Last WWII Medal of Honor Recipient Dies 

Hershel “Woody” Williams, the last surviving Medal of Honor recipient from World War II, died Wednesday at a hospital in Huntington, West Virginia. He was 98.

The Marine Corps veteran received the nation’s highest military award for valor for his actions in the Battle of Iwo Jima. The battle took the lives of 7,000 Marines and was one of the bloodiest of the war.

“Today, America lost not just a valiant Marine and a Medal of Honor recipient, but an important link to our nation’s fight against tyranny in the Second World War,” Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said. “I hope every American will pause to reflect on his service and that of an entire generation that sacrificed so much to defend the cause of freedom and democracy.”

On February 23, 1945, Williams, then a 21-year-old Marine corporal and flamethrower operator, single-handedly destroyed multiple Japanese pillboxes and other gun emplacements at great danger to himself.

According to his citation, on one occasion, he “daringly mounted a pillbox to insert the nozzle of his flamethrower through the air vent, killing the occupants, and silencing the gun; on another he grimly charged enemy riflemen who attempted to stop him with bayonets and destroyed them with a burst of flame from his weapon.”

His actions came on the same day as the iconic flag raising at Mount Suribachi, an image captured by an Associated Press reporter that has become a symbol of American military resilience during the war.

Williams was the last of the 473 American service members who received a Medal of Honor in World War II. 

His death was announced by the Woody Williams Foundation, a nonprofit organization that serves Gold Star military families. The cause was not immediately available.

The National Medal of Honor Museum tweeted Wednesday that “Woody exemplified a life of service through his bravery during the Battle of Iwo Jima, as an advocate for veterans & through the Woody Williams Foundation serving Gold Star Families.”

 

Williams grew up on a West Virginia dairy farm and joined the Marines when he was 19.

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US, Iran Indirect Talks to Revive 2015 Nuclear Pact End Without Progress

Indirect talks between Tehran and Washington aimed at breaking an impasse about how to salvage Iran’s 2015 nuclear pact have ended without the progress “the EU team as coordinator had hoped-for,” EU’s envoy Enrique Mora tweeted Wednesday.

“We will keep working with even greater urgency to bring back on track a key deal for non-proliferation and regional stability,” Mora said.

The talks began Tuesday with Mora as the coordinator, shuttling between Iran’s Ali Bagheri Kani and Washington’s special Iran envoy Rob Malley.

“What prevented these negotiations from coming to fruition is the U.S. insistence on its proposed draft text in Vienna that excludes any guarantee for Iran’s economic benefits,” Iran’s semi-official Tasnim said, citing informed sources at the talks.

Then-U.S. President Donald Trump ditched the pact in 2018 and reimposed crippling sanctions on Iran’s economy. A year later, Tehran reacted by gradually breaching the nuclear limits of the deal.

More than 11 months of talks between Tehran and major powers to revive their nuclear deal stalled in March, chiefly over Tehran’s insistence that Washington remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), its elite security force, from the U.S. Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO) list.

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US-Backed Task Force Seizes More Than $30 Billion Worth of Russian Oligarch Assets

An international task force created in March to put pressure on Russia to end its war in Ukraine has blocked more than $30 billion worth of funds and property owned by Russian oligarchs, the group announced on Wednesday. 

In addition to seizing yachts and luxury homes, the task force, known as Russian Elites, Proxies and Oligarchs (REPO), has frozen about $300 billion worth of Russian Central Bank assets, REPO members said in a joint statement. Ukraine is seeking the frozen funds for its reconstruction.

“REPO’s work is not yet complete,” the statement said. “In the coming months, REPO members will continue to track Russian-sanctioned assets and prevent sanctioned Russians from undermining the measures that REPO members have jointly imposed.”

The U.S.-led task force was created on March 17 with the purpose of confiscating the assets of Russian individuals and entities that have been sanctioned in connection with Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine. In addition to the United States, its members include Australia, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the European Commission.

Since the start of the invasion, the U.S. Treasury Department has imposed sanctions on hundreds of entities and individuals close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In the latest move on Tuesday, the Treasury Department announced sanctions against 70 Russian entities, many deemed critical to Russia’s defense capabilities, and 29 Russian individuals. 

As part of the U.S. pressure campaign on Russia, the U.S. Justice Department launched Task Force KleptoCapture in March. Working with foreign partners, the task force has seized assets owned by Russian oligarchs worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

In April, Spanish authorities, at the request of the Justice Department, seized a super yacht owned by Russian billionaire Viktor Vekselberg. 

In May, Fijian authorities seized a $300 million yacht owned by another sanctioned oligarch, Suleiman Kerimov. The 106-meter luxury Amadea arrived in San Diego Bay on Monday, the Justice Department said.

Ukrainian officials say they want to take possession of the frozen Russian assets, including hundreds of billions of dollars in Russian Central Bank reserves, to fund reconstruction in Ukraine.  

Last month, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the cost of rebuilding his country’s economy and infrastructure could run up to $600 billion.

Several European countries have backed Ukraine’s call, while the Justice Department has asked Congress for authority to transfer some of the proceeds of oligarch assets to Ukraine.  

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US Supreme Court Expands State Power Over Tribes in Win for Oklahoma

WASHINGTON, June 29 (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday widened the power of states over Native American tribes and undercut its own 2020 ruling that had expanded Native American tribal authority in Oklahoma, handing a victory to Republican officials in that state.

The court ruled 5-4 in favor of Oklahoma over the state’s attempt to prosecute Victor Castro-Huerta, a non-Native American convicted of child neglect in a crime committed against a Native American child – his 5-year-old stepdaughter – on the Cherokee Nation reservation.

The change of course only two years after the previous ruling in a case called McGirt v. Oklahoma was made possible by conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s appointment to the court by Republican former President Donald Trump to replace the late liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch, as he did in 2020, joined with the court’s liberal bloc in favor of Native American interests, but its expanded conservative majority meant that this time he was in the minority.

A state court threw out Castro-Huerta’s conviction, saying the Supreme Court’s ruling in the McGirt case deprived state authorities of jurisdiction in his case and gave responsibility to federal courts.

As a result of the McGirt ruling, about 3,600 cases every year in Oklahoma were set to fall under federal instead of state jurisdiction.

In the McGirt decision, the Supreme Court recognized about half of Oklahoma – much of the eastern part of the state – as Native American reservation land beyond the jurisdiction of state authorities. That ruling, criticized by Governor Kevin Stitt and other Republicans, meant that many crimes on the land in question involving Native Americans would need to be prosecuted in tribal or federal courts.

The state already prosecutes crimes committed in the affected land in which no Native Americans are involved. Tribal courts handle crimes committed by and against Native Americans.

Tribes had welcomed the McGirt ruling as a recognition of their sovereignty. The Supreme Court in January rejected Oklahoma’s request to outright overturn it.

Castro-Huerta was convicted in state court of neglecting his stepdaughter, who has cerebral palsy and is legally blind, and sentenced to 35 years in prison. The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals last year threw out that conviction because of the 2020 precedent. Castro-Huerta by then was already indicted for the same underlying offense by federal authorities, transferred to federal custody and pleaded guilty to child neglect.

He has not yet been sentenced.

There are 574 federally recognized tribes in total, although some states have very little tribal land. The population of Native Americans and Alaska Natives combined in the United States is 3.7 million, according to the 2020 U.S. Census.

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Alaska’s Strategic Importance: US Bolsters ‘Last Frontier’ Bases on NATO’s Western Flank

Known as America’s “Last Frontier,” Alaska conjures up thoughts of polar bears, subzero temperatures and expansive areas of little-explored terrain around the Arctic Circle.

Alaska’s often harsh environment makes year-round living difficult at best, with some areas accessible only by boat or aircraft.

The state is more than double the size of Texas with a population about the size of Washington, D.C.

Yet despite the geographic and environmental challenges, the U.S. military has staked its claim there since the 1860s, when the U.S. bought the territory from Russia and nearly a century before Alaska became a U.S. state.

In the last decade, the military has redoubled its efforts in the far north, investing billions of dollars upgrading air and missile defenses while completely revamping the foundational structure of its Army forces.

At Eielson Air Force Base, near the Arctic Circle, the Air Force just added 54 of the nation’s new F-35 stealth fighter jets. The jets, perched at the top of the world, are prepared to respond to conflicts anywhere in the northern hemisphere.

The base operates year-round, even in skin-burning minus 50-degree weather, when airmen can withstand the frigidity for only minutes at a time.

In warmer weather, the base hosts multiple Red Flag Alaska exercises: war games for thousands of American troops to train in combat-like situations with allies from around the globe.

At Clear Space Force Station, about 160 kilometers southwest of Eielson, the U.S. Space Force, Alaska Air National Guard and members of the Missile Defense Agency monitor threats in space, including North Korean intercontinental ballistic missile launches.

In December, the Clear station team received a new tool in their missile-tracking arsenal, the Long Range Discrimination Radar, or LRDR, which officials say is the most sophisticated ground-based radar on the globe, capable of seeing farther than other ground-based radars while simultaneously differentiating among multiple small objects.

At Fort Greely, an Army garrison about 120 km south of Eielson, a team of soldiers protects 40 ICBM-killing weapons known as Ground Based Interceptors in silos deep underground. The U.S. recently added 20 silos there, which will house new and improved anti-ICBM weapons known as Next Generation Interceptors around 2028.

At the Army’s Fort Wainwright, near the Arctic Circle, and Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson near in the state’s largest city, Anchorage, soldiers this month were assigned a new identity, transforming from a hodgepodge structure under the U.S. Army Alaska flag to the newly resurrected 11th Airborne Division. The “Arctic Angels,” as they’re called, vow to “regain” American dominance in the Arctic.

VOA visited each of these military locations to get a first-hand look at the new upgrades in action, hidden in plain sight deep within the remote Alaskan wilderness.

 

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Takeaways From First Primaries Since Roe v. Wade Overturned 

A rare Republican who supports abortion rights found success in Colorado in the first primary elections held since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, while New York’s first female governor positioned herself to become a major voice in the post-Roe landscape.

In Illinois, Democrats helped boost a Republican gubernatorial candidate loyal to former President Donald Trump in the hopes that he would be the easier candidate to beat in November. And in at least two states, election deniers were defeated, even as pro-Trump lightning rods elsewhere won.

Takeaways from the latest round of primary elections:

Abortion on the ballot

The abortion debate consumed the nation this week, but there was no race where it mattered more than Colorado’s Republican primary for the U.S. Senate, where businessman Joe O’Dea became one of the only abortion-rights-supporting Republican in the nation to win a statewide primary this year.

O’Dea beat back a stiff challenge from state Rep. Ron Hanks, a Trump loyalist who opposed abortion with no exceptions for rape, incest or the life of the mother.

O’Dea will face Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet in November, and if he wins, he would become just the third Senate Republican — and the only male — to support abortion rights.

He said he backs a ban on late-term abortions and government funding of abortions but that the decision to terminate a pregnancy in the initial months is “between a person and their God.”

Democrats had spent at least $2.5 million on ads designed to boost O’Dea’s opponent by promoting, among other things, that he was “too conservative” for backing a complete abortion ban.

Democrats hoped that the Roe decision would give them an advantage in several swing states, including Colorado. But, at least for now, O’Dea’s victory would seem to complicate the Democrats’ plans.

A win for Trump or for the democrats?

In the final weeks of a campaign, Trump once again attached himself to a Republican who was leading the race. This time, it was farmer Darren Bailey in Illinois, who easily cruised to the GOP nomination in the governor’s race.

But while Trump can add Bailey to his endorsement record, Democrats are betting that his victory may be short-lived.

Bailey now goes on to face Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker in the November general election, which is just what Pritzker and his allies wanted. Pritzker, the billionaire heir to the Hyatt hotel fortune, and the Democratic Governors Association spent heavily on advertising to help Bailey win the GOP nomination. Among other things, the ads reminded the state’s Democratic-leaning electorate that he is “100% pro-life.”

It’s a risky gamble. While Bailey may look like an easier opponent in the general election, it’s feasible that he could ride a red wave — if it materializes — to the Illinois governor’s mansion. Pritzker’s predecessor in office was a Republican.

Bailey showed off political acumen by besting the early Republican front-runner Richard Irvin, the mayor of Illinois’ second-largest city, Aurora. Irvin lost despite being the beneficiary of a staggering $50 million investment from billionaire Ken Griffin. Irvin, who is Black, refused to say whether he voted for Trump and largely avoided talking about abortion, delivering the kind of moderate message that could have cut across ideological lines in a general election.

Instead, Republicans nominated Bailey, a Trump loyalist who reads from Bible verses in campaign videos and proudly touts his anti-abortion policies in a state Trump lost by 17 percentage points in 2020.

Hochul’s opportunity

The scandals of the men around her did not derail New York Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul, who overcame primary challengers on the right and left to win her first election test as the state’s chief executive.

Now, Hochul, New York’s first female governor, is positioned to emerge as a leading voice in the Democratic Party as it navigates the post-Roe landscape.

The low-profile Hochul stepped into one of the nation’s most prominent governorships last fall after Andrew Cuomo resigned in the midst of a sexual harassment scandal. She had promised to restore New Yorkers’ faith in their government, only for her handpicked lieutenant governor to be arrested this spring in a federal corruption probe.

Hochul was either “consistently shamefully out of the loop, or shamefully enabling through her inaction,” charged one of her primary challengers, New York City’s elected public advocate, Jumaane Williams.

The attack ultimately didn’t land in the primary. But don’t expect such criticism to disappear as the race for New York governor enters its next phase.

Rep. Lee Zeldin emerged from a crowded Republican field to earn the GOP nomination for governor. He defeated Andrew Giuliani, the son of New York City’s former mayor Rudy Giuliani, among others.

And while Hochul has a serious reelection test ahead, look for her to step into the national spotlight as the abortion debate rages.

The Democratic governor said in recent days that New York would be a “safe harbor” for those seeking abortions.

Election deniers go down

They celebrated their allegiance to Trump’s baseless conspiracy theories on the campaign trail. But on Tuesday night, a handful of these so-called election deniers had nothing to cheer about.

In Colorado, Republican voters did not reward secretary of state candidate Tina Peters for championing Trump’s lies about election fraud. She was bested by Pam Anderson, a former county clerk who previously led the state clerks’ association and defends the state’s mail-in elections system.

Some officials in both parties worried that Peters would win the primary. That’s even after Peters, the Mesa County clerk, was indicted for a security breach spurred by conspiracy theories related to the 2020 presidential election. The state GOP had called on her to suspend her campaign.

Now, Anderson, not Peters, will take on incumbent Democratic Secretary of State Jena Griswold, who’s led the national fight against 2020 election deniers.

Elsewhere in Colorado, Senate candidate Hanks had also promoted lies about the last presidential election. In addition to being an outspoken opponent of abortion rights, he had attended the “Stop the Steal” rally that preceded the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

And in Mississippi, Trump loyalist Michael Cassidy lost a runoff election to incumbent Rep. Michael Guest, who had voted to create an independent commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack. Cassidy said in campaign speeches that Guest had done nothing to stop “the persecution of Jan. 6 political prisoners.”

Lighting rods win

Two Republicans familiar with controversy tested for the first time whether Republican voters deemed them too extreme to go back to Congress. They both prevailed.

First-term Rep. Mary Miller, who campaigned alongside Trump over the weekend, defeated five-term Rep. Rodney Davis, who was considered more moderate. The primary victory all but ensures Miller will return to Congress for another term given the heavy Republican advantage in her 15th Congressional District, which is the most Republican district in the state.

Miller won just days after describing the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade as a victory for white life.'' A spokesperson later said she had intended to say the decision was a victory for aright to life.”

Miller is no stranger to provocative statements. Soon after joining the House, Miller quoted Adolf Hitler, saying he was right to say that “whoever has the youth has the future.”

And in Colorado, Trump loyalist Lauren Boebert defeated a moderate state representative who had run a primary campaign focused on Boebert’s extremism. It didn’t work.

Boebert’s controversial moves are many. She vowed to carry a handgun on the House floor. She faced calls for her censure last year after being caught on video making Islamophobic comments about Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar. And she heckled President Joe Biden in his first State of the Union address.

But after winning her primary, she is almost certain to return to Congress for another two years. Her GOP-leaning 3rd Congressional District in western Colorado became even more Republican after redistricting.

A Roe shift in Nebraska?

Nebraska’s low-profile special election to fill the remainder of former Rep. Jeff Fortenberry’s term was not supposed to be close. Republicans have held the district for nearly 60 years.

Yet Republican Mike Flood defeated Democrat Patty Pansing Brooks by only 4 percentage points on Tuesday.

The specific cause of the margin wasn’t immediately unclear, although there was evidence of higher turnout in one Democratic-leaning county that could be related to the Roe decision.

Heading into election day, Flood appeared to have a strong edge in the district, which includes Lincoln, parts of suburban Omaha and dozens of smaller, more conservative towns. The district has nearly 68,000 more Republicans than Democrats and hasn’t elected a Democrat to the House since 1964.

What happened? Lancaster County, home to the state capital and the University of Nebraska, offers some clues.

In 2020, Fortenberry won the district by nearly 22 percentage points, but he lost Lancaster County by less than 1 percentage point. In Tuesday’s special election, the Republican Flood lost Lancaster County by more than 13 percentage points.

In the end, the swing wasn’t enough to move a heavily-Republican district, but Democrats could look to the results for hope that the Roe decision will be a significant motivator for the Democratic base.

Incidentally, Fortenberry was sentenced to two years of probation on Tuesday for lying to the FBI. Flood and Pansing Brooks are expected to face off again in the November general election.

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Williams Stunned by Tan in First-Round Wimbledon Exit

Seven-time champion Serena Williams suffered a second straight Wimbledon first-round exit as she was stunned by French debutant Harmony Tan in a late-night Centre Court epic on Tuesday.

A year after the American retired, injured from what many feared would be her last Wimbledon match, her return had been eagerly anticipated. But the 115th-ranked Tan ripped up the script with a nerve-shredding 7-5 1-6 7-6(7) win.

With the Centre Court roof closed for the final two sets and the time approaching the 11 p.m. Wimbledon curfew, Tan had one match point snatched away when the 40-year-old Williams served at 5-6 in a rollercoaster deciding set.

A weary Williams then appeared close to victory as she built a 4-0 lead in the super tiebreak.

But Tan, who had never played in a Wimbledon main draw match before let alone against one of the game’s greats on a show court, was not done.

Sticking to the slice and slow ball shots that had flummoxed Williams throughout an absorbing duel, she clawed her way into a 9-7 lead before sealing victory as Williams netted a forehand.

Williams, who had not played a singles match since retiring hurt against Aliaksandra Sasnovich here last year, went through every emotion in 3 hours and 11 minutes of drama and put her fans through the wringer, too.

But in the end, a lack of match sharpness proved too much as another quest for a 24th Grand Slam title hit the buffers and the question is will she ever get another chance.

Tan, who had only ever won two Grand Slam main draw matches compared to the 98 won at Wimbledon alone by Williams, could hardly believe what she had done after clinching by far the biggest victory of her modest career.

“I’m so emotional now. Serena is a superstar and when I was young I was watching her so many times on the TV,” the 24-year-old said on court. “For my first Wimbledon, it’s wow. Just wow.

“When I saw the draw I was really scared. Because it’s Serena Williams, she’s a legend. I thought if I could win one or two games it was really good for me.”

‘Better than last year’

While defeat, which by ranking of opponent was the worst of her Wimbledon career, was a bitter pill to swallow, Williams said it was easier to accept than last year.

“It was definitely a very long battle and fight and it’s definitely better than last year. That’s a start,” Williams told reporters. “I think physically I did pretty good. I think the last couple of points I was really suffering there.”

Asked if she would be back at Wimbledon, Williams was coy.

“That’s a question I can’t answer. I don’t know. Who knows? Who knows where I’ll pop up?”

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