Breaking New

Iran Will Expand Nuclear Program and Won’t Talk to U.S., Ayatollah Says

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has said in a televised address that Iran will expand its nuclear program and will not negotiate with the United States, doubling down on his defiance of the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” policy.

In a Friday speech for the Eid al-Adha holiday, Ayatollah Khamenei said that entering talks with Washington over Iran’s nuclear program, as President Trump has urged Tehran to do, would only improve Mr. Trump’s chances of being re-elected in November. That, the ayatollah said, was Mr. Trump’s reason for suggesting such talks in the first place.

“He is going to benefit from negotiations,” Ayatollah Khamenei said. “This old man who is in charge in America apparently used negotiations with North Korea as propaganda,” he added — a reference to Mr. Trump’s high-profile nuclear diplomacy on another front, which to date has been mostly fruitless.

Ayatollah Khamenei also said that Iran would maintain its close alliances with militia groups in the region that it uses as proxies, defying another demand from the Trump administration.

The Iranian leader was not the first to connect the possibility of talks with the United States to the presidential election. Last month, Mr. Trump said on Twitter that Iran could make a better deal if it did so before November. “Don’t wait until after U.S. Election to make the Big deal,” he wrote. “I’m going to win. You’ll make a better deal now!”

The United States has continued to tighten sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program, which have had a crippling effect on the Middle Eastern country’s economy. On Thursday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the State Department would expand the sanctions to cover 22 materials believed to be used in Iran’s nuclear, military and ballistic missile programs.

Ayatollah Khamenei said that Iran would not try to negotiate its way out of the sanctions and that it would be better off relying on its own industrial development. He said the Americans were targeting his country’s economy in the hope that Iranians would rise up against their government, which the ayatollah dismissed as “pipe dreams.”

Mr. Khamenei said that developing the nuclear program was an absolute necessity for Iran’s future. He dismissed the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and several world powers, which Mr. Trump abandoned in 2018, as “very damaging,” saying that Iran had suffered economic setbacks because of it.

Iran has insisted that its nuclear program is meant exclusively for peaceful purposes, but the United States and other countries believe it is pursuing the capacity to build a nuclear weapon.

The Iranian foreign minister, Javad Zarif, who was in charge of the negotiations for Iran, said as recently as last month in Parliament that the negotiating team had Ayatollah Khamenei’s full support and blessing to reach a deal.

The ayatollah, who recently directed his closest economic advisers to cement a 25-year military and economic partnership with China, said in his speech that European countries involved in the nuclear deal were unreliable, and that their attempts to salvage the pact — such as creating a secure financial channel so that Iran could maintain a limited amount of trade — were “useless games.”

Some Iranian officials and analysts have said that Iran’s strategy was to wait out the remainder of Mr. Trump’s term in hopes of a Democratic victory that could revive the deal, which was reached under President Barack Obama.

“Khamenei has always believed that accommodating to one U.S. demand would bring about another demand and another,” said Sina Azodi, a nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council in Washington. “For him, every solution would bring about another problem.”

But analysts, entrepreneurs and businessmen inside Iran have warned that the economy risks collapse if the current situation continues.

Since the United States pulled out of the nuclear deal in May 2018, Iran’s currency has dropped sharply and inflation has surged. The government said it faced a budget deficit of nearly 30 percent this fiscal year. Oil sales have plummeted from 2.5 million barrels a day to about 300,000, nearly eliminating Iran from the global crude oil market.

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$174 Million Afghan Drone Program Is Riddled With Problems, U.S. Report Says

The ScanEagle is a small drone with a 10-foot wingspan, less capable than the larger, higher-flying armed drones such as the Reaper. Used by the American military in both Iraq and Afghanistan, the ScanEagle is launched by a catapult, lands by flying into a net and sounds like a lawn mower. The drone’s camera beams video to an operator on a nearby base.

Original training requirements for the ScanEagles aimed to teach 12 to 20 Afghan students in 11 weeks on how to operate the small drone, but that was later changed to about 28 students in roughly a year, according to the report. This change centered on the addition of a six-month English-language course and an education in basic computer skills to the curriculum. In 2018, the attrition rate for the program was 31 percent, the report said.

The Afghan military was unable to account for 27 of the 87 soldiers certified to operate the ScanEagle drones, according to the report. And of the 60 soldiers assigned to operate the ScanEagles at sites around the country, an average of 17 were absent “because of sickness, annual leave or unknown reasons,” the report said.

ScanEagle equipment has become an issue, too. American officials in Afghanistan told the inspector general’s office that they were concerned that the Afghan National Army “does not know where the equipment it owns is or whether it is being used appropriately.” Afghan law enforcement agencies also “seized a stolen ScanEagle vehicle that a criminal intended to sell to a suspected terrorist organization for $400,000,” the report said.

American officials expressed concerns that the ScanEagle could be weaponized, a common tactic for insurgent groups that outfit small, unarmed drones with homemade devices to drop grenades or other munitions.

The report comes shortly after the Pentagon announced that it had reduced its forces in Afghanistan to roughly 8,600 troops and that the U.S. military had left five bases, transferring them to Afghan forces, all as part of the peace agreement with the Taliban.

“The United States honors its obligations,” the top Pentagon spokesman, Jonathan Hoffman, said in a statement on Tuesday. “All sides should reduce violence and embark on intra-Afghan negotiations capable of achieving a negotiated and lasting peace for Afghanistan.”

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Dining News

Senate Approves Five More Weeks of the Paycheck Protection Program

Small businesses now have until August 8 to apply

Just hours before the Paycheck Protection Program was set to expire, with over $130 billion left unallocated, the Senate voted to extend the program by an additional five weeks. The extension still needs to be voted on by the House, and to get the president’s signature for approval. This could be a challenge because, as the New York Times points out, “Members of both chambers are expected to leave Washington for the Fourth of July and are not set to fully return for two weeks.”

For restaurants in particular, the PPP loans have been a bit of a mess. The first wave of funds was depleted in two weeks, with large loans initially going to chain restaurants like Shake Shack and Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse. Many independent restaurants, especially Black-owned restaurants, had a hard time securing loans, and even when they could it was complicated to actually use the funds.

The extension will ideally bring relief to more restaurants and small businesses, though maybe they could have just used that $130 billion to cancel rent (which would help employers and employees alike) and allow restaurant workers to stay home until the pandemic is over.

And in other news…

  • McCormick spices will operate 24 hours a day to replenish the supply that quarantine home cooks and bakers depleted. [SupplyChainDive]
  • Little Caesars fires two Ohio employees after a couple opened their pizza and found pepperoni arranged in the shape of a swastika. [Snopes]
  • Texas bar owners are suing over the state’s re-closure, and declaring “Bar Lives Matter,” which…no. [Insider]
  • Chipotle is launching a DTC farmers market to support its suppliers. [The Spoon]
  • Subway pulls its 2-for-$10 sub deal after franchisees say it’ll make them lose money. [NYPost]
  • Chef Sean Sherman is opening an Indigenous Food Lab in Minnesota, which will include a restaurant, a training kitchen, and education center.” [Modern Farmer]
  • People who run fair food stands are struggling as all the state fairs are canceled. [NPR]
  • Protesters: Defund the Police!

Jersey Mike’s:

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Breaking New

Mnuchin says deep-pocketed private schools should return Paycheck Protection Program loans

“It has come to our attention that some private schools with significant endowments have taken #PPP loans. They should return them,” Mnuchin wrote on Twitter Friday.
Some private schools like St. Andrew’s Episcopal in Maryland, where Barron Trump is a student, plan to accept funds from the PPP, despite having an endowment of more than $8 million, according to a 2017 tax filing.

The school told CNN in a statement Thursday that it applied for the funds to “ensure retention of our full faculty and staff, including hourly employees and coaches, during this very challenging and uncertain time.” CNN has reached out to St. Andrew’s for comment on Mnuchin’s tweet.

The New York Times reported another elite school in Washington, DC, Sidwell Friends, which counts among its alumni Chelsea Clinton and Malia and Sasha Obama, also plans to keep its loan. The Times reported that while Sidwell Friends has an endowment of more than $53 million, Sidwell’s board of trustees said it plans to accept a $5.2 million loan.

A spokeswoman for the National Association of Independent Schools told CNN’s Brian Todd that some institutions’ endowments don’t “necessarily translate to liquidity.”

“Some of these endowments are restricted funds that can’t just be accessed like you might access a savings account,” Myra McGovern told CNN, adding, “The pandemic has really resulted in a lot of schools losing income as they’ve had to change their programs.”

Several other notable private schools — including the Francis W. Parker School in Chicago, St. Patrick’s Episcopal Day School in Washington, DC, and The Westminster Schools in Atlanta — told CNN they didn’t apply for the loan.

The Latin School in Chicago received a loan but then returned it after backlash in the community.

CNN’s Devan Cole, Meridith Edwards and Annie Grayer contributed to this report.

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Breaking New

Elizabeth Smart says she was assaulted on a flight. That inspired her to create a self-defense program

“I had been asleep and all of a sudden I woke up because I felt someone’s hand rubbing in between my legs on my inner thigh,” Smart told Gayle King of “CBS This Morning.”

Smart was kidnapped from her Salt Lake City home when she was 14 by Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Eileen Barzee in 2002.

During the interview, Smart said she was shocked that a strange man sitting next to her would do something like that.

“The last time somebody touched me without my say so was when I was kidnapped and I froze. I didn’t know what to do,” Smart said in the interview that aired Thursday.

Smart says she reported the incident to law enforcement and Delta Air Lines.

The airline confirmed that Smart “shared that another passenger had acted inappropriately towards her” and it “does not tolerate passenger misconduct.”

“We took the matter seriously and have continued to cooperate with Ms. Smart and the appropriate authorities as the matter is investigated,” the airline told CNN.

Sandra Yi Barker, a spokeswoman with the FBI’s Salt Lake City office, said that she could not confirm or deny the existence of an investigation. Smart said there’s an ongoing investigation into the incident.

Since the incident, Smart has been working to create Smart Defense, a self-defense program for women and girls.

The program, designed by mixed martial arts and law enforcement experts, “empowers women and girls with confidence and self-defense skills to prevent, ward off, and fight back against sexual assault in a safe, controlled environment,” according to the Elizabeth Smart Foundation website.

CNN has reached out to the Elizabeth Smart Foundation for comment.

While Smart said she is not sure if taking a self-class would have prevented her from being kidnapped as a teenager, she said it would have given her the confidence to try to run away.

“We are not training assassins, we are trying to train them to give themselves an opportunity to get away,” she said.

CNN’s Devon Sayers and Konstantin Toropin contributed to this report.

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Breaking New

Trump to halt civilian drone program over China tech concerns: FT

(Reuters) – The U.S. government is planning to permanently halt its civilian drone program due to the devices being made at least partly in China, the Financial Times reported on Sunday.

The U.S. Department of the Interior is considering halting about 1,000 drones after deciding that the risk of the drones being used by Beijing for spying was too high, the FT report said, citing two people briefed on the plans.

Sources also told FT that the Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt has not signed an official policy but is planning to pull the fleet from action, with exceptions for emergencies such as fighting wildfires and training.

The Department of the Interior was not immediately available for comment.

China’s SZ DJI Technology Co Ltd, the world’s largest commercial drone maker, said on Monday that while it has not seen the new policy, it is looking forward to reviewing the U.S. department’s findings, given the lack of credible evidence to support a broad country of origin restriction on drone technology.

“We urge policymakers and industry stakeholders to come together to create clear standards that will give commercial and government drone operators the assurance they need to confidently evaluate drone technology no matter where it is made,” the company added.

Reporting by Mekhla Raina and Rama Venkat in Bengaluru; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Sherry Jacob-Phillips

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Breaking New

U.S. senators ask for government investigation of coal tax credit program

BOSTON (Reuters) – Three U.S. Democratic senators have asked the investigative arm of Congress to evaluate a $1 billion-a-year subsidy for burning chemically treated refined coal, after research has shown that some power plants using the fuel produced surging amounts of mercury and smog instead of cutting pollution.

FILE PHOTO: Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) questions judicial nominees during a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., December 4, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, as well as Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Sherrod Brown of Ohio, on Friday requested the Government Accountability Office investigate the tax credit program for refined coal, according to a letter viewed by Reuters.

The request for an investigation comes after a Reuters Special Report in December 2018 revealed that many power plants burning refined coal pumped out more smog, not less.

After the Reuters report, a study by independent nonprofit Resources for the Future found that power plants using refined coal were not reducing mercury, nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide pollution to levels required by the tax credit program.

Those pollutants rose sharply at some power plants after they began burning refined coal, the study said. Others showed reductions, but not enough to meet the requirements for taxpayer subsidies, according to the study by the Washington, D.C., research institution.

“(This) raises questions about the extent to which the use of refined coal is actually achieving the emissions reductions required to claim the refined coal production tax credit,” the senators wrote in their letter to the GAO.

The Internal Revenue Service, which oversees the tax credit program, allows large companies to qualify for the tax credits by burning relatively small amounts of refined coal during one-day tests in a laboratory in lieu of real-world testing at power plants.

In September, the IRS issued a request for comment on the program, after receiving pressure from the three Democratic senators to review how pollution tests are conducted.

Beneficiaries of the subsidy include the energy unit of Berkshire Hathaway Inc, DTE Energy Co, Fidelity Investments, Goldman Sachs Group Inc, JPMorgan Chase & Co Inc and Mylan NV, U.S. regulatory filings show.

The use of refined coal has increased in recent years, accounting for about 20% of U.S. coal consumption, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Several dozen U.S. power plants are on track to burn about 150 million tons of refined coal this year, according to EIA data. Each ton of burned refined coal generates a tax credit of $7.17, or about $1.1 billion in tax credits for U.S. corporations in 2019.

After this year, tax credits expire on 2009-era refined coal facilities. But most of the plants in production still have until the end of 2021 to generate tax credits. Bills to extend the tax credit 10 years beyond 2021 have not progressed beyond introduction of the legislation in Congress.

Meanwhile, global insurance brokerage Arthur J. Gallagher & Co has stockpiled nearly $1 billion in tax credits alone from developing refined coal facilities and recruiting investors like Boston-based mutual fund company Fidelity, U.S. regulatory filings show.

AJ Gallagher Chief Financial Officer Doug Howell told analysts during a presentation last week that the tax credits will generate about $1.5 billion in cash flows over the next several years.

Reporting by Tim McLaughlin in Boston; Editing by Leslie Adler and Matthew Lewis

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Breaking New

Here is what we know about the US military’s program to train foreign troops

As of Friday, the Department of Defense has 5,181 foreign students from 153 countries in the US for security cooperation related training, according to Pentagon spokesperson Christopher Garver, who noted that “the Department of Defense vets foreign nationals traveling to the United States for Defense Department-related training.

“The Saudi National was in the United States for training pursuant to a US Air Force Foreign Military Sales training case funded by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. His training began in August of 2017 and was scheduled to conclude in August of 2020,” Garver said.

“His training program included English Language Training, Basic Aviation, and Initial Pilot Training,” he added.

Commanding Officer of NAS Pensacola Capt. Tim Kinsella told reporters that foreign students from “partner nations” have trained at the base to learn naval aviation for years.

“There’s always been international students training here because it’s a good place to train, it’s good quality training,” he said. He roughly estimated that there were a couple hundred foreign students at the base.

There are currently 852 Saudis in the US for Defense Department security cooperation training, he said.

Florida Republican Sen. Rick Scott called for a “full review of the US military programs to train foreign nationals” in the wake of the shooting.

“There is no reason we should be providing state-of-the-art military training to people who wish us harm,” Scott said. “And most importantly, there is no reason to risk the safety and security of our American men and women in uniform. If not for the bravery displayed by the military personnel on the ground and local law enforcement, today’s tragedy could have been much worse. We must be vigilant against those who wish our country and our people harm.”

In a news conference Friday afternoon, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, mentioned the connection to the Saudi Air Force and said that he had spoken to President Donald Trump about it.

“There’s obviously going to be a lot of questions about this individual being a foreign national, being a part of the Saudi Air Force and then to be here training on our soil,” he said.

“Obviously,” DeSantis added, “the government of Saudi Arabia needs to make things better for these victims.”

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Breaking New

Growing seeds of hope: Eastern Shore jail re-entry program prepares inmates for their future

NORTHAMPTON Co., Va. – It’s a strange sight: inmates under the fall Eastern Shore sun, picking lettuce for their next meal.

“So I think we’ve got Cobb salad for lunch tomorrow, right guys,” yells Deputy Clark Lovelady.

The garden at the Eastern Shore Regional Jail is bright green, and inmates eagerly dig in the soil.

“A lot of these guys aren’t used to eating this type of food,” Lovelady said.

Deputy Clark Lovelady explained that some of the garden’s produce includes bok choy, turnips, broccoli and mustard greens.

The garden is Lovelady’s brainchild. The Northampton County deputy previously worked in Richmond building gardens and spent extra time teaching elementary students how to tend to plants.

“This garden is special,” Lovelady said. “It gives them [the inmates] a sense of accomplishment and [as if they are] treated like a normal person. I mean, a lot of these guys I went to high school with.”

The garden is the focal point of the jail’s recently launched re-entry program. It’s a six-month curriculum that includes GED certification, Thinking for a Change, anger management, family reunification, substance abuse therapy and job training.

“Part of being released back into society is to feel like you are a human being,” said Rev. Kelvin Jones, the program director and jail chaplain. “It’s hard to do when you are locked in a cage.”

“We are not shackled, we are not handcuffed, we are just free to enjoy the day,” said inmate Nicole Koester.

Koester is one of eight women and eight men in the first class of the six-month program.

“You just feel so ashamed,” Koester said. “You just want an opportunity to make amends and not come back and repeat it over, because once you start the cycle it’s endless and you want to step off.”

Rev. Jones said the re-entry program is based on the state model. He had a hand in creating it during his previous work with the Virginia Department of Corrections.

“The goal is to shift the mindset, educate these inmates, change their way of thinking and then ultimately we reduce recidivism and increase public safety,” explained Rev. Jones.  “We have a choice: we can put people in prison as corrections has done over the years, give them three meals a day, let them lay in a cot, but they may not change their mindset.”

George Walker is one of the eight men in the program, doing a stint of four years in the jail for malicious wounding.

“Everything I’ve taken from this program so far, I will apply to my life when I get out,” Walker said. “I never want to come back to jail.”

“We are investing in people, and when you invest in people’s lives and make them feel better and valued, the end result will be productive,” said Sheriff David Doughty, who oversees the jail.

Business owners on the Eastern Shore that hire the ex-offenders that complete the program are even eligible for a $2,400 dollar tax credit for each hire.

“We have a small community here,” Doughty said. “Whether it be at the grocery store, gas pump, moving next door or the bus stop, these people will soon be our neighbors.”

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