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Confusion swirls on border after Trump reversal on families

The Free Press WV

Donald Trump’s order to stop separating migrant children from their parents spread confusion along the border, with officials still working on a plan to reunite families while sending conflicting signals about the state of the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy.

Parents who remained locked up struggled to get in touch with children being held in many cases hundreds of miles away. Some said they didn’t even know where their children were. Others said they had been deported without them.

Trump himself took a hard line on the crisis, accusing the Democrats of telling “phony stories of sadness and grief.”

“We cannot allow our country to be overrun by illegal immigrants,” he tweeted.

A senior Trump administration official said that about 500 of the more than 2,300 children taken from their families at the border in recent weeks have been reunited since May.

Federal agencies are working to set up a centralized reunification process for all remaining children at a detention center on the Texas side of the border, said the official, who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

There were also signs that the administration is dialing back, for now at least, its “zero tolerance” policy of prosecuting all adults caught crossing the border illegally.

The federal public defender’s office for the region that covers El Paso to San Antonio said Thursday that federal prosecutors would be dismissing cases in which parents were charged with illegally entering the country and separated from their children.

“Going forward, they will no longer bring criminal charges against a parent or parents entering the United States if they have their child with them,” wrote Maureen Scott Franco, public defender for the Western District of Texas, in an email shown to the AP.

In the Texas border city of McAllen, federal prosecutors unexpectedly did not pursue charges against 17 immigrants Thursday. A prosecutor cited Trump’s executive order Wednesday ending the practice of separating families.

But the Justice Department denied “zero tolerance” has been rolled back.

“There has been no change to the department’s zero tolerance policy to prosecute adults who cross our border illegally instead of claiming asylum at any port of entry at the border,” spokeswoman Sara Isgur Flores said.

Outside the federal courthouse in McAllen, immigration attorney Efren Olivares said 67 people were charged Friday morning with illegal entry, but none were parents with children.

Olivares said it was the first time since May 24 that no parents charged in McAllen with crossing the border illegally said they were separated from their children.

“It appears that this is a consequence of a change in policy by the government,” he said.

Olivares said it difficult for government agencies to reunite immigrant children with their parents because the systems that process adults and those that handle youngsters often don’t communicate with each other.

Meanwhile, a 7-year-old boy and his mother, separated a month ago, were reunited Friday after she sued in federal court and the Justice Department agreed to release the child.

They were brought back together around 2:30 a.m. at Baltimore-Washington International Airport in Maryland, hours after the government relented.

The mother, Beata Mariana de Jesus Mejia-Mejia, had filed for political asylum after crossing the border with her son, Darwin, following a trek from Guatemala. She said that she cried when the two were reunited and that she is never going to be away from him again.

But a 31-year-old Brazilian man held in Cibola County Correctional Center in Milan, New Mexico, said he didn’t know when he would see his 9-year-old son again.

The father told the AP in a phone interview that he spoke to his son once by phone since they were separated 26 days earlier. The man, who is seeking asylum, spoke on condition of anonymity because, he said, a gang is looking for him in Brazil for failure to pay an $8,000 debt.

The man said he worries about his son, who speaks only Portuguese.

“He cried. He was so sad,” the father said. “I had promised him it would only be three to five days.”

The uncertainty at the border resulted after Trump abruptly reversed policy in the face of an international outcry over the separation of families. The president said he would instead keep children and parents together.

The reversal left a host of unanswered questions, including where the government will house newly detained migrants in an already overcrowded system, and precisely how parents and children will be kept together.

The administration began drawing up plans to house as many as 20,000 migrants on U.S. military bases, though officials gave conflicting explanations as to whether those beds would be for children or for families.

The Justice Department also went to court in an attempt to overturn a decades-old settlement that limits to 20 days the amount of time migrant children can be locked up with their families.

Meanwhile, in yet another abrupt reversal by the president, Trump on Friday told fellow Republicans in Congress to “stop wasting their time” on immigration legislation until after the November elections.

Stubborn differences between conservative and more moderate Republicans have stalled legislation on Capitol Hill.

An ancient way to cut grass, scything’s also a state of mind

The Free Press WV

Spring is ending and summer approaches. The grass is now long, finished growing. For us, it’s time to scythe.

This is a beautiful, and slightly sad, time of year for my wife and me, when the fields of grass and flowers on our 3 acres of farmland in the mountains of northern Sicily must be cut. We would prefer to let them live on: There are deep pink French honeysuckles, purple thistles, yellow dandelions, pale pink and white acanthus, and wispy and lazy grasses.

But that’s not prudent in the dry Mediterranean summer, when fires are an annual threat and long grasses fuel flames. The idea of our olive, almond, ash and fruit trees — not to mention a hundred grape vines I planted this spring — catching fire is a ghastly one.

So, off into the fields we go to scythe — an ancient method of cutting grasses that few people do anymore here in Sicily or elsewhere.

Landowners here have many ways to prevent fires from raging across the countryside. Some use a tractor to “pulire il terreno” (“clean the land”). Many take out weed whackers, masks and gasoline cans to tackle the grasses. Old-timers used to simply pull plants out by the roots and cut grasses by sickle and scythe.

This is our second year of “cleaning up” our land — and we do it the old-fashioned way. I chose to scythe because that’s how my father, Bob Burdeau, has been cutting his grass in Puglia for years. He swears by it, both because he dislikes using machines but also because there is something therapeutic in scything.

On cool spring evenings, we talked by telephone about the differences between scything and using a weed whacker.

“With a weed whacker, the aim is to get the work done,” my father told me. “And you get it done as efficiently as possible ... Because you’re trying to earn money, you’re trying to do something, and you’ve got other things to do.”

“But it’s not as efficient really because you have to get your machine fixed all the time; you’ve got to buy gas and additives for the gas,” he said. “But the sensation is that you’re getting it done. And when you’re doing the scything, you’re not really in that same state of mind. You’re in another state of mind.”

Surprisingly, I found many local farmers of the same mind — even though they use weed whackers and tractors. I helped a friend cut grass in a beautiful olive orchard inside a valley that runs into the Tyrrhenian Sea.

“This is the part of the work I hate the most. I despise weed whackers,” my friend said.

And sure enough it was stressful: Both machines we used broke down, starting and stopping, needing a mechanic’s hand. Clothes got ruined. We smelled of gasoline. I had to wear a mask, safety goggles and ear muffs. After using a weed whacker for a while, your arms are numb from the vibrations.

I have a weed whacker, and I might buy gasoline and raze the edges of the property to make solid firebreaks.

But other than that, our grass is being cut by an Austrian scythe I bought last year from a hardware store in nearby Castelbuono. I am also using a pair of long clippers for cutting around trees and rocks.

When I told Giovanni Spallina, who runs an agriculture shop in Castelbuono, that I used a scythe, he approved.

“The work is better with a scythe,” he said. “It comes out better.”

Sure enough, as we spoke, a farmer showed up at his busy shop, Spallina Natura, with a weed whacker in need of fixing.

This year, I’ve taken a different approach to cutting grass: I decided not to panic about the encroaching sea of grasses and let them grow. Last year, urged by locals and overwhelmed by fast-growing grass, I went out scything in May, in the very heart of flowering — and the experience was excruciating. I suffer from allergies, and after scything for a few hours I’d return to our little farmhouse drenched in sweat and with stinging rashes and welts on my calves and arms. My nose ran without pause, my throat felt like a sandpaper rattle and my eyes were blurry from tears.

The same happened this May when I attempted to cut.

But then I realized that the grass didn’t need to be cut in May. In fact, it is better, local agronomist and naturalist Giuseppe Piro told me, to wait until grasses have reached their maximum growth.

Piro showed me an old scythe among the rusty tools on a property where he makes olive oil with his son. He took the scythe in his hands and demonstrated how old-timers used them, in particular in the higher mountains where vast fields of wheat, barley and other cereals are grown. Sicily was the breadbasket of the Roman Empire.

“Look at the blade,” he said. He ran his finger along it. “Fifty centimeters. With every stroke, 2 meters by 50 centimeters (of grass) go down.”

He talked of the ancient culture of cereal cultivation in the mountains, where he worked as a boy. He remembered seeing men, women and children cutting grass by hand and with the help of mules, working through “waves of grass which sway like the ocean.” The grasses are used for animal feed and human consumption.

Piro said cutters sheathed their fingers with pieces of bamboo to prevent them from getting cut as they used sickles. He remembered how bales of hay were made, how he piloted an ox-pulled sled piled high with hay.

As for the machines, he scornfully pointed out patches along the road where one had been used.

“When you go with a weed whacker, you destroy the grass. You can’t use it for forage,” he said. “It’s all in pieces.”

By the end of May, I was ready to start. I’d had a grip put on our scythe by a blacksmith friend. I’d purchased a big straw hat at the market, and sunglasses. My father had visited and given us some tips on how to dampen the whetstones and sharpen the blade. I had loose-fitting clothing and rubber boots.

And thus, as the deep quiet of June descended, I waded off into the fields.

One stroke at a time, I cut. Sweat beaded on my brow. The slash of the scythe was soothing. Every 10 minutes, I paused to sharpen the blade and listen to summer’s sounds.

Eiffel Tower Gets a Security Upgrade and Then Some

The Free Press WV

Goodbye metal fencing, hello glass walls: Paris authorities are building a permanent security belt around the Eiffel Tower, replacing the current fencing around it with more visually appealing bulletproof glass walls, reports the AP. The company operating France’s most-visited monument says see-through panels are being set up at the north and south ends of the site. Each panel, made from over 2.36-inch thick armored glass, measures nearly 10 feet high and weighs 1.5 tons. In all, 450 glass panels will compose the two walls north and south of the monument. Two graphic grids have been erected on the two other sides of the site and bollards against vehicle ramming attacks will be set up all around. The president of the Société d’Exploitation de la Tour Eiffel, which runs the monument, described the new walls as “rock-solid for absolute security,“ per the BBC. French soldiers and police will keep patrolling outside and inside the area, as they have done since the deadly November 2015 attacks in the French capital.

The glass walls being installed allow visitors to admire the views from the nearby Champ-de-Mars gardens to the other side of the Seine River that cuts through Paris. The renovation is part of a $350 million project announced last year to modernize the 129-year-old tower. The security renovation should be completed by September. “When you are on site, you see that the 3-meter high walls, compared to the scale of the monument, are absolutely not visible,“ said Jose Luis Fuentes, one of the architects in charge of the project. “It will really look as if the square (under the Eiffel Tower) was open.“ Between 6 and 7 million people visit the Eiffel Tower every year. The Eiffel Tower hasn’t always been so popular, according to NPR. Early critics called it a “truly tragic street lamp,“ a “carcass waiting to be fleshed out with freestone or brick,“ and “a half-built factory pipe.“

U.S. poised to announce exit from UN human rights council

The Free Press WV

The Trump administration is poised to announce its departure from the United Nations’ main human rights body in its latest withdrawal from an international institution.

Officials say Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley will deliver the verdict on the U.N. Human Rights Council in a joint appearance at the State Department on Tuesday. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly preview the decision.

Haley threatened the pull-out last year, citing longstanding U.S. complaints that the 47-member council is biased against Israel. But Tuesday’s announcement also comes just a day after the U.N. human rights chief denounced the Trump administration for separating migrant children from their parents.

It also extends a broader Trump administration pattern of stepping back from international agreements and forums under the president’s “America First” policy.

Since taking office, the administration has announced its withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, the U.N. educational and cultural organization and the Iran nuclear deal. Other contentious moves have included slapping tariffs on steel and aluminum against key trading partners, recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving the U.S. Embassy to the holy city from Tel Aviv.

Haley has been the driving force behind the move, which would be unprecedented in the 12-year history of the council. No country has ever dropped out voluntarily. Libya was kicked out seven years ago.

The move could reinforce the perception that the Trump administration is seeking to advance Israel’s agenda on the world stage, just as it prepares to unveil its long-awaited peace plan despite Palestinian outrage over the embassy relocation. Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, is visiting the Middle East this week as the White House works to lay the groundwork for unveiling the plan.

Last year, Haley warned the Geneva-based council that the U.S. would withdraw if it did not end its systematic scrutiny of Israel and its alleged rights abuses against Palestinians.

She denounced the council as a “forum for politics, hypocrisy and evasion” and accused member countries such as Venezuela, Cuba, China, Burundi and Saudi Arabia of failing to fulfill their duties to “uphold the highest standards” of human rights, while emphasizing what she said was the council’s anti-Israel bias.

Since last year, Haley’s office has also pushed the council and its chief not to publish a U.N. database of companies operating in West Bank settlements, a so-called blacklist that Israel is concerned could drive companies away and cast a further pall over its presence in the Palestinian-claimed West Bank.

Israel is the only country in the world whose rights record comes up for discussion at every council session, under “Item 7” on the agenda.

The officials said the administration had concluded that its efforts to promote reform on the council had failed and that withdrawal was the only step it could take to demonstrate its seriousness. It was not immediately clear if the U.S. would remain a non-voting observer on the council.

A full pullout by the U.S. would leave the council without one of its traditional defenders of human rights. In recent months, the United States has participated in attempts to pinpoint rights violations in places like South Sudan, Congo and Cambodia.

There are 47 countries in the Human Rights Council, elected by the U.N.’s General Assembly with a specific number of seats allocated for each region of the globe. Members serve for three-year terms and can only serve two terms in a row.

The United States has opted to stay out of the Human Rights Council before: the administration of President George W. Bush did so when the council was created in 2006. Item 7 on “Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories” has been part of the council’s regular business almost as long as it has existed.

A pullout could be largely symbolic: The United States’ current term on the council ends next year, when it could revert to the observer status held by other countries that are not members. In that situation, the U.S. would be able to speak out on rights abuses, but not to vote.

A key question will be where a U.S. pullout would leave Israel if its biggest and most powerful defender abandons its voting rights or drops out of the council altogether.

The State Department’s web site says protection of fundamental human rights was a “foundation stone” for the United States’ creation over two centuries ago and that promoting respect for human rights since has been a “central goal” of U.S. foreign policy.

Giant 23-Foot Python Swallows Woman Whole

“Attacks on humans are rare,“ read the last story about a 23-foot python swallowing a human in Indonesia. That was in March 2017, and now history repeats its gruesome self, with the victim this time a 54-year-old woman who went to check on her corn. Concerned about wild boar raids on her crops, Wa Tiba set out on the half-mile walk Thursday night. When she didn’t return, her sister went to look for her, finding only a machete, flashlight, and slippers. Searchers soon found a 23-foot reticulated python mere yards away, and the Washington Post notes that “a long bulge midway down its body had a foreboding look to it.“ Villagers killed the snake, and cameras rolling, cut it open to find Wa inside. If you can stomach it, video is in the gallery. The Post notes that the snake likely bit Wa, then suffocated her to death before eating her.

FACT CHECK: Trump’s German crime claims off mark, again

The Free Press WV

After wrongly stating a day earlier that crime in Germany is surging, U.S. President Donald Trump is singling out the European nation again to warn about the alleged danger posed by migrants.

Trump tweeted Tuesday: “Crime in Germany is up 10% plus (officials do not want to report these crimes) since migrants were accepted. Others countries are even worse. Be smart America!”

The claim about an overall rise in crime due to migration is false, as the latest official figures show.

Responding to Trump’s tweets about crime in Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel cited figures showing a nearly 10 percent drop in crime nationwide, bringing it to the lowest level since 1992. She said the statistics “speak for themselves.”

“We see somewhat positive developments there,” Merkel told reporters Tuesday. “Of course, we need to do more to combat crime, but those were indeed encouraging numbers.”

While Trump didn’t cite a source, the figure in his Tuesday tweet may draw on a widely publicized study released earlier this year that showed a 10.4 percent increase in the number of violent crimes reported in the German state of Lower Saxony from 2015 to 2016.

The government-funded study concluded that 92 percent of the roughly 1,700 additional crimes recorded during the period could be attributed to the increase in refugee numbers during those two years. Yet crime numbers in Lower Saxony remain far lower than a decade earlier, before the migrant influx.

The authors noted that the majority of the refugees were young males, and this population is more likely to commit crimes regardless of whether they are migrants or Germans. Experts also say crowded temporary holding facilities can lead to fights among the groups living there, which are reported as assaults.

Far from being swept under the carpet, the findings of the study and a series of high-profile incidents involving refugees have fueled an ongoing debate in Germany about how to tackle migrant crime. That has already resulted in a string of measures to improve the integration of migrants and to deport serious offenders.

Government officials noted that migrants with a greater chance of being able to stay in Germany are less likely to commit crimes than those who have worse prospects. They also pointed to the lack of women among Germany’s refugee population as an aggravating factor, saying family reunification could alleviate the problem.

“This makes it more likely for groups of young men to emerge among the refugees and they can develop a violent dynamic of their own,” the authors wrote, concluding that it makes sense to allow refugees to bring over their families.

Finally, they said victims of crime are twice as likely to report incidents if they are committed by people who are different from them, distorting the statistics.

The study examining recorded violent crimes in Lower Saxony pointed to a year-on-year rise from 17,568 cases in 2015 to 19,267 in 2016.

The latest state crime statistics show violent crime in Lower Saxony fell in 2017, to 18,454 cases — significantly less than a decade earlier, when the figure stood at 22,360 cases.

Ireland to Hold Referendum on Potty Mouth

The Free Press WV

The Irish Constitution has a strict prohibition against potty mouth. “The publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious, or indecent matter is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law,” says Article 40 of the country’s 1937 Constitution. And a 2009 Defamation Act made the act punishable with a $30,000 fine, according to the Washington Post. But that could change. The country is holding a referendum this fall to determine if the blasphemy passage should be deleted from the Constitution, reports the New York Times. The law is not enforced, although a constitutional law scholar said prosecution could occur in an “egregious case,” per the Times. And in fact, a few have run afoul of it, including Stephen Fry, an actor who was reported to the police after saying on TV, “Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain?”

The investigation was eventually dropped, but it sparked outrage and drew attention to the 2009 law, which defines blasphemy as a “matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion,” per the Irish Times. In countries where blasphemy is punished harshly, Ireland’s law is held up as admirable. “We became a Western poster boy for Islamic states and their oppressive practices,” Michael Nugent, a spokesman for an atheism advocacy group, told the New York Times. “It’s never a good look when Pakistan, where people are killed for blasphemy, is speaking approvingly of your laws.” Voters will also weigh in on language regarding women. Critics would be happy to see a section deleted that says, “The state shall, therefore, endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home.” The passage is “very patriarchal,” said one critic. “It never did women any good.”

A Trump Salute Shows Up in North Korea Video

North Korean state media has released video of President Trump returning the salute of a North Korean general at the Singapore summit. The footage set off a debate about whether the benefits of showing mutual respect to the general outweighed the fact that North Koreans could use the film as a propaganda tool to bolster their own credibility. Trump reportedly had been briefed on saluting protocol, which is not to salute military officers from other countries, but rather to shake hands after their salute. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders defended the salute and said it was “common courtesy.” But retired Rear Adm. John Kirby, disagreed and found the moment “striking,“ reports CNN. “(Trump) doesn’t even salute his own generals. They salute him. That’s the way it works.”

“You certainly don’t do it with leaders of foreign military and you most certainly don’t do it with the leaders of foreign militaries of an adversary nation,“ Kirby added. Indeed, North Korean state television has already released a 42-minute documentary that includes the salute. The inclusion of the salute is significant, North Korea scholar Jean Lee tells the Washington Post. The salute will be used “over and over in North Korea’s propaganda” and is “one more moment from a summit that essentially handed legitimacy and invaluable propaganda to Kim Jong Un and North Korea on a silver platter,” Lee said. Some who watched the exchange saw it as a reflexive act rather than a sign of respect. As Col. Jack Jacobs, a Medal of Honor recipient, told NBC, “I would have told him, ‘They’re going to salute you, but don’t return the salute, just move smartly down the line.‘“

U.S., South Korea to Announce Big North Korea Move

The Free Press WV

Seems the US and South Korea really are on the verge of stopping “large-scale” military exercises, Reuters reports. Per Yonhap, a South Korean news agency, the two nations will announce the move this week with the stipulation that exercises with resume if Pyongyang fails to denuclearize as promised. “It costs us a lot of money,“ Trump said Friday of the military drills, per the New York Times. “I save [a] lot of money. That’s a good thing for us.“ Meanwhile, Yonhap says South Korean officials have asked North Korea to move its artillery 20 to 25 miles away from the military demarcation line between the two nations, but South Korea denied making the request.

10 Countries With the Biggest Generation Gap on Religion

The Free Press WV

Is there a generation gap when it comes to religious belief? A new study by Pew Research Center surveyed religious beliefs in 106 countries over the last decade and found that in 46 of them, individuals between the ages of 18 and 39 were less religious than those 40 and over. The only two countries where people under 40 were more likely than their elders to say that religion is “very important” in their lives were Ghana and the former Soviet republic of Georgia. The age gap occurs “in developing countries as well as advanced industrial countries, in Muslim-majority nations as well as predominantly Christian states, and in societies that are, overall, highly religious as well as those that are comparatively secular,” says the report. The 10 countries with the biggest generation gap in religious belief, per the Guardian:

  1. Poland
  2. Greece
  3. China
  4. Romania
  5. Portugal
  6. Lebanon
  7. Lithuania
  8. US
  9. Mexico
  10. Paraguay
Click for the full report.

Vows in the air: German couple married in tightrope wedding

The Free Press WV

A couple in eastern Germany have gotten married in a swing dangling from a motorcycle atop a tightrope, 14 meters (46 feet) above the ground.

The German news agency dpa reported that a pastor standing in a cage atop a fire service ladder presided over the wedding of Nicole Backhaus and Jens Knorr in the town of Stassfurt on Saturday. The couple exchanged rings in the air but, for safety’s sake, waited until they were back on the ground to kiss.

More than 3,000 people watched the wedding in the sky, which took place during a local festival.

The tightrope was stretched between the town wall and a tower, and the motorbike was ridden by Falko Traber, a member of a family of artists.

IMF: Tax cuts boosting U.S. now but will hurt growth later

The Free Press WV

The International Monetary Fund believes the U.S. economy will post solid growth this year and next, helped by a sizable boost from tax cuts. But then it says growth will slide as huge budget deficits drag growth far below the Trump administration’s goals.

In its annual assessment of the U.S. economy, the IMF says growth will hit 2.9 percent this year and 2.7 percent next year. Both are significant increases from last year’s 2.3 percent expansion. However, after an initial boost from the $1.5 trillion tax cut package, the IMF forecasts growth will slow steadily in future years, dropping to 1.4 percent in 2023.

This forecast is far below the Trump administration’s predictions of 3 percent or better growth in coming years.

The economic growth, as measured by the gross domestic product, that the IMF is forecasting for this year would be the fastest pace since a similar gain in 2015. That gain stood out in what has been the weakest economic recovery of the postwar period, with annual GDP growth averaging just slightly above 2 percent.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump pledged to double the growth rates with a program of tax cuts, deregulation and tougher enforcement of U.S. trade laws. Since taking office, Trump has often pointed to recent GDP gains as proof his economic program is beginning to work.

The IMF review lays out a less optimistic path, forecasting that GDP will grow 1.9 percent in 2020, then gradually slow to 1.4 percent in 2023.

“Despite good near-term prospects, a number of vulnerabilities are being built up,” the IMF said.

The report said that with the tax cuts and expected increases in defense and domestic programs, the federal budget deficit as a percentage of the total economy will exceed 4.5 percent of GDP by next year — nearly double what it was just three years ago.

This big boost in the U.S. government deficit is “quite rare,” the IMF said. It has not been seen since in the United States since President Lyndon Johnson in the late 1960s boosted spending on the Vietnam War at the same time it was adopting the Johnson’s Great Society programs.

The IMF said this stimulus will provide a near-term boost, but it will also increase future risks including exacerbating the “already unsustainable” rise in government debt. The IMF projected the level of the federal government’s debt will exceed 90 percent of GDP by 2024.

This report said the current policies will elevate future risks by increasing the government’s debt burden. The IMF suggests that to trim future deficits, the US may need to take politically painful steps such as trimming Social Security benefits and imposing higher taxes on consumers.

Secret Russian Order Could Be ‘Catastrophic’ for Historians

The Free Press WV

A museum studying Soviet prison camps said Friday it has discovered a secret Russian order in 2014 instructing officials to destroy data on prisoners—a move it said “could have catastrophic consequences for studying the history of the camps.“ Up to 17 million people were sent to the Gulag, the notorious Soviet prison camp system, in the 1930s and 1940s, and at least 5 million of them were convicted on false testimony. Case files of the Gulag prisoners were often destroyed, but their personal data was kept on registration cards, which are still held by police and intelligence officials. Moscow’s Gulag History Museum said Friday it has discovered a classified 2014 order that instructed Russian officials to destroy the registration cards of prisoners who had reached the age of 80—which now would include almost all of them, reports the AP.

The museum’s archive expert, Alexander Makeyev, told the Interfax agency they discovered that the cards had been destroyed in one region, the remote Magadan in the Far East, home to some of the Soviet Union’s biggest deadly prison camps. Repressions perpetrated under Soviet dictator Josef Stalin left a profound scar on the Russian nation, destroying lives and displacing millions. But in recent years, under President Vladimir Putin, Russian officials have made efforts to play down Stalin’s terror, hailing the Soviet leader for building a new economy and helping the Soviet Union win World War II. The Gulag History Museum said Friday it has appealed to the Russian presidential human rights council to look into the classified order.

She Needed Someone to Kill a Spider, So She Ordered KFC

The Free Press WV

You can’t say millennials aren’t resourceful. Take Demi Sweeney, a 22-year-old student in the UK, who ordered $17 worth of KFC grub just so the delivery driver would kill an inch-wide spider. Afraid of the spider “blocking” the stairway from her room to the downstairs (the spider was apparently on the wall near the ceiling), Sweeney asked uneager friends, one of whom suggested she order food and hope for an obliging delivery driver.

Taking that advice—“I was hungry and thirsty at this point because I couldn’t go downstairs to get any food,“ Sweeney tells Metro—she left a special note on her Deliveroo order. Despite his own arachnophobia, Sweeney’s “real life hero,“ identified as Joe, got the job done, per Munchies. Sweeney is now only concerned that her new method of dealing with spiders “might get a bit expensive.“

More Americans Sent Home Amid China ‘Sonic Attack’ Fears

The Free Press WV

Something strange is happening to American diplomats and their families at a US Consulate in China—and it has disturbing echoes of the mysterious attacks on Americans in Cuba. The State Department evacuated at least two more Americans from China Wednesday after they fell ill with what one of them, security officer Mark Lenzi, describes as “neurological symptoms,“ the New York Times reports. Another employee returned to the US in April after experiencing “abnormal sensations” and was found to have suffered a “mild traumatic brain injury” from an unknown source. Officials say some of the 170 US Consulate workers in Guangzhou and their families will be tested by a team of State Department doctors that arrived in the southern Chinese city last week. State Department officials say the Chinese government is also investigating.

Lenzi tells the Washington Post that in April last year, he started hearing a sound like “marbles bouncing and hitting a floor, then rolling on an incline with a static sound.“ Victims of the suspected “sonic attacks” in Cuba reported hearing similar sounds. Soon after the noises began, Lenzi says, he began experiencing sleeplessness and severe headaches, as did his wife and their 3-year-old son. He says he initially suspected his next-door neighbor, a fellow American—and later found out that the man was the one sent home in April. He says officials have been downplaying the problem and lying about how many people were affected. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced this week that a new task force has been created to investigate such incidents involving US diplomats overseas, the Guardian reports.

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