Griner Asks for Biden’s Help in Russia Release

U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner sent a letter to President Joe Biden asking him to “do all you can” to bring home her and other Americans detained in Russia. 

Griner’s representatives shared parts of the letter Monday. 

“As I sit here in a Russian prison, alone with my thoughts and without the protection of my wife, family, friends, Olympic jersey, or any accomplishments, I’m terrified I might be here forever,” Griner wrote. 

Griner was arrested in February on charges of possessing cannabis oil. Her trial began last week and is set to resume Thursday. 

U.S. National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said Monday that Griner is being wrongfully detained and that the Biden administration “continues to work aggressively — using every available means — to bring her home.” 

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.

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‘Person of Interest’ Arrested in Deadly Shooting of Fourth of July Parade Near Chicago

Police in the midwestern U.S. state of Illinois have captured a man they have labeled a “person of interest” in Monday’s deadly shooting attack on an Independence Day parade. 

Twenty-two-year old Robert E. Crimo III (the Third) was taken into custody hours after a brief car chase just outside of Highland Park, a wealthy suburb of Chicago, where six people were killed and more than 30 others wounded when a gunman opened fire on parade goers from the rooftop of a building along the route. 

Police said five people died at the scene, while another person died at a nearby hospital. The Mexican Foreign Ministry says one of those killed was a Mexican national. 

A doctor at a Highland Park hospital says they received 26 wounded people from the parade between eight and 85 years of age. 

Cellphone video captured scores of people running from the scene in panic as the sound of rapid gunfire echoed loudly off nearby buildings. Lawn chairs, baby strollers, portable food containers and other objects were scattered along the parade route, abandoned by people who ran for cover. 

U.S. President Joe Biden issued a statement saying he and his wife, first lady Jill Biden, were “shocked by the senseless gun violence that has yet again brought grief to an American community on this Independence Day.” 

The Highland Park shooting occurred more than a week after President Biden signed the first major federal gun violence bill passed by Congress in decades. The bipartisan compromise bill was passed after two mass shootings in May, including a racist attack that left 10 people dead at a grocery store in a black neighborhood in Buffalo, New York, and a rampage at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, that left 19 schoolchildren and two teachers dead. 

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.

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US Navy Offers Cash for Tips to Seize Mideast Drugs, Weapons

The U.S. Navy’s Mideast-based 5th Fleet is starting to offer rewards for information that could help sailors intercept weapons, drugs and other illicit shipments across the region amid tensions over Iran’s nuclear program and Tehran’s arming of Yemen’s Houthi rebels.

While avoiding directly mentioning Iran, the 5th Fleet’s decision to offer cash and other goods for actionable intelligence in the Persian Gulf and other strategic waterways may increase pressure on the flow of weapons to the Houthis as a shaky cease-fire still holds in Yemen.

Already, the Houthis have threatened a new allied task force organized by the 5th Fleet in the Red Sea, though there’s been no attack by the Iranian-backed forces on the Navy in the time since.

Meanwhile, the 5th Fleet says it and its partners seized $500 million in drugs alone in 2021 — more than the four prior years combined. The 5th Fleet also intercepted 9,000 weapons in the same period, three times the number seized in 2020.

“Any destabilizing activity has our attention,” Commander Timothy Hawkins, a 5th Fleet spokesman, told The Associated Press. “Definitely we have seen in the last year skyrocketing success in seizing both illegal narcotics and illicit weapons. This represents another step in our effort to enhance regional maritime security.”

The 5th Fleet’s new initiative launches on Tuesday through the Department of Defense Rewards Program, which saw troops offer cash and goods for tips on the battlefields in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere after al-Qaida launched the September 11, 2001, attacks. Since ground fighting has largely halted across the region, the 5th Fleet decided to use the program as it patrols the waterways of the Middle East.

Hawkins said operators fluent in Arabic, English and Farsi would man a hotline, while the Navy also would take tips additionally online, in Dari and Pashto. Payouts can be as high as $100,000 or the equivalent in vehicles, boats or food for tips that also include information on planned attacks targeting Americans, Hawkins said.

It’s unclear whether the 5th Fleet’s uptick in seizures represents a return to shipping after the coronavirus pandemic or an increase overall in the number of illicit shipments in the region. Traffickers typically use stateless dhows, traditional wooden sailing craft common in the Mideast, to transport drugs and weapons.

One destination for weapons appears to be Yemen. The Houthis seized Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, in September 2014 and forced the internationally recognized government into exile. A Saudi-led coalition armed with U.S. weaponry and intelligence entered the war on the side of Yemen’s exiled government in March 2015. Years of inconclusive fighting has pushed the Arab world’s poorest nation to the brink of famine. A truce that began around the holy Muslim month of Ramadan appears for now to still be holding.

Despite a United Nations Security Council arms embargo on Yemen, Iran long has been transferring rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, missiles and other weaponry to the Houthis. Though Iran denies arming the Houthis, independent experts, Western nations and U.N. experts have traced components back to Iran.

Asked about whether new seizures could increase tensions with Iran, Hawkins listed the weapons and drugs the Navy hoped to intercept under the program.

“That’s what we’re after,” the commander said. “That’s not in the interest of regional stability and security.”

Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not respond to a request for comment. The U.S. Navy and Iran continue to have tense encounters in the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which a fifth of all oil traded passes.

The rewards program marks the latest initiative under 5th Fleet Vice Admiral Brad Cooper, who also launched a drone task force last year amid tensions with Iran.

Cooper’s other effort, the Red Sea task force, has drawn criticism from the Houthis in the past. The rebel group, which has repeatedly denied being armed by Iran, did not respond to a request for comment on the new Navy program.

However, Ali al-Qahom, a Houthi official, tweeted last week that the rebels are monitoring increased U.S. activity in the Red Sea and Persian Gulf waters.

“Because of this, defense and confrontation options are open,” he said. “They and their diabolical projects have no place” in the region.

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Joey Chestnut Is Chomp Champ Again in July 4 Hot Dog Contest

Frankfurter-munching phenom Joey “Jaws” Chestnut put a protester in a chokehold while gobbling his way to a 15th win Monday at the Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July hot dog eating contest, powering down 63 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes at the annual exhibition of excess.

In a decisive chow-down comeback, women’s record-holder Miki Sudo downed 40 wieners and buns to win the women’s title after skipping last year’s frank fest because she was pregnant.

A spectator wearing a Darth Vader mask rushed the stage, momentarily disrupting the competition. Chestnut put the protester in a brief chokehold before contest officials hurried over and escorted the intruder away.

Another protester in a white storm trooper mask sneaked behind the competitors and hoisted a sign saying, “Expose Smithfield’s Deathstar.” Smithfield manufactures Nathan’s hot dogs.

After the altercation, Chestnut went back to the task at hand: devouring more hot dogs.

Monday marked the contest’s return to its traditional location outside Nathan’s flagship shop in Brooklyn’s Coney Island neighborhood. The event was relocated in 2020 and last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s beautiful to be back here,” Chestnut told ESPN and a throng of spectators after his feat, which the 38-year-old managed while wearing a surgical boot because of a leg injury.

“It hurts, but I was in the zone for a little bit. I was ignoring it,” said Chestnut, but the pain eventually slowed his pace in the 10-minute competition.

Last year, the Westfield, Indiana, resident topped his own record by consuming 76 franks and buns.

Sudo, of Tampa, Florida, set the women’s record at 48 1/2 wieners and buns in 2020, before taking last year off while expecting. She and Nick Wehry — a fellow competitive eater whom she met through the Nathan’s contest in 2018 — welcomed son Max on July 8, 2021.

From dad’s arms, the baby watched his 36-year-old mother notch her eighth Nathan’s win. She told ESPN afterward that she hoped he would someday take a message away from it.

“I want to set an example,” she said, “to do things that you love and push yourself to your absolute limits and, when things get difficult, to still give it a try. And, you know, you might actually just come out victorious.”

Sudo then took over parenting duties while Wehry tried for the men’s title.

In conjunction with the spectacle, Nathan’s donates 100,000 franks to the Food Bank for New York City.

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On Independence Day, Biden Seeks to Project Optimism

U.S. President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden celebrated July Fourth on Monday, offering a message of optimism and unity at a time when polls suggest most Americans believe the country is heading in the wrong direction and political polarization is a top concern.

“America is always becoming, always on the move, always a work in progress,” Biden said alongside the first lady in remarks during an Independence Day BBQ celebration with military families at the White House. “Progress. Forward motion. The creation of possibilities, the fulfillment of promises,” he added.

Biden suggested that better days lay ahead even as he acknowledged the struggles Americans are going through under the country’s high inflation.

“Our economy is growing but not without pain,” he said.

Americans are increasingly pessimistic about the economy. In an AP-NORC poll released Wednesday, 79% described the economy as poor, including 90% of Republicans and 67% of Democrats.

Overall, the poll showed 85% of American adults say that the country is headed in the wrong direction, including 92% of Republicans and 78% of Democrats — the highest number among Democrats since Biden took office.

“After doing the hard work of laying the foundation for a better future, the worst of our past has reached out and pulled us back on occasion,” Biden said, alluding to the recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the federal constitutional right for women to have abortions.

“That freedom has been reduced, that rights we assumed we’re protected are no longer,” he said, calling it a reminder of the “ongoing battle for the soul of America.”

While the ruling does away with nearly half a century of Supreme Court precedent, conservative Justice Samuel Alito wrote that the long-standing principle of adherence to precedent is “not a straitjacket” and that Roe was “egregiously wrong and deeply damaging.”

“I know it can be exhausting and unsettling,” Biden said. “But tonight, I want you to know that we’re going to get through all of this.”

A poll by Reuters/Ipsos released Wednesday showed that Americans from Biden’s own party, Democrats, are increasingly dissatisfied following the Supreme Court’s decision on abortion, with 62% of Democrats saying the country is heading in the wrong direction, up from 49% the week before. The level of Republican dissatisfaction went down to 86%, down slightly from 94% a week earlier.

As polarization ranked third across a list of 20 issues that are of top concerns of Americans, according to the latest FiveThirtyEight/Ipsos poll, Biden sought to rally Americans to unite.

“We’ve been tested before, just as we’re being tested today,” he said. “But we’ve never failed because we have never walked away from the core beliefs and promises that define this nation.”

 

The first couple later watched fireworks displays from their residence balcony, while below them hundreds of military family members and administration staff enjoyed the show from blankets and picnic tables on the White House lawn.

Another mass shooting

Independence Day celebrations in the United States were marred by a shooting Monday at a parade in the Midwestern city of Highland Park in the state of Illinois that left at least six people dead.

Biden did not directly address the shooting in his remarks.

“Y’all heard what happened today,” he said. “But each day we’re reminded there’s nothing guaranteed about our democracy. Nothing guaranteed about our way of life. We have to fight for it.”

Later in the evening, the president led a brief moment of silence in honor of the victims.

Authorities said a 22-year-old man named as a person of interest in the shooting was taken into police custody Monday evening after an hours-long manhunt.

Gunfire broke out just 10 minutes after the parade began about 10 a.m. Monday in the city of 30,000, about 40 kilometers north of Chicago. Police said 30 other people were hospitalized after the shooting.

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Same-Sex Couples Reflect 7 Years After Winning Right to Marry in US

Last week marked the seventh anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling that legalized same-sex marriage across America, overriding bans in more than a dozen states and granting gay and lesbian wedded couples the same rights and legal protections that married heterosexuals enjoy.

The months and years leading up to the high court’s 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges saw an impassioned outcry from LGBTQ rights opponents, who argued same-sex marriage would destroy the traditional family and the institution of marriage itself.

In the years since, evidence to support such dire predictions has been hard to find. U.S. marriage rates were declining long before same-sex couples gained the right to wed. To the extent the trend has continued since 2015, researchers point to a slew of economic and sociological factors other than same-sex unions.

Meanwhile, an ever-growing number gay and lesbian people have embraced wedlock. The U.S. Census Bureau’s most recent data, from 2020, showed more than 570,000 households belonged to married same-sex couples, equating to more than 1.1 million people.

“We finally have the same rights as other couples who love each other,” said Jill Spragio, an administrator at a New Orleans, Louisiana-based information technology company, speaking with VOA. Spragio and her partner married the year before the Obergefell ruling, in Illinois, where same-sex marriage was already legal.

“But we weren’t recognized as married in Louisiana until the Supreme Court’s decision in 2015,” she said. “We just wanted to be treated the same as our heterosexual married friends. Now, if one of us gets sick, the hospital can’t throw us out of the room, and we can make decisions for each other as spouses. We can be entitled to our partner’s Social Security if we survive them. I know it doesn’t sound like a lot, but it is.”

Opponents of the decision, however, insist allowing gay marriage has done harm.

“My concern is that it’s damaged the institution of marriage and families, of course,” Mathew Staver, Chairperson of the Liberty Counsel, told VOA, “but it’s also damaged our Constitution. It’s a decision with no legal foundation, and a house built on sand will eventually fall.”

Marriage as stability

Molly Bourg, who works in the food and beverage industry in New Orleans, was a senior in college at the time of Obergefell v. Hodges. Bourg, who prefers non-gender specific pronouns, said the ruling changed their thoughts about what was possible in their life.

“I didn’t even come out as gay until after the decision,” Bourg told VOA. “Once something is legal it feels more socially acceptable. Before that, though, I felt like, ‘Why put myself out there just to be rejected by the community I grew up in?'”

Bourg remembers, for example, watching their siblings lean on their family for support during high school and college breakups.

“Meanwhile when I had my first heartbreak, I remember having to struggle through it alone because I was too scared to tell anybody,” they said, noting it’s just one of the many ways life was more difficult for someone in the LGBTQ community.

Today, however, with same-sex marriage legal across the country, things feel more normal, said Bourg.

“My partner and I can talk about life and marriage plans that are two or three years down the line just like everyone else,” they said. “It feels safe and domestic, and I like having that security. I imagine anyone would.”

Increasingly vocal minority

Polls show Americans increasingly back same-sex marriage. According to Gallup’s annual Values and Beliefs poll, conducted in May, 71% of Americans say they support the right of gay and lesbian people to wed. This is a record high, up from 70% the year before.

When the poll was first conducted by Gallup in 1996, only 27% of the country supported same-sex marriage, indicating a steady shift in the public’s perception of such unions —even among Republican voters.

“I hope they have all the rights of a traditional family,” said Jillian Dani, a Republican voter from Merritt Island, Florida, who added she believes the U.S. Constitution leaves it to the states to decide such matters.

The Gallup poll revealed one group that still opposes gay marriage: Americans who say they attend church weekly. Only 40% of regular churchgoers say they are in favor of same-sex unions.

“I don’t think Obergefell had any effect on the institution of marriage and it had no effect on me,” said Judi Thompson, a self-proclaimed supporter of former President Donald Trump from Garland, Texas. “I just think the decision was disgusting, to be honest. According to God’s law, marriage is between a man and a woman, and I’d like to see the Supreme Court correct its earlier decision.”

Preparing for battle

The Supreme Court recently hinted that Thompson could get her wish.

In last month’s contentious decision on abortion, the high court’s energized conservative majority overturned nearly 50 years of precedent and ruled that individual states can decide whether to allow or ban the procedure.

Many LGBTQ people and their allies worry the Supreme Court won’t stop with abortion. They fear the same reasoning used to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortions nationwide, will be used to overturn decisions that expanded rights for other groups, as well.

Justice Clarence Thomas bolstered this theory in his concurring opinion last month overturning Roe.

“In future cases, we should reconsider all of this court’s substantive due process precedents,” he wrote, “including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell.”

The Supreme Court’s 1965 ruling in Griswold v. Connecticut set forth the right of married couples to use contraceptives. In 2003, in Lawrence v. Texas, the high court struck down state laws across America that penalized sodomy.

“I think it’s a matter of when — not if — they start coming for us, one case at a time,” said James Knoblach, a member of the LGBTQ community and vice president for a public relations and digital marketing firm in New York City. “You saw it in Thomas’ opinion, and I wouldn’t put it past this illegitimate court to go as far as criminalizing homosexuality in their bid to turn our democracy into a theocracy.”

Bourg from New Orleans agreed.

“Thomas didn’t just mention Obergefell,” they said. “He mentioned Lawrence v. Texas, as well. They’re not just looking to deny us marriage, they’re looking to criminalize what goes on in the bedroom, and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has publicly said he’d defend an anti-sodomy law if it was brought to him.”

The LGBTQ community’s fears are well founded, said Staver from the Liberty Counsel.

“Reversing Obergefell is inevitable,” he said.

It will fall, Staver believes, because of what he calls a “baseless decision from Justices who imposed their own ideology untethered from the Constitution,” but also because of the harm he feels it does to the families in America.

“There is no constitutional right to same-sex marriage, and, because of that, Obergefell is doomed,” he said. “And that’s a good thing because same-sex marriage permanently deprives children of a mother or father, and it casts a negative view on the absent gender.”

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, however, “no legitimate research has demonstrated that same-sex couples are any more or any less harmful than heterosexual couples.”

The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry affirmed in a 2013 study that “current research shows that children with gay and lesbian parents do not differ from children with heterosexual parents in their emotional development or in their relationships with peers and adults.”

Still, many in the LGBTQ community are preparing for the worst.

“You could feel it in last month’s Pride Parade,” explained Knoblach of New York City, referring to the LGBTQ celebrations held annually throughout the month of June. “There was a defiance in the crowd you don’t usually feel — a sense there is a fight coming and we’re not going to back down.”

Outside of parades, individuals like Bourg and their partner are also preparing.

“We’ve already discussed general options if Obergefell and other decisions are overturned,” Bourg said. “I have no doubt if that’s the case, then my home state of Louisiana will be outlawing same-sex marriage.”

This would set up a very difficult decision for Bourg and many LGBTQ people like them.

“Louisiana is my home. My family is here. And if the Supreme Court stays in this direction, I will have to choose between my family and my home, or having a chance to marry the person I love. That’s … heartbreaking.”

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Six Dead, 24 Wounded in Shooting at Chicago-Area July 4 Parade

At least six people died and 24 were wounded in a shooting at a July Fourth parade in the Chicago suburb of Highland Park, and officers are searching for a suspect who likely fired on the festivities from a rooftop, police said Monday.

Highland Park Police Commander Chris O’Neill, the incident commander on the scene, urged people to shelter in place as authorities search for the suspect, described as a white male wearing a white or blue T-shirt.

Lake County Major Crime Task Force spokesman Christopher Covelli said at a news conference that the gunman apparently opened fire on parade-goers from a rooftop using a rifle that was recovered at the scene. He didn’t know which building.

Covelli said police believe there was only one shooter and warned that he should still be considered armed and dangerous.

Police have not released any details about the victims or wounded.

The parade began around 10 a.m. but was suddenly halted about 10 minutes later after shots were fired. Hundreds of parade-goers — some visibly bloodied — fled the parade route, leaving behind chairs, baby strollers, plush toys, bicycles and blankets.

Police told people, “Everybody disperse, please. It is not safe to be here.”

Highland Park Police said in a statement early Monday afternoon that five people had been killed and 19 people were taken to hospitals. Those numbers were revised soon after at the news conference.

Video shot by a Chicago Sun-Times journalist after the gunfire rang out shows a band on a float continuing to play as people ran past, screaming.

Gina Troiani and her son were lined up with his day care class ready to walk onto the parade route when she heard a loud sound that she believed was fireworks — until she heard people yell about a shooter.

“We just start running in the opposite direction,” she told The Associated Press.

Her 5-year-old son was riding his bike decorated with red and blue curled ribbons. He and other children in the group held small American flags. The city said on its website that the festivities were to include a children’s bike and pet parade.

Troiani said she pushed her son’s bike, running through the neighborhood to get back to their car.

In a video that Troiani shot on her phone, some of the kids are visibly startled at the loud noise and scramble to the side of the road as a siren wailed nearby.

It was just sort of chaos,” she said. “There were people that got separated from their families, looking for them. Others just dropped their wagons, grabbed their kids and started running.”

Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker said in a tweet that he is “closely monitoring the situation in Highland Park” and that Illinois State Police are assisting.

Debbie Glickman, a Highland Park resident, said she was on a parade float with co-workers and the group was preparing to turn onto the main route when she saw people running from the area.

“People started saying, ‘There’s a shooter. There’s a shooter. There’s a shooter,'” Glickman told AP. “So, we just ran. We just ran. It’s like mass chaos down there.”

She didn’t hear any noises or see anyone who appeared to be injured.

“I’m so freaked out,” she said. “It’s just so sad.”

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US Travel Soars Over Fourth of July Weekend

Americans are hitting the roads and skies in numbers not seen since before the pandemic to celebrate the Fourth of July holiday weekend.

The mass of travelers for the holiday, also known as Independence Day, is testing airlines and airports, which have struggled to keep up with demand.

Hundreds of flights were canceled Friday and thousands more were delayed, according to the flight tracking site, FlightAware.

More than 2.4 million travelers got an early start to the weekend, making their way through Transportation Security Administration checkpoints. That surpassed levels from before the pandemic in 2019 and was 13.8% higher than the number of travelers last year, according to TSA data.

Travel by car is also expected to be heavy.

The auto membership group, AAA, predicts 47.9 million people will travel 50 miles or more from home over the holiday weekend. That is slightly less than the number of travelers in 2019 but comes despite near-record high gas prices.

Last year’s Fourth of July holiday was expected to coincide with a turning point in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, however new surges of the virus at that time put a damper on the celebrations in some locations.

This year, most places in America have lifted COVID restrictions and federal airline regulations allow for mask-free travel.

The uptick in travel and vacations has left airlines struggling to keep up. Many encouraged their workers to quit or take early retirement in the early days of the pandemic when travel virtually came to a halt. Now they are having difficulty hiring and training new workers and many airlines have cut their summer schedule to try to prevent the chaos of last-minute flight cancelations.

About 3.55 million Americans are expected to fly this holiday weekend, AAA said.

While travel is heavy during the Fourth of July holiday, many more Americans stay home and enjoy backyard barbecues, picnics and neighborhood parades.

The holiday celebrates the country’s independence from Britain on July 4, 1776, when delegates from the 13 U.S. colonies adopted the Declaration of Independence, announcing the severing of ties with Britain.

Fireworks are one of the hallmarks of Independence Day celebrations, with thousands of communities across the nation organizing annual displays, including one of the largest displays set off in Washington, the nation’s capital.

Each state has its own laws governing fireworks sales and use, but many also allow individuals to set off fireworks in their own backyards.

Some information in this report comes from The Associated Press and Reuters.

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Russia Not Wishing US Happy Independence Day

Russia said Monday it will not be sending kind words to mark the Independence Day holiday in the United States.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that congratulations “can hardly be considered appropriate” and cited what he called the “unfriendly policies” of the United States.

The U.S. has opposed Russia’s war in Ukraine, sending weapons and helping train Ukrainian forces while also leading efforts to impose sanctions against Russia. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin has congratulated previous U.S. leaders on the holiday, including former Presidents Donald Trump and Barack Obama.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy tweeted his wish of “peace and prosperity” to U.S President Joe Biden and the American people on Monday.

“I appreciate the leadership assistance of the United States in Ukraine’s defending of common values — Freedom, Democracy and Independence,” Zelenskyy wrote.

Some information for this report came from Reuters. 

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America Celebrates Independence Day

U.S. President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden are hosting a Fourth of July barbecue for military families on the South Lawn of the White House Monday afternoon. Later in the day, they will watch the Independence Day fireworks display at the National Mall. 

The Fourth of July may be the most patriotic day on the U.S. calendar. Independence Day celebrates the decision by the 13 original colonies to renounce British rule and form the United States. However, that decision did not happen on July 4. 

Representatives of the colonies actually voted for independence on July 2, 1776. Two days later, they approved the Declaration of Independence, a document that explained the vote. Many believed the country should celebrate on July 2, the anniversary of the vote. However, copies of the declaration were so widely circulated that July 4 became the day to remember. 

Modern Fourth of July celebrations include parades, picnics, political speeches and fireworks. 

However, the enslavement of Black people was widely practiced within the colonies while the founding fathers were working to gain their own independence from Britain. 

What the colonists wanted for themselves, they apparently did not believe their slaves were entitled to as well, even though the Declaration includes this passage: 

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” 

America has been struggling with that inconsistency ever since.

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WWII Medal of Honor Recipient to Lie in State at US Capitol 

Hershel W. “Woody” Williams, the last remaining Medal of Honor recipient from World War II, will lie in state at the U.S. Capitol, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin announced at a memorial on Sunday where Williams was remembered for his courage, humility and selflessness. 

“He never quit giving back,” said Manchin. That included raising money for gold star families — immediate family members of fallen service members — with an annual motorcycle ride. 

“It’s raised hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Manchin said. He joked that “It’s not going to be stopping, because Woody would come after me in a heartbeat.” 

Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, said he will miss Williams’ phone calls, noting how Williams would always give him directions and to-do lists. 

“I’ll miss him telling me how I’m supposed to vote. And when I didn’t, how I made a mistake,” Manchin said. 

Williams, who died on Wednesday at 98, was a legend in his native West Virginia for his heroics under fire over several crucial hours at the Battle of Iwo Jima. As a young Marine corporal, Williams went ahead of his unit in February 1945 and eliminated a series of Japanese machine gun positions. Facing small-arms fire, Williams fought for four hours, repeatedly returning to prepare demolition charges and obtain flamethrowers. 

Later that year, the 22-year-old Williams received the Medal of Honor from President Harry Truman. The Medal of Honor is the nation’s highest award for military valor. 

Gen. David H. Berger, commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, said at the memorial that Williams always took exception to the notion that he accomplished that feat alone. He always acknowledged the other men on his team, some of whom never returned home. 

“Woody may be the most genuine person I ever met,” Berger said, noting his unique combination of humility and humor. “He could make you laugh. He could make you care. That was his gift.” 

Williams remained in the Marines after the war, serving a total of 20 years, before working for the Veterans Administration for 33 years as a veterans service representative. In 2018, the Huntington VA medical center was renamed in his honor, and the Navy commissioned a mobile base sea vessel in his name in 2020. 

“He left an indelible mark on our Marine Corps,” Berger said. “As long as there are Marines, his legacy will live on.”

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Revised US Border Policy Expected After Supreme Court Ruling

Changes are expected in how the U.S. deals with migrants along America’s southern border after the Supreme Court sided with the Biden administration’s push to terminate a Trump-era policy that forced them to await their immigration court dates on the Mexican side of the border. VOA’s Arash Arabasadi reports, last week’s ruling coincided with news that more than 50 migrants had died in a trailer truck abandoned in Texas.

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Liz Cheney: If Warranted, Justice Department Should Not Hesitate to Prosecute Trump Over US Capitol Riot

One of the key lawmakers investigating the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol last year says that if the Justice Department concludes that former President Donald Trump fomented the mayhem to block Congress from certifying his 2020 reelection loss — it should not hesitate to prosecute him.

Congresswoman Liz Cheney, the vice chairperson on the panel investigating the insurrection and a vocal anti-Trump Republican, acknowledged to ABC News that the prosecution of a former U.S. president would be unprecedented and “difficult” for an already politically divided country.

But the Wyoming Republican said that not prosecuting Trump, if it were warranted, would be a “much graver constitutional threat” for the United States. Trump, a Republican, lost to Democrat Joe Biden, but to this day claims that vote-counting irregularities cost him a second four-year term in the White House.  

In an interview last Wednesday that was broadcast Sunday on the “This Week” show, Cheney said that “if a president can engage in these kinds of activities, and the majority of the president’s party looks away; or we as a country decide we’re not actually going to take our constitutional obligations seriously, I think that’s a much, a much more serious threat” than prosecuting him.

“I really believe we have to make these decisions, as difficult as it is, apart from politics. We really have to think about these from the perspective of: What does it mean for the country?” she said.

“There’s no question that he engaged in high crimes and misdemeanors. I think there’s no question that it’s the most serious betrayal of his oath of office of any president in the history of the nation. It’s the most dangerous behavior of any president in the history of the nation,” she said.

Asked whether the committee could make a referral to the Justice Department for prosecution of Trump and others, Cheney said, “Yes,” while adding that the Justice Department “doesn’t have to wait” for the panel to act. She said the committee could issue “more than one criminal referral,” including for possible witness tampering by former Trump aides trying to influence witnesses to stay loyal to Trump as he weighs a campaign to try to reclaim the presidency in the 2024 election.

The Justice Department is in the midst of an ongoing wide-ranging investigation of the riot but has not said it is specifically targeting Trump.

Cheney offered her thoughts a day after she led two hours of questioning Tuesday of Cassidy Hutchinson, a former top aide to Trump’s last White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows.

Hutchinson, 25, gave an explosive behind-the-scenes account of Meadows’s and Trump’s actions before and during the January 6, 2021, storming of the Capitol by about 2,000 Trump supporters.

She told lawmakers how Trump became angrier and more volatile as the reality of his election loss set in and he realized that despite his private and public entreaties, former Vice President Mike Pence would not agree to upend the election outcome and send the results in several key states Trump narrowly lost back to their state legislatures so they would name electors supporting Trump to replace those legitimately chosen to vote for Biden in the Electoral College.

She testified that Trump was told ahead of a rally near the White House before the riot at the Capitol unfolded that some of his supporters were armed and equipped with body armor and yet urged them to “fight like hell” to upend the election outcome.

She said that a Meadows aide told her that Trump was angered that his Secret Service security detail would not drive him to the Capitol where his supporters were massing before storming into the Capitol. In one moment disputed by the Secret Service, Hutchinson said Trump tried to grab the steering wheel from a security agent and demanded he be driven to the Capitol.

As some of the rioters chanted “Hang Mike Pence!” — she said Meadows told her that Trump approved of the sentiment, saying his No.2 in command deserved to be hanged. Some unknown Trump supporters had erected a gallows on the National Mall within eyesight of the Capitol.  

Trump has worked to disparage Hutchinson’s testimony, posting on social media that “I hardly know who this person … is, other than I heard very negative things about her.”

“She is bad news!” he added.

In the ABC interview, Cheney said she was “absolutely confident” about Hutchinson’s testimony, saying, “She’s an incredibly brave young woman.”In the United States, presidents are effectively chosen in separate elections in each of the 50 states, not through the national popular vote. Each state’s number of electoral votes is dependent on its population, with the biggest states holding the most sway. The rioters who stormed the Capitol tried to keep lawmakers from certifying Biden’s eventual 306-232 victory in the Electoral College.     

   

At the heart of Trump’s effort to stay in power was an audacious plan espoused by a key Trump lawyer, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and conservative lawyer John Eastman, to get legislatures in states Trump narrowly lost to appoint new electors supporting him to replace the official ones favoring Biden. 

While the House committee cannot bring criminal charges, the Department of Justice is closely monitoring the hearings to determine whether anyone, Trump included, should be charged with illegally trying to reverse the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.  

No U.S. president has ever been charged with a criminal offense after leaving office.

Trump has often derided the nine-member House of Representatives panel investigating the riot at the Capitol and attacked its witnesses who have painted a highly unfavorable account of his postelection pressure campaign to stay in office against repeated findings of his own key aides, including former Attorney General William Barr, that there was no evidence of fraud sufficient to overturn the election outcome.

The investigative panel is comprised of seven Democrats, Cheney and another vocal Republican critic of Trump, Congressman Adam Kinzinger.  

Cheney said, “I think you will continue to see in the coming days and weeks additional detail about the president’s activities and behavior” on January 6 last year.  

In one of the hearings set for later this month, the committee is exploring how Trump watched the riot unfold on television for more than three hours while rejecting pleas from aides and his elder daughter, Ivanka, a White House adviser to him, to publicly urge to rioters to leave the Capitol.

More than 800 of them have been arrested and more than 300 have pleaded guilty to an array of criminal charges or been convicted at trials and handed prison terms of a few weeks to more than four years.

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Tropical Storm Colin Weakens over North Carolina

Tropical Storm Colin has weakened as it moves over eastern North Carolina, just as U.S. residents are preparing their July Fourth celebrations.

The National Hurricane Center reports there are no coastal warnings or watches in effect.

The Center advises, however, that gusty winds are still possible over the Outer Banks Sunday morning.

Scattered showers and thunderstorms could impact coastal North Carolina Sunday, according to the Center, but most locations will receive less than two centimeters of additional rainfall.

The Hurricane Center, however, has warned that swells are still affecting portions of North Carolina’s coast and could possibly cause “life-threatening surf and rip current conditions” through Sunday evening.  

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The long, Ongoing Debate over ‘All Men Are Created Equal’ 

Kevin Jennings is CEO of the Lambda Legal organization, a prominent advocate for LGBTQ rights. He sees his mission in part as fulfilling that hallowed American principle: “All men are created equal.”

“Those words say to me, ‘Do better, America.’ And what I mean by that is we have never been a country where people were truly equal,” Jennings says. “It’s an aspiration to continue to work towards, and we’re not there yet.”

Ryan T. Anderson is president of the conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center. He, too, believes that “all men are created equal.” For him, the words mean we all have “the same dignity, we all count equally, no one is disposable, no one a second-class citizen.” At the same time, he says, not everyone has an equal right to marry — what he and other conservatives regard as the legal union of a man and woman.

“I don’t think human equality requires redefining what marriage is,” he says.

Few words in American history are invoked as often as those from the preamble to the Declaration of Independence, published nearly 250 years ago. And few are more difficult to define. The music, and the economy, of “all men are created equal” make it both universal and elusive, adaptable to viewpoints — social, racial, economic — otherwise with little or no common ground. How we use them often depends less on how we came into this world than on what kind world we want to live in.

It’s as if “All men are created equal” leads us to ask: “And then what?”

“We say ‘All men are created equal’ but does that mean we need to make everyone entirely equal at all times, or does it mean everyone gets a fair shot?” says Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center for Justice. “Individualism is baked into that phrase, but also a broader, more egalitarian vision. There’s a lot there.”

Thomas Jefferson helped immortalize the expression, but he didn’t invent it. The words in some form date back centuries before the Declaration and were even preceded in 1776 by Virginia’s Declaration of Rights, which stated that “all men are by nature equally free and independent.” Peter Onuf, a professor emeritus at the University of Virginia whose books include “The Mind of Thomas Jefferson,” notes that Jefferson himself did not claim to have said something radically new and wrote in 1825 that the Declaration lacked “originality of principle or sentiment.”

The Declaration was an indictment of the British monarchy, but not a statement of justice for all. For the slave owning Jefferson “and most of his fellow patriots, enslaved people were property and therefore not included in these new polities, leaving their status unchanged,” Onuf says. He added that “did not mean he did not recognize his enslaved people to be people, just that they could only enjoy those universal, natural rights elsewhere, in a country of their own: emancipation and expatriation.”

Hannah Spahn, a professor at the John F. Kennedy Institute in Berlin and author of the upcoming “Black Reason, White Feeling: The Jeffersonian Enlightenment in the African American Tradition,” says that a draft version of the Declaration made clear that Jefferson meant “all humans” were created equal but not necessarily that that all humans were equal under the law. Spahn, like such leading Revolutionary War scholars as Jack Rakove, believes that “all men are created equal” originally referred less to individual equality than to the rights of a people as a whole to self-government.

Once the Declaration had been issued, perceptions began to change. Black Americans were among the first to change them, notably the New England-based clergyman Lemuel Haynes. Soon after July 4, Haynes wrote “Liberty Further Extended: Or Free Thoughts on the Illegality of Slave-Keeping,” an essay not published until 1983 but seen as reflecting the feelings of many in the Black community, with its call to “affirm, that Even an affrican, has Equally as good a right to his Liberty in common with Englishmen.”

Spahn finds Haynes’ response “philosophically innovative,” because he isolated the passage containing the famous phrase from the rest of the Declaration and made it express “timeless, universally binding norms.”

“He deliberately downplayed Jefferson’s original emphasis on problems of collective assent and consent,” she says.

The words have since been endlessly adapted and reinterpreted. By feminists at the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848 who stated “We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men and women are created equal.” By civil rights leaders from Frederick Douglass to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who in his “I Have a Dream” speech held up the phrase as a sacred promise to Black Americans. By Abraham Lincoln, who invoked them in the Gettysburg Address and elsewhere, but with a narrower scope than what King imagined a century later.

In Lincoln’s time, according to historian Eric Foner, “they made a careful distinction between natural, civil, political and social rights. One could enjoy equality in one but not another.”

“Lincoln spoke of equality in natural rights — life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” says Foner, whose books include the Pulitzer Prize winning “The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery.” “That’s why slavery is wrong and why people have an equal right to the fruits of their labor. Political rights were determined by the majority and could be limited by them.”

The words have been denied entirely. John C. Calhoun, the South Carolina senator and vehement defender of slavery, found “not a word of truth” in them as he attacked the phrase during a speech in 1848. Vice President Alexander H. Stephens of the Confederate States contended in 1861 that “the great truth” is “the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition.”

The overturning of Roe v. Wade and other recent Supreme Court decisions has led some activists to wonder if “All men are created equal” still has any meaning. Robin Marty, author of “Handbook for a Post-Roe America,” calls the phrase a “bromide” for those “who ignore how unequal our lives truly are.”

Marty added that the upending of abortion rights has given the unborn “greater protection than most,” a contention echoed in part by Roe opponents who have said that “All men are created equal” includes the unborn.

Among contemporary politicians and other public figures, the words are applied to very different ends.

 President Donald Trump cited them in October 2020 (“The divine truth our Founders enshrined in the fabric of our Nation: that all people are created equal”) in a statement forbidding federal agencies from teaching “Critical Race Theory.” President Joe Biden echoed the language of Seneca Falls (“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men and women are created equal”) while praising labor unions last month as he addressed an AFL-CIO gathering in Philadelphia.
Morse Tan, dean of Liberty University, the evangelical school co-founded by the Rev. Jerry Falwell Sr., says the words uphold a “classic, longstanding” Judeo-Christian notion: “The irreducible worth and value that all human beings have because they (are) created in the image of God.” Secular humanists note Jefferson’s own religious skepticism and fit his words and worldview within 18th century Enlightenment thinking, emphasizing human reason over faith.
Conservative organizations from the Claremont Institute to the Heritage Foundation regard “all men are created equal” as proof that affirmative action and other government programs addressing racism are unnecessary and contrary to the ideal of a “color-blind” system.

Ibram X. Kendi, the award-winning author and director of the Center for Antiracist Research at Boston University, says the words can serve what he calls both “antiracist” and “assimilationist” perspectives.

“The anti-racist idea suggests that all racial groups are biologically, inherently equal.

The assimilationist idea is that all racial groups are created equal, but it leaves open the idea some racial groups become inferior by nurture, meaning some racial groups are inferior culturally or behaviorally,” says Kendi, whose books include “Stamped from the Beginning” and “How to Be an Antiracist.”

“To be an anti-racist is to recognize that it’s not just that we are created equal, or biologically equal. It’s that all racial groups are equals. And if there are disparities between those equal racial groups, then it is the result of racist policy or structural racism and not the inferiority or superiority of a racial group.”

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US Newspapers Continuing to Die at Rate of 2 Each Week

Despite a growing recognition of the problem, the United States continues to see newspapers die at the rate of two per week, according to a report issued Wednesday on the state of local news.

Areas of the country that find themselves without a reliable source of local news tend to be poorer, older and less educated than those covered well, Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, Media and Integrated Marketing Communications said.

The country had 6,377 newspapers at the end of May, down from 8,891 in 2005, the report said. While the pandemic didn’t quite cause the reckoning that some in the industry feared, 360 newspapers have shut down since the end of 2019, all but 24 of them weeklies serving small communities.

An estimated 75,000 journalists worked in newspapers in 2006, and now that’s down to 31,000, Northwestern said. Annual newspaper revenue slipped from $50 billion to $21 billion in the same period.

Even though philanthropists and politicians have been paying more attention to the issue, the factors that drove the collapse of the industry’s advertising model haven’t changed. Encouraging growth in the digital-only news sector in recent years hasn’t been enough to compensate for the overall trends, said Penelope Muse Abernathy, visiting professor at Medill and the report’s principal author.

Many of the digital-only sites are focused on single issues and are clustered in or close to big cities near the philanthropic money that provides much of their funding, the report said.

News “deserts” are growing: The report estimated that some 70 million Americans live in a county with either no local news organization or only one.

“What’s really at stake in that is our own democracy, as well as our social and societal cohesion,” Abernathy said.

True “daily” newspapers that are printed and distributed seven days a week are also dwindling; The report said 40 of the largest 100 newspapers in the country publish only-digital versions at least once a week. Inflation is likely to hasten a switch away from printed editions, said Tim Franklin, director of the Medill Local News Initiative.

Much of the industry churn is driven by the growth in newspaper chains, including new regional chains that have bought hundreds of newspapers in small or mid-sized markets, the report said.

Less than a third of the country’s 5,147 weekly newspapers and just a dozen of the 150 large metro and regional daily papers are now locally-owned and operated, Medill said.

Abernathy’s report pointed to a handful of “local heroes” to counter the pessimism that the raw numbers provide. One is Sharon Burton, publisher and editor of the Adair County Community Voice in Kentucky, where she pushes her staff toward aggressive journalism while also successfully lobbying to expand postal subsidies for rural newspapers.

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Akron Police Set to Release Footage of Black Man’s Shooting

The Midwestern U.S. city of Akron, Ohio, is bracing Sunday for residents’ reaction to the release of police body camera footage of the shooting of a young Black man.

Police attempted to stop 25-year-old Jayland Walker last week for a traffic and equipment violation.  They chased him briefly in his car and then Walker left his car and ran. According to reports, he was shot at least 60 times by the police.

Bobby DiCello, the attorney for Walker’s family told the Beacon Journal newspaper that the video is “brutal,” and Walker’s body was riddled with bullets.

The Rev. Roderick Pounds, a pastor at a local church, who has seen the video also told a group of protesters Friday that Walker’s body was “riddled from his face down to his knees.”

Walker’s shooting is one of the latest killings by police officers of Black men.

The killing of George Floyd, who was African American, by a white police officer in Minneapolis in 2020, who pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck for several minutes, spurred global demonstrations.

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Climate Change Means More Mice, Demand for Pest Control in US

At her home in Rockford, Illinois, Rita Davisson said the “one or two” mice she normally sees during the waning winter months “have turned into more like 10 or 15” in the last couple years, and scientists say the warmer weather might have something to do with it.

The 66-year-old said the influx prompted her to contract a pest control service for the first time in the more than 30 years she’s lived in her house.

“They’re sneaking around the basement, the garage, my backyard,” she said. “The one trap I have just hasn’t been enough lately.”

Researchers say warming temperatures and milder winters have increased the population of the white-footed mouse, the most abundant small rodent found throughout much of the eastern U.S. and Canada, making more work for pest control experts.

Above-average temperatures were recorded across most eastern and central U.S. states last winter. Since 1970, average winter temperatures have increased by at least one degree Fahrenheit (0.6 Celsius) in every state, with states in the Northeast and the Great Lakes region warming by more than 3 degrees F (1.7 C).

While the mouse population typically decreases during long winters, warmer winters fueled by climate change mean fewer mice die before spring, said Christian Floyd, a wildlife biologist at the University of Rhode Island.

“These small mammals spend their whole lives shivering. They lose heat so fast,” Floyd said. “When you get a milder winter, they’re going to survive better. The mice don’t have to shiver as much, and they’re also less likely to die from starvation because they have more ability to hunt for food.”

Susan Hoffman, associate professor of biology at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, said the white-footed mice have migrated past a transitional forest region that has long served as a dividing line for many species, noting that they’ve expanded “surprisingly fast” in North America — about 125 miles in 30 years, 15 times farther than previously expected.

The white-footed mouse, which has historically proliferated from the Tennessee Valley through the northern Atlantic Coast, has already expanded its northern limit into Québec, Hoffman said. By 2050, the mice population is predicted to have migrated north in even greater numbers, especially as the warming climate pushes their preferred forest habitats farther north, too.

This migration also has been documented with other species, including chipmunks, flying squirrels and meadow-jumping mice, she said.

“Multiple lines of evidence indicate that warmer temperatures, and overall climate effects, are permitting (white-footed mice) to survive farther north,” Hoffman said, adding that humans are also likely responsible for unintentionally carrying some mice north in cars, boats and RVs.

Scientists say the rodents’ spread could mean more mice in and around homes. Michael Bentley, director of training and education for the National Pest Management Association, noted that the increased mice activity also requires pest management technicians to spend more time eliminating food sources and entry points in homes to control mice populations.

That’s already the case in Indiana, where Allie Dickman, a director at AAA Pest Control, said technicians saw an uptick in mice calls this winter. Calls for more mice services at rural and suburban homes, as well as in urban buildings, have continued into the spring.

“Right now, I would say 30% to 40% of our calls involve mice, which is pretty surprising given the time of year,” Dickman said. “They’re just adapting and expanding more … and there’s more of them.”

Experts also warn of even greater public health implications, given that white-footed mice are natural reservoirs for Lyme disease bacteria, which can then infect ticks that are capable of transmitting Lyme disease to people.

The bacterial illness that can cause fever, fatigue, joint pain, and skin rash, as well as more serious joint and nervous system complications, is the most common vector-borne disease in the U.S.

Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire have so far experienced the largest increases in reported cases, which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has attributed, in part, to climate change.

Fifty-three-year-old Elliot Smythe, who owns a farm near Randolph, Vermont, said he’s paying more attention to the growing numbers of mice and ticks and the property after his 15-year-old son contracted Lyme disease last fall.

“Living in a more rural area like I do, I didn’t mind mice that much,” Smythe said. “But when they keep coming, and they turn into a nuisance … well now I have a problem.”

Over time, the northward shift of mice could mean that more southern regions of the U.S. will see fewer rodents, Floyd said, but areas in the Midwest, New England and Canada could see them in greater numbers.

“We’re going to need more research to understand better where and how fast (the mice) are moving,” he said. “We’ll also need to learn more about how wetter conditions from climate change could also play a role. There’s a lot more to learn.”

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