WWII Code Talker and longtime NM lawmaker dies at 94

John Pinto, a Navajo Code Talker in World War II who became one of the nation’s longest serving Native American elected officials as a New Mexico state senator, has died. He was 94.

Senate colleague Michael Padilla confirmed Pinto’s death in Gallup on Friday after years of suffering from various illnesses that rarely kept him from his duties.

After serving as a Marine, Pinto was elected to the Senate in 1976 and represented a district that includes the Navajo Nation for more than four decades. The region is one of the poorest in the country.

“Words cannot express the sadness we feel for the loss of a great Dine warrior,” said Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez, using the indigenous word for Navajo. “He dedicated his life to helping others.”

Born in Lupton, Arizona, on the Navajo Nation to a family of sheep herders. Pinto didn’t start formal schooling until he was nearly a teenager. 

“At the age of 12, I was in kindergarten,” Pinto told the Albuquerque Journal in a 2007 interview. “I guess I did all right.”

Pinto also recalled that his grandparents told of being forced at gunpoint from their land in the 1860s by the U.S. Army in the forced relocation of the Navajo people on foot to southern New Mexico.

After serving as a Code Talker — a group of radio men who translated American coordinates and messages into an indecipherable code based on the Navajo language — Pinto had to take an English test four times before he was finally admitted into the University of New Mexico’s College of Education.

He graduated with a bachelor’s in elementary education at 39, and eventually earned his master’s, becoming a teacher and a truancy officer in Gallup.

Pinto delved into politics to address the needs of impoverished indigenous populations. The Democrat won a seat in state Senate in 1976 as one of the state’s first Native American senators.

An unassuming appearance and manner belied Pinto’s political determination that carried him through 42 years in the Legislature. Laurie Canepa, the senior librarian for the Legislative Council Service, said that made him the longest serving senator in state history.

Manny Aragon, the state’s one-time Senate president, tells the story of driving to the Statehouse in a January 1977 snowstorm and picking up a middle-aged Navajo man who was hitchhiking in Albuquerque. The hitchhiker was newly elected Sen. Pinto.

“I just thought he was a transient,” Aragon said.

In the Legislature, Pinto advocated for education reform and anti-poverty programs. Receiving a lifetime achievement award in 2016, Pinto recalled going hungry at times as a child while his parents juggled odd jobs and said the experience influenced his work on issues of homelessness as a lawmaker.

Every year, Pinto would sing on the Senate floor the “Potato Song” — a Navajo song about a potato, planted in the spring and visited in the summer until it is harvested. Fellow senators, staff and aides clapped along to Pinto’s rendition.

Lenore Naranjo, the Senate’s chief clerk, says Pinto taught her bits of Navajo language over the decades.

“A beautiful man is all I can say,” Naranjo said.

Tailored Service with a Personal Consultant

Defying Congress, Trump Sets Arms Sales to Saudis, UAE

U.S. President Donald Trump, saying there is a national emergency because of tensions with Iran, swept aside objections from Congress and cleared the sale of $8 billion worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan.

The Trump administration informed congressional committees on Friday that it will go ahead with 22 military sales to the Saudis, United Arab Emirates and Jordan, infuriating lawmakers by circumventing a long-standing precedent for congressional review of such sales.

In documents sent to Congress and seen by Reuters, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo listed a wide range of products and services that would be provided to the three countries. They include Raytheon precision-guided munitions (PGMs), support for Boeing Co F-15 aircraft, and Javelin anti-tank missiles, which are made by Raytheon and Lockheed Martin Corp.

Some lawmakers and congressional aides had warned earlier this week that Trump, frustrated with Congress holding up weapons deals like the sale of the Raytheon-made bombs to the Saudis, was considering using a loophole in arms control law to go ahead by declaring a national emergency.

Lawmakers had been blocking sales of offensive military equipment to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for months, concerned about the huge civilian toll of the two countries’ air campaign in Yemen and human rights abuses like the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at a Saudi consulate in Turkey.

Congressional sources said Friday’s order included all the defense equipment that members of Congress had been blocking. “I am disappointed, but not surprised, that the Trump Administration has failed once again to prioritize our long-term national security interests or stand up for human rights, and instead is granting favors to authoritarian countries like Saudi Arabia,” Senator Bob Menendez said in a statement.

Menendez is one of the members of Congress who reviews such sales because he is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Another, the Republican Foreign Relations Committee chairman, Senator Jim Risch, said he had received formal notification of the administration’s intent to move forward with “a number of arms sales.”

In a statement, Risch said, “I am reviewing and analyzing the legal justification for this action and the associated implications.”

The White House and State Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment. In his memorandum to Congress justifying the sale, Pompeolisted years of actions by Iran. “Iranian malign activity poses a fundamental threat to the stability of the Middle East and to American security at home and abroad,” he wrote, and cited “a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings” from Tehran. 

Congressional aides questioned the contention that the weapons had to do with Iran, saying the equipment and services listed by the administration includes large amounts of offensive weapons, like the PGMs and tank ammunition. They said lawmakers have not been blocking defensive equipment such as Patriot missile defense systems that have been sold to the Saudis.

“This is all materiel that arguably could be used in the Yemen military operation. The defensive stuff we’ve cleared,” one congressional aide said.

Tailored Service with a Personal Consultant

(Im)migration Weekly Recap, May 19-24  

Editor’s note: We want you to know what’s happening, why and how it could impact your life, family or business, so we created a weekly digest of the top original immigration, migration and refugee reporting from across VOA. Questions? Tips? Comments? Email the VOA immigration team: [email protected]

Six migrant children have died in U.S. custody

A previously unreported migrant death was acknowledged by U.S. officials on Wednesday, days after a 16-year-old Guatemalan boy suffering flu symptoms died in U.S. Customs and Border Protection custody. That brings the total number of announced migrant child deaths that occurred under U.S. custody to six since December 2018.

On Thursday, Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan told a Senate panel that that the escalating humanitarian and security crisis on the border has overwhelmed the system and depleted resources.

These are the six migrant children who have died in U.S. custody:

·  Carlos Gregorio Hernandez-Vasquez, 16, Guatemala, died May 20 of influenza A.

·  Wilmer Josué Ramírez Vásquez, 2, Guatemala, died May 14 of pneumonia.

·  Juan de León Gutiérrez, 16, Guatemala, died April 30; cause of death: under investigation, suffered from Pott’s puffy tumor; experienced fever, chills, headache.

· Felipe Alonzo-Gomez, 8, Guatemala, died December 24; cause of death: under investigation, tested positive for influenza B.

· Jakelin Amei Rosmery Caal Maquin, 7, Guatemala, died December 8 of sepsis shock.

· Darlin Valle, 10, El Salvador, died September 29 (reported May 22) of fever and respiratory distress; had a history of congenital heart defects.

Migrant Ghetto’ Crackdown in Denmark

Denmark’s right wing coalition government has adopted the term “ghetto” in a crackdown on migrant communities with large Muslim populations. The government identified 30 districts nationwide where it plans to force children to attend classes on “Danish values,” as VOA’s Henry Ridgwell reports.

The topic is being viewed in part as a referendum on immigration, ahead of this week’s EU Parliament elections. 

UN Palestinian Refugee Agency Pleads for Funds

Funding for operations that support Palestinian refugees could dry up by mid-June, the commissioner-general of the the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) told the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday. UNRWA provides education, health care, and other essential services to more than 5 million Palestinian refugees in the Gaza Strip, West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. 

From the feds:

·   U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers have arrested 31 individuals in New York City, Long Island and the Hudson Valley, during a five-day enforcement surge (May 19-23). ICE reports that 26 of those arrested were convicted criminals or had criminal charges pending.

·  U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced a digital immigration processing system, intended to facilitate immigration benefit requests, with more classifications on the way.

Tailored Service with a Personal Consultant

Lawyers Near Deal to Settle Weinstein Co. Civil Lawsuits

A tentative deal has been reached to settle multiple lawsuits brought against the television and film company co-founded by Harvey Weinstein, who has been accused of sexual misconduct by scores of women.

Attorneys involved in the negotiations told a federal bankruptcy court judge during a hearing in Wilmington, Delaware, Thursday that a breakthrough in a still-unfinished mediation had put a settlement within reach.

The amount of the deal wasn’t revealed in court, but a person familiar with the negotiations told The Associated Press it was worth $44 million. The person wasn’t authorized to reveal details of the discussions and spoke on condition of anonymity.

“We now have an economic agreement in principal that is supported by the plaintiffs, the (New York attorney general’s) office, the defendants and all of the insurers that, if approved, would provide significant compensation to victims, creditors and the estate and allow the parties to avoid years of costly, time consuming and uncertain litigation on all sides,” Adam Harris, a lawyer for studio co-founder Bob Weinstein, told the judge.

He cautioned that there was still “a lot of work here to do.” But, he added, “I personally am very optimistic.”

The size of the settlement was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

At least 15 lawsuits

More than 15 lawsuits have been filed accusing Harvey Weinstein or the company of misconduct. The settlement would cover many of them, including a class action by alleged victims that accuses the film company of operating like an organized crime group to conceal widespread sexual harassment and assaults.

It would also resolve a civil suit by the New York attorney general alleging that Harvey Weinstein’s media company, in enabling his mistreatment of women, violated labor laws.

The New York attorney general’s office declined to comment on the amount of the settlement.

Any settlement would need to be approved by the courts.

Criminal charges unaffected

Harvey Weinstein also faces criminal charges in New York of rape and performing a forcible sex act. His trial is scheduled to begin in September. The settlement wouldn’t resolve his criminal case.

Weinstein denies all allegations of nonconsensual sex.

An attorney who represents unsecured creditors in the bankruptcy of the Weinstein film studio, Robert Feinstein, told U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Mary Walrath that mediation talks that had broken down a few months ago had recently been restarted.

A global settlement of the class action lawsuit and all other legal action against the Weinstein Co. seemed to become possible only in the past few days, he said, though he cautioned that many details remained to be resolved.

Harris said the settlement was complex because of the number of claims, and insurance companies, involved.

“We’re dealing with potential claims here that go back more than 25 years,” he said, adding that the nature of the allegations had also made for “a highly charged environment, with very strong feelings on all sides.”

Tailored Service with a Personal Consultant

DHS Cites Insufficient Resources in Deaths of Migrant Children

The Trump administration has blamed the escalating humanitarian and security crisis at the southern U.S. border for the deaths of several migrant children. The head of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security told a Senate panel Thursday that the number of arrivals has accelerated in recent months, making it hard to process families and unaccompanied children. VOA’S Zlatica Hoke reports the deaths of the children while in U.S. custody have caused a public outrage.

Tailored Service with a Personal Consultant

Trump Considering Troop Deployment to Deter Iran

The White House is considering a plan presented by the Pentagon Thursday to send thousands more troops to the Middle East to deter potential Iranian threats. Earlier this week, Trump administration officials told lawmakers the U.S. is not trying to provoke Tehran. Many are concerned that mixed messages from the administration may increase the risk of conflict and lessen the chance of persuading Iran to halt its nuclear weapons program. White House correspondent Patsy Widakuswara has this report.

Tailored Service with a Personal Consultant

3 Killed in Missouri as Tornado Strikes State Capital

A tornado caused heavy damage in Missouri’s capital city as severe weather swept across the state overnight, causing at least three deaths and injuring nearly two dozen people as homes and businesses were ripped apart.

The National Weather Service confirmed that the large and destructive tornado moved over Jefferson City shortly before midnight on Wednesday.

“Across the state, Missouri’s first responders once again responded quickly and with strong coordination as much of the state dealt with extremely dangerous conditions that left people injured, trapped in homes, and tragically led to the death of three people,” Gov. Mike Parson said. 

Missouri Public Safety said the three were killed in the Golden City area of Barton County, near Missouri’s southwest corner, as the severe weather moved in from Oklahoma, where rescuers struggled to pull people from high water. The tornado hit during a week that has seen several days of tornadoes and torrential rains in parts of the Southern Plains and Midwest.

No deaths were reported in the capital, but Jefferson City Police Lt. David Williams said about 20 people were rescued by emergency personnel. 


The weather service reported that a “confirmed large and destructive tornado” was observed over Jefferson City at 11:43 p.m. Wednesday, moving northeast at 40 mph (64 kph). The capital city has a population of about 40,000 and is located about 130 miles (209 kilometers) west of St. Louis.

“It’s a chaotic situation right now,” Williams said.

Williams spoke from the Cole County Sheriff’s office, where debris including insulation, roofing shingles and metal pieces lay on the ground outside the front doors. Authorities were discouraging people from beginning clean-up efforts until power is safely restored. Area hospitals set up command centers in case the need arises.

Missouri Public Safety tweeted that there was a possibility of more tornadoes and flash flooding.

Austin Thomson, 25, was in the laundry room of his complex of two-story apartment buildings to do his wash and noticed the wind started picking up. He saw sheets of rain coming down and a flagpole bend and then slam to the ground. The windows broke and he dove behind the washers and dryers.

After it calmed down, he walked outside to check the damage, and retrieved a stuffed animal for his daughter from his damaged apartment.

“There’s basically one building that’s basically one story now,” he said. 


The weather service said it had received 22 reports of tornadoes by late Wednesday; some could be duplicate reporting of the same twister.

One tornado skirted just a few miles north of Joplin, Missouri, on the eighth anniversary of a catastrophic tornado that killed 161 people in the city. The tornado caused some damage in the town of Carl Junction, about 4 miles (6.44 kilometers) north of the Joplin airport, where several injuries were reported.

The severe weather was expected to continue Thursday as the storms head east. Forecasters at the Storm Prediction Center say parts of the Ohio Valley and the Mid-Atlantic could see tornadoes, large hail and strong winds. Forecasters say the area most at risk for bad weather Thursday includes Baltimore and Pittsburgh.

Flooding and runaway barges

Storms and torrential rains have ravaged the Midwest, from Texas through Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri and Illinois. Authorities urged residents of several small towns in Oklahoma and Kansas to leave their homes as rivers and streams rose.

Two barges broke loose and floated swiftly down the swollen Arkansas River in eastern Oklahoma, spreading alarm downstream as they threatened to hit a dam. A posting on the official Facebook page of the river town of Webbers Falls, Oklahoma, said the runaway barges posed a dire threat to its 600 residents: “Evacuate Webbers Falls immediately. The barges are loose and has the potential to hit the lock and dam 16. If the dam breaks, it will be catastrophic!! Leave now!!”

Authorities located the barges Thursday morning, stuck on rocks in the swollen river. The Oklahoma Highway Patrol says the barges were still tied together, and crews were working to secure them.

Still, the Interstate 40 bridge and a state highway bridge remain closed over the Arkansas River at Webbers Falls as a precaution, according to the Oklahoma Department of Transportation. Over Memorial Day weekend in 2002, a barge struck the Interstate 40 bridge pier at Webbers Falls, causing part of the bridge to collapse into the Arkansas River. Fourteen people died after their vehicles plunged into the water.

Weather-related deaths

Deaths from this week’s storms include a 74-year-old woman found early Wednesday morning in Iowa. Officials there say she was killed by a possible tornado that damaged a farmstead in Adair County. Missouri authorities said heavy rain was a contributing factor in the deaths of two people in a traffic accident Tuesday near Springfield.

A fourth weather-related death may have occurred in Oklahoma, where the Highway Patrol said a woman apparently drowned after driving around a barricade Tuesday near Perkins, about 45 miles (72 kilometers) northeast of Oklahoma City. The unidentified woman’s body was sent to the state medical examiner’s office to confirm the cause of death. Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management spokeswoman Keli Cain said she isn’t yet listed as what would be the state’s first storm-related death.

Tailored Service with a Personal Consultant

FAA Chief Has No Timetable for Boeing 737 MAX Approval

The acting head of the Federal Aviation Administration said on Wednesday he does not have a specific timetable to approve Boeing Co’s 737 MAX for flight after two fatal crashes since October prompted the plane to be grounded worldwide.

The FAA is meeting with more than 30 international air regulators including China, the European Union, Brazil and Canada on Thursday to discuss a software fix and new pilot training that Boeing has been developing to ensure the jets are safe to fly.

“It’s a constant give and take until it is exactly right,” Deputy FAA Administrator Dan Elwell told reporters of the discussions with Boeing. “It’s taking as long as it takes to be right,” he said, adding: “I’m not tied to a timetable.”

The plane was grounded in March following a fatal Ethiopian Airlines crash just months after a similar Lion Air disaster in Indonesia which together killed 346 people.

American Airlines and Southwest Airlines have both canceled flights into August because of the 737 MAX grounding, while United Airlines has canceled flights into July.

Asked if it is realistic that the 737 MAX could be flying again by August, Elwell declined to be specific.

“If you said October I wouldn’t even say that, only because we haven’t finished determining exactly what the training requirements will be,” Elwell said. “If it takes a year to find everything we need to give us the confidence to lift the (grounding) order so be it.”

Elwell said he plans to share the FAA’s “safety analysis that will form the basis for our return to service decision process” on Thursday. But he said the agency is still waiting for Boeing to formally submit the software upgrade for approval, and emphasized the FAA has not decided on the revised training requirements, including whether to require simulator training.

Global airlines that had rushed to buy the fuel-efficient, longer-range aircraft have since canceled flights and scrambled to cover routes that were previously flown by the MAX.

​Elwell rejected any idea that he was trying to win consensus with international regulators over the path to re-approving the MAX at the meeting. “We have to be the first to lift the order. We are the state of design,” he said.

He said he would explain the FAA’s thinking to international regulators but added: “I’m not going to try to persuade anybody.”

At the same time, he also denied there was friction. “We have peace with other regulators. We’re talking to them constantly. You want to make this like, ‘We at war with the other countries over this.’ We’re not,” Elwell said.

Foreign regulators have signaled disagreements over measures to end the grounding, with Canadian Transport Minister Marc Garneau calling in April for pilots to receive simulator training for the MAX, rather than just computer courses. 

Canada and Europe said on Wednesday they would bring back the grounded aircraft on their own terms if their specific concerns are not addressed.

“From our point of view, if we all work together and we all reach the same aim, fine. If we don’t, we’ll choose our own time to decide when the planes are safe to fly again,” Canada’s Garneau told Reuters in an interview.

A spokesman for the European Aviation Safety Agency said on Wednesday that it would complete an additional independent design review of the plane once the FAA approves Boeing’s proposed changes and establishes “adequate training of Boeing MAX flight crews.”

Elwell told Congress last week the FAA is working closely with other civil aviation authorities “to address specific concerns related to the 737 MAX.” United Chief Executive Oscar Munoz said on Wednesday that FAA approval is only the first step, with public and employee confidence key to deciding when to fly its 14 MAX jets again.

Tailored Service with a Personal Consultant

Study: Children of Opioid Users More Likely to Attempt Suicide

The U.S. opioid crisis is taking a toll on children of users as a study published on Wednesday showed they were more likely to attempt suicide.

The study in JAMA Psychiatry published by the American Medical Association found children whose parents were prescribed opioids were twice as likely to attempt suicide as the offspring of people who did not use those drugs.

The latest study from researchers at the University of Chicago and the University of Pittsburgh is the first research attempting to tie rising suicides among U.S. children to the opioid crisis.

“I think that it’s obvious in many ways; it’s just that we were able to put it together and prove it,” said Dr. David Brent, one of the authors of the study.

Brent, of the University of Pittsburgh, said he believes some opioid users might display less care, monitoring and affection for their children, which would explain the higher suicide rate in those kids.

Suicide increased across all ages in the United States between 1999 and 2016, spiking by over 30% in half the country, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last year.

Another study found that among girls age 10 to 14 the suicide rate rose by 12.7% per year after 2007.

In the latest study, researchers used medical insurance data from 2010 to 2016 for more than 300,000 children ages 10 to 19, and broke that group down into those whose parents were prescribed opioid drugs and those whose parents were not.

Among the children of parents who used opioids, 0.37% attempted suicide, compared to 0.14 % of the children of non-users, according to the study, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

The parents were all legally prescribed opioids that they used for at least a year. The study did not identify which of those users may have been abusing painkillers, as opposed to using them in line with doctor recommendations.

Challenges for children of drug users

Children of opioid users still had a significantly higher risk of attempting suicide after researchers adjusted for factors such as depression and parental history of suicide.

Some researchers have suggested social media could harm children’s self esteem and increase their suicide risk.

But Brent and his co-authors noted social media is prevalent in countries that have not seen a rise in child suicide.

U.S. President Donald Trump declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency in October 2017 and has promised to hold drugmakers accountable for their part in the crisis.

Nearly 400,000 people died of overdoses between 1999 and 2017 in the United States, resulting in the lowering of overall life expectancy for the first in more than 60 years, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Eric Rice, an associate professor at the University of Southern California’s school of social work, said other research has found children of drug users face challenges.

“A doubling in the suicide rate is a pretty shocking manifestation of that, I’ve got to be honest,” Rice said. “But to hear that there are impacts on children which are negative is not a surprising thing,” said Rice, who was not involved with the study.

Tailored Service with a Personal Consultant

What Baby Names Say About America

“Emma” rules the West Coast, while “Liam” reigns supreme in the American Midwest.

In the southeastern part of the United States, parents prefer the name “William” for boys and “Ava” for girls, according to the U.S. Social Security Administration, which compiled a list of 2018’s most popular baby names.

At the top of the list nationwide are “Liam” for boys (for the second year) and “Emma” for girls (continuing a 5-year streak). The names “Noah” and “Olivia” come in second.

While naming a child might feel like one of the most personal decisions a person can make, that choice is often heavily influenced by outside forces.

“Names say more about the parents than the kids,” Jonah Berger, a marketing professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, told VOA in an email. “How unique parents want to be, where in the country they were when the child was born, and what influences around them shape their lives.”

Today’s digital media-saturated world means new parents are exposed to a much broader range of potential baby names than ever before. They might be influenced by celebrities or characters from movies and television shows.

For example, the name “Arya,” from a beloved character on the “Game of Thrones” television series, ranked 119th on the list, well ahead of traditional names like “Angela” (264), “Jennifer” (345) and “Alexis” (179).

“Khaleesi,” another iconic character from the hit show, was the 549th most popular name for newborn girls, beating names like “Lisa” (891), “Christine” (926) and “Anne” (599).

“Increasingly, parents may feel that they want to — and are able to — make their own choices about forenames for their children in an expression of their sense of their own individuality and the desire to endow a distinctive and unique individuality in their children as they grow up,” sociologist Jane Pilcher, an associate professor at Nottingham Trent University in England, told VOA via email.

She refers to names as “workhorses” because they can reveal significant information about a person. But that can also have a downside.

“A forename can tell us about a person’s sex and gender, ethnicity and nationality, social class and cohort,” Pilcher says. “These social identities, unfortunately, are each linked to discrimination and inequality. So, a forename can very much impact upon a person’s experiences and opportunities.”

A 2012 study found that when science faculty from research universities were given identical applications for a laboratory manager position, they rated candidates named “John” more highly than candidates named “Jennifer.”

A person’s name often reflects their culture, and is a marker of when and where they lived, and of the prevailing social trends at the time of their birth.

Berger found that names starting with “K” became more popular after Hurricane Katrina caused catastrophic damage in New Orleans in 2005. Parents heard the name on the news so often, that its sounds or syllables became more familiar and therefore more appealing.

“Names are more likely to become popular when other, similar names have been popular recently. So, if ‘Katy’ and ‘Katherine’ have been popular, other names that start with a hard ‘K’ like ‘Kevin’ are more likely to take off,” says Berger. “Hearing a name more often makes people like it more, but if something is too popular, people avoid it.”

So, ultimately parents look for the comfort of familiarity, while also searching for a name that stands out.

American-born Meghan Markle and her husband, Prince Harry, recently named their son Archie, a name which ranked 992nd in the U.S. in 2018. It remains to be seen if that royal seal of approval will influence Archie’s U.S. popularity in 2019.

Tailored Service with a Personal Consultant