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US Goods Trade Gap Hits Record; Pending Home Sales Slip

The U.S. trade deficit in goods mushroomed to the widest ever in November as imports of consumer goods shot to a record ahead of the second straight COVID-19-distorted holiday shopping season along with industrial supplies, while exports slipped after a historic gain a month earlier.

The goods trade gap reported Wednesday by the Commerce Department is likely to remain historically high as long as the coronavirus pandemic continues, economists said. The emergence of the fast-spreading omicron variant of COVID-19 that has driven U.S. and global caseloads to a record this week may exacerbate it further in the near term if it limits American consumers’ spending on services and restokes demand for imported goods.

Omicron also stands as a downside risk in the housing market. A reading of pending home sales also out Wednesday showed an unexpected drop in November, and while that data largely predated omicron’s ascendance in the United States, the highly contagious new variant could further limit home sales in the near term, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) said.

The goods trade deficit widened last month by 17.5% to $97.8 billion from $83.2 billion in October, Census Bureau data showed. That exceeds the previous record deficit set in September of $97 billion and may damp optimism that trade might finally add to U.S. economic growth this quarter for the first time in more than a year.

Imports rose by 4.7% with industrial supplies leading the way with an increase of $5.7 billion to $63.2 billion, followed by consumer goods rising by $2.9 billion to just shy of $67 billion as retailers rushed to fill store shelves ahead of Christmas. Both were record highs.

“The emergence of the omicron variant may further ignite demand for imported goods if services activity is restricted” in the first quarter of 2022, Nancy Vanden Houten, lead economist at Oxford Economics, wrote after Wednesday’s report.

Goods exports, meanwhile, declined 2.1%, with weakness across the board outside of a 4.3% increase in food exports. The drop was led by declines of $1.4 billion in industrial supplies and $1.3 billion in capital goods.

The worldwide surge of coronoavirus cases to a record in recent days – including a record U.S. caseload – may weigh on global demand in the months ahead, risking an even wider trade gap, Vanden Houten said.

The so-called Advance Indicators report also showed wholesale inventories climbed 1.2% last month, while retail inventories increased 2.0%. Retail inventories, excluding autos, which go into the calculation of gross domestic product, edged up by 1.3% to $465.2 billion, the latest in a string of record-high readings.

The economy grew at a 2.3% annualized rate in the third quarter, a step-down from earlier in the year, but activity has rebounded in the fourth quarter with a consensus among economists building around a growth rate of 6% to 7% in the final three months of 2021.

Trade has been a drag on gross domestic product growth for five straight quarters, while inventories added to output in the third quarter.

Earlier this month, the Commerce Department reported a sharp reduction in the overall trade deficit – including services – for October, which had generated some optimism that trade may contribute to the improvement in output in the final quarter of the year. The big reversal to a record goods trade gap in November may prompt a rethinking of that.

Economists at Action Economics have dialed back their fourth-quarter GDP growth estimate to 6.5% from 7.0%, with exports now seen subtracting from growth rather than adding to it as had been previously expected. Economists at JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs, meanwhile, left their estimates intact at 7%.

Meanwhile, contracts to buy U.S. previously owned homes fell unexpectedly in November as limited housing stock and lofty prices crimped activity, and the explosion of new coronavirus cases poses a risk to the housing market headed into 2022.

NAR said its Pending Home Sales Index, based on signed contracts, fell 2.2% last month to 122.4. Pending home sales were lower in all four regions.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast contracts, which typically become final sales after a month or two, would rise 0.5% in November.

“There was less pending home sales action this time around, which I would ascribe to low housing supply, but also to buyers being hesitant about home prices,” said Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist.

Looking ahead, Yun said Omicron poses a risk to the housing market’s performance, as buyers and sellers are sidelined, and home construction is delayed.

Posted by Ukrap on

Росія: Путін обіцяє допустити білоруські підприємства до російських державних закупівель

Як заявив президент Росії, допуск білоруських виробників до державних закупівель «підвищить рівень конкуренції на ринку»

Posted by Ukrap on

Українські правозахисники закликали до санкцій через ліквідацію російського «Меморіалу»

Правозахисники закликають владу України, іноземні держави та міжнародні організації «рішуче засудити» рішення суду Росії щодо ліквідації «Меморіалу»

Posted by Ukrap on

Європейські країни закликають до поспіху в ядерних переговорах з Іраном

На думку учасників переговорів із Великої Британії, Франції та Німеччини, вони мають «тижні, а не місяці»

Posted by Worldkrap on

9 Serbs Indicted for Killing Around 100 Muslims During Bosnian War 

A Bosnian war crimes prosecutor has indicted nine Bosnian Serbs for the killing of around 100 Muslim Bosniaks, including seven entire families, early in the 1992-95 war, the prosecutor’s office said in a statement on Wednesday. 

Twenty-six years after the end of its devastating war between Orthodox Serbs, Catholic Croats and Muslim Bosniaks in which about 100,000 people had died, Bosnia is still searching for people who went missing and seeking justice against the suspected perpetrators. 

At the same time, the Balkan country is going through its worst post-war political crisis, with Bosnian Serb leaders’ threat of pulling out of Bosnia’s national institutions, including the joint armed forces, raising fears of a new conflict. 

The nine men, the former members and commanders of the Bosnian Serb wartime army, are accused of killing the Bosniak civilians from the area around the southeastern Bosnian town of Nevesinje, including dozens of women, elderly people and small children. 

The prosecutor’s office said seven families were among those killed in the summer of 1992. The remains of 49 people have been found while 47 people are still unaccounted for. 

Bosnia’s state court will need to confirm the indictment for the case to proceed. 

Posted by Ukrap on

Штаб ООС зафіксував три обстріли на Донбасі протягом дня

Внаслідок обстрілів, за даними командування, ніхто з українських військових не постраждав

Posted by Ukrap on

У «Європейській солідарності» заявили про обшуки в кількох представників партії

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ЄСПЛ вимагає зупинити ліквідацію «Меморіалу» в Росії

28 грудня Верховний суд Росії ухвалив рішення щодо ліквідації «Міжнародного Меморіалу». 29 грудня аналогічне рішення російський суд ухвалив щодо правозахисного центру «Меморіал»

Posted by Worldkrap on

World Struggles With Rising COVID-19 Infections

The United States recorded more than 512,000 daily new coronavirus cases Tuesday – the single highest one-day number of cases recorded since the beginning of the pandemic, according to data released by the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center

The one-day record coincides with a New York Times database showing the seven-day average of cases in the U.S. rose above 267,000 on Tuesday.

The recent surge is driven by a record number of children infected and hospitalized with COVID-19.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, however, lowered its previous estimate of new coronavirus cases driven by the rapidly spreading omicron variant. The federal health agency said Tuesday that omicron accounted for roughly 59 percent of all variants, far lower than the 73 percent figure it announced last week.

The surge of new infections in the United States has forced the cancelation of another postseason college football game. The Holiday Bowl was canceled Tuesday just hours before the game’s scheduled kickoff in San Diego, California, when UCLA (the University of California, Los Angeles) announced it would be unable to play against North Carolina State because too many players had been diagnosed with the infection.

Five postseason games have been canceled, while at least one bowl game is going ahead with a different team. Central Michigan will meet Washington State in Friday’s Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas, after the Miami Hurricanes were forced to drop out. Central Michigan was supposed to play in the Arizona Bowl, but that game was canceled after Boise State withdrew.

Officials with the coming major college football championship playoffs have warned the four teams – Alabama, Cincinnati, Michigan and Georgia – that if they cannot play in Friday’s semifinal matchups, they may have to forfeit.

The U.S. is among several nations reporting record new numbers of infections. France on Tuesday reported a new one-day record of 179,807 new cases, making it one of the highest single-day tallies worldwide since the start of the pandemic.

Denmark, which has the world’s highest infection rate, with 1,612 cases per 100,000 people, posted a single-day record of 16,164 new infections on Monday.

Other European nations reporting new record-setting numbers of one-day infections Tuesday include Britain (138,831), Greece (21,657), Italy (78,313), Portugal (17,172) and Spain (99,671).

Australia is also undergoing a dramatic increase in new cases driven by omicron, posting nearly 18,300 infections Wednesday, well above Tuesday’s previous high of about 11,300.

New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state, reported just over 11,200 infections Wednesday – nearly double the 6,602 new cases posted the previous day.

Worldwide, the number of recorded cases increased by 11% last week, according to the World Health Organization. The United Nations agency said Wednesday the risk posed by omicron remains “very high.”

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.

Posted by Ukrap on

ДСНС назвала причину пожежі в Косівській лікарні

«Після трагічної загибелі одного з пацієнтів лікарні від COVID-19 один зі співробітників закладу за традицією поставив заупокійну свічку»

Posted by Ukrap on

У посвідчення водія в Україні вводяться нові норми – МВС

Відтепер у посвідченні водія є відмітка про складання практичного іспиту на транспортному засобі з автоматичною коробкою передач

Posted by Ukrap on

В Україні виявили 5 нових випадків «омікрону» – МОЗ

З початку пандемії два випадки виявили у мешканців Києва та два – у мешканців Київської області, по одному – у Львові та Дніпрі

Posted by Worldkrap on

In Russia, State Is Waging Hybrid War Against Media, Nobel Laureate Says

In his Nobel speech, Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov described journalism as the “antidote to tyranny.” 

The editor-in-chief of Novaya Gazeta and his staff face frequent threats because of the independent paper’s investigative, hard-hitting coverage. Several of its journalists and contributors have been killed, including Anna Politkovskaya, who reported on human rights abuses in Chechnya.

A memorial to Politkovskaya was vandalized in December, just a few days after Muratov and Philippine journalist Maria Ressa were handed the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo.

In an exclusive interview with VOA’s Russian Service, Muratov spoke about the struggle to defend and uphold media freedom in Russia and how the threat of violence and legal action affects reporting.

This interview has been translated from Russian and edited for length and clarity. 

Question: In your Nobel speech, you called journalism an antidote to tyranny. But in Russia, 15 years of freedom after the end of the Soviet Union have given way to censorship, persecution and killings, and a rollback of civil liberties and democracy. Why is this antidote not working in Russia?

Dmitry Muratov: Society allowed it, the country allowed it, the people allowed it. I reread a book by American researcher Olga Velikanova about the (Soviet) constitution of 1936. This constitution, “Stalin’s constitution,” was unique in its set of freedoms: equal voting rights, no more persecution of “kulaks” (wealthy members of the peasant class). It was considered the most progressive European constitution.

Stalin submitted it (nationwide) for discussion — but hundreds of thousands of letters poured in, saying, “We don’t want your freedoms. We don’t want those put in labor camps to come back. They may claim their property, but now it’s ours. Why do you give voting rights to collective farmers?”

I agree with Velikanova when she says that Stalin (soon) realized that people were ready for nonfreedom, for repression.

It seems to me that in many ways this story is happening again, of people not being ready to take responsibility for themselves. If that’s the case, then they are not ready to resume responsibility for this basic value of freedom of speech.

Question: Do you think that people are deterred from demanding change because of an awareness of what may happen if they do? 

Muratov: I would divide this question into two parts.

In the last century (the Soviet Union and Communism) lost about 100 million people. So how can we judge the country after that? Every family was orphaned in some way, everyone lost someone. Yet the only thing left that people could rely on was the state (even when it was responsible for their loss.) 

The second part of the question is more complicated. There was a moment in the 1990s when it seemed like we had freedom. Where did it all go? 

I don’t have an answer to that question. But for the first time in our history, money became an issue. Under socialism, everyone earned roughly the same, from 114 to 350 rubles. Members of the Politburo received 520.

Now you have to pay the mortgage, otherwise the family can be evicted. Largely, in my country, money did not come to mean personal freedom, the freedom to choose. Rather it meant dependence, dependence on the state. 

I’m not willing to condemn people … for not prioritizing freedom of speech, because for them, the freedom to feed their family is the priority. 

Question: What support do Russian journalists need from colleagues, from human rights activists, or even foreign countries?

Muratov: Readers’ support is very important. Nobody in the parliament represents the people. Only the authorities are represented. Therefore, the media have become a kind of parliament for readers by representing the interests of the people.

Ten years ago, a wonderful slogan was left at Bolotnaya Square (in Moscow). I wish I could give an award to the author of this slogan.

It read “Вы нас даже не представляете,” which translates as “You do not even represent us” or “You are incapable of envisioning who we are.”

(Editor’s note: the Russian word “представляете” has multiple meanings including “represent” and “envision,” which gives the slogan a double meaning.)

The Duma (parliament) still does not represent the people, but the media do. The media are a parliament of readers, and this is the most important thing.

In the past two and a half months alone, more than a hundred people have been declared a “foreign agent.” Let’s not pretend that is not the same as “enemy of the people.” Yes, in the Stalinist connotation — and in Russia it is the Stalinist connotation that is back in circulation right now — a “foreign agent” is an “enemy of the people.”

I am grateful to countries that have taken up the noble mission of taking in our journalists, human rights defenders, leaders of nongovernmental organizations.

Those countries have given us the opportunity to live and work, and to preserve the dignity of our professional journalists. 

Question: Does foreign support increase the risk that a journalist in Russia will be designated as a “foreign agent”? 

Muratov: The current financial monitoring system, which exists not only in our country but also in other countries, can see every penny from a foreign source. The safety of journalists depends on support, but if that support comes in the form of a dollar or a ruble, it certainly increases risks.

Those risks pose a huge threat to journalists, so I think that those countries we call democratic should think about how they can help and do no harm in the process. 

Question: Some people criticized your Nobel speech for not mentioning the Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin and Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, who harassed Novaya Gazeta. Some said that mentions of President Vladimir Putin were not critical enough. What is your response?

Muratov: You know, I don’t follow social media much. I run a professional media outlet. But I understand those people who criticized me, because they were forced to leave their country, otherwise they would have been imprisoned, arrested.

I can have my own opinion about Leonid Volkov (chief of staff for jailed opposition leader Alexey Navalny), but I also understand perfectly well that if he had stayed, he would have been put in jail. How can I judge him, or (Navalny team members and supporters) Lyubov Sobol, for example, or Georgy Alburov? They’ve been pushed out of the country. 

They have a high pain threshold, and they believe that there needs to be a different degree of outrage about what led to Navalny being a hostage in prison for over 300 days. Navalny has become a political prisoner based on false charges.

So at first I thought, “Are you stupid or something, don’t you get it?” and then I thought, “Maybe it’s me who doesn’t get something.”

If someone is disappointed (by my speech), I certainly will not apologize, I have nothing to apologize for. But next time, I promise to consider their feedback. 

Question: What is more dangerous for journalists in Russia: direct violence or repressive laws? 

Muratov: (There is) a hybrid war of the state against the media. It is a hybrid war waged by different people who consider themselves representatives of the state. The nature of hybrid war is such that you can be killed and not even know who did it.

However, if we are talking about which threat is greater for a journalist, the law or violence, the threat of physical violence, as usual, is greater.

(Vandals) desecrated the plaque to Politkovskaya on our building. Before that, they poured toxic liquid everywhere and made it impossible to work for a week. During a parade of Kadyrov’s troops (in Chechnya) they said that Putin should close (Novaya Gazeta) or they’ll take matters into their own hands.

We’ve been sent powders and a severed pig’s head, with an SS Nazi dagger stuck in it. By the way, I still have not found out who tortured the poor pig.

Then they sent us sheep. Ten sheep in a cage, to be exact, delivered near the entrance to the office. We saved the sheep, we gave them to a farm, and they are thriving. They thrive, as do the knuckleheads who wage a hybrid war against us, because they think they captured the state’s frame of mind. 

Question: The Russian Constitution prohibits censorship. Could journalists appeal in court against what they consider censorship and win? 

Muratov: Journalists cannot win in a Russian court. They can win in the European Court of Human Rights; we win all the time. But we always lose in Russian courts. That’s how things are now. We don’t need to pretend otherwise.

We have created a caste state, a corporate state. The ruling caste lives by one set of laws, while the rest of the people live by another. We live by the laws they made for us. Under these laws, we can’t do anything, can’t work, can’t fully perform our duties as journalists. 

This article originated in VOA’s Russian Service.


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Harry Reid, Former US Senate Majority Leader, Dies at 82

Harry Reid, the former Senate majority leader and Nevada’s longest-serving member of Congress, has died. He was 82. 

Reid died Tuesday, “peacefully,” surrounded by family, “following a courageous, four-year battle with pancreatic cancer,” Landra Reid said of her husband in a statement.

“Harry was a devout family man and deeply loyal friend,” she said. “We greatly appreciate the outpouring of support from so many over these past few years. We are especially grateful for the doctors and nurses that cared for him. Please know that meant the world to him.” 

Funeral arrangements would be announced in the coming days, she said.

The combative former boxer-turned-lawyer was widely acknowledged as one of the toughest dealmakers in Congress, a conservative Democrat in an increasingly polarized chamber who vexed lawmakers of both parties with a brusque manner and this motto: “I would rather dance than fight, but I know how to fight.” 

Over a 34-year career in Washington, Reid thrived on behind-the-scenes wrangling and kept the Senate controlled by his party through two presidents — Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Barack Obama — a crippling recession and the Republican takeover of the House after the 2010 elections. 

He retired in 2016 after an accident left him blind in one eye.

Reid in May 2018 revealed he’d been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and was undergoing treatment.

Abrupt and underestimated 

He was known in Washington for his abrupt style, typified by his habit of unceremoniously hanging up the phone without saying goodbye.

“Even when I was president, he would hang up on me,” Obama said in a 2019 tribute video to Reid.

He was frequently underestimated, most recently in the 2010 elections when he looked like the underdog to tea party favorite Sharron Angle. Ambitious Democrats, assuming his defeat, began angling for his leadership post. But Reid defeated Angle, 50% to 45%, and returned to the pinnacle of his power. For Reid, it was legacy time. 

“I don’t have people saying, ‘He’s the greatest speaker,’ ‘He’s handsome,’ ‘He’s a man about town,'” Reid told The New York Times in December that year. “But I don’t really care. I feel very comfortable with my place in history.” 

Nevada born 

Born in Searchlight, Nevada, to an alcoholic father who killed himself at 58 and a mother who served as a laundress in a bordello, Reid grew up in a small cabin without indoor plumbing and swam with other children at a pool at a local brothel. He hitchhiked to Basic High School in Henderson, Nevada, about 65 km from home, where he met the woman he would marry in 1959, Landra Gould. At Utah State University, the couple became members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 

The future senator put himself through George Washington University law school by working nights as a U.S. Capitol police officer. 

At age 28, Reid was elected to the Nevada Assembly and at age 30 became the youngest lieutenant governor in Nevada history as Governor Mike O’Callaghan’s running mate in 1970. 

Elected to the U.S. House in 1982, Reid served in Congress longer than anyone else in Nevada history. He narrowly avoided defeat in a 1998 Senate race when he held off Republican John Ensign, then a House member, by 428 votes in a recount that stretched into January. 

After his election as Senate majority leader in 2007, he was credited with putting Nevada on the political map by pushing to move the state’s caucuses to February, at the start of presidential nominating season. That forced each national party to pour resources into the state, which still had only six votes in the Electoral College despite having the country’s fastest growth over the past two decades. Reid’s extensive network of campaign workers and volunteers twice helped deliver the state for Obama. 

In 2016 Obama lauded Reid for his work in the Senate, declaring, “I could not have accomplished what I accomplished without him being at my side.” 

Legislative battles 

The most influential politician in Nevada for more than a decade, Reid steered hundreds of millions of dollars to the state and was credited with almost single-handedly blocking construction of a nuclear waste storage facility at Yucca Mountain outside Las Vegas. He often went out of his way to defend social programs that make easy political targets, calling Social Security “one of the great government programs in history.” 

Reid championed suicide prevention, often telling the story of his father. He stirred controversy in 2010 when he said in a speech on the floor of the Nevada legislature it was time to end legal prostitution in the state. 

Reid’s political moderation meant he was never politically secure in his home state, or entirely trusted in the increasingly polarized Senate. Democrats grumbled about his votes for a ban on so-called partial-birth abortion and the Iraq war resolution in 2002, something Reid later said was his biggest regret in Congress.

He voted against most gun control bills and in 2013 after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, dropped a proposed ban on assault weapons from the Democrats’ gun control legislation. The package, he said, would not pass with the ban attached. 

Reid’s Senate particularly chafed members of the House, both Republicans and Democrats. When then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, muscled Obama’s health care overhaul through the House in 2009, a different version passed the Senate and the reconciliation process floundered long enough for Republicans to turn it into an election-year weapon they used to demonize the California Democrat and cast the legislation as a big-government power grab. Obama signed the measure into law in March 2010. But angered by the recession and inspired by the small-government tea party, voters the next year swept Democrats from the House majority.

Reid hand-picked a Democratic candidate who won the election to replace him in 2016, former Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, and built a political machine in the state that helped Democrats win a series of key elections in 2016 and 2018. 

On his way out of office, he repeatedly lambasted Donald Trump, calling him at one point “a sociopath” and “a sexual predator who lost the popular vote and fueled his campaign with bigotry and hate.” 

Target of organized crime

As head of the Nevada Gaming Commission investigating organized crime, Reid became the target of a car bomb in 1980. Police called it an attempted homicide. Reid blamed Jack Gordon, who went to prison for trying to bribe him in a sting operation that Reid participated in over illegal efforts to bring new games to casinos in 1978. 

Following Reid’s lengthy farewell address on the Senate floor in 2016, his Nevada colleague Republican Dean Heller declared: “It’s been said that it’s better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both. And as me and my colleagues here today and those in the gallery probably agree with me, no individual in American politics embodies that sentiment today more than my colleague from Nevada, Harry Mason Reid.” 


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Andrew’s Lawyers Say Accuser Can’t Sue Because She Doesn’t Live in US

In a court filing Tuesday, lawyers for Prince Andrew say a lawsuit by an American who claims he sexually abused her when she was 17 might have to be thrown out because she no longer lives in the United States. 

Attorneys Andrew Brettler and Melissa Lerner said they recently discovered that Virginia Giuffre has lived in Australia all but two of the last 19 years and cannot claim she’s a resident of Colorado, where she hasn’t lived since at least 2019. 

In an August lawsuit filed in federal court in New York, Giuffre claimed the prince abused her on multiple occasions in 2001. 

The prince’s lawyers in October asked Judge Lewis A. Kaplan to throw out the lawsuit, saying the prince “never sexually abused or assaulted” Giuffre. The lawyers acknowledged that Giuffre may well be a victim of sexual abuse by financier Jeffrey Epstein, who killed himself in 2019 while awaiting a sex trafficking trial. 

A message seeking comment from Giuffre to the latest filing by the prince’s lawyers was sent to a spokesperson for her lawyers. 

Last month, Kaplan said a trial in Giuffre’s lawsuit against the prince could be held between September and December 2022. 

But the prince’s lawyers say the new information about Giuffre’s residence should result in the suspension of any progress in the lawsuit toward trial, including depositions of Andrew and Giuffre, until the issue is settled as to whether her foreign residence disqualifies her from suing the prince in the U.S. 

They asked the judge to order Giuffre to respond to written legal requests about her residency and submit to a two-hour deposition on the issue. 

The lawyers wrote that Giuffre has an Australian driver’s license and was living in a $1.9 million home in Perth, Western Australia, where she has been raising three children with her husband, who is Australian. 

“Even if Ms. Giuffre’s Australian domicile could not be established as early as October 2015, there can be no real dispute that she was permanently living there with an intent to remain there as of 2019 — still two years before she filed this action against Prince Andrew,” the lawyers wrote. 

The Associated Press does not typically identify people who say they are victims of sexual assault unless they choose to come forward publicly, as Giuffre has. 

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Historians Lament Dissolution of Russia’s Memorial Historical Rights Group 

Prominent historians and human rights activists were shocked by a Russian Supreme Court ruling Tuesday to close Memorial International, which chronicled historical abuses of the former Soviet Union and identified victims of former Soviet dictator Josef Stalin’s purges. 


The human rights group, which has long drawn the ire of Russian officials, was found guilty of breaking a law requiring nongovernmental organizations and other groups to register as foreign agents if they receive foreign donations. Kremlin critics said the organization was targeted for political reasons. 


Memorial International’s sister organization, the Memorial Human Rights Center, which campaigns on behalf of political prisoners in modern-day Russia, is also under legal threat. Prosecutors in Moscow Wednesday will call for its closure on claims it has been justifying terrorism and condoning extremism in its publications. 

“A power that is afraid of memory, will never be able to achieve democratic maturity,” Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum director Piotr Cywiński tweeted on Tuesday. Other historians said on social media that the ruling capped a year of crackdowns on Kremlin critics not seen since the Soviet days. 


In a joint statement, the German branch of Amnesty International, the Heinrich Böll Foundation, and the Buchenwald and Mittelbau-Dora Memorials Foundation decried the ruling, saying the Russian government “wants to monopolize individual and collective memory.” 

Uncovering atrocities 


Memorial International has chronicled the horrors of the Communist era since it was co-founded in 1987 by Nobel laureate and Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov, four years before the end of the Soviet Union. Memorial historians located execution sites and mass graves of Stalin’s “Great Terror,” also known as the “Great Purge,” and tried to identify as many victims as possible. 


Several historians associated with Memorial International have been imprisoned in recent years, including Karelia-based gulag chronicler Yury Dmitriyev, who this week was sentenced to 15 years in a penal colony for allegedly abusing his adopted daughter.

Other historians say the charge against Dmitriyev was trumped up and leveled to silence him. Two other Gulag chroniclers also have been jailed on sex-related charges. 


Historical memory 


Kremlin authorities repeatedly have accused Memorial International of distorting history. Before Tuesday’s ruling, state prosecutor Alexei Zhafyarov said, “It is obvious that Memorial creates a false image of the USSR as a terrorist state.” Zhafyarov claimed the extensive lists of victims of Stalinist repression compiled by the organization also included “Nazi offenders with blood of Soviet citizens on their hands.” 


“This is why we, the descendants of (WWII) victors, are forced to watch for attempts to rehabilitate traitors of the motherland and Nazi collaborators,” he added. 


Stalin’s image has slowly been rehabilitated since Vladimir Putin came to power in the late 1990s, a rehabilitation that has included new statues and memorials being built, and officials no longer embarrassed to hang Stalin’s portraits.


Memorial historians say they are on the front line in a battle over history and the chronicling of the communist past.


“The very act of remembrance is frowned on,” St. Petersburg-based historian Anatoly Razumov told VOA in a recent interview. He said officials under Putin see the memorializing as unpatriotic, an act undertaken by fifth columnists to the benefit of Western foes. 


Razumov said researching the Great Terror has always been difficult, even during the thaw years (the period after Stalin’s death in 1953) of Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin, Putin’s predecessor. He said 1997 marked the beginning of the end of the thaw when it comes to the history of the Great Terror. In a presidential decree, Yeltsin declared 1997 as the Year of Reconciliation. 


“After 1997, the topic was meant to go quiet. As far as the authorities were concerned, the topic was finished,” Razumov told VOA. 


Memorial historians say Kremlin-backed academics have put a lot of effort into adding details to the story of the horrors that Russia endured during World War II at the hands of the German Nazis. 


Last year, Russian prosecutors summoned surviving Red Army veterans to recall their battlefield experiences to help identify Nazis and their collaborators who carried out war atrocities in the Soviet Union. 

The probe was linked by some observers to Putin’s renewed interest in historical memory. The Russian leader and former KGB officer has complained loudly that the Soviet Union’s huge wartime role and its losses have been downplayed for propaganda purposes by Western politicians and historians. 


Putin has asserted Western popular culture overlooks Soviet sacrifices and focuses instead on events such as the Normandy landings of 1944. Some Western historians sympathize with Putin’s claim and his insistence the Soviet sacrifice in lives and treasure was much greater than the Western allies. But they question Putin’s rigid selectivity. 


Timothy Snyder, a Yale University historian and author of “The Road to Unfreedom,” has accused Putin of taking “certain points from the past to portray them as moments of righteousness” while everything in between those moments is discarded. 


Last year, Putin labeled those who disagree with the Kremlin’s version of history as Western “collaborators.” And the Investigative Committee of Russia has established a department to investigate “falsifications of history,” which rights campaigners and historians fear will be used to further stifle free inquiry. 


United Nations Special Rapporteur Mary Lawlor warned last month any dissolution of Memorial would be “a new low for human rights defenders in Russia,” whose “criticism of historical and contemporary human rights abuses has for many years made them the target of a government that is ever diminishing the space for public debate.” 

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China Slams US Over Space Station’s ‘Close Encounters’ With SpaceX Satellites

Beijing on Tuesday accused the United States of irresponsible and unsafe conduct in space over two “close encounters” between the Chinese space station and satellites operated by Elon Musk’s SpaceX. 

Tiangong, China’s new space station, had to maneuver to avoid colliding with one Starlink satellite in July and another in October, according to a note submitted by Beijing to the United Nations space agency this month. 

The note said the incidents “constituted dangers to the life or health of astronauts aboard the China Space Station.” 

“The U.S. … ignores its obligations under international treaties, posing a serious threat to the lives and safety of astronauts,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said at a routine briefing on Tuesday. 

Starlink, a division of SpaceX, operates a constellation of close to 2,000 satellites that aims to provide internet access to most parts of Earth. 

SpaceX is a private American company, independent of the U.S. military and civilian space agency, NASA. 

But China said in its note to the U.N. that members of the Outer Space Treaty — the foundation of international space law — are also responsible for actions by their nongovernment entities. 

Addressing reporters, U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price declined to respond specifically to the Chinese accusations. 

“We have encouraged all countries with space programs to be responsible actors, to avoid acts that may put in danger astronauts, cosmonauts, others who are orbiting the Earth or who have the potential to,” Price said. 

SpaceX has not responded to a request for comment. 

Evasive maneuvers to reduce the risk of collisions in space are becoming more frequent as more objects enter Earth’s orbit, said Jonathan McDowell of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. 

“We’ve really noticed the increase in the number of close passes since Starlink started getting deployed,” he told AFP. 

Any collision would likely “completely demolish” the Chinese space station and kill everyone on board, McDowell added. 

The core module of China’s station Tiangong — meaning “heavenly palace” — entered orbit earlier this year, and it is expected to become fully operational next year. 

‘Prepare to boycott Tesla’ 

Beijing’s complaint about Starlink prompted criticism on Chinese social media of SpaceX’s billionaire founder Musk, who is widely admired in China. 

One hashtag about the topic on the Twitter-like Weibo platform racked up 90 million views Tuesday. 

“How ironic that Chinese people buy Tesla, contributing large sums of money so Musk can launch Starlink, and then he (nearly) crashes into China’s space station,” one user commented. 

Musk’s electric car maker Tesla sells tens of thousands of vehicles in China each month, though the firm’s reputation has taken a hit this year following a spate of crashes, scandals and data security concerns. 

“Prepare to boycott Tesla,” said another Weibo user, echoing a common response in China to foreign brands perceived to be acting contrary to national interests. 


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California Man Given Second Life Term in 2019 Synagogue Attack

A 22-year-old white supremacist was sentenced Tuesday to life in federal prison for killing a woman and injuring three others when he burst into a Southern California synagogue in 2019, adding to a life sentence he received three months earlier in state court.

John T. Earnest declined to speak in a courtroom full of victims, families and congregants. In state court, his attorney said he wanted to speak but a judge refused, saying he didn’t want to give a platform for his hate-filled speech. 

Earnest’s attorney, Ellis Johnston III, said his client acknowledged his actions were “inappropriate,” a statement that was greeted with skepticism by prosecutors. Peter Ko, a federal prosecutor, said Earnest’s expression of regret came shortly after the shooting in a phone call to someone else. 

U.S. District Judge Anthony Battaglia said the federal and state life sentences would run one after the other instead of concurrently, acknowledging it was symbolic but that it was meant to send a strong message. The judge denied a defense attorney’s request to have Earnest stay in state prison. 

“Obviously this is as serious as it gets,” Battaglia said near the end of a two-hour hearing during which Earnest, tied to restraints, looked straight ahead without expression.

Earnest pleaded guilty to federal charges in September after the Justice Department said it wouldn’t seek the death penalty. Defense attorneys and prosecutors recommended a life sentence, plus 30 years. 

That same month, Earnest received another life term under a plea agreement with state charges that spared him the death penalty. His conviction for murder and attempted murder at the synagogue and arson for an earlier fire at a nearby mosque brought a life sentence without parole, plus 137 years in prison. 

Minutes after the shooting on the last day of Passover, Earnest called a 911 dispatcher to say he shot up the synagogue to save white people.

“I’m defending our nation against the Jewish people, who are trying to destroy all white people,” he said. 

The San Diego man was inspired by mass shootings at the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh and two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, shortly before he attacked Chabad of Poway, a synagogue near San Diego, on April 27, 2019. He frequented 8chan, a dark corner of the internet, for those disaffected by mainstream social media sites to post extremist, racist and violent views. 

Earnest legally bought a semi-automatic rifle in San Diego a day before the attack, according to a federal affidavit. He entered the synagogue with 10 bullets loaded and 50 more on his vest but fled after struggling to reload. Worshippers chased him to his car. 

Earnest killed 60-year-old Lori Gilbert-Kaye, who was hit twice in the foyer, and wounded an 8-year-old girl, her uncle and Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, who was leading a service on the major Jewish holiday. 

Gilbert-Kaye’s husband, daughter, two sisters and others spoke about how the victims brightened their lives and called Earnest a coward, an evil animal and a monster. 

Earnest’s parents issued a statement after the shooting expressing shock and sadness, calling their son’s actions a “terrifying mystery.” Their son was an accomplished student, athlete and musician who was studying to be a nurse at California State University, San Marcos. 

“To our great shame, he is now part of the history of evil that has been perpetrated on Jewish people for centuries,” they said.