US Opens $500 Million Fund for Relatives of Boeing 737 Max Victims

A $500 million U.S. fund to compensate relatives of 346 people killed in two fatal Boeing 737 Max crashes has opened, the claim administrators told Reuters on Tuesday. The fund, which opened on Monday, is part of a settlement with the U.S. Justice Department. Boeing Co. in January agreed to pay $500 million to compensate the heirs, relatives and beneficiaries of the passengers who died in Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 in 2018 and 2019. Each eligible family will receive nearly $1.45 million, and money will be paid on a rolling basis as claim forms are submitted and completed, said administrators Ken Feinberg and Camille Biros in a joint statement. Families have until October 15 to complete claim forms. The Justice Department and Boeing declined to comment. The fund is part of a $2.5 billion Justice Department settlement reached in January with Boeing after prosecutors charged the company with fraud over the certification of the 737 Max following a Lion Air crash on Oct. 29, 2018, and an Ethiopian Airlines disaster on March 10, 2019. FILE – Dozens of grounded Boeing 737 Max aircraft are seen parked at Grant County International Airport in Moses Lake, Washington, Nov. 17, 2020.The settlement allowed Boeing to avoid criminal prosecution but did not impact civil litigation by victims’ relatives that continues. In July 2019, Boeing named Feinberg and Biros to oversee the distribution of a separate $50 million to the families of those killed in the crashes, and the new fund’s distribution follows a similar formula. While Boeing has mostly settled Lion Air lawsuits, it still faces numerous lawsuits in Chicago federal court by families of the Ethiopian crash asking why the Max continued flying after the first disaster. The DOJ settlement includes a fine of $243.6 million and compensation to airlines of $1.77 billion over fraud conspiracy charges related to the plane’s flawed design. The Justice Department said in January, “Boeing’s employees chose the path of profit over candor by concealing material information from the FAA concerning the operation of its 737 Max airplane and engaging in an effort to cover up their deception.” Some lawmakers say the government did not go far enough, while Boeing says it has taken numerous steps to overhaul its safety culture. Congress ordered a major overhaul of how the FAA certifies new airplanes in December and directed an independent review of Boeing’s safety culture. The 737 Max was grounded for 20 months after the two fatal crashes. The FAA lifted the order after Boeing made software upgrades and training changes. Last month, Boeing agreed to pay a $17 million FAA fine after it installed equipment on more than 700 Boeing 737 Max and NG aircraft that contained sensors that were not approved. “The FAA will hold Boeing and the aviation industry accountable to keep our skies safe,” FAA Administrator Steve Dickson said. 
 

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US Defense Secretary Backs Change in Military Sex Assault Prosecution

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Tuesday said, for the first time, that he will support long-debated changes to the military justice system that would remove decisions on prosecuting sexual assault cases from military commanders.  In a statement obtained by The Associated Press, Austin said he supported taking those sexual assault and related crimes away from the chain of command and letting independent military lawyers handle them. The Pentagon has long resisted such a change, but Austin and other senior leaders are slowly acknowledging that the military has failed to make progress against sexual assault and that some changes are needed. Austin pledged to work with Congress to make the changes, saying they would give the department “real opportunities to finally end the scourge of sexual assault and sexual harassment in the military.” His public support for the shift has been eagerly awaited, sending a strong signal to the military and boosting momentum for the change. The statement came a day before Austin testifies to the House Armed Services Committee amid escalating pressure from Congress to take concrete steps to address sexual assault. Austin’s memo, however, does not express any view on legislation that would make broader changes to the military justice system and require that independent lawyers handle all major crimes. Senator’s proposal Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat from New York, has the support of 66 senators for a bill that would have independent prosecutors handle felonies that call for more than a year in prison. But other key lawmakers and leaders of the military services have balked at including all major crimes, saying stripping control of all crimes from commanders could hurt military readiness, erode command authority, and require far more time and resources. FILE – Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., speaks during a news conference in New York, March 14, 2021.Until now, Austin said publicly that he was open to changes recommended by an independent review commission that he had appointed to take a look at sexual assault and harassment in the military. The panel said sexual assault, sexual misconduct, domestic violence, stalking, retaliation, child sexual assault and the wrongful distribution of photos should be removed from the chain of command. In the statement, Austin finally makes public that he supports the change, and says those additional crimes should be included because there is a strong correlation between them and the prevalence of sexual assault. According to a Defense official, Austin has reservations, like those expressed by his senior leaders, about the more expansive change outlined in Gillibrand’s bill. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations. Military leaders hesitant In recent weeks, military service secretaries and chiefs, in memos to Austin and letters to Capitol Hill, said they were wary about the sexual assault change and laid out greater reservations on more broadly revamping the military justice system. FILE – Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley speaks during a briefing at the Pentagon, May 6, 2021.General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said removing commanders from prosecution decisions “may have an adverse effect on readiness, mission accomplishment, good order and discipline, justice, unit cohesion, trust, and loyalty between commanders and those they lead.” In a letter to Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Milley acknowledged that the military hadn’t made sufficient progress in combating sexual assault. He has repeatedly said, though, that he’s open to the sexual assault change. The independent review panel on Monday presented Austin with an expansive set of recommendations to combat sexual assault in the military, including prevention, command climate, victim care and support. “Generally, they appear strong and well-grounded,” Austin said in his statement. “I have directed my staff to do a detailed assessment and implementation plan for my review and approval.” Next steps Austin said he will present his recommendations to President Joe Biden in the coming days. But he also noted that the changes will require additional personnel, funding and authorities. The ones that can be done under existing authority will be given priority, he said, and other changes may take more time and will need help from Congress. “As I made clear on my first full day in office, this is a leadership issue. And we will lead,” he said. “Our people depend upon it. They deserve nothing less.” In a recent interview with the AP, Gillibrand said the wider change is necessary to combat racial injustice within the military, where studies have found that Black people are more likely to be investigated and arrested for misconduct. Gillibrand has argued against limiting the change to sexual assault, saying it would be discriminatory and set up what some call a “pink” court to deal with crimes usually involving female victims. “I’m deeply concerned that if they limit it to just sexual assault, it will really harm female service members. It will further marginalize them, further undermine them, and they’ll be seen as getting special treatment,” she told the AP. 
 

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Native Americans Decry Unmarked Graves, Untold History of Boarding Schools

Clarence Smith was fresh off a 24-hour bus trip from his Blackfeet reservation in Montana to the Flandreau Indian School in South Dakota in the late 1980s, where he was sent by his family in the hope he would receive a better education. “On one of the first days of class, a white social studies teacher stood before our class and told us that we were lucky Columbus had found us, because otherwise we would still be living in teepees,” Smith said. He gazed down at the pair of Los Angeles Lakers sneakers he got just for his new school. If it weren’t for Columbus, he would still be in moccasins, he recalls thinking. Many years would pass before Smith began reeducating himself or, as he puts it, finding his own history. Flandreau, which declined comment, is one of at least 73 Native American schools out of an original 367 still in operation across the United States, according to researchers at the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition. Institutional silence One academic researcher contends that as many as 40,000 children may have died in the U.S.-run schools, or because of their poor care at them, but the federal government does not know or is unwilling to say how many children attended the schools, how many died in or went missing from them, or even how many schools existed. FILE – Interior Secretary Deb Haaland speaks during a news briefing at the White House in Washington, April 23, 2021.As a congresswoman representing New Mexico, Deb Haaland was among those who called for a commission to fully investigate the legacy of the Indian boarding schools. On Tuesday, in her new position as U.S. Interior secretary, Haaland announced that her department would investigate the schools and their lasting impact on the lives of Native Americans. The investigation will focus on children who died while attending the schools and on finding their unmarked graves. The department will gather as complete a record as possible on the schools, including where they were located and who attended them. “I know that this process will be painful and won’t undo the heartbreak and loss that so many of us feel,” Haaland said in remarks to the National Congress of American Indians. “But only by acknowledging the past can we work toward a future that we’re all proud to embrace.” Haaland is the first Native American to serve as a Cabinet secretary. The Interior Department oversees Indian schools, which churches began running in 1819 through federal funding. Conditions at former Indian schools gained global attention last month when tribal leaders in Canada announced the discovery of the unmarked graves of 215 children at the site of a former residential school for Indigenous children. ‘Cultural genocide’ The Canadian government said its Indigenous residential schools, the last of which closed in 1996, carried out “cultural genocide.” Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission has found that at least 4,100 students had died in the schools. Flandreau, which is still operating, was founded in 1892. At the time the ethos of such schools was expressed by U.S. Civil War veteran General Richard Pratt, who founded the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania in 1879 and said: “Kill the Indian, save the man.” Clarence Smith, who attended Chemawa Indian School in Oregon and the Flandreau Indian School in South Dakota, looks at a photo of one of his ancestors, whom he says died in the Baker Massacre in the 1800s, in Thornton, Colorado, June 18, 2021.Christine Diindiissi McCleave, chief executive officer of the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition, said unmarked graves linked to the schools also exist in the United States. “It’s a little bit annoying that so many people are shocked by that news” from Canada, McCleave said. “We’ve been trying to tell people about this for years.” Documented deaths Preston McBride, a Dartmouth College scholar, has documented at least 1,000 deaths at just four of the more than 500 schools that existed in the United States, including the non-boarding schools on reservations. His research has examined deaths from 1879 to 1934. The deaths were primarily from diseases made far more lethal in many of the schools because of poor treatment. The actual number of deaths is thought to be much higher. “It’s quite likely that 40,000 children died either in or because of these institutions,” said McBride, who estimates that tens of thousands more children were simply never again in contact with their families or their tribes after being sent off to the schools. “This is on the order of magnitude of something like the Trail of Tears,” McBride said, referring to the government’s forced displacement of Native Americans between 1830 and 1850. “Yet it’s not talked about.” Marsha Small, a Montana State University doctoral student, uses ground-penetrating radar to locate unmarked graves, including at the Chemawa Indian School cemetery in Salem, Oregon. The cemetery was left in disarray after original stone markers were leveled in 1960. So far, she’s found 222 sets of remains but says much more work is required to have a full accounting. “Until we can find those kids and let their elders come get them or know where they can pay respects, I don’t think the native is going to heal, and as such, I don’t think America is going to heal,” Small said. Chemawa, founded in 1880, is still operating. Native Americans acknowledge that the schools still operating have changed in important ways. Many are now under tribal oversight, and children are taught their home languages instead of being punished for speaking them. But the schools have yet to acknowledge their pasts, said the coalition’s McCleave and others. “Before we can move forward, they have to recognize that legacy,” she said. Chemawa referred Reuters to the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The Interior Department, the Bureau of Indian Education and the Bureau of Indian Affairs did not respond to emailed questions about acknowledging the schools’ pasts, efforts being made to find unmarked graves, and whether the bureau supports a congressional commission. Aurelio Morrillo, a 2020 Chemawa graduate who was raised for several years on the Gila River reservation in Arizona, said that while there he was never taught about the school’s past. “I feel like something is being hidden that we still don’t know about.”

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US Gives More Asylum-seekers Waiting in Mexico Another Shot

Thousands of asylum-seekers whose claims were dismissed or denied under a Trump administration policy that forced them to wait in Mexico for their court hearings will be allowed to return for another chance at humanitarian protection, the Homeland Security Department said Tuesday.Registration begins Wednesday, June  23, 2021, for asylum-seekers who were subject to the “Remain in Mexico” policy and either had their cases dismissed or denied for failing to appear in court, The Associated Press has learned.Under that criteria, it is unclear how many people will be eligible to be released into the United States pending a decision on their cases, according to a senior Homeland Security official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the announcement had not been made public.FILE – A group of migrants mainly from Honduras and Nicaragua wait along a road after turning themselves in upon crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, in La Joya, Texas, May 17, 2021.But Michele Klein Solomon, the International Organization for Migration’s director for North America, Central America and the Caribbean, told the AP that she expected at least 10,000. Her organization is working closely with the administration to bring people to the border and ensure they test negative for COVID-19 before being allowed in the country.The estimate could be low. There are nearly 7,000 asylum-seekers whose cases were dismissed — the vast majority in San Diego — and more than 32,000 whose cases were denied, mostly in Texas, according to Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse. It is unknown how many cases were denied for failure to appear in court.Many are believed to have left the Mexican border region, thinking their cases were finished, raising the possibility that they will make the dangerous trek to return. The official said the administration is aware of those dangers and considering bringing people to the United States, as it is doing to reunite families that remain separated years after Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy on illegal crossings.The move is another significant effort at redress for Trump policies that Biden administration officials and their allies say were cruel and inhumane and defenders say were extremely effective at discouraging asylum-seekers from coming to the U.S.Biden halted the policy his first day in office and soon allowed an estimated 26,000 asylum-seekers with active cases to return to the United States while their cases play out, a process that can take years in a court system backlogged with more than 1.3 million cases. More than 12,300 people with active cases have been admitted to the U.S. since February, while others who have registered but not yet entered the country bring the count to about 17,000.That still leaves out tens of thousands of asylum-seekers whose claims were denied or dismissed under the policy, known officially as “Migrant Protection Protocols.” Advocates have been pressing for months for them to get another chance, but the administration has been silent, leaving them in legal limbo. 

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WFP: Catastrophic Hunger Descending on Southern Madagascar 

The head of the World Food Program said Tuesday that more than a million people in southern Madagascar are “marching toward” starvation, and some 14,000 are already in famine-like conditions.“You really can’t imagine how bad it is,” David Beasley told a small group of reporters about the conditions he saw during his trip last week to the East African island nation.He said people are barely finding enough to eat, and many are dying. The WFP chief described people subsisting on mud and cactus flowers and hundreds of emaciated children with ripples of sagging skin on their limbs.“It’s something you see in a horror movie,” Beasley said.The country has suffered a series of successive droughts since 2014, leading to poor harvests. Last year, swarms of desert locusts swept through East Africa. Earlier this year two tropical storms appeared to bring some drought relief, but the rainfall, combined with warm temperatures, created ideal conditions for an infestation of fall armyworms, which destroy maize.“There is no conflict driving these hunger numbers in the south,” Beasley said, referring to the main cause of severe food insecurity affecting other countries. “It is strictly climate change; it is strictly drought upon drought upon drought.”Families have sold their land, their cattle and all their possessions to buy food.In the absence of food people eat locusts to survive. Ambovombe district is one of the most affected districts and Ankao is among the villages where situation has worsened the most. (Credit: WFP/Tsiory Andriantsoarana)The scope of the problem is daunting. More than a half million people in the south are one step away from starvation. Right behind them are roughly 800,000 more. Of the 14,000 already in famine-like conditions, WFP says their numbers could double in the coming months.Beasley said his agency needs $78.6 million to get 1.3 million people through the lean season, which will begin in September and run through March. And they need the money now because it takes 3 to 4 months to move food into southern Madagascar.“If we don’t get that money, then you are talking about at least a half a million people being in famine-like conditions,” said the WFP executive director.That money buys essential food items, including cereals, beans, lentils and cooking oil for families.Last week, the United States announced nearly $40 million in emergency assistance for southern Madagascar. The money will fund ongoing programs operated by WFP, UNICEF and Catholic Relief Services.Children get MUAC measurements taken by WFP staff in Ambovombe, one of the districts with a very high number of malnourished children, June 11, 2021. (Credit: WFP/Tsiory Andriantsoarana)The worsening food crisis in southern Madagascar is not the only looming famine Beasley’s agency is coping with.WFP said Tuesday that 41 million people are on the brink of famine in 43 countries, and it won’t take much to push them over the edge. That’s up from 27 million in 2019. The agency needs $6 billion to assist them.Ethiopia, Madagascar, South Sudan and Yemen are experiencing the severest food crises. Nigeria and Burkina Faso are also of special concern because they have in recent months had pockets of people in the highest crisis levels of hunger.“We are in unprecedented waters right now, unlike anything we have seen since World War II,” said Beasley. “The numbers are astounding.” 

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Elephant in the Room: Thai Family Gets Repeat Mammoth Visitor

Some families living in a jungle may be fearful of things going bump at night, but for one household in Thailand, the sight of an elephant rummaging through their kitchen was not a total shock.”It came to cook again,” wrote Kittichai Boodchan sarcastically in a caption to a Facebook video he shot over the weekend of an elephant nosing its way into his kitchen.Likely driven by the midnight munchies, the massive animal pokes its head into Kittichai’s kitchen in the early hours of Sunday, using its trunk to find food.At one point, it picks up a plastic bag of liquid, considers it briefly, and then sticks it in its mouth — before the video cuts out.Kittichai and his wife live near a national park in western Thailand, by a lake where wild elephants often bathe while roaming in the jungle.He was unperturbed by the mammoth mammal, recognizing it as a frequent visitor as it often wanders into homes in his village where it eats, leaves and shoots off back into the jungle.The elephant had actually destroyed their kitchen wall in May, he said, creating an open-air kitchen concept reminiscent of a drive-through window. This weekend, its sole task was to find food.Kittichai said a general rule of thumb in dealing with unwelcome visitors crashing is not to feed them.”When it doesn’t get food, it just leaves on its own,” he told AFP. “I am already used to it coming, so I was not so worried.”Wild elephants are a common sight in Thailand’s national parks and its surrounding areas, with farmers sometimes reporting incidents of their fruits and corn crops being eaten by a hungry herd. 

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Blinken Heads Back to Europe for Meetings on Libya, Defeating Islamic State

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is heading back to Europe, this time to Germany, France and Italy, to discuss a range of bilateral issues and attend meetings on Libya and combating the Islamic State terrorist group. VOA’s Senior Diplomatic Correspondent Cindy Saine reports from Washington. Produced by: Marcus Harton 
 

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World Bank, African Union Partner to Buy, Distribute 400 Million COVID-19 Shots

The World Bank announced a partnership with the African Union Tuesday to finance the acquisition and distribution of COVID-19 vaccine for 400 million people in Africa.In a remote news conference via Zoom, World Bank Managing Operations Director Axel van Trotsenburg said the World Bank is providing $12 billion to not only acquire but deploy 400 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine — a single dose shot — in support of the Africa Vaccine Acquisition Task Team (AVATT) initiative.The announcement comes a day after African finance ministers and the World Bank Group met to fast-track vaccine acquisition on the continent and avoid a third wave of COVID-19.Van Trotsenburg said the bank is making the financing available in an effort to address the imbalance in vaccine access between the world’s wealthy and not-so-wealthy nations.  He said, “Less than one percent of the African population has been vaccinated. Africa has been marginalized in this global effort to get a vaccine. We have to correct this unfairness; and given that this is a global pandemic, we need global solutions and global solidarity.”  The project will be a big step toward helping the African Union meet its goal to vaccinate 60% of the continent’s population by 2022.   Van Trotsenburg said the regional effort complements the work of the World Health Organization-managed COVAX vaccine cooperative and comes at a time of rising COVID-19 cases in the region.The World Bank has already approved operations to support vaccine roll outs in 36 countries. By the end of June, the World Bank expects to be supporting vaccination efforts in 50 countries, two thirds of which are in Africa.

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