U.S. Freezes More Than Half Of Aid To U.N. Agency For Palestinian Refugees

The U.S. says it’s sending money to sustain schools and health services for Palestinian refugees — and that other nations should do more to help. In this 2016 photo, schoolgirls dance at a summer camp organized at a U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) school in Gaza City.

Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty Images

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Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty Images

The State Department is withholding $65 million it was to send to the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, calling for reforms and for other nations to step up their support — especially those that criticize the Trump administration’s positions regarding Palestinians and Israel.

The U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees in the Near East had stood to receive $125 million in U.S. funding. Instead, the State Department will send $60 million, money that State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said is meant “to sustain schools and health services to ensure that teachers and also health care providers can be paid their salaries.”

Nauert said the remaining $65 million is “not being canceled. It’s just being held for future consideration.”

The funding freeze comes weeks after the U.S. was soundly rejected in its attempts to block a nonbinding resolution in the U.N. that called for countries to not move their embassies to Jerusalem — as President Trump pledged to do in early December.

The U.N. vote to approve the resolution was 128-9, prompting U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley to say, “The United States will remember this day in which it was singled out for attack in the General Assembly for the very act of exercising our right as a sovereign nation.”

As the State Department’s decision on funding for Palestinian refugees became public, Nauert fielded questions about whether the U.S. was punishing Palestinians for bringing the U.N. resolution on Jerusalem to a vote.

“The United States has been, in the past, the largest single donor to UNRWA,” Nauert said. “We would like other countries — in fact, other countries that criticize the United States for what they believe to be our position vis-a-vis the Palestinians, other countries that have criticized us — to step forward and actually help with UNRWA, to do more.”

The UNRWA operates 700 schools, serving more than 500,000 students. Its commissioner-general, Pierre Kraehenbuehl, says that given the longstanding relationship between the agency and the U.S., “this reduced contribution threatens one of the most successful human development endeavors” in the Middle East.

3- “Given the long &trusted relationship between the #US &UNRWA, this reduced contribution threatens one of the most successful human development endeavors in #MiddleEast. I ask you to stand with us,” UNRWA CG @PKraehenbuehlhttps://t.co/sC7d7cPgVB

— UNRWA (@UNRWA) January 17, 2018

In a series of tweets, Kraehenbuehl asked the international community for help, citing the need for emergency food aid and regional security and the dangers of radicalization.

NPR’s Daniel Estrin reports from Jerusalem:

“Palestinian delegates say cutting funding for refugees would not bring a lasting and comprehensive peace between the countries. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on the other hand, has praised the move saying it is good that the U.S. is challenging UNRWA, the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees.

U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley had reportedly called for a complete cutoff in U.S. money, but Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis fear that ending all assistance would exacerbate instability in the region.”

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Watch: Anna Von Hausswolff Digs Into 'The Mysterious Vanishing Of Electra'

Anna von Hausswolff‘s voice has truly begun to equal her instrument. Like the pipe organ she commands at harrowing volumes and in disquiet drones, her howls rattle and shake with a sublime elasticity on “The Mysterious Vanishing Of Electra,” the first single from Dead Magic.

Performed on the 20th century pipe organ located in Marmor Kirken (“The Marble Church”), Copenhagen, von Hausswolff’s new album was recorded by Randall Dunn, who regularly works with the likes of Sunn O))) and Earth, but also Marissa Nadler. This is certainly the shattering decibel that the Swedish musician has begun to attract, while maintaining her own stretched-out style of songwriting — backing bombast with thoughtful melodies.

The video stars Siri Wigzell and Anna von Hausswolff in a bit of a bizzaro Wizard of Oz, except the switch from the gravedigging black and white to color only seems to send our characters into more darkness. Maria von Hausswolff, Anna’s sister, directs and tells NPR that the song is “driven by a desire to dig up something that has been wanting to get dug up for a long time. It’s a transition of music, character and images as it continues the ongoing story from my previousmusicvideos for Anna.”

Dead Magic comes out March 2 via City Slang.

Photo credit: Lady Lusen.

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Free-Living And False Heroics In Amen Dunes' 'Miki Dora' Video

Damon McMahon, of Amen Dunes.

Michael Schmelling/Courtesy of the artist

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Michael Schmelling/Courtesy of the artist

“My whole life is this escape,” the surfer Miki Dora once said, “my whole life is this wave I drop into… set the whole thing up…. pull up into and shoot into my life, going for broke, man. And behind me, all the s*** goes over my back, the screaming parents, screaming teachers, police, priests, politicians, kneeboarders, wind surfers, they’re all going over the falls, headfirst into the reef.”

Damon McMahon, who records under the name Amen Dunes alongside a shifting group of collaborators, is announcing his first full-length in four years, Freedom, today with a song that ties him to the enduring mystique of Dora, and also the bulls*** that lies beneath it. “He was a living contradiction,” McMahon says of Dora, “both a symbol of free-living and inspiration, and of the false heroics American culture has always celebrated.”


One of the central animations of Amen Dunes has been a circular questioning, of self and of placement and the porous myths that form the foundations of whole lives. McMahon transmits all of this from a spooky zone, where earnestness and abstraction are hand-in-hand and every note and tone is slightly (or way) off its axis. The effect is narcotizing — but at its heart, that unpolished crystal voice, so frenetically trilled. (Just watch McMahon use it — that he covered This Mortal Coil’s version of “Song Of The Siren” and made it utterly his own is a testament to his gift.)

Dora is a totem and a stand-in for McMahon both in its song, propelled by a Mothersbaugh-ian synth line, and its video, which stars the young Boomer Feith running through his native Manhattan. There’s no narrative here — just relentless movement. Like an itinerant, problematic surfer.

Picking up on that thematic thread, Freedom finds McMahon and friends ransacking some of the signature tones and contours of ’90s radio, mostly in its reliance on bright and centralized guitar and sunny, propellant rhythms. The result, however, is the same as ever — a record of hazy honesty and cracked confidence that clearly came at a pretty penny’s cost.

Amen Dunes’ Freedom is out March 30 on Sacred Bones.

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Alien sightings are no excuse for filing your tax return late

LONDON (Reuters) – As Britain’s deadline for annual tax returns looms, revenue authorities have warned they will be keeping a sharp lookout for any mention of aliens.

Seeking to encourage taxpayers to file their returns by Jan. 31, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) gave some examples on Wednesday of excuses for lateness it had received and rejected.

“I couldn’t file my return on time as my wife has been seeing aliens and won’t let me enter the house,” was one explanation that did not pass muster.

HMRC officials were equally unimpressed with someone who said their ex-wife had left the tax return upstairs and they couldn’t retrieve it because they suffered from vertigo.

“Each year we still come across some questionable excuses,” said Angela MacDonald, HMRC Director General of Customer Services.

“However, help will always be provided for those who have a genuine excuse for not submitting their return on time,” she added in a statement.

HMRC also highlighted a few dubious claims for tax-deductible expenses, reminding taxpayers that only legitimate expenses for a job would be accepted.

Expense claims rejected by officials included veterinary fees for a rabbit, birthday drinks at a Glasgow nightclub and 250 days’ worth of sausages and chips.

Reporting by Estelle Shirbon; editing by Stephen Addison

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Top Stories: Government Shutdown Looms; Ex-CIA Officer Arrested

Good morning, here are our early stories:

— No Closer To DACA Deal, Republicans Push Plan B To Keep Government Open.

— Ex-CIA Officer Arrested On Suspicion Of Exposing U.S. Spy Network In China.

— Majority Of National Park Service Board Resigns Citing Administration Indifference.

— Opioid Crisis Blamed For Sharp Increase In Accidental Deaths In U.S.

— Bright Light, Sonic Boom As Likely Meteor Streaks Across Southern Michigan.

And here are more early headlines:

Winter Storm Warnings, Advisories Across U.S. East. (NWS)

Stop-Gap Spending Bill Imperiled By Conservative GOP, Democrats. (AP)

In Vancouver Meeting, Korean War Allies Discuss North Korea. (Los Angeles Times)

Bob Dole To Be Awarded Congressional Gold Medal. (Politico)

Waiting For “The Fakeys”: Will Trump’s Fake News Awards Event Happen? (Reuters)

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North Korea To Send A 230-Person Cheering Squad To Winter Olympics

With North Korea planning to participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics, delegation head Jon Jong Su, vice chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country, crosses the concrete border to attend a meeting at the truce village of Panmunjom in the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas.

Yonhap via Reuters

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Yonhap via Reuters

The details of how North Korea will participate in the upcoming Pyeongchang Winter Olympics are still being worked out — but we now know that the regime will send a cheering squad of 230 people to support athletes who make the trip to South Korea next month.

Details about the national spirit squad emerged as delegations from North and South Korea meet at the Peace House in the border village of Panmunjom to discuss the pariah regime’s inclusion in the games.

“Cheering squads are typically made up of college-aged students and volunteers,” NPR’s Elise Hu reports from Seoul. “On Monday the two Koreas agreed that a North Korean orchestra, singers and dancers would come to the South to perform during the games.”

North Korea also says it will send a delegation to the Paralympic Games that will follow February’s Winter Olympics, according to updates from South Korea’s Ministry of Unification.

The last time South Korea hosted the Olympics was in 1988; despite attempts to arrange for North Korea to participate, the regime didn’t send any athletes to those games in Seoul.

While the arrangements for the 2018 games are being made after all standard deadlines for Olympic participation have elapsed, they’re also being welcomed as a sign of easing tensions after months of alarm over North Korea’s nuclear program.

The rare event of hundreds of North Koreans traveling south has prompted questions of how they should move between the cut-off countries. The regime is asking South Korea if its delegation can cross the border over land — presumably in cars and buses — according to the Korea Herald.

So far, the talks have included representatives from the two Koreas and Pyeongchang organizers. The International Olympic Committee will take a more high-profile role on Saturday, Jan. 20, when IOC President Thomas Bach welcomes all three delegations.

Topics at that session will range from the names and number of North Korean athletes who will participate, as well as matters of protocol around the regime’s flag and anthem, and North Korea’s Olympic uniforms and involvement in ceremonies at the Pyeongchang games.

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Do You Have The Right To Plead Not Guilty When Your Lawyer Disagrees?

On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments in a case with a surprise plot twist: The jurors were told that the accused was guilty of a triple murder — not by the prosecutor, but by the defense lawyer.

“There is no way reasonably possible that you can listen to the evidence and not come” to that conclusion, he said.

In an effort to avoid the death penalty, the defense lawyer refused to follow the instructions of his client, who contended he was innocent. The question before the justices is whether that violated the client’s constitutional right to counsel.

In 2008 Robert McCoy’s wife, Yolanda, took her infant daughter and fled Bossier, La., after her husband held her at knife point and threatened to kill her. She left her 17-year-old son with her parents in Bossier so he could finish high school and graduate, and went into protective custody in Dallas.

A month later McCoy was arrested and charged with killing his wife’s parents and her son. A 911 tape recorded Yolanda’s mother screaming “She ain’t here Robert. … I don’t know where she is. … The detectives have her.” A gunshot is heard, and then the line goes dead.

Although the evidence against him was overwhelming, McCoy has proclaimed his innocence, alleging that the killings were the product of a drug deal gone bad and that police conspired to frame him because he supposedly revealed their involvement in drug trafficking. Five months later, state psychiatric experts found McCoy mentally competent to stand trial.

But he was continually at odds with his public defenders, eventually firing them for refusing to file subpoenas he prepared for a dozen witnesses, who he said could support his alibi defense and other claims. He briefly acted as his own lawyer until his parents hired Larry English to defend him, and even then the defendant continued to file motions in his own defense.

English repeatedly advised McCoy to plead guilty in exchange for life in prison instead of the death penalty, or to plead not guilty by reason of insanity, but McCoy repeatedly refused, insisting that he was innocent.

Finally, English embarked on a strategy of conceding his client’s guilt, in hopes of avoiding the death penalty. Indeed, in his closing argument, he told the jury that not only was his client guilty but that he had taken any burden for this conclusion off of the prosecutor and the jury.

Directly contradicting his client’s instructions, he suggested that McCoy suffered from diminished mental capacity, and should therefore only be convicted of second-degree murder. But as the prosecutor would soon explain to the jury, that defense was legally unavailable to McCoy because Louisiana only allows a diminished capacity argument if the defendant has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. It was one of many mistakes English appears to have made during the trial.

Throughout the trial, McCoy kept interrupting his lawyer’s concessions of guilt, even trying to fire him. In 2012 the jury ultimately sentenced McCoy to death, and the question Wednesday is whether he was denied assistance of counsel.

On one side is McCoy’s new lawyer, who will tell the court that when a criminal defendant refused to plead guilty and instead insists on requiring the state to prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the lawyer is not free to disregard that decision. The Constitution guarantees the right to counsel, and McCoy essentially argues that the Constitution doesn’t condition that right on agreeing to the major decisions your lawyer urges.

On the other side, the state of Louisiana argues that when a lawyer and his client have irreconcilable differences, the client has a choice — represent himself, or cede the strategy for the trial to his lawyer. Because McCoy did not try to fire his lawyer until just days before the trial, the state contends, he had let the lawyer dictate legal strategy.

But Abraham Lincoln is quoted as having said, “He who represents himself has a fool as a client.” More to the point, people who represent themselves in major criminal trials, often have enormous mental health problems and imperception of reality.

Ten leading legal ethics experts have filed a brief in the case on behalf of defendant McCoy. They argue that the Louisiana Supreme Court’s decision upholding McCoy’s conviction and death sentence violates the Constitution, the common law that long has made lawyers the agents of their clients, and the canons of professional ethics adopted by Louisiana and 48 other states.

Lawrence Fox, a Yale Law School ethics lecturer, says these cases occur more often than you might expect — especially in capital cases, where defendants only rarely are found incompetent to stand trial.

“This is a very difficult issue,” he says. “Obviously most of us would think that the lawyer should just do what’s in the best interest of the client in the view of the lawyer.”

But, Fox says, the Constitution and the legal profession have drawn the line differently: “The client gets to decide because the client is the person who is going to suffer whatever the result is, and we can imagine many situations where the lawyer could be overbearing” — so overbearing that his will trumps his client’s ability to be master of his own fate.

A decision in the case is expected by summer.

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Bright Light, Sonic Boom As Likely Meteor Streaks Across Southern Michigan

Michigan residents got a surprise Tuesday night when a suspected meteor punched through the clouds with an explosive flash and powerful enough to register on seismic instruments.

At about 8:05 p.m. ET, dash cams and security video caught the object as it streaked toward a northern suburb of Detroit, not far from the Canadian border. The U.S. Geological Survey, which has labeled it a meteorite impact, says it measured magnitude 2.0 on the agency’s instruments and hit about five miles west northwest of New Haven.

Social media postings indicate that it was seen as far away as Traverse City and Chicago. Some reported homes shaken by the explosion.

Although it is not possible to immediately verify the video, it appears that several posted on Twitter were of the same event seen from different locations.

People are telling me they heard a loud bang all across Southeast MI. Was it a #Meteor? Here’s another video: pic.twitter.com/mtxOWvJZfx

— Philip Lewis (@Phil_Lewis_) January 17, 2018

“When Armageddon is near, you better get out of of here. Looking like a Deep Impact. I ain’t afraid of no ‘stroid” #metrodetroitmeteorpic.twitter.com/MdibIt82TZ

— Topher No Grace (@topherlaine) January 17, 2018

You can see more at Twitter hashtag #meteor.

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