The new chief of U.S.-funded global media is facing a conservative backlash over his decision to fire the heads of two international broadcasters, adding to concerns about the direction of the agency, which oversees the Voice of America and other outlets.
The criticism of Michael Pack, who defended his personnel moves, is unusual because it’s coming from supporters of President Donald Trump who had backed his controversial nomination to run the U.S. Agency for Global Media over staunch Democratic objections.
Trump allies, including former adviser Sebastian Gorka, have offered public support for the ousted head of the Middle East Broadcasting Networks, Alberto Fernandez, while others have taken issue with the firing of the head of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Jamie Fly.
Pack, a conservative filmmaker and onetime associate of Trump adviser Steve Bannon, sacked both of them late Wednesday in a purge of USAGM’s outlets, which also include Radio Free Asia and the Cuba-focused Radio/TV Marti. Those moves have alarmed Democrats who fear Pack intends to turn the agency into a Trump administration propaganda machine.
“Every action I carried out was — and every action I will carry out will be — geared toward rebuilding the USAGM’s reputation, boosting morale, and improving content,” Pack said in a statement released by the new agency’s new public affairs staff.
The statement called the moves “significant and long-overdue” and said Pack and his team are “committed to eradicating the known mismanagement and scandals that have plagued the agency for decades.”
In addition to the agency chiefs, Pack dismissed veteran broadcast news executive Steve Capus, who had been a senior adviser to the organization and its leadership, according to two congressional aides and an AGM employee, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the matter publicly. Capus, who was previously president of NBC News for nearly eight years, did not respond to a query sent to an AGM work email address.
And, he ousted the head of the Open Technology Fund, a non-broadcast arm of the AGM that works to provide secure internet access to people around the world. Last week, Fund chief Libby Liu submitted her resignation, effective in mid-July, but she was removed with the others.
There was no public explanation of why Pack would dismiss any of the officials, let alone those favored by conservatives beyond the general statement of improving the agency.
The firing of Fernandez, in particular, has raised conservative hackles. A former career diplomat fluent in Arabic, Fernandez had been hailed by conservatives for bringing what they saw as balance to the Arabic-language outlets AlHurra television and Radio Sawa.
“Ambassador Fernandez was the greatest asset America had in foreign broadcasting,” Gorka wrote on Twitter shortly after the dismissals became public.
Michael Doran, a former National Security Council and State Department official during President George W. Bush’s administration, called Fernandez’s ouster “asinine” and said that without him, “Pack will be as effective as a drugged bug in a bottle.”
David Reaboi, a noted conservative national security analyst, was even more critical, calling Fernandez’s removal “shameful.” “It was unusual for the pro-American side to get represented, and Alberto always made sure it did,” he told the AP. “It was a model for recapturing territory from the far left and righting the ship.“
“Michael Pack gets confirmed by the Senate and, rather than take stock and talk to people who know what’s happening, he fired everybody,” Reaboi wrote. “Michael Pack destroyed that because he was too dumb to listen — or too dumb to be able to figure out the difference between friends and enemies.”
The dismissal of Fly, a former staffer for Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., also attracted criticism, including from Mark Dubowitz, a well-known advocate of the Trump administration’s hawkish policies on Iran. “Poor decision to fire (Fernandez) and (Fly) whose exemplary leadership of MBN and RFE/RL respectively, made America’s public diplomacy more effective, more persuasive and more consistent with American interests and values,” he wrote.
Juan Zarate, a Republican former NSC and Treasury staffer, agreed, calling the two dismissals “incomprehensible.” “I’ve watched both for years work with integrity to promote US interests abroad,” he wrote.
In addition to Fernandez and Fly, Pack also removed the head of Radio Free Asia, Bay Fang, and the acting chief of the Office of Cuba Broadcasting on Wednesday. He replaced each outlet’s corporate board of directors with allies and installed himself as chairman of each.
One of the people added to the board of Radio Free Asia, Jonathan Alexandre, attracted particular concern from Democrats who noted that he is also director of public policy for the conservative Liberty Counsel, a group that the Southern Poverty Law Center has designated a hate group for opposing gay rights.
The director and deputy director of the Voice of America, Amanda Bennett and Sandy Sugawara, resigned from their positions on Monday. Taken together, top House Democrats who oversee AGM funding said Pack’s moves were dangerous.
“That Mr. Pack took this drastic measure in his first week on the job is shocking, and we have deep concerns that he takes the helm of a critical agency with the intent to prioritize the Trump administration’s political whims over protecting and promoting independent reporting, which is a pillar of freedom and democracy,” said Eliot Engel, chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Nita Lowey, chair of the House Appropriations Committee.
The top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, denounced the firings as an “egregious breach” of the agency’s mission. Menendez had led an unsuccessful fight to block or at least delay Pack’s confirmation.
In this world where families send their love through glass divides and locked doors, due to coronavirus, a virtual hug has to be good enough.
Now a family from Northern Ireland are sharing their story, in a bid to boost emergency funds for Marie Curie.
It is one of the biggest charities caring for terminally-ill patients in Northern Ireland.
But it has said it is deeply concerned about the impact coronavirus restrictions will have on its fundraising efforts.
The charity is backing an urgent appeal to the chancellor for financial support.
The toughest part
Kate Sloan, 64, has cancer and is currently in the Marie Curie Hospice in Belfast.
She and her husband, Paddy, from Loughinisland, County Down, have been together for 35 years.
Coronavirus has been the toughest part of their hospice journey, said Paddy.
When coronavirus meant their children and grandchildren would be unable to hug Kate on Mother’s Day, they figured out a way to be there for her – no matter what.
“They just want to see their mummy and nanny, however, they know that what they’re doing by distancing themselves is vital to the health of Kate and other patients,” he said.
But on Mother’s Day, they made “an amazing effort” to make it special.
‘Part of the family’
“Our son, Aidan, and his wife brought their four children down to see their nanny – and although it was looking through a window holding up a ‘Happy Mother’s Day’ sign, it most definitely helped make the day that much easier.
“Our daughter, Roisin, also arrived with a little bag of essentials, waving and smiling through the window, and even that little bit of interaction put a big smile on Kate’s face,” he said.
“It’s difficult, and with present circumstances I know that not being able to hug their mum, or just sit at her bedside and hold her hand, is hard on them but they are glad the facilities at the hospice have enabled me to stay with her and be here for her.”
Mr Sloan said Marie Curie had become “an extension of our family” and were there not only for Kate, but for all of them.
“Due to her illness, Kate is unable to eat or speak, but that hasn’t stopped her personality shining through and the care from the Marie Curie nurses has been so good.
“As I’m able to stay with Kate overnight there is no need for me to leave her side, which is the only place I want to be.”
‘Devastating loss of income’
The network of Marie Curie hospices and community nurses rely on donations to cover the £200,000-a-week running costs.
But its ability to generate this money has been seriously compromised by the pandemic.
It is backing an urgent appeal to the chancellor for financial support.
“We are facing a devastating loss of income,” said Ciara Gallagher, head of partnerships and philanthropy.
She said the charity has had to make “tough decisions locally” to postpone and cancel a number of fundraising events.
“We estimate this will be a loss of approximately £350,000 from these events alone,” she added.
Cabinet received an update from the health secretary and the prime minister on the coronavirus outbreak. The PM wished Nadine Dorries a speedy recovery, noting that she was following official advice to self-isolate.
The chancellor set out the measures being taken to manage the impact of coronavirus, laying out details of his economic action plan that will be announced at budget.
He outlined how this plan – combined with the measures announced by the governor of the Bank of England this morning – will make the UK one of the best placed economies in the world to manage the potential impact of the virus. The chancellor added the budget will ensure businesses, the public and those in public services working on the front line against the virus get the support they need.
He said despite the impacts of the outbreak being uncertain, we have the economic tools to overcome the disruption caused by the virus and move the country forwards.
The chancellor also said that despite coronavirus being “front and centre in our minds”, the budget will implement the manifesto on which the government had been elected. He said it was vital that people know this is a budget that delivers on the promises made to the British people – investing in public services and cutting taxes for millions of hardworking people – and that there could be no delay in laying the foundations for a decade of growth where opportunity was spread equally across the UK.
The PM said that this budget starts to tackle head on the challenges facing our economy and country – addressing productivity and regional imbalances – and showing that the government is responding to the public’s desire for change. It will set the path for further action through the year.
ALMATY, Kazakhstan — It was snowing the day that she stepped out from the heavy iron gates of the Chinese internment camp where she had spent much of the 39th year of her life. Tursunay Ziyawudun was free — but the beauty of the soft snowfall blanketing the farmland only made her empty and sad. She thought, she later said, that she had lost the ability to feel.
Ziyawudun, 41, is one of just a handful of Uighur Muslims who have made it out of one of China’s now-notorious camps for Muslim minorities and gone abroad — to neighboring Kazakhstan.
After nearly 10 months locked up without ever being charged with a crime, Ziyawudun was released in December 2018. In Kazakhstan, Ziyawudun thought she was finally safe after months of nightmares, interrogations, and ritual humiliations at the hands of camp officials. Her long hair was lopped off, she was forced to watch endless hours of state propaganda on television, and every second of her life was filmed by security cameras. Each night, she had struggled to sleep, terrified she might be raped.
Her husband is a citizen of Kazakhstan, and she was initially granted a visa to stay. Things were looking up. But last year, she was given some terrible news — she must return to China to apply for a new type of Kazakh visa if she wanted to stay.
The Kazakh government says this is a procedural matter, but Ziyawudun knows that returning to China will likely mean she will be sent back to captivity.
China has locked up more than a million Uighurs, Kazakhs, and other Muslim minorities in hundreds of internment camps in its far western region of Xinjiang. The campaign, which the Chinese government says exists to combat extremism and “reeducate” the population, has been condemned by the US, the EU parliament, UN authorities, and global human rights organizations. Kazakhstan, which borders Xinjiang, is a destination for thousands of ethnic Kazakhs fleeing the campaign. However, Uighurs like Ziyawudun have limited rights to settle there.
Ziyawudun is one of a small number of former detainees who have spoken publicly about their experiences in the camps despite being explicitly told to keep quiet by Chinese officials. Because the Chinese government heavily restricts movements and access for independent journalists in Xinjiang, it is difficult to verify many of the details that she describes. But her story dovetails closely with accounts of other camp survivors from the same prefecture interviewed by BuzzFeed News, ranging from the appearance and structure of the camp’s buildings to the everyday tasks and activities that took place inside.
Ziyawudun also provided identification and immigration records, including correspondence with Kazkakh immigration authorities, to BuzzFeed News as a means of corroborating her story.
Ziyawudun told her story in the bedroom of a cramped apartment in the city of Almaty — a few hours from the village where she now lives. Wearing dark jeans and a soft blue headscarf, Ziyawudun’s voice was hoarse from the dry cough she was battling. But still, she spoke for hours. At first her tone was acerbic, skeptical that there was any point in talking to a journalist. She was quick to laugh at the absurdity of life inside the camp, where Communist Party of China films were termed “education” and having lived abroad amounted to proof of “unreliability” as a citizen.
But when she spoke about the precariousness of her new life in Kazakhstan — and the possibility she might be sent back to China to face internment again — her body heaved with sobs. “I am terrified,” she said. “If I am going to be sent back to China, I have already made up my mind. I will kill myself.”
Ziyawudun was born in the summer of 1978 in a tiny hamlet in Yili, a part of Xinjiang where ethnic Kazakhs are the dominant minority group. Of about 300 households in the village, her family, who raised cattle on their small farm, were among only five Uighur homes, but she never felt like an outsider. Her village was surrounded by hills, and nearby there was a spring with water so pure you could drink from it.
After she got married, she moved to Kazakhstan with her husband, an ethnic Kazakh from the same region as her, and ended up living there for five years. There, she worked at a medical clinic. She crossed the border back to China in November 2016 with her husband and was immediately detained and interrogated for half an hour. The police made it clear, she said, that it was because she was Uighur. Later, when she got to her brother’s hometown, the local police called her into a station again — this time to have her iris scanned, her voice recorded, her saliva swabbed and fingerprints taken. On her way home, she was stopped at a roadside checkpoint and an actual alarm went off, likely signifying she was on a government blacklist.
“I was terrified and ashamed. People were surrounding me, looking at me like I was a criminal,” she said. “In retrospect, it was a sign that I would be taken to a camp.”
Police also seized her passport, as well as her husband’s — a common measure taken to prevent Muslim minorities in the region from traveling.
Months passed without further incident, but then in April 2017 police called her to a meeting. It turned out to be a lecture in a big conference hall with other Uighurs and Kazakhs from the area. Government officials told everyone present that they needed to “get some education.”
From there, the police drove them to a place that they called a “vocational training school.” At the time, Ziyawudun was terrified — but in the context of the many worse things that followed, the facility now seems tame to her.
“To be honest, it wasn’t that bad,” she said. “We had our phones. We had meals in the canteens. Other than being forced to stay there, everything else was fine.”
In the evenings, the instructors taught the detainees to do traditional Chinese dances in the yard of the building, she said. Sometimes there were lectures — an imam working for the state might come in and talk about how important it was to avoid “extreme” practices like wearing headscarves.
Ziyawudun was released a few weeks later. She was relieved, but her husband was panicking. He had heard from relatives that the situation was changing — for the worse. They would later learn that that year was the first of the government’s campaign that would see hundreds of thousands of Muslim minorities swept up into internment camps for reasons ranging from listening to religious sermons to downloading WhatsApp. Ziyawudun’s husband went back and forth to the local police station, begging them to return their passports.
Finally, months later, police relented. One of them could return to Kazakhstan for good, the police said, but the other had to stay as a kind of “guarantor.” If the person who left criticized the Chinese government while abroad, the one who stayed could be locked up as punishment, or worse.
Ziyawudun’s husband is significantly older than her, and as an ethnic Kazakh, he would have an easier time staying in Kazakhstan. She let him go instead of her. Anyway, she thought, there wasn’t much to worry about. Her stay in the previous camp had been strange but brief. Whatever came next, she thought, she was strong enough to handle it.
On March 9, 2018, the police came for her again — she needed, in their words, more “education.”
But the compound where she was taken now looked completely different.
When the police car pulled up at the building, she saw a newly built, menacing entrance with huge metal gates, guarded by armed police. Brick walls towered above her, and loops of barbed wire circled the top.
Inside, an area where before there had been trees and grass was the site of a new five-story building. She found out later that it was meant for the most serious offenders.
Many people were being processed into the compound that day. “There were hundreds of people, young and old, men and women,” Ziyawudun said. She saw women wailing, demanding to know what would become of their young children. Police told the women to take off their necklaces and earrings. Nothing metal was allowed in the compound, even zippers on their clothes. Ziyawudun said it was the scariest day of her life.
A group of women filed to a dormitory building in the compound — a different building than the one where she had stayed before — flanked by armed guards. Each room, she saw, had a heavy metal door on the front. There was a communal bathroom in the hall, and bathroom breaks were restricted to just three minutes. At night, they had to use a bucket inside the room. It was humiliating.
Ziyawudun thought if she became ill, she might be released. The last time she had been detained, her sentence had been cut short, she thought, because of her health. So she refused meals of watery soup and boiled cabbage for four days. On the fifth night, she fainted from hunger. The guards woke up an official to ask what to do. When the official came, she only said, “Why did you wake me up? She’s fine, she won’t die.” After that, Ziyawudun started eating.
Once in a while, detainees would be taken to an interrogation room to be grilled about their pasts, often for hours. “They told me I was an ‘unreliable’ person,” Ziyawudun said with another bitter laugh. Her interrogators asked her whether she had ever worn a headscarf and how long she wore her skirts. They asked her why she had spent so much time in Kazakhstan.
Aside from the interrogations, everyday life in the camp ranged from stultifyingly dull to terrifying and bizarre. Many days, inmates were forced to sit on plastic stools beside their bunk beds, with their backs perfectly straight and their hands on their knees, watching endless state television programs extolling Chinese President Xi Jinping. On another day, she remembers, two women began screaming and banging on the door for guards to let them free, saying they held Kazakh citizenship. They were taken away, and Ziyawudun never saw them again.
There seemed to be hundreds of people in the compound — including the men who lived on other floors — but Ziyawudun couldn’t be sure, since she was never allowed inside other buildings. For the most part, she and the other women on her floor weren’t allowed outside at all.
Ziyawudun’s health started to deteriorate from the cold and bad food. She became anemic. But the hospital building in the compound was even more terrifying. There, she saw men come in with bruises from being beaten and scars she thought were from electric batons.
Ziyawudun’s dorm room had three cameras, which guards used to monitor the women at all times.
One day in June or July of 2018 — Ziyawudun doesn’t remember exactly when — one of the guards told the women they must all have their hair cut short. Ziyawudun expected a hairdresser to come. Instead, it was just a woman with a pair of scissors. She chopped each detainee’s long hair to chin length. It was never explained why — but other female detainees interviewed by BuzzFeed News said this also happened to them. For many women from central Asian cultures, wearing your hair long is not just a style but a symbol of a woman’s beauty and pride. The experience of having it hacked off, for Ziyawudun, was devastating.
Nobody discussed rape in the camp. All conversations were monitored by guards or surveillance cameras. But it was on Ziyawudun’s mind all the time. If she were raped, she knew, there would be no one to tell about it, no place to report the crime. After all, she had landed in the camp because authorities felt she was “unreliable.” If one of the women were raped, who would believe them? She had never felt more vulnerable in her life.
Sometimes at night, she said, younger women would vanish and come back with no explanations.
In the darkness of the room, she would hear them quietly sobbing.
“Nobody can talk about this openly,” she said.
The real torture, she discovered, took place in silence, in the inmates’ minds.
“I wasn’t beaten or abused,” she said. “The hardest part was mental. It’s something I can’t explain — you suffer mentally. Being kept someplace and forced to stay there for no reason. You have no freedom. You suffer.”
In December 2018, one of the guards came into the dorm room and asked if anyone had relatives in Kazakhstan. Ziyawudun raised her hand. She didn’t know if this was why — nobody told her — but a few days later, on Dec. 26, 2018, she was released from the camp.
The relief she expected never came. “I didn’t feel happy at all. I had so many friends inside. I felt very sad for them.”
For a long time, she was under effective house arrest, having to check in with the police if she wanted to visit friends or family. After a while, for reasons that are still unclear, the police returned her passport to her. She believes it is because her husband campaigned for her in Kazakhstan.
Ziyawudun’s asylum-seeker status in Kazakhstan will likely last until mid-May, according to her lawyer.
Ziyawudun is afraid that she, like other Uighurs, will be detained again at the border if she returns to China. The idea of returning made her shake with anxiety, and as she spoke about it her voice broke. She stood up and began to pace around the small room.
Her lawyer, Aina Shormanbayeva, said she’s not optimistic given Kazakhstan’s history when it comes to asylum cases.
“It’s more likely that it’s no. We are ready to appeal to the court, frankly speaking,” she said.
“This is an issue of gross violations of human rights in Xinjiang. Kazakhstan should recognize these violations and provide refugee status,” she added.
Ziyawudun said she feels helpless.
“I am not a Kazakh,” she said. “My position here is different. The whole society is raising the issue of ethnic Kazakhs in Xinjiang. Nobody is raising my situation other than myself.”
“I have really lost all my hope,” she added. “I get so angry and emotional. All I can do about this is let people know.” ●
Canada’s economy is shifting into a lower gear as some of the country’s growth drivers begin to lose steam.
Statistics Canada will release third-quarter gross domestic product numbers Friday that will probably show a sharp drop in growth. According to the median forecast of economists in a Bloomberg survey, the country’s expansion slowed to a 1.3 per cent annualized pace in the three months through September, down from an unsustainable clip of 3.7 per cent in the prior period.
It’s a return to sluggish growth that may become the new normal for a Canadian economy seeing many of its engines of growth sputter, from investment and exports to weakening consumption as the nation’s households cope with high debt levels.
Beyond the third quarter, economists predict another 1.3 per cent reading in the final three months of 2019. Next year doesn’t look much better, with growth seen running at about 1.5 per cent in 2020. That’s a sufficiently prolonged period of below-potential growth for markets to anticipate the Bank of Canada will cut interest rates as early as January.
Canada’s exporters have floundered in the second half of the year. After a rebound in oil shipments temporarily boosted real exports in the second quarter, they’ve since flat-lined, falling 0.3 per cent since June in volume terms. Waning exports are also hitting manufacturers, whose shipment volumes decreased 1 per cent in the third quarter, led downward by oil and coal.
You don’t have a domestic demand story that’s strong
Brett House, deputy chief economist at Scotiabank
Business investment remains sluggish, down 22 per cent since oil prices began collapsing in 2014. While the Bank of Canada’s latest indicator of business activity ticked up, the central bank still sees investment as a 0.4 percentage point drag on 2019 growth. Until global uncertainty and trade tensions abate, Canadian businesses are unlikely to make major capital expenditures.
Consumption has long propelled Canada’s economic growth, but cracks may be forming, even with a robust job market and wages growing at the fastest pace in a decade. Economists expect consumption to pick up in the second half of the year, but that’s coming off a second quarter that was the slowest since 2012. The lack of vigour is most apparent in a retail sector that’s seen volumes flat over the past year.
“You don’t have a domestic demand story that’s strong,” said Brett House, deputy chief economist at Scotiabank.
One bright spot in the GDP numbers could be housing, which has rebounded as borrowing costs decline and buyers adjust to tighter mortgage rules. Home sales rose 7.3 per cent in the third quarter, the fastest quarterly pace since the end of 2017. Most economists estimate residential investment picked up for a second straight quarter.
Scotland Yard was last night (Sunday) under pressure to explain why it failed to carry out a full investigation into allegations that a teenager had been trafficked to the UK to have sex with the Duke of York.
Four years ago, the Met received a complaint alleging that in 2001, Virginia Roberts, 17, was flown to London by paedophile Jeffrey Epstein and coerced into having sex with Prince Andrew.
It was claimed the incident took place at the Kensington townhouse of Ghislaine Maxwell, a close friend of the Duke. A photograph appeared to show him with his arm around the girl while Miss Maxwell looked on in the background.
After assessing the complaint, police decided the matter did not warrant a full investigation.
The Duke vigorously denies having sex with Miss Roberts and insists he knew nothing of Epstein’s activities. But victims’ rights campaigners have questioned why the matter was not pursued, especially given that in 2015 the Met adhered to national policy stipulating that “victims must be believed”, introduced in the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal.
Such was the Met’s determination to pursue the policy to the letter that it spent 18 months and more than pounds 4 million looking into complaints by fantasist Carl Beech, who told police he had been raped and abused by a string of VIPs in the Seventies and Eighties.
The Daily Telegraph understands the decision to shelve the girl’s complaint was taken by Assistant Commissioner Dean Haydon, then commander in charge of specialist crime investigations, who reported to Assistant Commissioner Pat Gallan, overseer of Operation Midland at the time.
The Met has so far declined to explain why the complaint relating to Roberts was not taken further. Repeated questions to Scotland Yard about the decision-making process have been met with silence.
Dame Vera Baird QC, the Victims’ Commissioner, is understood to have demanded an explanation but declined to comment directly because of the rules around election purdah. But Harry Fletcher, a victims’ rights campaigner, said the Met needed to be transparent about the 2015 complaint. “There appears to be some worrying double standards here in terms of how Scotland Yard approached two complaints of historic sexual abuse,” he said.
“In one case, a complaint from a vulnerable young woman has been dismissed without further investigation, while at around the same time the Met was going all out to investigate a pack of lies from a fantasist. It is only right that the Met now explains why there was such a divergence in their approach.”
Meanwhile, it has emerged that the Duke held a meeting with Maxwell in Buckingham Palace in the summer, a fortnight after Epstein was placed under investigation by US authorities on fresh sex-trafficking allegations.
In the Duke’s now-infamous Newsnight interview, he admitted seeing Ms Maxwell in the summer but insisted they had not discussed Epstein. Sources have now revealed the meeting took place in the Duke’s private quarters at Buckingham Palace.
U.S. authorities are understood to be keen to trace Ms Maxwell, who has been accused of helping to procure young girls for Epstein – a charge she has always firmly denied.