Contains selective news articles I select

Posts tagged ‘Christila Section’

Historic 124-year-old Central Texas church burns to ground

July 30, 2019

WESTPHALIA, Texas (AP) — A historic rural Roman Catholic church that had served its surrounding Central Texas farming community for more than a century has burned to the ground. Photos posted on the Austin Catholic diocesan Facebook page show the Church of the Visitation in Westphalia fully involved in flames Monday morning, being reduced to nothing more than ashes.

The parish has served the faithful of southwestern Falls County, many of them immigrants from the northwest German region of Westphalia, since 1883. The church building dated to 1895 and was said to be the largest all-wood church in the state. Its stained-glass windows, more than 20 in all, were shipped to Westphalia from Germany.

No injuries were reported. A statement from the diocese says the cause of the fire has yet to be determined. Westphalia is a community of about 190 residents about 70 miles northeast of Austin. The Church of the Visitation has 244 members.

Advertisements

Woman set to replace Puerto Rico’s governor doesn’t want job

July 29, 2019

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — The woman who is supposed to replace Puerto Rico’s embattled governor announced Sunday that she doesn’t want the job as the U.S. territory reels from political crisis. Justice Secretary Wanda Vázquez said in a Twitter post that she hopes Gov. Ricardo Rosselló will appoint a secretary of state before resigning Aug. 2 as planned.

Former Secretary of State Luis Rivera Marín would have been next in line as governor, according to the U.S. territory’s constitution. But he is one of more than a dozen officials who have resigned in recent weeks since someone leaked an obscenity-laced chat in which Rosselló and close advisers insulted people including women and victims of Hurricane Maria.

Rosselló on Wednesday announced that he would step down following nearly two weeks of massive protests amid anger over the chat, corruption charges against several former government officials and a 13-year recession. In the chat, the 40-year-old Democrat and son of a governor called a female politician a “whore,” referred to another as a “daughter of a bitch,” and made fun of an obese man with whom he posed in a photo.

Rosselló became the first governor to resign in the modern history of Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory of 3.2 million American citizens. He is more than halfway through his four-year term. Marín’s resignation had left Vázquez as next in line to be governor. But she said she has already told Rosselló about her wishes not to get the job, creating a chaotic scenario about who will be Puerto Rico’s next leader.

If Rosselló’s choice for a secretary of state is not approved by the island’s House and Senate, Puerto Rico’s law dictates the treasury secretary would be next in line if the justice secretary doesn’t become governor. But current Treasury Secretary Francisco Parés is too young at 31 years old. The constitution dictates the person would have to be at least 35, so that would leave interim Education Secretary Eligio Hernández next in line. He replaced former education secretary Julia Keleher, who resigned in April and was arrested July 10 on federal corruption charges. She has pleaded not guilty.

“This is crazy,” political expert Mario Negrón Portillo said in a phone interview on Sunday. “We have no idea what’s even going to happen tomorrow. Societies cannot live with this type of uncertainty.”

Vázquez’s comments came less than an hour after Public Affairs Secretary Anthony Maceira resigned. “There were many challenges that we had to face together as Puerto Ricans, although sometimes we differed,” he said. “The work of each one of us must continue with the welfare of our island and its people as its north.”

The announcement comes a day before Puerto Ricans planned another march, this time against Vázquez, who is accused of not ordering an investigation into the alleged mismanagement of supplies for hurricane victims, among other things.

Vázquez said on Friday that there is a lot of misinformation but that she cannot speak publicly about certain cases. “The vicious attacks on my personal and professional integrity continue,” she said. “The desire and agenda of some to try to undermine my credibility at this moment of transcendental importance to Puerto Rico and to destabilize the governmental order is evident.”

A spokeswoman for Vázquez did not immediately return a message for comment on Sunday. Aimara Pérez, a 32-year-old drafter who participated in some of the most recent marches, said she did not want Vázquez as governor.

“We’re going to keep protesting,” she said. “It’s not going to stop. If there is evidence of corruption, the people are going to push ahead without fear, and we’re going to get rid of them all.”

US government will execute inmates for first time since 2003

July 26, 2019

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Justice Department said Thursday the federal government will resume executing death-row inmates for the first time since 2003, ending an informal moratorium even as the nation sees a broad shift away from capital punishment.

Attorney General William Barr instructed the Bureau of Prisons to schedule executions starting in December for five men, all accused of murdering children. Although the death penalty remains legal in 30 states, executions on the federal level are rare.

“The Justice Department upholds the rule of law — and we owe it to the victims and their families to carry forward the sentence imposed by our justice system,” Barr said. The move is likely to stir up fresh interest in an issue that has largely lain dormant in recent years, adding a new front to the culture battles that President Donald Trump already is waging on matters such as abortion and immigration in the lead-up to the 2020 elections.

Most Democrats oppose capital punishment. Vice President Joe Biden this week shifted to call for the elimination of the federal death penalty after years of supporting it. By contrast, Trump has spoken often — and sometimes wistfully — about capital punishment and his belief that executions serve as both an effective deterrent and appropriate punishment for some crimes, including mass shootings and the killings of police officers.

“I think they should very much bring the death penalty into vogue,” Trump said last year after 11 people were gunned down in a Pittsburgh synagogue. He’s suggested repeatedly that the U.S. might be better off if it adopted harsh drug laws like those embraced by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, under whom thousands of drug suspects have been killed by police.

Trump was a vocal proponent of the death penalty for decades before taking office, most notably in 1989 when he took out full-page advertisements in New York City newspapers urging elected officials to “BRING BACK THE DEATH PENALTY” following the rape of a jogger in Central Park. “If the punishment is strong,” he wrote then, “the attacks on innocent people will stop.”

Five Harlem teenagers were convicted in the Central Park case but had their convictions vacated years later after another man confessed to the rape. More than a decade after their exoneration, the city agreed to pay the so-called Central Park Five $41 million, a settlement Trump blasted as “outrageous.”

The death penalty remains legal in 30 states, but only a handful regularly conduct executions. Texas has executed 108 prisoners since 2010, far more than any other state. Executions on the federal level have long been rare. The government has put to death only three defendants since restoring the federal death penalty in 1988, the most recent of which occurred in 2003, when Louis Jones was executed for the 1995 kidnapping, rape and murder of a young female soldier.

In 2014, following a botched state execution in Oklahoma, President Barack Obama directed the Justice Department to conduct a broad review of capital punishment and issues surrounding lethal injection drugs.

That review has been completed, Barr said Thursday, and it has cleared the way for executions to resume. Barr approved a new procedure for lethal injections that replaces the three-drug cocktail previously used in federal execution with a single drug, pentobarbital. This is similar to the procedure used in several states, including Georgia, Missouri and Texas.

Though there hasn’t been a federal execution since 2003, the Justice Department has continued to approve death penalty prosecutions and federal courts have sentenced defendants to death. Robert Dunham, the executive director of the nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center, said he was concerned the process for resuming executions was rushed.

“The federal government hasn’t carried out any executions in 15 years and so that raises serious questions about the ability to carry out the executions properly,” he said. There are 61 people on the federal death row, according to Death Row USA, a quarterly report of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Some of the highest-profile inmates on federal death row include Dylann Roof, who killed nine black church members during a Bible study session in 2015 at a South Carolina church, and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who set off bombs near the Boston Marathon’s finish line in 2013, killing three people and wounding more than 260.

About 6 in 10 Americans favor the death penalty, according to the General Social Survey, a major trends survey conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago. While a majority continue to express support for the death penalty, the share has declined steadily since the 1990s, when nearly three-quarters were in favor.

The inmates who will be executed are: Danny Lee, who was convicted of killing a family of three, including an 8-year-old; Lezmond Mitchell, who beheaded a 63-year-old woman and her 9-year-old granddaughter; Wesley Ira Purkey, who raped and murdered a 16-year-old girl and killed an 80-year-old woman; Alfred Bourgeois, who tortured, molested and then beat his two-and-a-half-year-old daughter to death; and Dustin Lee Honken, who killed five people, including two children.

The federal government would join eight states that have executed inmates or are planning to do so this year, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Texas is far and away the leading state when it comes to using the death penalty, with 563 executions since capital punishment resumed in the U.S. in 1977 after a 10-year pause.

In the past 20 years, the Supreme Court has banned the execution of people who are intellectually disabled or were under 18 when they killed someone. But even as the number of people who are sentenced to death and are executed has declined steadily for two decades, the justices have resisted any wholesale reconsideration of the constitutionality of capital punishment.

The five-justice conservative majority, which includes Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, Trump’s two high court picks, has complained about delaying tactics employed by lawyers for death row inmates.

Associated Press writers Jill Colvin, Mark Sherman, Elana Schor and Hannah Fingerhut contributed to this report.

Puerto Rico’s governor to quit Aug. 2 in face of protests

July 25, 2019

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló announced late Wednesday that he will resign Aug. 2, conceding power after nearly two weeks of furious protests and political upheaval touched off by a leak of crude and insulting chat messages between him and his top advisers.

A crowd of thousands outside the governor’s mansion in Old San Juan erupted into cheers and singing after Rosselló’s announcement on Facebook just before midnight. “My only priority has been the transformation of our island and the well-being of our people,” a shaken-looking Rosselló said in an address that listed his accomplishments before making clear he was resigning. Addressing the protests, Rosselló said, “The demands have been overwhelming and I’ve received them with highest degree of humility.”

The 40-year-old son of a former governor, Rosselló became the first chief executive to resign in the modern history of Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory of more than 3 million American citizens without full representation in Congress or the right to vote for president.

Justice Secretary Wanda Vázquez will assume the post less than halfway through Rosselló’s four-year term, becoming Puerto Rico’s second female governor. “It’s historic, but we have to be cautious. What will happen beyond this? There are concerns, but there is also hope,” designer Jalil Serrano said. Gesturing to the young crowd outside the mansion, he said, “This belongs to them.”

Daniel López, a businessman also in the protest, wiped tears from his eyes as people leaped into the air, beat drums, waved flags, hugged and cried, “We did it!” “This is for the future of my family,” López said. “It’s big, what’s happened.”

Rosselló’s announcement came after a bizarre, hours-long standoff unfolded in colonial Old San Juan, as the governor pledged to deliver a message to the people of Puerto Rico, then passed hour after hour in unexplained silence while thousands of protesters chanted demands for his resignation.

An announcement was first expected at 5 p.m., then finally came less than a half-hour before midnight. “Despite expecting to service the term that the people democratically elected me to, today I feel that continuing in this position represents a threat to the success we have achieved,” Rosselló said.

Puerto Rico Rep. Gabriel Rodríguez, a member of Rosselló’s pro-statehood party, told The Associated Press that legislators had initially agreed to set aside the impeachment process and give the governor until 5 p.m. to announce that he was going to resign. The president of Puerto Rico’s House of Representatives issued the embattled governor an ultimatum: Either take the best decision for a U.S. territory demanding his resignation or face an impeachment process.

At one point, dozens of officers in full riot gear marched out of the governor’s mansion toward protesters. “We want peace, and they want war!” the crowd yelled as many became increasingly frustrated.

Hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans have been outraged by the online chats between Rosselló and his advisers, and have protested for nearly two weeks demanding his resignation. The chat participants discussed the awarding of government contracts in ways that some observers called potentially illegal. They also insulted women and mocked constituents, including victims of Hurricane Maria. Rosselló called a female politician a “whore,” referred to another as a “daughter of a bitch,” and made fun of an obese man with whom he posed in a photo.

On Tuesday, officials announced that a Puerto Rico judge had issued search warrants for the cellphones of government officials involved in the chat as part of an investigation. One of the search warrants said officials used the chat to transmit official and confidential information to private citizens in potential violation of ethics laws.

More than a dozen government officials have resigned since the chat was leaked earlier this month, including Rosselló confidant and chief of staff Ricardo Llerandi, former Secretary of State Luis Rivera Marín and former chief financial officer Christian Sobrino, who also held five other positions.

The obscenity-laced online messages involving the governor and 11 other men infuriated Puerto Ricans already frustrated with corruption, mismanagement, economic crisis and the sluggish recovery from Hurricane Maria nearly two years ago.

In reaction, tens of thousands took to the streets to demand Rosselló’s resignation in Puerto Rico’s biggest demonstrations since the protests that put an end to U.S. Navy training on the island of Vieques more than 15 years ago.

Under Puerto Rico’s constitution, the secretary of state would normally assume the governorship, but since Secretary of State Luis Rivera Marín became one of more than a dozen officials to resign in the uproar over the leak, leadership of the island falls to Vázquez.

Over the weekend, Rosselló posted a video on Facebook in which he announced he would not seek re-election in 2020 or continue as head of his pro-statehood political party, but his refusal to resign further angered Puerto Ricans and led to a colossal demonstration Monday on one of the capital’s main highways.

Pressure on Rosselló to step down included calls from Puerto Rico music stars Ricky Martin, Bad Bunny and Residente and a string of U.S. politicians, including members of Congress from both parties and several Democratic presidential candidates.

The upheaval comes as the island tries to restructure part of $70 billion in debt and cope with a 13-year recession that has led to an exodus of nearly half a million people to the U.S. mainland in the past decade. Many Puerto Ricans are resentful over the resulting pension cuts, school closings and other austerity measures.

The economic crisis is in part a result of previous administrations — including that of Rosselló’s father, Pedro — that overspent, overestimated revenue and borrowed millions as the island sank deeper into debt. In 2017, Puerto Rico filed for the equivalent of bankruptcy. Congress approved a financial package, and a federal board is overseeing the island’s finances.

An MIT graduate with a doctorate in genetics, Rosselló spent much of his time as governor fighting austerity measures and seeking federal funds after Maria devastated the island in September 2017, causing thousands of deaths and more than $100 billion in damage.

Nearly two years later, some 30,000 homes still have tarp roofs, power outages remain common, and Puerto Rico has received less than a third of the roughly $40 billion pledged by the U.S. government. Rosselló complained earlier this year of unfair treatment and a hostile attitude from some U.S. officials.

The public’s confidence has also been rocked by a recent string of corruption arrests involving such figures as the island’s former education secretary and the one-time chief of health services.

Associated Press writers Mariela Santos in San Juan and Michael Weissenstein in Havana contributed to this report.

Insitu nets $390.4M for Blackjack, ScanEagle drones for U.S. military, allies

by Allen Cone

Washington (UPI)

Jul 1, 2019

Insitu was awarded a $390.4 million contract to supply Blackjack drones for the U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Navy, as well as Blackjacks and smaller ScanEagle unmanned air vehicles, for three foreign allies.

The contract, announced Friday by the Department of Defense, covers 63 RQ-21A Blackjack attrition air vehicles for the U.S. military branches, plus six RQ-21A unmanned aircraft systems and 17 Blackjack air vehicles for Canada, Poland and Oman under foreign military sales. The contract also includes 93 ScanEagle unmanned aircraft systems “in various configurations,”

The deal will include training, testing and engineering, operations support, maintenance and other services, Pentagon said.

Eight-three percent of the work will be performed at Insitu’s plant in Bingen, Wash., with 5 percent at various locations into the continental United States and 12 percent outside. Work is expected to be completed in June 2022.

Naval fiscal 2019 operation and maintenance, fiscal 2019 building partnership capacity, and FMS funds in the amount of $9.9 million will be obligated at time of award, $9.5 million of which will expire at the end of the current fiscal year.

Neither drone model requires a runway, and can operate from land and sea.

The RQ-21A Blackjack is a military version of Insitu’s Integrator drone.

A single RQ-21A unmanned aircraft system includes five air vehicles, including two ground control stations and other equipment.

Each drone’s six payload spaces can carry up to 39 pounds with an endurance of 16-plus hours per day.

The Blackhack is considered a category 3 drone with maximum gross takeoff weight of less than 1,320 pounds, normal operating altitude of less than 18,000 feat above mean sea level and less than 250 knots per hour. It weighs 81 pounds and the length is 8.2 feet, according to the company.

The Insitu ScanEagle drone, which has been deployed with the U.S. Marine Corps since 2004 and the U.S. Navy since 2005, is a smaller long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicle.

As a category 2, it can operate up to 19,500 feet and loiter over a battlefield for extended missions of 24-plus hours. Its normal operating altitude is less than 3,500 feet at an airspeed less than 250 knots per hour.

At a length of 3.9 feet and 39.7 pounds, its payload is a high resolution, day/night camera and thermal imager.

Source: Space War.

Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Insitu_nets_3904M_for_Blackjack_ScanEagle_drones_for_US_military_allies_999.html.

Washington appoints new ambassador to Turkey after 2 years

June 28, 2019

The US Senate has nominated a new Ambassador to Turkey, the embassy in the Turkish capital Ankara announced today. “We have exciting news!” Tweeted the embassy. “Last night, the US Senate confirmed Ambassador David Satterfield to be the next US Ambassador to Turkey. We look forward to welcoming him in the near future. Stay tuned!”

Satterfield, a senior diplomat across two decades, has served in a variety of posts in the Middle East and was picked for his extensive experience in the region, as well as the fact that besides English he speaks four other languages: Arabic, French, Italian and Hebrew.

He has been Coordinator for Iraq and Senior Advisor to the Secretary of State from 2006 to 2009; Special Advisor to the Secretary of State for Libya in 2014; and Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs since 2017. In addition to those posts, Satterfield has also held top positions at US missions in Syria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Lebanon.

The post of Ambassador to Turkey has been vacant for almost two years since the previous Ambassador, John Bass, left his position due to a visa crisis between Washington and Ankara. He now serves as US envoy to Afghanistan.

The new appointment comes at a time when US-Turkish relations have been tense and in decline, with a clash of national interests over regional and foreign policy issues. The US has recently been threatening Turkey with sanctions due primarily to the latter’s purchase of Russia’s S-400 missile defense system, which Washington claims will compromise the security of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and is technologically incompatible with its F-35 fighter jets.

Another issue has been Turkey’s drilling for natural gas in the eastern Mediterranean off the coast of Cyprus. A new pipeline is to be built after a $9 billion agreement was struck between southern Cyprus, Greece and Israel in early June.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20190628-washington-appoints-new-ambassador-to-turkey-after-2-years/.

U.S. Marines test vehicle-mounted laser for shooting down drones

by Ed Adamczyk

Washington DC (UPI)

Jun 20, 2019

The U.S. Marines announced Wednesday that they are testing a portable, ground-based laser prototype for shooting down drones.

The Compact Laser Weapons System, or CLaWS, is the first ground-based directed energy weapon approved by the Defense Department. It will be evaluated for several months, with the aim of upgrading it to be included in fixed-site and other mobile situations.

Boeing Co. first announced the weapon in 2015. It is a portable device capable of using an invisible laser to take down targets several hundred meters away. It was designed to focus energy on a small enough spot to heat and destroy targets, including moving ones — such as drones.

“Think of it like a welding torch being put on target but from many hundreds of meters away,” Boeing engineer Isaac Neil said at the time of the introduction.

In 2018, Boeing expressed an interest in mounting the CLaWS on tactical vehicles, including the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle under development to replace the Humvee. The CLaWS comes in 2-, 5- and 10-kW variants and can be carried by two or more Marine personnel.

“One of the related aspects of the CLWS is that it’s a counterintelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance tool,” said Jim Leary, Boeing director of weapons global sales. “You can shoot down enemy drones that might be observing friendly troops. That’s the beauty of this laser.”

Source: Space War.

Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/US_Marines_test_vehicle-mounted_laser_for_shooting_down_drones_999.html.

Tag Cloud