SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — The National Science Foundation announced Thursday that it will not rebuild a renowned radio telescope in Puerto Rico, which was one of the world’s largest until it collapsed nearly two years ago.
Instead, the agency issued a solicitation for the creation of a $5 million education center at the site that would promote programs and partnerships related to science, technology, engineering and math. It also seeks the implementation of a research and workforce development program, with the center slated to open next year in the northern mountain town of Arecibo where the telescope was once located.
The solicitation does not include operational support for current infrastructure at the site that is still in use, including a 12-meter radio telescope or the Lidar facility, which is used to study the upper atmosphere and ionosphere to analyze cloud cover and precipitation data.
The reflector dish and the 900-ton platform hanging 450 feet above it previously allowed scientists to track asteroids headed to Earth, conduct research that led to a Nobel Prize and determine if a planet is potentially habitable.
“We understand how much the site has meant to the community,” said Sean Jones, assistant director for directorate of mathematical and physical sciences at NSF. “If you’re a radio astronomer, you’ve probably spent some time of your career at Arecibo.”
But all research abruptly ended when an auxiliary cable snapped in August 2020, tearing a 100-foot hole in the dish and damaging the dome above it. A main cable broke three months later, prompting the NSF to announce in November 2020 that it was closing the telescope because the structure was too unstable.
Experts suspect that a possible manufacturing error caused the cable to snap, but NSF officials said Thursday that the investigation is still ongoing.
Jones said in a phone interview that the decision to not rebuild the telescope comes in part because the U.S. government has other radar facilities that can do part of the mission that Arecibo once did. He added that the NSF also envisions a five-year maintenance contract to keep the site open, which would cost at least $1 million a year.
He said by phone that one of the agency’s priorities is to make STEM more accessible and inclusive and that the proposed education center would fill that need.
“It’s a way to augment some of the things that young people are getting in their schools or not getting,” he said.
Judge rules new DACA program can continue temporarily
HOUSTON (AP) — A federal judge ruled Friday that the current version of a federal policy that prevents the deportation of hundreds of thousands of immigrants brought to the U.S. as children can continue, at least temporarily.
U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen — who last year declared the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program illegal — said that the policy, which is set to proceed under new regulations at the end of the month, can continue with limitations that he previously set. Those limitations say there can be no new applicants for DACA and that those who are already in the program can continue to be in it and renew their application.
Hanen ordered attorneys in the case to provide more information and said he expects additional legal arguments related to the new rule, but there was no timetable set for future hearings. It’s also unclear when Hanen will give his final decision on the case, which is expected to end up at the U.S. Supreme Court.
The current version of DACA, which the Biden administration created to improve its chances of surviving legal scrutiny, is set to take effect Oct. 31.
Before the hearing Friday morning, a group of about 30 community activists gathered in support of DACA at a park next to the federal courthouse. They held up signs that said, “Judge Hanen Do the Right Thing Protect DACA” and “Immigrants Are Welcomed.” They chanted as many of them marched into the courthouse to attend the hearing.
Hanen last year declared DACA illegal after Texas and eight other Republican-leaning states filed a lawsuit claiming they are harmed financially, incurring hundreds of millions of dollars in health care, education and other costs, when immigrants are allowed to remain in the country illegally. They also argued that the White House overstepped its authority by granting immigration benefits that are for Congress to decide.
“Only Congress has the ability to write our nation’s immigration laws,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said Thursday in a statement.
Hanen found DACA had not been subjected to public notice and comment periods required under the federal Administrative Procedures Act. But he left the Obama-era program intact for those already benefiting from it, pending the appeal. There were 611,270 people enrolled in DACA at the end of March.
A three-judge panel of the New Orleans-based appeals court upheld Hanen’s initial finding but sent the case back to Hanen so he could review the impact of the federal government’s new DACA regulation.
The new rule’s 453 pages are largely technical and represent little substantive change from the 2012 memo that created DACA, but it was subject to public comments as part of a formal rule-making process.
But even if Hanen were to issue a positive ruling on the new DACA regulation, the judge might still decide the program is illegal because it was not created by Congress, Perales said.
“Which is why so many right now are calling on Congress to act,” she said.
After last week’s appeals court ruling, President Joe Biden and advocacy groups renewed their calls for Congress to pass permanent protections for “Dreamers,” which is what people protected by DACA are commonly called. Congress has failed multiple times to pass proposals called the DREAM Act to protect DACA recipients.
Whatever Hanen decides, DACA is expected to go to the Supreme Court for a third time. In 2016, the Supreme Court deadlocked 4-4 over an expanded DACA and a version of the program for parents of DACA recipients. In 2020, the high court ruled 5-4 that the Trump administration improperly ended DACA, allowing it to stay in place.
Proposed UN resolution would sanction top Haitian gang chief
UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. Security Council is negotiating a resolution that would impose an arms embargo, asset freeze and travel ban on influential Haitian gang leader Jimmy Cherizier, nicknamed “Barbeque.”
It also would target other Haitian individuals and groups who engage in actions that threaten the peace, security or stability of the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country, according to the text obtained Thursday by The Associated Press.
The U.S.-drafted resolution singles out by name Cherizier, a former police officer who leads an alliance of Haitian gangs known as the “G9 Family and Allies.” But it would establish a Security Council committee to designate other Haitians and groups to be put on a blacklist and subjected to sanctions as well.
The draft resolution expresses “grave concern about the extremely high levels of gang violence and other criminal activities, including kidnappings, trafficking in persons and the smuggling of migrants, and homicides, and sexual and gender-based violence including rape and sexual slavery, as well as ongoing impunity for perpetrators, corruption and recruitment of children by gangs and the implications of Haiti’s situation for the region.”
The Security Council moved up a meeting on Haiti to Monday because of the increasingly dire situation in the country.
Daily life in Haiti began to spin out of control last month just hours after Prime Minister Ariel Henry said fuel subsidies would be eliminated, causing prices to double. Gangs blocked the entrance to the Varreux fuel terminal, leading to a severe shortage of fuel at a time that clean water is also scarce and the country is trying to deal with a deadly cholera outbreak.
The draft resolution says “Cherizier and his G9 gang confederation are actively blocking the free movement of fuel from the Varreux fuel terminal — the largest in Haiti.”
“His actions have directly contributed to the economic paralysis and humanitarian crisis in Haiti,” it says.
In a video posted on Facebook last week, Cherizier called on the government to grant him and G9 members amnesty and to void all arrest warrants against them. He said in Creole that Haiti’s economic and social situation is worsening by the day, so “there is no better time than today to dismantle the system.”
He outlined a transitional plan for restoring order in Haiti. It would include creation of a Council of Sages with one representative from each of Haiti’s 10 departments to govern the country with an interim president until a presidential election could be held in February 2024. It also calls for restructuring Haiti’s National Police and strengthening the army.
“The country is (facing) one crisis after another,” Cherizier said. “During all these crises, the first victim is the population, the people in the ghettos, the peasants.”
Haiti has been in the grips of an inflationary vise that is squeezing its people and exacerbating protests that have brought society to the breaking point. Violence is raging, making parents afraid to send their kids to school. Hospitals, banks and grocery stores are struggling to stay open.
The president of neighboring Dominican Republic, which shares the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, recently described the situation as a “low-intensity civil war.” His government is cracking down on Haitians migrating to the Dominican Republic.
Political instability has simmered ever since last year’s still-unsolved assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse, who had faced opposition protests calling for his resignation over corruption charges and claims that his five-year term had ended. Moïse dissolved Parliament in January 2020 after legislators failed to hold elections in 2019 amid political gridlock.
Last week, Haiti’s prime minister and 18 high-ranking officials requested “the immediate deployment of a specialized armed force, in sufficient quantity” by international partners to stop the “criminal actions” of armed gangs across the country.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres sent a letter to the Security Council on Sunday calling for the deployment of a rapid action force by one or several U.N. member states to help Haiti’s National Police.
That force would “remove the threat posed by armed gangs and provide immediate protection to critical infrastructure and services,” as well as secure the “free movement of water, fuel, food and medical supplies from main ports and airports to communities and health care facilities,” he said.
The draft resolution takes note of Guterres’ letter, welcomes the appeal from Haiti, and encourages “the immediate deployment of a multinational rapid action force” to support the Haitian National Police, as the secretary-general recommends.
U.S. officials said Wednesday the Biden administration will provide security and humanitarian assistance to Haiti and pull visas to current and former government officials involved with gangs.
Xi’s power in China grows after unforeseen rise to dominance
BEIJING (AP) — When Xi Jinping came to power in 2012, it wasn’t clear what kind of leader he would be.
His low-key persona during a steady rise through the ranks of the long-ruling Communist Party gave no hint that he would evolve into one of modern China’s most dominant leaders, or that he would put the economically and militarily ascendant country on a collision course with the U.S.-led international order.
Xi is all but certain to be given a third five-year term as party leader at the end of a major party congress that opens Sunday — a break with an unofficial two-term limit that other recent leaders had followed. What’s not clear is how long he will remain in power, and what that means for China and the world.
“I see Xi having his way at the 20th congress, mostly. It is a question of how much more powerful he will be coming out of it,” said Steve Tsang, director of the China Institute at the London University School of Oriental and African Studies. “He is not coming out looking weaker.”
He has already amassed and centralized power over the past 10 years in ways that far surpass his immediate predecessors, Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin, and even rival the Communist Party’s two other dominating leaders — Mao Zedong, who led the country until his death in 1976, and Deng Xiaoping, who launched China in 1978 on its rise from poverty to become the world’s second largest economy.
One of Xi’s signature policies has been an anti-corruption campaign that has been popular with the public and conveniently enabled him to sideline potential rivals. A former justice minister and a former deputy public security minister received suspended death sentences last month.
The continuing anti-corruption campaign, Tsang said, shows that “anyone who stands in his way will be crushed.”
Xi, 69, had the right pedigree to climb to the top. He enjoyed a privileged early youth in Beijing as the son of Xi Zhongxun, a former vice premier and guerrilla commander in the civil war that brought Mao’s communists to power in 1949.
His family, though, fell afoul of the capriciousness of Mao’s rule during the anarchy of the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution, which banished intellectuals to the countryside and subjected many to public humiliation and brutal beatings in the name of class struggle.
His father was jailed and Xi, at the age of 15, was sent to live in a poor rural village in Shaanxi province in 1969 as part of Mao’s campaign to have educated urban young people learn from peasants. He lived as villagers did in a hut carved into the area’s cliffs.
The experience is said to have toughened Xi and given him an understanding of the struggles of the rural population. He stayed in the village for six years, until receiving a coveted scholarship to prestigious Tsinghua University in Beijing.
“Knives are sharpened on the stone. People are refined through hardship,” Xi told a Chinese magazine in 2001. “Whenever I later encountered trouble, I’d just think of how hard it had been to get things done back then and nothing would then seem difficult.”
After university, Xi began his climb up the bureaucratic ranks with a three-year stint in the Defense Ministry. He then was made party chief of a county south of Beijing before spending 17 years in Fujian province, starting as vice mayor of the city of Xiamen in 1985 and rising through a series of posts to governor of the province in 2000.
A first marriage fell apart after three years, and in 1987 he married his current wife, Peng Liyuan, a well-known singer and an officer in the People’s Liberation Army’s song and dance troupe. They have one daughter, Xi Mingze, who studied at Harvard University and has no public role in Chinese politics.
Alfred Wu, who covered Xi for Chinese state media in Fujian, remembers him as quiet and low-profile, saying he wasn’t as assertive as he has become as national leader.
“Nowadays, Xi Jinping is totally different from Xi Jinping as a governor,” said Wu, now an associate professor of public policy at the National University of Singapore.
Xi was moved to neighboring Zhejiang province in 2002, where he was party leader for more than four years, the top position outranking the governor. He then briefly was made party secretary in nearby Shanghai in 2007, after his predecessor fell in a corruption scandal.
Over his time in Fujian, Zhejiang and Shanghai, Xi was seen mainly as a pragmatist who didn’t originate bold proposals but generally backed the economic reforms that Deng had initiated and benefited in particular coastal areas such as those three jurisdictions.
He also spoke out against corruption as governor in Fujian after a major smuggling scandal, a hint perhaps of the national crackdown that came after his rise to the top.
Xi was thrust into the national leadership in 2007. That’s when he joined the all-powerful Standing Committee of the Communist Party’s Politburo, a prelude to being named to the top position at the next congress in 2012.
Xi has taken control of economic and military matters and had his name enshrined in the party constitution alongside Mao by adding a reference to his ideology — Xi Jinping Thought.
The ideology is vague but emphasizes reviving the party’s mission as China’s political, economic, social and cultural leader and its central role in achieving the goal of “national rejuvenation,” the restoration of the country to a position of prominence in the world.
His government has increased the role of state industry while launching anti-monopoly and data security crackdowns on high-flying private sector firms including e-commerce giant Alibaba Group and Tencent Holding, the owner of the popular WeChat messaging service.
Xi has also revived a 1950′s propaganda slogan “common prosperity” in a nod to a burgeoning gap between the rich and the poor, though it’s unclear if the government plans any major initiatives to address that.
With the economy sagging from pandemic-era restrictions and a government crackdown on spiraling real estate debt, concern is rising that Xi is engineering a shift away from Deng’s strategy of “reform and opening up” that delivered four decades of growth.
Wu views Xi as a disciple of Mao rebelling against Deng, who allowed the private sector to flourish and sought positive relations with the West. “He’s really anti-U.S. and anti-West,” Wu said.
Xi’s more confrontational approach stems from a belief that now is the time for a stronger China to play a larger role in international affairs and stand up to outside pressure.
Xi has antagonized Japan, India and other Asian neighbors by pressing claims to disputed islands in the South and East China Seas, and territory high up in the Himalayas. He has also ramped up military and diplomatic pressure on Taiwan, the island democracy that the Communist Party says belongs to China.
Relations with the U.S. have tumbled to their lowest level since the establishment of diplomatic ties in 1979, with the Biden administration maintaining tariffs imposed by former President Donald Trump and blocking Chinese access to important American technologies.
If anyone in the party leadership thinks that Xi is leading the country in the wrong direction, though, it’s hard to decipher, given China’s opaque political system and control of the media.
“We have no idea whether people at the very top think Xi Jinping is performing poorly or not,” said Joseph Torigian, a Chinese politics expert at American University in Washington.
Within China, the Communist Party under Xi has increased surveillance, tightened already strict control over speech and media and cracked down further on dissent, censoring even mildly critical views and jailing those it believes went too far.
Authorities have detained an estimated million or more members of predominantly Muslim ethnic groups in China’s Xinjiang region in a harsh anti-extremism campaign that has been labeled genocide by the U.S. In Hong Kong, Xi’s government responded to massive protests with a tough national security law that has eliminated political opposition and altered the once-freewheeling nature of the city.
Xi is facing a challenge to his government’s harsh “zero-COVID” policies, which have taken an economic and human toll. Small groups of residents staged protests during a two-month lockdown in Shanghai earlier this year.
In a rare political protest, someone hung banners from an elevated highway in Beijing this week calling for freedom, not lockdowns, and worker and student strikes to force Xi out. They were quickly removed, police deployed and any mention of the incident speedily wiped from the internet.
The government has stuck with the policy, which earlier was seen as a success as COVID-19 ravaged other parts of the world. Although there is simmering dissatisfaction, particularly as life returns to normal in other parts of the world, most people don’t dare to speak out.
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