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Trump allies take aim at his global media chief for firings – 570 News

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WASHINGTON — Seven U.S. senators, including two strong allies of President Donald Trump, harshly criticized Trump’s new chief of U.S.-funded global media on Wednesday for firing the heads of several international broadcasters without consulting Congress. They expressed concern that the independent agency may become politicized.

Led by Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, the group questioned the leadership of Michael Pack, Trump’s pick to head the Agency for Global Media, which runs the flagship U.S. broadcaster Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia, Middle East Broadcasting Networks and the Cuba-focused Radio/TV Marti.

Democrats have been outspoken in their concerns that Pack, a conservative filmmaker and associate of former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, has been brought on board to turn VOA and the other outlets into a pro-Trump propaganda machine with little regard for the independence granted them by their founding charter. Wednesday’s letter was notable in that it was signed by the two powerful Trump allies who are particularly close to the president.

In a scathing letter to Pack, the senators complained he had given lawmakers no reason for the purge of qualified leaders at RFE/RL, RFA, MBN and the Open Technology Fund, a non-broadcast arm of the agency that works to provide secure internet access to people around the world. The director and deputy director of VOA resigned just days before the firings, which also included the dismissal of each of their governing boards.

“The termination of qualified expert staff and network heads for no specific reason as well as the removal of their boards raised questions about the preservation of these entities and their ability to implement their statutory missions now and in the future,” they wrote. “These actions, which came without any consultation with Congress, let alone notification, raise serious questions about the future of USAGM under your leadership.”

Pack was bitterly opposed by Democrats but was confirmed to his position last month on a party line 53-38 vote in the Senate. Rubio, Graham and the other two Republicans who signed the letter, Jerry Moran of Kansas and Susan Collins of Maine, all voted for his confirmation. Democrats Dick Durbin of Illinois, Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, who opposed Pack’s confirmation, also signed.

Pack has defended the moves as necessary to reform the agency, but Democrats and an increasing number of Republicans have taken issue with actions they fear could subvert its non-partisan mission. Conservatives have in particular assailed the firings of former Rubio staffer Jamie Fly as head of RFE/RL and former U.S. diplomat Alberto Fernandez as head of MBN.

A request for comment about the letter was not immediately acknowledged by Pack’s office. But, in a statement issued after the initial criticism of the firings, he said: “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.”

Regardless of any needed reforms. the senators said it is critical for AGM’s outlets to hold true to their charter of independence and provide global audiences with unbiased and credible news and other programming. This, they said, is particularly important as the U.S. confronts increasing misinformation and disinformation campaigns from Russia, China and Iran.

“We urge you to respect the unique independence that enable USAGM’s outlets and grantees to help cultivate a free and open world,” the wrote. “Given the bipartisan and bicameral concern with recent events, we intend to do a thorough review of USAGM’s funding to ensure that United States international broadcasting is not politicized and that the agency is able to fully and effectively carry out its core mission.”

Matthew Lee, The Associated Press

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Judge wants players to connect with fans on social media – theScore

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New York Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge has enjoyed a resurgent 2020 season after missing large chunks of 2019 due to injury.

But it’s not just on-field success that he’s hoping to be noticed for. Judge is looking to connect with fans over social media as a way to reach out, particularly while fans are not permitted in ballparks.

“Those little moments, those little memories you can make, I know fans never forget,” Judge told Marly Rivera of ESPN. “But even us as players, that’s something I always look forward to and I never forget.”

Judge added that Major League Baseball could benefit from top players engaging with fans more often via social media and cited one of the world’s most visible and well-known professional athletes as an inspiration.

“In baseball, a lot of our superstars aren’t out there. But I think social media is going to start slowly helping us out. A lot more guys are getting on social media. A lot more are reaching out to fans, interacting.

“That’s one thing I see LeBron James do a lot all the time, he’s talking with fans, he’s always getting the message out there, putting his opinion out there and talking with people. That’s where it starts with us, just being more vocal and letting the fans see the personal side of us.”

Judge is one of the most recognizable talents in baseball, and his jersey has been the top seller over the last three seasons, Rivera notes.

A two-time All-Star, Judge won the AL Rookie of the Year in 2017 after recording the rookie record for home runs at 52 (New York Mets first baseman Pete Alonso then hit 53 in 2019) and finished second in MVP voting to Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve that same year.

He hit 27 homers in both 2018 and 2019 but played in only 112 and 102 games, respectively, due to injuries. He has looked like a world-beater so far in 2020, crushing an MLB-leading nine home runs with 20 RBIs and a 1.101 OPS through 17 contests.

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'We are all choking': Hong Kong media mogul Jimmy Lai speaks out after arrest – theglobeandmail.com

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Hong Kong media tycoon and newspaper founder Jimmy Lai, center, walks out from a police station after being bailed out in Hong Kong on Aug. 12, 2020.

The Associated Press

The tightening legal regime in Hong Kong is suffocating a city that has long enjoyed liberties unavailable in other parts of China, says Jimmy Lai, the publishing tycoon arrested this week under a national security law imposed by Beijing.

“The oxygen is getting thin and we are all choking,” Mr. Lai said Thursday in an online discussion a day after he was released on bail. “But when we are choking, we are still taking care of each other – and keep resisting and keep fighting for our rule of law and freedom.”

Mr. Lai was arrested Monday and accused of colluding with foreign powers and conspiracy to defraud. He was released from police custody just after midnight Wednesday.

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His arrest has raised concerns at Next Digital, the publishing firm he founded, that he could be sent to mainland China for prosecution – and almost certain imprisonment – under the terms of the new national security law.

On Monday police also raided tabloid Apple Daily, one of Next Digital’s most important holdings.

On Thursday, Lau Siu-kai, a vice-president of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies who has been described in the city’s press as a spokesman for Beijing, argued that Next Digital “should not be considered a normal media organization” and should instead be seen as a political operation.

“The police operation at Next Media headquarters and their management-level offices involved documents and evidence of violations of the national security law,” he told the Beijing-owned Ta Kung Pao newspaper. “It is a case of the government enforcing the law at a political group, but it is not targeting a news organization.” The People’s Daily, one of Beijing’s central state media organs, said Mr. Lai’s release “did not mean that he can escape from precise punishment under the city’s law.”

But Mr. Lai, who has been a vocal scourge of the Chinese Communist Party, has remained defiant. Accused of foreign collusion, he nonetheless appeared in the online broadcast Thursday alongside Mike Gonzalez, a senior fellow at the Washington, D.C.-based Heritage Foundation. “There’s an enormous amount of men and women in Congress following your fate. You have America’s support,” Mr. Gonzalez said.

Mr. Lai responded by saying the voices of the American people are the best form of succour for Hong Kong because if “they voice out in support of Hong Kong, the politicians will have to listen and react. And that will be a very good saviour for us.”

More than a dozen of Hong Kong’s new national security police came to Mr. Lai’s home Monday morning, arriving shortly after he had completed his morning exercises. Still sweating, he asked if he could wash before being arrested. “You have to be very fast and you can’t close your door,” he was told. “We have to watch you.”

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Initially worried that he would be taken to mainland China, Mr. Lai was relieved to discover that none of the officers spoke Mandarin. “Because I knew that I won’t be sent to China at least.”

Police arrested a total of 10 people in Hong Kong Monday on national security grounds, including two of Mr. Lai’s sons, four of his executives, a freelance journalist for Britain’s ITV news network and Agnes Chow, one of the top young political activists in the city. The arrests took place 40 days after the imposition of the new law.

Mr. Lai did not address the substance of the allegations against him. He had predicted his own arrest under the law. But he expressed surprise that the police would act so quickly, particularly following the outcry from the international community, which has included the cancellation of extradition treaties with Hong Kong by Canada and other countries – out of concerns people sent to the city would be redirected to face trial in mainland China – and the U.S. imposition of sanctions against the city’s chief executive, Carrie Lam.

Mr. Lai believed authorities in Hong Kong and Beijing would initially “keep a low profile” in implementing the new law, he said, to maintain calm among investors and the business community.

Instead, he was led out of his home in handcuffs and held by police for more than a day and a half. He acknowledged that Hong Kong’s democracy movement is much less powerful than China’s Communist Party. “This is a long fight,” he said.

But, he added, the incompatibility between China’s authoritarian system and the liberal democratic order threatens turbulence for years to come unless Beijing alters course. “People want China to realize that without assimilating to international Western values, there won’t be peace in international trade or politics or diplomacy.”

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Though his future is uncertain – the accusations against him are punishable with life in prison – he emerged from custody more calm than when he entered.

His time in detention, he said, afforded him time to contemplate whether he would have made the same decisions in life if he knew they would lead to the charges he now faces.

He concluded that character is destiny, a realization that came with a sense of divine blessing. “It’s like God telling me, ‘Don’t fear. Just do what you do. I am with you,’” said Mr. Lai, a practising Catholic.

It was a feeling, he said, substantiated by the reaction to his arrest: the raucous group that gathered outside a police station after midnight to wish him well upon his release Wednesday; the crowds who have bought hundreds of thousands of copies a day this week of Apple Daily; the investors who have massively elevated Next Digital share prices.

“It’s just reaffirmed that whatever I have done wrong in the past, at least what I am doing now is right,” he said. “And it’s almost a message that: ‘Let’s go on.’”

Hong Kong’s pro-democracy tabloid Apple Daily responded with defiance on Tuesday to the arrest of owner Jimmy Lai, promising to ‘fight on’ in a front-page headline above an image of Lai in handcuffs. Ryan Brooks reports. Reuters

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Vietnam health ministry to buy Russian COVID-19 vaccine -state media – The Journal Pioneer

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By Phuong Nguyen

HANOI (Reuters) – Vietnam has registered to buy a Russian COVID-19 vaccine, state television reported on Friday, as it fights a new outbreak after going several months with no local cases.

Russia said on Wednesday that it would roll out the world’s first COVID-19 vaccine within two weeks, rejecting the concerns of experts who said it should not have been approved before completing large-scale trials.

“In the meantime, Vietnam will still continue developing the country’s own COVID-19 vaccine,” state broadcaster Vietnam Television (VTV) said, citing the Ministry of Health.

Vietnam has signed up for 50-150 million doses of the vaccine, Tuoi Tre newspaper reported. Some will be a “donation” from Russia, Tuoi Tre said, with Vietnam paying for the rest.

The ministry did not say when it expected to receive the vaccine, or how much it would cost. Last month, the ministry said Vietnam would have a home-grown vaccine available by the end of 2021.

Vietnam was lauded for suppressing an earlier outbreak contagion through aggressive testing, contact-tracing and quarantining, but it is now racing to control infections in multiple locations linked to the popular tourist city of Danang, where a new outbreak was detected on July 25.

Vietnam has reported a total of 911 infections, with 21 deaths. Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc has said the risk of wider contagion is very high, and that the next few days are critical.

The head of Vietnam’s coronavirus taskforce, Vu Duc Dam, said on Friday that Vietnam now had no choice but to “live safely with the virus”.

“We are implementing the anti-virus measures of a poor country, so everyone has to stay alert and know how to protect themselves from the virus,” Dam said, according to state media.

(Reporting by Phuong Nguyen; Editing by James Pearson and Kevin Liffey)

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