Transatlantic controversy surrounds the departure of Britain’s ambassador to the US, Kim Darroch, who resigned Wednesday after making candid and unflattering remarks about U.S. President Donald Trump in classified diplomatic cables. His comments were leaked to news media Sunday. Trump later tweeted his displeasure with both Darroch and outgoing British Prime Minister Theresa May. Arash Arabasadi reports.
The Democratic presidential field continues to shift as one candidate drops out and another joins a crowded group hoping to oust President Donald Trump from office next year. Former Vice President Joe Biden remains the leading contender but finds himself fending off increasingly strong challenges from two senators—Kamala Harris of California and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more on the shifting sands of the Democratic race from Washington.
Britain and Canada established a fund Wednesday to train and provide legal support for journalists in some of the world’s hot spots.
The two nations hope other countries will also contribute to the Global Media Defense Fund, which will be administered by UNESCO.
Britain is donating about $3.8 million, and Canada kicked in about $765,000.
Britain also announced it was launching a separate, $18.8 million program to combat what many see as a growing crisis for independent media worldwide.
The new fund was announced in a keynote address by British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt at the Global Conference for Media Freedom in London. The conference, which continues Thursday, is co-hosted by Canada and Britain.
In his speech, Hunt told the story of reporter Francisco Romero Diaz, who was killed in May in southern Mexico, to illustrate the dangers faced by a growing number of journalists each year. Last year, Hunt said, nearly 100 journalists were killed — more than twice the annual toll just a decade ago.
Amal Clooney, a lawyer and activist who defended two Reuters reporters recently freed from jail in Myanmar, noted that Washington-based Freedom House, which publishes an annual report on world press freedom, recorded its 13th consecutive year of decline in its global freedom index.
“This decline in media freedom doesn’t only mean that journalists have fewer rights,” she said. “It means we all have.”
Money not enough
The cash pledged Wednesday is earmarked for training journalists, paying legal expenses and creating other support systems. But some of the reporters and editors covering the conference are calling for more direct and decisive action by world leaders to protect journalists and punish those who kill them.
Clooney and Hunt both noted that more often than not, the killers of journalists aren’t punished for their crimes. That’s especially true when the perpetrators are government officials. And leaders of other nations often appear disinclined to try to hold their counterparts accountable.
“When Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist, was tortured to death and dismembered by Saudi Arabian officials in Istanbul, the world responded with little more than a collective shrug,” Clooney said.
During a question-and-answer period, a Canadian reporter asked Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chrystia Freeland, why Canada and other Group of 20 countries didn’t strip Saudi Arabia of its hosting privileges for next year’s conference over the Khashoggi killing.
Freeland explained that Canada expressed its concern for the “atrocious murder” and sanctioned 17 Saudis believed to be connected to the killing. But the G-20, as an economic organization, isn’t the appropriate venue for a values dispute.
“We do need to have places where we attend meetings and talk, even with those countries that are acting in ways that are 100% opposed to our values,” she said.
Agnes Callamard, U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions who investigated Khashoggi’s slaying, said during an afternoon session that it’s time for countries to stand up to leaders who target journalists and commit other crimes.
“We have to stop the bullies,” she said. “There are bullies around the world using their influence. But they are doing so because we are silent. I’m past calling for hope. We need courage.”
The number of people apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border declined in June, breaking a six-month streak of dramatic increases and prompting the Trump administration to quickly — though cautiously — claim an early victory in its negotiations for stricter border enforcement in Mexico.
The number of unauthorized border crossers detained by the U.S. Border Patrol in June fell to 94,897, a 28% decline from May, according to Wednesday’s data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
Apprehensions declined as summer temperatures climbed and Mexico ramped up its own border enforcement following an agreement with the U.S. to avoid a tariff President Donald Trump threatened to levy.
“What we see in June is that our strategy is working. The president’s engagement with Mexico, the deal to enforce immigration security on their southern border … that’s clearly having an impact on the flow,” acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan told CNN on Tuesday, hours after his agency released preliminary estimates for June.
Reasons behind fluctuations
Migrants from Central America’s Northern Triangle countries — El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras — make up the majority of apprehensions. However, migration numbers fluctuate for various reasons, including changes in season, political climate, policy and weather.
In part, “we generally do have a small decline in June due to the high summer temperatures,” a senior CBP official told reporters, acknowledging that there may be more than one factor causing last month’s decrease in apprehensions.
The official added that the agency is “very optimistic … as Mexico continues to deploy resources to their southern border and continues to beef up their border security.”
The number of apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico border usually reaches a peak in March, before declining steadily over the summer months. But this year, that reversal did not happen. Instead, that number spiked in May to more than 132,000.
“The logistics of this flow is different than the U.S. has ever seen. And the size is different than Mexico has ever seen,” Andrew Selee, president of the Washington-based Migration Policy Institute, told VOA.
The drop in apprehensions from May to June shows “clearly there’s an effect of Mexico’s enforcement policies,” Selee said. “Is the Mexico enforcement policy coherent? No. They threw together an enforcement response to stave off the threat from the Trump administration. It’s had a dissuasive effect — but only so far.”
In the wake of the tariff threat, Mexico deployed members of its newly formed National Guard — more like a national police force than a military branch — to its northern and southern borders to curb the passage of migrants.
The senior CBP official who spoke to reporters Wednesday said Mexican forces have been able to reduce the number of travelers in large groups attempting to cross into the U.S. In one case, the official said, “instead of having 200 [unauthorized border crossers] to deal with, we ended up having approximately 60 apprehensions.”
Families and unaccompanied children still make up the majority of unauthorized border crossers, a senior CBP official told reporters during a media call Wednesday.
For years, single adults — largely men — made up the bulk of apprehensions, at a time when agricultural, seasonal work was a major draw. But that has changed over the years, and in 2019 in particular.
U.S. border detention centers were ill-equipped to handle the changed demographics. In recent months, media reports, activists, lawyers and the government’s own internal investigators have criticized the quality of care for those in Border Patrol custody, especially in facilities for children.
From a peak in late May of more than 2,500 children held by CBP, the agency now has around 200, the senior official told reporters.
The children are being transferred to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the agency tasked with caring for unaccompanied minors until their immigration or asylum cases are adjudicated, or until suitable guardians are located.
U.S. lawmakers will again question the acting DHS secretary in a hearing on July 12 over border policies and the treatment of detained migrants.
Volunteers on Wednesday began the cleanup of plastic bags and trash in Japan’s famous Nara Park to try to protect the area’s wild deer.
Park officials said nine of 14 deer that have died since March had masses of tangled plastic in their stomachs, with the heaviest amount weighing 4.3 kilograms (9.5 pounds).
The picturesque park in Japan’s capital is home to more than 1,000 sika deer that are considered sacred and have protected “national treasure” status.
Tourists may feed the deer special crackers, “shika senbei,” that are sugar-free and not wrapped in plastic. Officials of the Nara Deer Welfare Foundation say some visitors offer the animals other types of snacks.
“The deer probably think that the snacks and the plastic packs covering them are both food,” foundation official Yoshitaka Ashimura said. “The only way to prevent this is to remove all the garbage.”
Two drug trials may promise some relief for people who suffer from migraine headaches as well as those who have cluster headaches, a rare but intensely painful type of headache thought to be related to migraine.
According to a study in The New England Journal of Medicine, two injections of the drug galcanezumab reduced the frequency of episodic cluster headaches (ECH). And in a separate study in the same issue of the journal, an experimental oral drug made migraine pain quickly go away for one in five sufferers.
Cluster headaches typically appear at least once a day — often at the same time of the day or night — for weeks or months. The pain is typically around one eye. They eventually go away for a while but can return after an absence of months or years.
In the galcanezumab study, 106 volunteers received two injections of the anti-migraine medicine or a placebo, spaced one month apart. The drug cut the average number of episodic cluster headaches by 51% during the first three weeks of treatment, from 17.8 per week down to 9.1 per week. Placebo injections produced a 30% reduction, from 17.3 per week to 12.1 per week.
Relief for many
Almost three-quarters of participants saw some reduction in headache frequency compared with about half of those on placebo.
“Some patients get completely suppressed and many partially so,” lead author Dr. Peter Goadsby of King’s College London told Reuters Health in an email. “I do not think one can overstate how bad a cluster attack is.”
To be eligible for the study, patients had to have at least one attack every other day but not more than eight per day. The typical volunteer had been dealing with the headaches for more than 16 years. The average age was about 46 years old and more than 82% were men.
Each 300 mg injection costs about $1,400, according to the website goodrx.com. Galcanezumab is sold under the brand name Emgality by Eli Lilly, and the company paid for the study.
“Patients report ECH attacks as the most severe pain they experience, bar none,” including childbirth and kidney stones, said Goadsby, director of the NIHR-Wellcome Trust King’s Clinical Research Facility and SLaM Biomedical Research Centre.
“Imagine what it’s like to give birth one to eight times a day, every day, for eight to 12 weeks a year. Imagine not a single full night’s sleep for eight to 12 weeks and you know next year it will be the same,” he said. “This development is really important for these patients.”
And it may spark the development of treatments that are even more effective, he added.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the drug as a first-ever treatment for episodic cluster headaches in June. The company estimates that about 250,000 people in the United States suffer from them.
For many, a migraine per month
In contrast, migraine headaches plague about 39 million people in the U.S., primarily women. Three-quarters of people who have migraines experience at least one per month.
The migraine study looked at Biohaven Pharmaceuticals’ experimental oral drug rimegepant, and was financed by Biohaven.
Researchers found that 19.6% of the 537 volunteers who took it while suffering from a migraine were free of pain within two hours compared with 12% of the 535 volunteers given placebos.
Half the patients in both groups had their pain relapse two to 48 hours after the dose. Unlike conventional treatment with triptan drugs, taking a second dose doesn’t provide additional relief, lead author Dr. Richard Lipton, director of the Montefiore Headache Center in New York City, told Reuters Health in a telephone interview.
“Triptans are well-established therapies; maybe 25% of people with migraines are currently on a triptan,” said Lipton, who is also in the department of neurology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. “If it works well for them, they’re not going to be candidates on this drug. This is for people with contraindications for a triptan” or people who get no relief from triptans.
Triptan therapy costs about $7,000 a year, he said, and when it comes to rimegepant, “I’m very hopeful the drug will be affordable because there are a lot of people who need it.”
The White House is launching an investigation into France’s proposed tax on internet giants like Google, Amazon and Facebook — a move that could lead to U.S. taxes on French imports.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer expressed concern that the tax, expected to be passed by the French Senate Thursday, “unfairly targets American companies.”
Lighthizer’s agency will investigate the tax under Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974 — the same provision the Trump administration used last year to probe China’s technology policies, leading to tariffs on $250 billion worth of Chinese imports.
The French digital services tax would impose a 3% annual levy on French revenues of digital companies with yearly global sales worth more than 750 million euros ($844 million) and French revenue exceeding 25 million euros.
France’s lower house of parliament approved the pioneering tax last week.
The bill aims to stop multinationals from avoiding taxes by setting up headquarters in low-tax EU countries. Currently, the companies pay nearly no tax in countries where they have large sales like France.
The tax primarily targets those that use consumers’ data to sell online advertising. The French Finance Ministry has estimated that the tax would raise about 500 million euros annually ($563 million) at first — but predicted that collections would rise “quickly.”
The tech industry warns it could lead to higher costs for consumers. The levy could affect U.S. companies including Airbnb and Uber as well as those from China and Europe.
Bob Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, issued a statement welcoming Lighthizer’s investigation. “Digital services taxes are an ill-disguised effort to target companies that are thought to be too powerful, too profitable, and too American,” Atkinson said.
The administration also got some bipartisan support from the top members of the Senate Finance Committee. In a joint statement, Republican Chuck Grassley of Iowa, committee chairman, and Democrat Ron Wyden of Oregon said: “The digital services tax that France and other European countries are pursuing is clearly protectionist and unfairly targets American companies in a way that will cost U.S. jobs and harm American workers.”
Wealthy American financier Jeffrey Epstein, charged with sex trafficking in underage girls, is now confined to a cell in a fortress-like concrete tower jail that has been criticized by inmates and lawyers for harsh conditions.
After his arrest on Saturday at New Jersey’s Teterboro Airport on arrival from Paris in his private plane, Epstein was likely put in solitary confinement at the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) in lower Manhattan, according to defense lawyers and others familiar with the jail.
“When you have someone that’s allegedly a sexual predator like Jeffrey Epstein, he’ll need to be in protective custody,” Andrew Laufer, a lawyer who has represented MCC inmates in civil lawsuits against prison officials, said in an interview.
Epstein pleaded not guilty in the nearby federal court on Monday to one count of sex trafficking and one count of sex trafficking conspiracy. He will remain in jail at least until a bail hearing on July 15. Federal prosecutors have said he is a flight risk because of his wealth and international ties.
In the past, Epstein, 66, was known for socializing with politicians and royalty, with friends who have included U.S. President Donald Trump, former president Bill Clinton and, according to court papers, Britain’s Prince Andrew. None of those people was mentioned in the indictment and prosecutors declined to comment on anyone said to be associated with Epstein.
The indictment said Epstein made young girls perform nude “massages” and other sex acts, and paid some girls to recruit others, from at least 2002 to 2005 at his mansion in New York and estate in Florida.
Marc Fernich, a lawyer for Epstein, declined to comment on Epstein’s current conditions.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) said it does not release information on an inmate’s conditions of confinement for safety and security reasons.
The MCC houses about 800 inmates, most of whom are awaiting trial and have not been convicted. Prominent inmates have included New York Mafia bosses, the fraudster Bernie Madoff and the Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.
Inmates and defense lawyers have complained of rat and cockroach infestations and uncomfortable extremes of heat and cold or problems with the water supply.
The jail’s harshest unit, known colloquially as “10 South”, has been compared unfavorably to the U.S. prison camp Guantanamo Bay. In 2011, rights group Amnesty International said the unit, which has also been used to house people accused of terrorism, flouts “international standards for humane treatment.”
One defense lawyer, who asked to remain anonymous, said that Epstein is likely in “9 South,” a separate special housing unit.
Inmates in protective custody are allowed out of their cell for recreation only one hour a day, according to BOP guidelines and interviews with lawyers.
Laufer and other lawyers said they believed that high-profile defendants such as Epstein enjoyed better protections than most, in part because prison officials are mindful of the embarrassment that harm to a well-known inmate could bring.
If Epstein is moved into a general population unit, he would have access to a shared common space with a television used by other inmates in the unit.
There, however, he would likely be a target for other inmates both because of his wealth and because he is a registered sex offender following his 2008 conviction for soliciting a girl for prostitution in Florida.
“The sex offenders have a hard time,” Jack Donson, a former BOP employee who now works as a federal prison consultant in New York, said in an interview. “He’s definitely going to get ostracized.”
There are fewer activities and diversions for inmates at the MCC compared to some other jails, Donson said.
“It’s pretty confining, pretty boring, not dangerous, but still no picnic,” Donson said. “Especially if you’re a man of wealth: one minute you’re on your yacht or in a helicopter; next minute you’re sitting at a table playing cards with the boys.”