

“Daytime hours when the sun is out is clearly our highest risk periods,” Dr. Michael Kaufmann, EMS medical director with the Indiana Department of Homeland Security, told the Associated Press.  “We’re not expecting the drops in temperature at night or the humidity that we often realize when the sun goes down.”

Pet owners have been cautioned to avoid walking their animals on paved or concrete areas because the temperature of the surfaces could rise high enough to burn paws.

 

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Sudanese Opposition Seeks Postponement in Deal with Military

Sudan’s pro-democracy movement is seeking a postponement in the signing of the second and possibly more contentious part of a power-sharing agreement with the country’s military, saying it needs more time to resolve differences among its members over the deal.

The first part of the deal was signed earlier this week, marking a significant step forward amid simmering tensions between the protest movement and the country’s military, which in April ousted longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir.
 
The two sides were expected to meet on Friday, negotiate and subsequently sign the so-called constitutional declaration that defines how much power each would have in the transitional period until elections are held.
 
 There has been discord within Forces for the Declaration of Freedom and Change, a coalition of opposition political groups representing the protesters.

 

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Taiwan Says It Will Treat Hong Kong Asylum Seekers Humanely

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen says she would follow “humanitarian principles” in dealing with asylum seekers from Hong Kong.

Tsai made the comments after Radio Free Asia reported that more than a dozen protesters from Hong Kong have fled to Taiwan.

In response, China’s foreign ministry Friday warned Taiwan against “pretending to be compassionate.”

Taiwan does not have a formal refugee policy. Any move to resettle Hong Kong protesters is likely to anger Beijing.

Hong Kong is a Chinese territory that has been rocked over the last month by massive protests against an extradition bill that would allow residents to be tried in mainland China. China also claims Taiwan as its territory, though the democratically governed island split from the Communist Party-ruled mainland amid civil war in 1949.

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Pompeo: China’s Mistreatment of Muslim Minority Is ‘Stain of the Century’ 

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Thursday that China’s mistreatment of its Uighur Muslim minority had created one of the most significant human rights crises in contemporary world history. 
 
Speaking at a conference on religious freedom in Washington, Pompeo said, “China is home to one of the worst human rights crises of our time” and that “it is truly the stain of the century.” 
 
The nation’s top diplomat also accused Chinese government officials of intimidating countries to keep them from attending the conference and said the U.S. had “taken note” of the countries that succumbed to China. While not naming them, Pompeo urged the countries to “find the courage” to stand up to China. 
 
Pompeo said earlier this week that representatives of more than 100 countries would attend the three-day conference that ends Thursday, but a State Department spokesman could not confirm the number. 
 
“We know the Chinese government called countries specifically to discourage participation,” the spokesman said, but “we cannot prove the exact number they successfully impacted.”

FILE – Uighurs and their supporters protest in front of the Permanent Mission of China to the United Nations in New York, March 15, 2018.

The Chinese government has dismissed accusations it violated rights to religious freedom. Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said at a Beijing news briefing Thursday that “this situation of so-called religious persecution does not exist.”  
 
Lu also said China “demand[s] that the United States correctly view China’s religious policies and the status of religious freedom in China, and stop using the issue of religion to interfere in other countries’ affairs.” 
 
U.N. experts and activists contend China has placed at least 1 million ethnic Uighurs in detention centers. Nearly two dozen countries on the U.N. Human Rights Council earlier this month called on China to stop its persecution of Uighurs in the country’s western Xinjiang region. 
 
The U.S. has been considering sanctions against Chinese officials over their policies in Xinjiang but has yet to impose them amid Chinese threats of retaliation. 
 
U.S.-China relations are already tense because of a trade war between the world powers. 

Pence offers solidarity
 
Vice President Mike Pence also addressed the conference, telling attendees that U.S. trade talks with China would not influence America’s commitment to religious freedom in the East Asian country. 
 
“Whatever comes of our negotiations with Beijing, you can be assured that the American people will stand in solidarity with people of all faiths in the People’s Republic of China,” he said. 

Pence, offering rare criticism of U.S. ally Saudi Arabia, also called on the kingdom to release jailed blogger Raif Badawi, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison for insulting Islam. 
 
Pence also demanded the release of detained religious dissidents in Eritrea, Mauritania and Pakistan and vowed the U.S. would press for religious freedom in North Korea amid efforts to denuclearize the country. 

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Pakistan Arrests Ex-Prime Minister for Graft  

Anti-corruption officials in Pakistan have arrested former Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi for allegedly evading an ongoing investigation into corruption charges against him.

The former Pakistani leader is the latest in a series of high-profile opposition politicians targeted under the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan who accuses his predecessors of corruption and stashing away billions of dollars to foreign bank accounts. 

Abbasi together with several members of his opposition Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) was on his way to address a news conference in the eastern city of Lahore on Thursday, when he was taken into custody by a team of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), the state anti-corruption body.

Authorities later took the former prime minister to Islamabad, where he will appear before an anti-corruption court on Friday, said NAB officials. Abbasi served as prime minister from August 2017 to May 2018.

NAB officials explained that the arrest stemmed from a case related to the award of a major liquefied natural gas (LNG) import contract when Abbasi was serving as the federal minister for petroleum and natural resources. They said Abbasi had been repeatedly summoned for questioning sessions, including one on Thursday, but he did not appear.

Former Pakistani president and currently a lawmaker in Parliament and leader of Pakistan People’s party, Asif Ali Zardari, center, leaves the High Court building, in Islamabad, June 10, 2019.

The arrest came just weeks after the country’s former president, Asif Ali Zardari, the head of the opposition Pakistan Peoples Party, was arrested in connection of multiple cases of corruption and money laundering against him.

Abbasi’s predecessor and party chief, Nawaz Sharif, is currently serving a seven-year jail term after he was convicted of corruption last year.

Sharif’s brother and the current party chief, Shahbaz Sharif, denounced Abbasi’s arrest. He alleged in a statement that “the institution of NAB has become Imran Khan’s puppet but such cheap tactics cannot waiver our resolve.”

Opposition parties reject allegations against their leaders and dismiss the accountability campaign as politically motivated to divert public attention from struggling economy, soaring inflation and ballooning deficits. Khan’s ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf party denies the charges.

Khan defeated the PML-N in last year’s national elections, promising to crackdown on rampant corruption and improve the crisis-ridden national economy. 

 

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Trump Says He Isn’t Happy with ‘Send Her Back’ Chants From Rally Crowd

U.S. President Donald Trump is disavowing chants of “send her back” at his political rally which were heard when he questioned the loyalty of U.S. Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, a war refugee from Somalia.

“I was not happy when I heard that chant,” Trump said to reporters in the Oval Office, adding he disagreed with it.

Asked why he did not try to stop the chant at the event on Wednesday evening in North Carolina, the president replied: “I think I did – I started speaking very quickly.”

Omar when asked about Trump on Thursday by reporters outside the Capitol, replied, “I believe he is fascist.”

She asked: “Because I criticized the president, I should be deported?”

Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., a target of racist rhetoric from President Donald Trump, walks from the House to her office following votes, at the Capitol in Washington, July 18, 2019.

Omar is one of four new Democratic Party members of Congress who are women of color who have repeatedly been attacked by Trump since Sunday on social media and in public comments. The congresswoman posted a tweet late Wednesday featuring a picture of herself wearing a hijab and seated in the speaker’s chair in the U.S. House of Representatives chamber along with a message for Trump and his supporters, who have in recent days repeatedly suggested the U.S. citizen “go back” to Somalia.

“I am where I belong, at the people’s house and you’re just gonna have to deal!” Omar wrote.

👋🏽 I am where I belong, at the people’s house and you’re just gonna have to deal! pic.twitter.com/W0OvDXGxQX

— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) July 18, 2019

Also, Omar late Wednesday, quoted the late African American poet Maya Angelou, tweeting, “You may shoot me with your words, You may cut me with your eyes, You may kill me with your hatefulness, But still, like the air, I’ll arise.”

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

-Maya Angelou https://t.co/46jcXSXF0B

— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) July 18, 2019

“I think in some cases they hate America,” Trump, at the rally, said Wednesday evening of Congresswomen Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayana Pressley and Rashida Tlaib.

When Trump accused Omar of “anti-Semitic screeds,” the crowd in Greenville, North Carolina, responded with chants of “send her back.”

“These congresswomen, their comments are helping to fuel the rise of a militant hard left,” declared Trump at the event.

FILE – Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., speaks to the media, at the White House in Washington.

A Republican congressman, Adam Kinzinger, is warning the behavior exhibited at Trump’s rally the previous evening threatens to tear apart the country.

I deeply disagree with the extreme left & have been disgusted by their tone. I woke up today equally disgusted – chants like “send her back” are ugly, wrong, & would send chills down the spines of our Founding Fathers. This ugliness must end, or we risk our great union.

— Adam Kinzinger (@RepKinzinger) July 18, 2019

During his 90-minute rally on Wednesday, Trump several times thanked other Democrats in the House for voting down, hours earlier, an attempt to push articles of impeachment against him.

Trump called Congressman Al Green’s raising the impeachment issue in the House “a sneak attack.”

The 332-95 vote to kill the measure was the first action on the issue by the chamber since the Democrats took control of it in January.

FILE – Rep. Al Green, D-Texas on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Green defied party leadership, who contend formally raising the impeachment issue is premature as House committees, led by the Democrats who control the chamber, continue to investigate Trump and members of his Cabinet.

“We’re not having him set our agenda; we’re setting our own agenda,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday said of Trump.

On Tuesday night, four Republicans joined every Democrat in the House to approve a resolution condemning Trump’s “racist” remarks. At the center of the dispute was Trump’s Sunday tweet telling the four congresswomen to “go back” to their countries to fix them before attacking the United States, even though all four are U.S. citizens and only Omar was not born in the country.

The House resolution, which was passed 240-187, “strongly condemns” Trump’s “racist comments that have legitimized and increased fear and hatred of new Americans and people of color.”

 

 

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GOP Senator Blocks Bill Boosting 9/11 Victims Fund  

A Republican senator blocked a bipartisan bill that would have made sure that a fund providing compensation to 9/11 workers would remain viable until 2090. 

Rand Paul of Kentucky questioned the bill’s 70-year time frame and said any new spending should be offset by corresponding cuts so the U.S. government’s $22 trillion debt does not continue to grow. 

“It has long been my feeling that we need to address our massive debt in the country,” Paul said on the Senate floor Wednesday. “And, therefore, any new spending … should be offset by cutting spending that’s less valuable. We need to at the very least have this debate.”

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., speaks during a town hall meeting during a campaign stop in Bloomfield Hills, Mich.

Presidential hopeful New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand had offered the bill for unanimous consent, which would have fast-tracked its approval. 

Under Senate rules, an objection from a single senator can block a measure offered via unanimous consent, which is what Paul did. 

A spokesperson for Paul later told The Hill that Paul “is not blocking anything,” adding that he is “simply seeking to pay for it.”

The bill, which easily passed in the House last month, would extend though 2092 a victims compensation fund, essentially making it permanent. 

More than $7 billion was placed in a fund to compensate firefighters, construction crews, police and other emergency workers who rushed into the debris of the World Trade Center in New York on Sept. 11, 2001 — inhaling dust, smoke, chemicals and other hazardous substances.

Many are suffering from breathing problems, digestive disorders, and lung and other cancers.

The Justice Department has warned that the fund is running out of money because there was no mechanism in Congress to make sure that does not happen before the entire program is set to expire next year.

Benefit payments have been slashed and about 21,000 claims are still awaiting a decision.

Gillibrand said she was “deeply disappointed” by Paul’s action.

“Enough of the political games. Our 9/11 first responders and our entire nation are watching to see if this body actually cares. Do we care about the men and women who answer the call of duty?” she asked in an emotionally charged speech. 

“Thousands of those men and women have died,” she said. Others still have to “face the terrifying reality that they are going to die because of what they did on 9/11 and the months thereafter.”

Gillibrand and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer have asked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to bring up the bill for a vote before Congress goes on its August recess.

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House Holds 2 Trump Officials in Contempt in Census Dispute

The Democratic-controlled House voted Wednesday to hold two top Trump administration officials in contempt of Congress for failing to comply with subpoenas related to a decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

The House voted 230-198 to hold Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in criminal contempt. The vote, a political blow to the Trump administration, is largely symbolic because the Justice Department is unlikely to prosecute the two men.

The action marks an escalation of Democratic efforts to use their House majority to aggressively investigate the inner workings of the Trump administration.

President Donald Trump abandoned the citizenship question last week after the Supreme Court said the administration’s justification for the question “seems to have been contrived.” Trump directed agencies to try to compile the information using existing databases.

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham, listens as President Donald Trump speaks with reporters on the South Lawn of the White House before departing, July 17, 2019, in Washington.

The White House called the vote “ridiculous” and “yet another lawless attempt to harass the president and his administration.”

The Justice and Commerce departments have produced more than 31,000 pages of documents to the House regarding the census issue, and senior officials from both agencies, including Ross, have spoken on the record about the matter, the White House said, adding that Democrats continue to demand documents that the White House contends are subject to executive privilege.  

“House Democrats know they have no legal right to these documents, but their shameful and cynical politics know no bounds,” White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement. 

House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md., considers whether to hold Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Sec. Wilbur Ross in contempt in Washington, June 12, 2019.

Democratic Representative Elijah Cummings of Maryland, chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, said the contempt vote was an important step to assert Congress’ constitutional authority to serve as a check on executive power.

“Holding any secretary in criminal contempt of Congress is a serious and sober matter — one that I have done everything in my power to avoid,” Cummings said during House debate. “But in the case of the attorney general and Secretary Ross, they blatantly obstructed our ability to do congressional oversight into the real reason Secretary Ross was trying for the first time in 70 years to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.”

While Ross and other officials have claimed the sole reason they wanted to add the citizenship question was to enforce the Voting Rights Act, “we now know that claim was nothing but a pretext,” Cummings said. “The Supreme Court said that.”

At the direction of Barr and Ross, “the departments of Justice and Commerce have been engaged in a campaign to subvert our laws and the process Congress put in place to maintain the integrity of the census,” Cummings said.

The contempt resolution “is about protecting our democracy, protecting the integrity of this body. It’s bigger than the census,” he said.

Ross called the vote a public relations “stunt” that further demonstrates Democrats’ “unending quest to generate headlines instead of operating in good faith with our department.”

Democrats prefer to “play political games rather than help lead the country” and “have made every attempt to ascribe evil motivations to everyday functions of government,” Ross said.

Ross told the oversight committee that the March 2018 decision to add the question was based on a Justice Department request to help enforce the Voting Rights Act.

Democrats disputed that, citing documents unearthed last month suggesting that a push to draw legislative districts in overtly partisan and racist ways was the real reason the administration wanted to include the question.

Democrats feared that adding the question would reduce participation in immigrant-heavy communities and result in a severe undercount of minority voters. They have pressed for specific documents to determine Ross’ motivation and contend the administration has declined to provide the material despite repeated requests.

Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., speaks to the audience gathered at the 138th annual Fancy Farm Picnic, Aug. 4, 2018, in Fancy Farm, Ky.

“The real issue we should be debating” is why Democrats are afraid to ask how many citizens live in the United States, said Representative James Comer, a Kentucky Republican. Contrary to Democrats’ claims, Ross and other officials have cooperated with the oversight panel and provided thousands of documents, Comer said.

“If the Democrats can’t impeach President Trump, they will instead hold his Cabinet in contempt of Congress,” he said. “This is just another episode in political theater.”

In a letter late Wednesday to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Barr and Ross asked Democrats to postpone the vote, saying they have shown a “clear record of cooperation” with Congress. The contempt vote “is both unnecessarily undermining” relations between the two branches and “degrading” Congress’ “own institutional integrity,” they wrote.

Trump has pledged to “fight all the subpoenas” issued by Congress and says he won’t work on legislative priorities, such as infrastructure, until Congress halts investigations of his administration. 

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House Votes to Block Weapons Sale to Saudi Arabia

Congress is heading for a showdown with President Donald Trump after the House voted Wednesday to block his administration from selling billions of dollars in weapons and maintenance support to Saudi Arabia.

Trump, who has sought to forge closer ties with Riyadh, has pledged to veto the resolutions of disapproval that passed the Democratic-led House largely along party lines. Two of the resolutions passed with 238 votes, while a third was approved with 237. Each of the measures garnered just four Republican backers.

The Senate cleared the resolutions last month, but like the House, fell well short of a veto-proof majority. Overturning a president’s veto requires a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate.

Heightened Middle East tensions

Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, accused the Trump administration of circumventing Congress and the law to move ahead with the arms sale. He called the resolutions “extraordinary but necessary” to stop “a phony emergency to override the authority of Congress.”

The votes came against the backdrop of heightened tensions in the Middle East, with much of the focus on Iran. Tehran is pushing the limits on its nuclear program after Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States from the 2015 nuclear deal more than a year ago. Iran has inched its uranium production and enrichment over the limits of the accord, trying to put more pressure on Europe to offer it better terms and allow it to sell its crude oil abroad.

The White House has declared stopping the sale would send a signal that the United States doesn’t stand by its partners and allies, particularly at a time when threats against them are increasing.

But opposition among members of Congress to the Trump administration’s alliance with the Saudis has been building, fueled by the high civilian casualties in the Saudi-led war in Yemen — a military campaign the U.S. is assisting — and the killing of U.S.-based columnist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents.

Estimated $8 billion in arms

The arms package, worth an estimated $8 billion, includes thousands of precision-guided munitions, other bombs and ammunition, and aircraft maintenance support for Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had cited Iranian aggression when declaring an emergency to approve the weapons sales in May. The Saudis have recently faced a number of attacks from Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.

“Right now, as I speak, Iran is stretching its tentacles of terror across the Middle East,” said the Foreign Affairs Committee’s top Republican, Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, who pushed for the resolutions to be rejected. “If we allow them to succeed, terrorism will flourish, instability will reign and the security of our allies like Israel will be threatened.”

Bypassing Congress

Critics of the sale also had denounced the White House for bypassing congressional review of the arms sales, which was done by invoking an emergency loophole in the Arms Export Control Act.

Pompeo had informed Congress that he had made the determination “that an emergency exists which requires the immediate sale” of the weapons “in order to deter further the malign influence of the government of Iran throughout the Middle East region.”

The law requires Congress to be notified of potential arms sales, giving the body the opportunity to block the sale. But the law also allows the president to waive that review process by declaring an emergency that requires the sale be made “in the national security interests of the United States.”

Engel said there was no emergency, arguing that two months after Pompeo’s notification not a single weapon has been shipped and many of them haven’t even been built.

“What kind of emergency requires weapons that will be built months and months down the road?” Engel said.

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Bolivia Declares Emergency Plan to End Gender Killings

Bolivia, which has one of South America’s highest rates of women being killed because of their gender, has declared femicide a national priority and will step up efforts to tackle growing violence, a top government rights official said on Tuesday.

Since January authorities have recorded 73 femicides – the killing of a woman by a man due to her gender – in the highest toll since 2013. The murders amount to one woman killed every two days.

“In terms of the femicide rate, Bolivia is in the top rankings,” said Tania Sanchez, head of the Plurinational Service for Women and Ending Patriarchy at Bolivia’s justice ministry, despite legal protections being in place.

A 2013 law defined femicide as a specific crime and provided tougher sentences for convicted offenders.

“We are not indifferent,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “The national priority is the lives of women, of all ages, and for that reason the president has raised this issue of femicide as the most extreme form (of violence),” Sanchez said.

Emergency Plan

The latest femicide victim was 26-year-old mother Mery Vila, killed last week by her partner who beat her on the head with a hammer.

This week, the government announced a 10-point “emergency plan.”

Worldwide, a third of all women experience physical or sexual violence at some point in their lives, according to the U.N. In Bolivia, violence against women is driven by entrenched machismo culture, which tends to blame victims and even condones it.

FILE – Women hold a banner reading “femicide” and with pictures of their relatives during a rally to condemn violence against women in La Paz, Bolivia, Nov. 25, 2014.

According to a 2016 national government survey, seven of every 10 women in Bolivia said they had suffered some type of violence inflicted by a partner.

Sanchez said the new plan “takes into account prevention, as well as care to victims and punishing violence, macho violence.”

A commission will also look at increasing government spending on gender violence and prevention, and evaluate various initiatives’ success.

“Funding is insufficient. There’s a great need in the regions,” Sanchez said.

Other measures include obligatory training courses for civil servants and public sector employees on gender violence and prevention.

School and university teachers will also receive training about “the psychological, sexual and physical violence” women and girls face.

The commission will also consider if femicide should be regarded as a crime of lesser humanity.

Widespread Gender Violence

Latin America and the Caribbean have the world’s highest rates of femicide, according to the United Nations.

Some 15 other countries in the region have introduced laws against femicide in recent years.

Victims of femicides in Bolivia and across the region often die at the hands of current or former boyfriends and husbands with a history of domestic abuse, experts say.

“We believe that this increase (in femicides) is related to a patriarchal system that appropriates the bodies and lives of women,” said Violeta Dominguez, head of U.N. Women in Bolivia.

Femicide cases in Bolivia often go unpunished, with victims’ families struggling for justice, Sanchez said.

Of 627 cases recorded since 2013, 288 remain open without a conviction, which Sanchez called “alarming.”

Bolivian President Evo Morales posted on Twitter on Monday “It’s time to end impunity, and tackle problems as a society.”

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FBI Report: Mailed Pipe Bomb Devices Wouldn’t Have Worked

An FBI analysis of crudely made pipe bombs mailed to prominently critics of President Donald Trump has concluded they wouldn’t have worked, according to a report made public Tuesday.

The January report on the analysis was filed in Manhattan federal court, where U.S. District Judge Jed S. Rakoff is scheduled to sentence Cesar Sayoc in September after the Florida man pleaded guilty to explosives-related charges in the scary episode weeks before midterm elections last year.

Sayoc, 57, faces a mandatory 10-year prison term and up to life. Sayoc has repeatedly said he never intended to injure anyone, a claim that his lawyers will likely argue was supported by the report.

The FBI said the devices wouldn’t have functioned because of their design, though it couldn’t be determined whether that was from poor design or the intent of the builder.

It said the fuzing system for each device lacked the proper components and assembly to enable it to function as a method of initiation for an explosive.

It also said the devices contained small fragments of broken glass, fragmentation often added to explosives to injure or kill people nearby.

Whether the devices might have exploded became a major focal point of recent hearings when Sayoc asserted that they could not and prosecutors seemed to leave the question open.

Sarah Baumbartel, an assistant federal defender, declined comment, though the issue was likely to be addressed when his lawyers submit written sentencing arguments next week.

In a letter to the judge several months ago, Sayoc wrote: “Under no circumstances my intent was to hurt or harm anyone. The intention was to only intimidate and scare.”

Sayoc admitted sending 16 rudimentary bombs – none of which detonated – to targets including Hillary Clinton, former Vice President Joe Biden, several members of Congress, former President Barack Obama and actor Robert De Niro. Devices were also mailed to CNN offices in New York and Atlanta.

The bombs began turning up over a five-day stretch weeks before the midterms. They were mailed to addresses in New York, New Jersey, Delaware, California, Washington, D.C., and Atlanta, Georgia.

Sayoc was arrested in late October at a Florida auto parts store. He had been living in a van plastered with Trump stickers and images of Trump opponents with crosshairs over their faces.

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Luke Combs Adds Grand Ole Opry Member to List of Accolades

Country singer Luke Combs was just 6 years old when his mom and grandmother snuck him into his first concert by hiding him in the backseat of their car so he could go see Vince Gill play at a minor league baseball stadium.
 
It came full circle for the singer-songwriter from North Carolina when Gill came out to formally induct Combs, 29, into the Grand Ole Opry on Tuesday night in Nashville, Tennessee.
 
Combs, who has taken country music by storm in the last two years with hit after hit off his debut major label record, told reporters backstage before the induction that he actually didn’t get to see Gill finish that performance 23 years ago.
 
“I actually missed my favorite song that night because I started crying because there was thunder in the background, so we ended up leaving early,” Combs said. “I am looking forward to saying hello to him.”
 
Combs sang two of his hits before Gill and ’90s country star Joe Diffie joined several other Opry members on stage for the induction into the country music institution. Gill praised Combs’ top-notch vocals before joking about Combs’ first introduction to his music.
 
“I obviously didn’t ruin him,” Gill said.
 
The Opry induction is just the latest accomplishment for the singer since releasing his double-platinum album, “This One’s For You,” in 2017. It produced five No. 1 country hits, including the four-times platinum “Hurricane” and the three-times platinum “When It Rains It Pours.”
 
That album, and the deluxe reissue, has been No. 1 on Billboard’s country album chart for a total 41 non-consecutive weeks and his follow-up EP “The Prequel,” also has been sitting in the top five of that chart as well for several weeks.

Luke Combs performs at “Luke Combs Joins the Grand Ole Opry Family,” at the Grand Ole Opry, July 16, 2019, in Nashville, Tenn.

 
Combs had the most popular country album in 2018 and he is currently the leader in country album consumption through the first half of 2019, according to Nielsen Music.
 
“If people remember anything about what I’ve done, and I think I tell it to the crowd a lot too, is that if I can do this, you can do anything,” Combs said. “I am the proof that you can do anything that you set your mind to.”
 
Combs came to Nashville just about five years ago and started posting videos of his songs on social media and tried to shop his songs around on Music Row. In a few short years, he’s picked up new artist awards from both the Academy of Country Music and Country Music Association and multiple awards from at the Billboard Music Awards. He was also nominated for the all-genre best new artist category at this year’s Grammy Awards, but lost to Dua Lipa.
 
The bearded and burly singer-songwriter, who wears the same type of fishing shirt every night on stage, said that all the recent success and attention has been a bit of an adjustment.  
 
“The hardest part has definitely been, you know, getting used to the fame part of it,” Combs said. “I’m just not a really flashy-like guy.”
 
All he wanted was to write songs and sing and at the end of the day, that’s what the Opry induction really came down to, he said.
 
“I’ll have the opportunity to continue to share my songs with people for the rest of my life,” he said.

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