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новини, секрети, скандали

US Health and Human Services Secretary Visits Taiwan

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar arrived in Taiwan Sunday, leading a U.S. delegation for a three-day visit during which he will meet President Tsai Ing-wen.FILE – Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar speaks during a roundtable discussion with President Donald Trump on the coronavirus outbreak and storm preparedness at Pelican Golf Club in Belleair, Florida, July 31, 2020.This is the highest-level visit by an American official since the break in diplomatic relations between Washington and Taipei in 1979.The visit comes as relations between the United States and China have plunged to historic lows.China objects to official contact between the U.S. and Taiwan, which it claims as its own territory, while the Taiwanese president has strongly advocated Taiwan’s recognition as a sovereign nation.Beijing has strongly and repeatedly objected to recognition of self-ruled Taiwan and has vowed to seize the island by force if necessary.Last week, China described Azar’s visit as a threat to “peace and stability,” while its defense minister warned against “dangerous moves” by Washington.Washington has said the Taiwan trip is an opportunity to learn from the island’s success story in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic and to acknowledge its progressive values.”This trip is a recognition of Taiwan’s success in combating COVID-19 and a testament to the shared beliefs that open and democratic societies are best equipped to combating disease threats like COVID-19,” a Health and Human Services official said to reporters before the trip.Taiwan has recorded fewer than 500 COVID-19 cases and only seven deaths. 


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Afghanistan to Release 400 Taliban Prisoners Ahead of Peace Talks 

Afghanistan’s grand assembly, the Loya Jirga, approved the release of 400 Taliban prisoners Sunday, creating conditions to begin peace talks in the war-torn country.   “In order to remove an obstacle, the start of the peace process and an end of bloodshed, the Loya Jirga approves the release of 400 Taliban,” assembly resolution said. The Loya Jirga was called into session Friday in the capital, Kabul, to discuss the release of Taliban prisoners, ahead of peace talks.    The Afghan government has released almost 5,000 Taliban prisoners so far. FILE – Prisoners are released from Bagram Prison in Parwan province, Afghanistan, May 26, 2020.Meanwhile, the U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper says U.S. troops in Afghanistan will be reduced to “a number less than 5,000” by the end of November.    The reduction in force comment was made by the defense chief in an interview broadcast Saturday on “Fox News.”    FILE – U.S. troops patrol at an Afghan National Army (ANA) Base in Logar province, Afghanistan, Aug. 7, 2018.Earlier last week, President Donald Trump said in an interview with Axios that he would like to see the approximately 8,600 U.S. troops in Afghanistan decreased by “anywhere from 4,000 to 5,000.”   The news of the plan to draw down U.S. troops comes as efforts continue to begin negotiations between the Taliban and Afghanistan officials to bring an end to the decades-long fighting in the South Asian nation.  


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French President Hosts International Conference to Raise Funds for Lebanon

French President Emmanuel Macron will host a U.N.-backed international donors’ virtual conference Sunday to raise funds for Lebanon following a massive blast at the port of Beirut last week that killed at least 158 people and injured about 6,000 others.U.S. President Donald Trump announced his participation in a tweet Friday, after he talked with Macron and his Lebanese counterpart, Michel Aoun, tweeting that “everyone wants to help!””We will be having a conference call on Sunday with President Macron, leaders of Lebanon, and leaders from various other parts of the world,” he said.In the meantime, the U.S. has delivered emergency aid to Lebanon, starting with food, water, and medical supplies, under Trump’s direction. Initially it has pledged more than $17 million in disaster aid for the country.In other developments, Lebanese security forces fired tear gas Saturday at thousands of demonstrators who gathered in Beirut’s main square to protest the government’s management of the recent explosion that devastated large parts of the city.At the beginning of a planned protest, a small group of men started throwing stones at security forces as they tried to jump over barriers blocking entry to the parliament building. Police responded by firing tear gas at the protesters.A police spokesman said an officer was killed during scuffles. A police officer at the scene said that the officer died after falling down an elevator shaft when he was chased by protesters into a building in the area.The demonstrators also stormed the foreign ministry building while others in Martyrs Square set up symbolic nooses for politicians and chanted “the people want the fall of the regime.”The protesters later set fire to a truck that was reinforcing barriers on a street leading to the parliament building.The Lebanese Red Cross said more than a dozen protesters were hospitalized and scores of others received medical treatment on the scene.The protest, the first significant demonstration since the explosion, occurred amid mounting anger at Lebanon’s political leadership.The country’s leaders have been accused of widespread corruption and incompetence that contributed to Tuesday’s devastating explosion.Prime Minister Hassan Diab said Friday he will draft legislation calling for early elections and is willing to remain in the position for two months to allow political leaders time to implement structural reforms.The head of the Kataeb Party, Sami Gemayal, told mourners at the funeral of party Secretary-General Nazar Najarian Saturday that he was withdrawing three party members from parliament in the wake of the fallout from the explosion.Progressive Socialist Party and Druze leader Walid Jumblatt told Arab media he was calling for early parliamentary elections and that protesters have the right to demand that political leaders resign.Jumblatt said, however, it is up to Christian protesters and Christian political parties to call for an end to the mandate of President Michel Aoun.Christian political leader Samir Geagea has also called for early parliamentary elections but stopped short of withdrawing his party’s members from parliament.The U.S. Embassy in Beirut said Saturday the U.S. government backs the demonstrators’ rights to peaceful protest and is urging them to “refrain from violence.” In a tweet, the embassy also said the Lebanese people “deserved leaders who listen to them and change course to respond to popular demands for transparency and accountability.”


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US Tops 5 Million Coronavirus Infections

The United States has more coronavirus cases than any other country.  There are more than 5 million infections in the U.S., according to a New York Times database. Brazil and India follow as numbers two and three, respectively, in the number of infections.  Brazil has more than 3 million cases and India has more than 2 million.Brazil on Saturday became the second country in the world to pass 100,000 deaths from the coronavirus, second to the United States, which has more than 162,000 deaths.Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, said last week he had “a clear conscience” despite the toll. Bolsonaro himself survived COVID-19 last month and said he had done “everything possible to save lives.” Because of insufficient tests, experts say, the number of Brazilians with the virus could be six times higher.In the U.S., the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation has released a model predicting nearly 300,000 deaths by December 1 if Americans don’t start consistently wearing face masks.IHME Director Dr. Christopher Murray said in a statement that if 95 percent of Americans started wearing masks, more than 66,000 lives would be saved.Naga women, wearing face masks as a precaution against the coronavirus, sit by the side of a road selling poultry on the eve of International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, in Kohima, India, Aug. 8, 2020.Mexico’s health ministry reported nearly 6,500 new COVID infections Saturday and almost 700 deaths. Mexico follows only the U.S. and Brazil in the numbers of COVID deaths.  Mexico has more than 46,000 COVID deaths, according to John Hopkins University data.In France, the government ordered face masks must be worn outside in busy areas — except around some tourist sites, including the Eiffel Tower — starting Monday. The government said the French tourism industry has lost at least $35-$47 billion due to the health crisis.”The French are participating massively in the revival of the tourism sector by favoring France,” and 70 percent of those who have gone on vacation have chosen to stay in their country, Secretary of State Tourism Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne said in an interview with the Journal du Dimanche.New mask mandates went into effect Saturday in Britain, where people are now required to wear masks in most indoor settings. In England and Scotland, masks must be worn in places of worship, banks, libraries and in many other indoor places.Masks were already required in shops and on public transit, but more stringent measures were imposed to contain a surge in coronavirus infections in Britain after easing lockdown requirements.Travelers arriving in Germany from most non-European countries and regions within the European Union with high infection rates must now undergo testing for the coronavirus Travelers from high-risk areas were previously required to self-quarantine for 14 days or until they could produce a negative test.Australia recorded 404 new cases Sunday – 10 in New South Wales and 394 in Victoria.  Seventeen deaths were reported in Victoria.New Zealand reports it has experienced 100 days of zero community transmission of the coronavirus.  


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В Білорусі почалися вибори: живий блог


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41,7% виборців у Білорусі проголосували ще до відкриття дільниць

9 серпня Центральна виборча комісія Білорусі оголосила, що явка на достроковому голосуванні на виборах президента склала 41,7% всіх виборців.

Це дані станом на 19:00 суботи, 8 серпня. Білоруси мали змогу проголосувати завчасно протягом п’яти днів до дня виборів.

Цьогоріч явка на достроковому голосуванні є значно вищою ніж раніше: у 2015 році таким правом скористалися 36,05% виборців, у 2010 році – 23,1%.

 


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Naturalized Americans Flex Growing Electoral Clout

Brenda Cienfuegos recently became a U.S. citizen and is eager to exercise her new rights as an American. She says voting gives Latinos like her a voice.“Voting is something I’ve always done in my country,” she said. “I couldn’t do it here, but now I can.”Originally from El Salvador, Cienfuegos, a mother of two who came legally to the United States in 2010, registered to vote right after her U.S. citizenship ceremony in York, Pennsylvania, earlier this year.She demurs when asked if she is backing a candidate in the November presidential contest.“Like I learned in my country, my vote is secret,” Cienfuegos said. “But what I can tell you? I’m going to support the candidate who better supports the Latino community.”Cienfuegos is part of a growing cohort flexing its muscle in America’s democratic process. U.S. Census data compiled by the Pew Research Center shows more than 23 million naturalized citizens will be eligible to vote in the 2020 presidential elections, comprising about 10 percent of the electorate.The clout of naturalized Americans at the ballot box is recognized by political groups spanning the ideological spectrum.Mark Madrid, cofounder of the Lincoln Project, a political action committee of renegade Republicans working to defeat President Donald Trump, notes that naturalized citizens “have a greater likelihood to vote” than their native-born counterparts and are “a much more pro-immigrant voting bloc, being immigrants themselves.”Trump loyalists say they, too, are reaching out to Americans born in other lands.“We recognized the importance of engaging every American citizen as a potential voter, including those who are naturalized citizens,” the Republican National Committee’s Director of Hispanic Media, Yali Nuñez, told VOA.New American turnoutAccording to Pew, Latinos and Asians account for nearly two-thirds of new citizens eligible to vote this year.Pew found that 53 percent of naturalized Latinos and 52 percent of naturalized Asians voted in 2016, compared to 46 percent of native-born Latinos and 45 percent of native-born Asians.The top countries from which new voters originated are Mexico, Philippines, India, and China.In North Carolina, Juliana Cabrales of the NALEO Educational Fund, a nonpartisan organization that promotes Latino civic participation, said political parties need to maintain a dialogue with new Americans on a constant basis, not just in election years.“What we’ve seen in prior years is that political parties tend to take Latinos for granted, as never voting or always voting one way,” Cabrales said. “As an organization, we actively ask political parties to engage Latinos.”Cabrales added that presidential campaigns actively reach out to new Americans in battleground states but often overlook them in the rest of the country.“Latinos that live in California, in New York, in Texas are often forgotten, and don’t hear from candidates requesting them to vote, or even … as to why they should support one candidate over another,” she said. “So there needs to be greater investment across the board, in getting voters to turn out and making sure that the focus is not just on those states that are considered crucial in one election versus another.”Party affiliationOpinion surveys and exit polling data from recent elections show that immigrant voters as a whole tend to lean Democratic, something that doesn’t surprise some Republican operatives.Brendan Steinhauser, a Texas-based GOP consultant, told VOA that rhetoric from the top of the party has caused a perception that Republicans do not welcome immigrants even if they come legally to the United States.Steinhauser, who has worked for Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn, said Cornyn has regularly sent aides to attend naturalization ceremonies in the state.“He did a great job that actually ended up winning the Hispanic vote in Texas [in past elections],” Steinhauser said, adding that, going forward, appealing to new citizens will be imperative for both political parties.“After 2020, regardless of what happens, the Republican Party — just like the Democrats—will have no choice but to appeal to a wide swath of the American people,” he said. “A party that doesn’t do that will not have a future in this country.”Real-life consequencesDue to the COVID-19 pandemic, Olivia Quinto had no family or friends at her side for her recent naturalization ceremony.Originally from the Philippines, Quinto will be voting for the first time November 3 in Texas with her mother, who became a U.S citizen at the beginning of the year.She told VOA much is at stake in the outcome.“This election is going to be about real-life consequences to the people that we love. And so that’s where I have my head [focused],” she said. 


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‘Dark Money’ Campaign Contributions Headed for Record High

Nonprofit organizations and other outside groups that don’t disclose their donors are spending record amounts of money on the 2020 U.S. presidential and congressional races, signaling their growing influence in national politics.These so-called “dark money” groups so far have funneled at least $177 million to independent political action committees, known as super PACs, in the 2020 election cycle, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based group that tracks money in politics.By comparison, those groups gave $178 million in the entire campaign cycle two years ago, according to the center. In addition, dark money groups this time have spent more than $19 million on direct political advertising, a figure that is likely to rise as campaigning picks up its pace in the coming months.Anna Massoglia, a researcher at the Center for Responsive Politics, said spending by super PACs and other outside groups that take money from unidentified sources is on track to set a new record in this two-year election cycle.“Dark money spending has continued to flow into the 2020 election cycle,” Massoglia said in an interview. “We’ve seen dark money influencing and impacting 2020 elections in a few different ways.”Super PACsProponents of political groups that are beneficiaries of contributions from unidentified donors, such as nonprofits and shell corporations, reject the “dark money” label used by their detractors.Regardless of what this practice is called, the prevalence of outside money exploded after a 2010 Supreme Court ruling that said the government could not restrict political spending by corporations and labor unions. That gave rise to the emergence of a new breed of political spending juggernauts – the super PACs.In the decade since the Supreme Court decision known as Citizens United, dark money groups, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have reported nearly $1 billion in direct spending on U.S. elections to the Federal Election Commission, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.While that’s a small fraction of the overall spending on U.S. elections, critics say it has enabled wealthy donors to influence the outcome of elections while keeping voters in the dark about their role.“This is a growing problem, and millions of dollars are going to be flowing into super PACs in the weeks ahead before Election Day,” said Michael Beckel, research director for Issue One, a Washington-based group that monitors the role of money in politics. “Some of that money could be coming from mysterious sources that the public has no idea who it is,” he told VOA.Conservative defenders of anonymous spending dismiss claims of nefarious intent and say that disclosing the names of individual donors could subject them to political intimidation and harassment.When organizations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Planned Parenthood give money to super PACs, they say, voters know that the funds come from their members and backers.“So the idea that this is something that the American people know nothing about and don’t know who’s trying to influence them, I think is often quite false,” said Bradley A. Smith, a former Republican chairman of the Federal Election Commission who now heads the Institute for Free Speech, a conservative group that opposes campaign finance restrictions.Veil of secrecyDark money groups don’t just give money to super PACs and other political organizations. Increasingly, they are funding so-called issue advocacy ads. While carefully avoiding terms such as “vote for” or “vote against” a candidate, these ads can nonetheless cast a candidate in a certain light, Massoglia said.“In doing so, they effectively operate as political ads without having to disclose to the FEC,” Massoglia said.The goal of transparency is at the heart of the U.S. campaign finance system, even if it often is not achieved. By law, all political organizations must disclose their donors to the Federal Election Commission to help voters make more informed decisions about which party or candidate to support. Super PACs are no exception.But examining a super PAC’s FEC disclosure filings won’t lift the veil of secrecy over the true source of their funds.Take, for example, Victory 2020, a new joint fundraising committee involving two super PACs working to elect Democrats this November. One is called American Bridge 21st Century and the other is the pro-Joe Biden group Unite the Country.Victory 2020’s FEC filing shows that $5.7 million out of the $5.9 million it has raised this election cycle came from a progressive outfit called the Sixteen Thirty Fund. But because the Sixteen Thirty Fund is registered as a social welfare organization whose primary purpose is not political, it is not required to disclose its donors. The group says it helps “nonprofit leaders and advocates confront a wide range of challenges,” from climate change to racial justice.This lack of transparency runs the political gamut. On the Republican side, the super PAC Congressional Leadership Fund received $9 million from the conservative American Action Network in June. Like the progressive Sixteen Thirty Fund, the American Action Network is registered as a social welfare organization not required to disclose its donors.On its website, the group says that its “goal is to put our center-right ideas into action by engaging the hearts and minds of the American people and spurring them into active participation in our democracy.”The role of shell companiesWhile nonprofit groups are the most common vehicle for funneling dark money into elections, wealthy donors also use shell companies to fund super PACs.In a recent report, Issue One identified a dozen such shell corporations. Among them: a New York-based company that gave $75,000 to a liberal super PAC in Texas. Issue One said it could not conclusively link the company to any one individual. Other shell companies were apparently formed for the sole purpose of making donations to super PACs.“We’re completely in the dark about where some of these shell companies got the funds,” Beckel of Issue One told VOA.This is a loophole that could be exploited by foreign actors seeking to meddle in U.S. elections, Beckel warned.“The threat is serious, and anyone across the political spectrum could be benefiting from secret money,” he added.In recent years, the Justice Department has charged several individuals accused of giving foreign money to pro-Obama and pro-Trump super PACs.“This is a problem that needs action now, and it is a glaring loophole in campaign finance law that is just waiting to be abused,” according to Beckel.Transparency advocates want Congress to beef up disclosure requirements. A bipartisan bill introduced on Capitol Hill called the Shell Company Abuse Act would make it a crime to set up a shell company with the intent of concealing foreign campaign donations.“Unless Congress puts more teeth in the law, we expect foreign actors to continue to try to abuse this loophole in the system,” Beckel said.


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