McCain Again Takes on Trump Administration, Will Offer Afghan War Strategy

U.S. Senator John McCain was back in Arizona on Monday to begin treatment for brain cancer, but his situation did not stop him from again slamming the Trump administration for having “no strategy for success in Afghanistan” more than six months after the presidential inauguration.

“When the Senate takes up the National Defense Authorization Act in September, I will offer an amendment based on the advice of some our best military leaders that will provide a strategy for success in achieving America’s national interests in Afghanistan,” McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a statement released Monday.

“Eight years of a ‘don’t lose’ strategy has cost us lives and treasure in Afghanistan,” the Republican added. “Our troops deserve better.”

Defense Secretary James Mattis had promised to deliver to Congress a strategy by mid-July, yet no finished strategy has materialized. The administration is still debating a plan that could send up to 5,000 more American troops to Afghanistan, where the U.S. has been fighting the Taliban since 2001.

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Trump to Travel to Promote Tax Overhaul Legislation

President Donald Trump, who has been criticized for not doing enough to help pass health care legislation, will do more traveling to try to drum up support for tax legislation, a senior White House aide said on Monday.

Specifically, Trump could travel to some Midwest states like Michigan and Wisconsin that he won during the 2016 presidential campaign but are still represented by Democrats in Congress.

“In terms of travel, I think you will see him out there more … in the states where we need votes,” said Marc Short, the White House’s legislative liaison.

The Republican effort to repeal Obamacare failed in the Senate last week, leaving party leaders looking ahead to try to tackle an overhaul of the tax code. But it has also left many questioning how taxes will be different, especially if Trump, who suffers from low national approval ratings, does not become more actively involved in pushing for the bill.

Short said that unlike the health care, which he called more complicated, the White House has been working to build support for tax reform among national groups aligned with their ideology.

His remarks came at a tax panel discussion sponsored by Americans for Prosperity, a group funded by Republican donors Charles and David Koch that organizes supporters across the country to contact their members of Congress in favor of conservative legislation.

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, speaking on the same panel, echoed his remarks.

“The message is [tax reform] may not be perfect for everything you want, but it’s going to be really really good for the economy and better than what we have,” Mnuchin said.

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US Sanctions Maduro After ‘Illegitimate’ Vote

The United States has imposed sanctions on Venezuela’s president, Nicolas Maduro, over what it called his “illegitimate” election of an assembly to rewrite the constitution.

All of Maduro’s assets in the United States are frozen and Americans are forbidden from doing any business with him.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced the sanctions Monday in Washington, calling Maduro a “dictator” who ignores the will of the Venezuelan people.

“By sanctioning Maduro, the United States makes clear our opposition to the policies of his regime and our support for the people of Venezuela, who seek to reform their country to a full and prosperous democracy.”

Maduro showed his apparent indifference to the sanctions late Monday, calling them a sign of President Donald Trump’s “desperation and hate.”

“I will not obey imperial orders. I do not obey any foreign governments. I’m a free president,” Maduro declared. “Why the hell should we care what Trump says? We care about what the sovereign people of Venezuela say,” he shouted Monday to a crowd of supporters in Caracas.

The sanctions against Maduro follow those imposed last week on a number of current and former senior Venezuelan officials.

Mnuchin would not comment on future sanctions, including a ban on Venezuelan oil exports. He said the U.S. will monitor the situation, but that “our objective is not to do anything to hurt the people of Venezuela.”

Peru has called for a meeting of Latin America foreign ministers in Lima next week to discuss the crisis in Venezuela.

The European Union also says it will not recognize the assembly, along with Canada, Spain, and nearly every Latin American country.

Maduro is defying the global condemnation, especially from what he regards as Venezuela’s arch enemy, the United States.

Maduro presses ahead

The Maduro government appeared determined to go through with forming the 545-member constituent assembly, even before it releases final results of the election.

The government said more than 8 million people cast ballots; the opposition, which boycotted the vote, said the turnout was much lower. Reporters on the ground in Caracas said dozens of polling places were almost deserted Sunday.

If 8 million people voted, that would be less than half of all registered voters. Pre-election polls showed more than 70 percent of all Venezuelans opposed the assembly.

Details on what is likely to be included in a new constitution are unclear. Maduro has said it is the only way to pull Venezuela out of its severe economic and social crisis and stop the seemingly endless violence.

The opposition said the measure would bring on a socialist dictatorship. It contended the vote was rigged, in order to pack the assembly with Maduro supporters who could dissolve the opposition-controlled national assembly and fire officials who disagree with the government. Maduro’s opponents are demanding early presidential elections.

Violent protests

Sunday’s election was the bloodiest day in four months of anti-government protests, with at least 10 people killed in clashes around the country. More than 120 have died since early April.

Treasury Secretary Mnuchin on Monday accused the Venezuelan government of “deliberately and repeatedly” using violence to repress the opposition.

The drop in global energy prices, together with political corruption, have destroyed oil-rich Venezuela’s economy. Gasoline, medicine, and such basic staples as cooking oil, flour and sugar are scarce, and many Venezuelans cross into neighboring Colombia and Brazil to buy food.

Maduro has blamed the country’s woes on what he calls U.S. imperialism and its supporters inside Venezuela. He has warned against intervention by the Organization of American States, saying that would surely lead to civil war.

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Clooney Foundation to Open Schools for Syrian Refugees

George Clooney’s foundation is planning to open seven public schools for Syrian refugee children.


The Clooney Foundation for Justice announced a new partnership Monday with Google, HP and UNICEF to provide education for more than 3,000 refugee children in Lebanon.


George and Amal Clooney said in a statement Monday that the foundation’s commitment of more than $2 million toward education for Syrian refugees aims to prevent thousands of young people from becoming “a lost generation.”


The couple said Syrian refugee children “have been victims of geography and circumstance” for whom formal education can make all the difference.


George and Amal Clooney established the Clooney Foundation for Justice last year to support equity in courtrooms, classrooms and communities around the world.

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Trump Insists There’s No Chaos at White House

President Donald Trump insisted Monday there is no chaos at the White House, even as his new chief of staff is entering a West Wing battered by crisis.

Retired Gen. John Kelly, previously the Homeland Security secretary, takes over Monday from the ousted Reince Priebus, bringing his military experience to an administration weighed down by a stalled legislative agenda, a cabal of infighting West Wing aides and a stack of investigations.


While Trump is looking for a reset, he pushed back against criticism of his administration on Twitter Monday. He said: “Highest Stock Market EVER, best economic numbers in years, unemployment lowest in 17 years, wages raising, border secure, S.C.: No WH chaos!”

Kelly’s success in a chaotic White House will depend on how much authority he is granted and whether Trump’s dueling aides will put aside their rivalries to work together. Also unclear is whether a new chief of staff will have any influence over the president’s social media histrionics.


Former Trump campaign manager Cory Lewandowski, who was ousted from the campaign in June 2016, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he expected Kelly would “restore order to the staff” but also stressed that Trump was unlikely to change his style.


“I say you have to let Trump be Trump. That is what has made him successful over the last 30 years. That is what the American people voted for,” Lewandowski said. “And anybody who thinks they’re going to change Donald Trump doesn’t know Donald Trump.”

Kelly’s start follows a tumultuous week, marked by a profane tirade from the new communications director, Trump’s continued attacks on his attorney general and the failed effort by Senate Republicans to overhaul the nation’s health care law.


In addition to strain in the West Wing and with Congress, Kelly starts his new job as tensions escalate with North Korea. The United States flew two supersonic bombers over the Korean Peninsula on Sunday in a show of force against North Korea, following the country’s latest intercontinental ballistic missile test. The U.S. also said it conducted a successful test of a missile defense system located in Alaska.


Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that she hopes Kelly can “be effective,” and “begin some very serious negotiation with the North and stop this program.”


Another diplomatic fissure opened Sunday when Russian President Vladimir Putin said the U.S. would have to cut its embassy and consulate staff in Russia by several hundred under new sanctions from Moscow. In a television interview, Putin indicated the cutback was retaliation for new sanctions in a bill passed by Congress and sent to Trump.


Trump plans to sign the measure into law, the White House has said. After Putin’s remarks, the State Department deemed the cutbacks “a regrettable and uncalled for act” and said officials would assess the impact and how to respond to it.


While Trump is trying to refresh his team, he signaled that he does not want to give up the fight on health care. On Twitter Sunday, he said: “Don’t give up Republican Senators, the World is watching: Repeal & Replace.”


The protracted health care fight has slowed Trump’s other policy goals, including a tax overhaul and infrastructure investment. But Trump aides made clear that the president still wanted to see action on health care. White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said on CNN’s “State of the Union,” that senators “need to stay, they need to work, they need to pass something.”


Asked if nothing should be voted on in Congress until the Senate votes again on health care, Mulvaney said: “well, think _ yes. And I think what you’re seeing there is the president simply reflecting the mood of the people.”


On Saturday, Trump threatened to end required payments to insurance companies unless lawmakers repeal and replace the Obama-era health care law. He tweeted that if “a new HealthCare Bill is not approved quickly, BAILOUTS for Insurance Companies and BAILOUTS for Members of Congress will end very soon!”


The payments reduce deductibles and co-payments for consumers with modest incomes. Trump has guaranteed the payments through July, but has not made a commitment going forward.

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said on “Fox News Sunday” that Trump would make a decision on the payments this week.


Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who opposed the efforts to move a health bill forward this week, said on CNN that cutting the payments would “be detrimental to some of the most vulnerable citizens” and that the threat has “contributed to the instability in the insurance market.”


The House has begun a five-week recess, while the Senate is scheduled to work two more weeks before a summer break.

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Is Washington Sending Signal of Renewed Commitment to Balkans?

As Vice President Mike Pence prepares to visit Montenegro and hold talks with Western Balkan leaders this week, a senior State Department official says U.S. engagement in the region remains strong. This is being welcomed by those countries’ leaders amid concerns that deep cuts in the proposed budget for the State Department could diminish Washington’s role in these fragile democracies exposed to Russian interference. VOA’s Keida Kostreci reports.

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Jeanne Moreau Dies at 89

Husky-voiced, French actress Jeanne Moreau has died. She was 89.

The French president’s office announced her death Monday in a statement.

American director Orson Welles once described Moreau as “the best actress in the world.”

Moreau is perhaps best known, in her long, prolific career, for her role in Francois Truffaut’s 1962 film “Jules and Jim.”

Her international career found her acting in films with a host of directors, including Welles, Michelangelo Antonioni, Tony Richardson and Luis Bunel.

She turned down the role of Mrs. Robinson in Mike Nichols “The Graduate.”

She received a number of awards for her work, including a best actress prize at Cannes, a BAFTA, and a honorary Oscar.

French President Macron said Moreau “embodied cinema” and was a free spirit who “always rebelled against the established order.” He praised her range that extended beyond her early roles as a femme fatale.

Moreau, who worked into her 80s, was found dead at her home in Paris Monday morning, the French news agency, AFP, reported.

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First American Woman Conquers K2

Vanessa O’Brien has become the first American woman to summit K2, the world’s second highest mountain at 8,611 meters.

The 52-year-old former banker from New York led a nine-member team of international climbers and planted the U.S. flag on top of K2 on July 28.

The mountain is located at Pakistan’s border with China and considered one of the world’s most dangerous peaks for climbers.

The first male American team conquered “the savage mountain” 39 years ago.

This was O’Brien’s third attempt at K2 after having been unsuccessful in 2015 because of unusually harsh weather conditions, and in 2016 when an avalanche swooped in and buried all the expedition equipment stashed at CAMP-3, its high altitude operational base.

Bad weather prevented all other international teams from summiting K2 in those two years.

It took O’Brien’s team 16 hours from CAMP-4 at 7681 meters to the top, a very long time, but the weather held.

She told VOA on Monday after safely descending to K2 base camp at 5,100 meters she was exhausted but very grateful for her team’s success.

“This was by far the hardest undertaking I have ever come across. Not just the 50 kilometer winds and snow pushing against you, but the pure blue ice underneath your feet that threatened to pull you off balance at any second,” said the climber, who also holds British nationality.

“I was constantly reminded of the 84 people who came before me and lost their lives commemorated at the Gilkey Memorial,” she added. O’Brien was referring to the place near the K2 base camp, where the victims are laid to rest.

The Memorial is named after Art Gilkey, the American who died of serious illness during an unsuccessful attempt by his team of mostly U.S. climbers in 1953.

“A proud day for #woman everywhere at the top of #K2, the world’s second highest mountain,” O’Brien announced via Twitter from shortly after scaling the peak on Friday.

“One of the most important flags I carried to the top of #K2 was #Pakistan, a country that has showed me so much love & support #PakistanZindabad (long live Pakistan),” she said in another message on her Twitter post with a picture of the green and white Pakistani flag.

Heavy snowfall and unstable weather were again a factor this year and O’Brien’s was the only expedition to reach the top, said Nazir Sabir, the chief organizer of the expedition and veteran Pakistani mountaineer.

O’Brien conquered Mt. Everest, the world’s highest peak at 29,035 feet, in 2010. But she describes K2 as more challenging and fascinating for mountaineers.

“K2 is the perfect triangle. Mountains are not shaped that way. In reality, they are very peculiar and they have got lots of places to rest and go higher and stop. This is boom, a triangle. It is asking for 110 percent effort day one,” O’Brien said.

While routine avalanches do pose risks, she says, due to climate change rocks on K2 that used to be fixed to earth and frozen are now just broken and they come down in rock avalanches.

“So, you have got the snow avalanches, you have got the rock avalanches, you have got extreme weather and unpredictable weather. Any one of those three could kill the expedition at a moment’s notice. So, it is just fraught with danger and that is probably why for every four of that climb, one dies,” O’Brien noted.

Sabir praised O’Brien for her courage, saying that even top Himalayan climbers give up somewhere around second attempt.

“I think her determination paid off but we have to understand that there was a brilliant planning behind it. All other six teams gave up and went home while Vanessa and her team were looking for a weather window and it clicked and they used every minute and climbed every inch to the summit,” he told VOA.

WATCH: Report about O’Brien’s attempt at K2 Summit

O’Brian is the 19th woman to have survived the climb to the top. Before undertaking the latest mission, she held the record of being the fastest woman to climb the seven summits, the highest peaks on each of the seven continents.

Sabir praised Vanessa as “a friend of Pakistan and a messenger of peace”, hoping her repeated visits and successfully summiting K2 will send a positive image of Pakistan and encourage more Americans and international expeditions to visit the country.

Militant attacks have in recent years worsened security conditions in Pakistan, discouraging foreigners from visiting the country. But authorities say successes in counterterrorism operations have reduced the threat and improved security.


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