Washington’s Growing Soul Food Scene

What we now call soul food originally came out of black culture in the southern United States. At its core, soul food is a hearty, spicy food rich with the calories and protein African Americans needed to make it through long days of hard work, first as slaves on plantations and then after Emancipation working as sharecroppers on farms in the rural south.  But over time soul food has become high cuisine and it’s at the heart of some great Washington, DC, restaurants. VOA’s Unshin Lee reports.

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Key Quotes from US House Impeachment Memo 

Here are highlights from the 111-page House Impeachment Brief filed Saturday afternoon.

On impeachment: 

“President Trump has demonstrated his continued willingness to corrupt free and fair elections, betray our national security, and subvert the constitutional separation of powers—all for personal gain.”

“The Senate should convict and remove President Trump to avoid serious and long-term damage to our democratic values and the Nation’s security.

“If the Senate permits President Trump to remain in office, he and future leaders would be emboldened to welcome, and even enlist, foreign interference in elections for years to come.”

“Unless he is removed from office, he will continue to endanger our national security, jeopardize the integrity of our elections, and undermine our core constitutional principles.”

On the abuse of power article of impeachment:

“President Trump abused the power of the Presidency by pressuring a foreign government to interfere in an American election on his behalf.”

“President Trump illegally ordered the Office of Management and Budget to withhold $391 million in taxpayer-funded military and other security assistance to Ukraine.”

“The evidence is clear that President Trump conditioned release of the vital military assistance on Ukraine’s announcement of the sham investigations.”

“Overwhelming evidence demonstrates that the announcement of investigations on which President Trump conditioned the official acts had no legitimate policy rationale, and instead were corruptly intended to assist his 2020 reelection campaign.”

On the obstruction of justice article of impeachment:

“President Trump personally demanded that his top aides refuse to testify in response to subpoenas, and nine Administration officials followed his directive and continue to defy subpoenas for testimony.”

“The Senate should convict President Trump for his categorical obstruction of the House’s impeachment inquiry and ensure that this President, and any future President, cannot commit impeachable offenses and then avoid accountability by covering them up.”

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ICE Ups Ante in Standoff with NYC: ‘This Is Not a Request’

Federal authorities are turning to a new tactic in the escalating conflict over New York City’s so-called sanctuary policies, issuing four “immigration subpoenas” to the city for information about inmates wanted for deportation.

“This is not a request — it’s a demand,” Henry Lucero, a senior U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement official, told The Associated Press. “This is a last resort for us. Dangerous criminals are being released every single day in New York.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration said Saturday the city would review the subpoenas.

“New York City will not change the policies that have made us the safest big city in America,” spokeswoman Freddi Goldstein said in an email.

Mounting frustration

The development comes days after ICE sent similar subpoenas to the city of Denver, a move that reflected the agency’s mounting frustration with jurisdictions that do not honor deportation “detainers” or provide any details about defendants going in and out of local custody.

The subpoenas sent to New York seek information about three inmates — including a man wanted for homicide in El Salvador — who were recently released despite immigration officials requesting the city turn them over for deportation.

The fourth subpoena asks for information about a Guyanese man charged this month with sexually assaulting and killing Maria Fuertas, a 92-year-old Queens woman.

That case became a flashpoint in the conflict after ICE officials said the city had released the woman’s alleged attacker, Reeaz Khan, 21, on earlier assault charges rather than turn him over for deportation. Khan was charged with murder Jan. 10 and remains in custody.

New York City police say they didn’t receive a detainer request for Khan, though ICE insists it was sent. Either way, the city would not have turned him over under the terms of New York’s local ordinance governing how police work with immigration officials.

Hours before the subpoenas were issued on Friday, the acting ICE director, Matthew Albence, told a news conference in Manhattan that city leaders had blood on their hands in Fuertas’ death.

“It is this city’s sanctuary policies that are the sole reason this criminal was allowed to roam the streets freely and end an innocent woman’s life,” Albence said.

‘Absolutely shameful’

Goldstein said in an email Saturday that “the Trump administration’s attempt to exploit this tragedy are absolutely shameful.”

De Blasio has accused ICE of employing “scare tactics” and spreading lies. He said on Twitter this week that the city has passed “common-sense laws about immigration enforcement that have driven crime to record lows.”

City officials in Denver said they would not comply with the requests, saying the subpoenas could be “viewed as an effort to intimidate officers into help enforcing civil immigration law.”

“The documents appear to be a request for information related to alleged violations of civil immigration law,” Chad Sublet, Senior Counsel to the Department of Safety in Denver, wrote in a letter to ICE officials.

Court order next?

But Lucero, ICE’s acting deputy executive associate director for enforcement and removal operations, said the agency may consult with federal prosecutors to obtain a court order compelling the city’s compliance. “A judge can hold them in contempt,” he told The AP.

Meanwhile, ICE is considering expanding its use of immigration subpoenas in other sanctuary jurisdictions.

“Like any law enforcement agency, we are used to modifying our tactics as criminals shift their strategies,” Lucero said in a statement. “But it’s disheartening that we must change our practices and jump through so many hoops with partners who are restricted by sanctuary laws passed by politicians with a dangerous agenda.”

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Social Enterprise Project Connects African Asylum Seekers, Israelis in the Kitchen

It looks like any other cooking class in yuppie Tel Aviv. Sleek kitchen utensils, baskets of fresh vegetables, participants sipping wine and beer. The first hint that this is a little different is the beer Asmara from Eritrea.

Yael Ravid, co-director of Kitchen Talks, explains how her cooking events make a special connection between Israelis and the Africans seeking refuge in their country.

“As we cook together shoulder to shoulder, we literally break bread, not as a metaphor but as a real happening together. I’m hoping they will enjoy the holiday feast we’re preparing for the Eritrean Christmas and they will get a chance to know Asmayit, our Eritrean cook, and to ask her questions about her life, her home kitchen, how she grew up, how she came here,” she says.

Chef Asmayit Merhatsion is a 30-year-old asylum seeker from Eritrea. As she chops and stirs, she tells her story, starting with her imprisonment in Eritrea.

“When I was in college I was arranging for women or girls to pray. They catched [caught] us and asked who organized? I organized. They are thinking our meeting is political but it’s not political, it’s religious. That’s why I was in prison,” she explains.

After two short stints in prison, she escaped to Sudan, then to Libya, hoping to make it to Europe. But after Europe closed its doors, she decided on Israel, paying smugglers to get her across the Sinai desert.

That was almost nine years ago. Today she is married and has a young daughter. She works for the AIDS task force. And she is a chef with Kitchen Talks to share her love for Eritrean food and culture.

“It’s a vegetarian dish, five types of food we do and the traditional bread we have here I make it at home. This one is not bread it’s injera, it’s made of teff flour growing in Eritrea or Ethiopia…it’s non gluten, its healthy, that’s why we are not fat,” she says.

Participants paid about $50 for the collaborative cooking event and were enthusiastic when they tasted the results. Many said it was their first time meeting with an asylum seeker and eating their exotic food.

“You can form an opinion based on things that you don’t know or things that you fear. Then once, like even seeing here people interacting, and then once you know somebody, like get to know them and speak with them, and all of a sudden you’re like, they’re people just like me and deserve rights just like I do’,” says Adi Cydulkin, a cooking class participant.

“They are here, they exist here, we can’t ignore it, we should help especially the young children to become good citizens here in Israel,” says Eli Levy.

Participants agreed that they will take home, not only empathy for African asylum seekers like chef Asmayit, but also some of her tasty recipes they learned tonight.

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Thousands of Women to Gather for Fourth Annual Women’s March

Thousands of women are planning to march in cities across the United States Saturday for the fourth annual Women’s March to advocate for a host of issues, including gender equality and women’s human rights.

Rallies are planned in dozens of cities, including Washington, where the first Women’s March in 2017 drew hundreds of thousands of people the day after President Donald Trump was sworn into office.

The march has included a political message since it began three years ago when many protesters wore the knitted pink hats that have become a symbol of women’s anti-Trump sentiments.

Politics continued to be a strong theme at the Women’s March in all subsequent years, including in 2018 when the organizers moved the march to Nevada, a battleground state for the midterm elections that year, as well as in 2019 when the march returned to Washington and heralded the record 102 women who had been recently elected to the House of Representatives.

Several of the Democratic candidates for president in 2020 are planning to attend Women’s March events across the country this year. Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, will attend the Women’s March in Reno, Nevada, while former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick is planning to be at a rally in South Carolina. Senator Michael Bennet and businessman Andrew Yang will attend Women’s March events in New Hampshire and Iowa, respectively.

Since its first march, the Women’s March has faced controversy, including its leaders facing accusations of anti-Semitism. The organizers have repeatedly denied the claims. Three of the four original co-chairs of the organization have left the group, and the organization has appointed a new board that includes three Jewish women.

Current co-president of the Women’s March, Isa Noyola, noted in a statement ahead of this year’s march that it will be the last march before the 2020 election.“

In 2020, we have a chance to finish what we started three years ago and remove Trump from office,” she said.

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11 US Troops In Hospitals After Last Week’s Iranian Attack In Iraq

The U.S. military says 11 service members are in hospitals after displaying concussion symptoms, following Iran’s attack last week on Iraqi bases where U.S. troops were stationed.

Iran’s ballistic missile attack on two Iraqi bases was launched in retaliation for the U.S. drone strike that killed Iran’s top general Qassem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force.

Captain Bill Urban, a spokesman for U.S. Central command, said in a statement Thursday, “While no U.S. service members were killed in the Jan. 8 Iranian attack on Al Asad Air base, several were treated for concussion symptoms from the blast and are still being assessed.”

The service members are in hospitals in Germany and Kuwait.

“When deemed fit for duty, the service members are expected to return to Iraq,” Urban said.

U.S. President Donald Trump had said after Iran’s attack in Iraq that no U.S. forces were injured. 

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Iran’s State TV Airs Apparent Prank Call to C-SPAN to Back False Claims of US Casualties

Iranian state TV has broadcast what appears to be a prank call to a U.S. television network to try to support false Iranian claims of heavy U.S. casualties in an Iranian missile attack on an Iraqi base last week.  

Several Iranian diaspora journalists tweeted a video clip of Thursday’s broadcast by the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) TV channel, whose presenter, Ali Zohourian, introduced a segment about Washington’s purported “cover-up of heavy losses” from Iran’s January 8 strike on the al-Asad base that houses U.S. and Iraqi forces.  

No U.S. or Iraqi forces were harmed in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) missile attack, which caused some damage to the base. Iran had given advance notice of the strike to Iraqi authorities, enabling the troops at the base to take cover.  

In the IRIB news segment, Zohourian said: “Eight days after the IRGC’s missile slap on the (face of) the United States war machine, a father of a terrorist soldier of America admits in a telephone interview with (C-SPAN’s) Washington Journal (program) that he has no information about his son’s whereabouts since last week, and says his numerous pursuits of U.S. Defense Department officials bore no fruit.”

This is just weird! An Iranian (with a heavy accent) called C-Span pretending to be the parent of an #American soldier killed during #Iran‘s attack against American bases in #Iraq. He then starts cursing Trump and pretends to cry. Does @cspanwj verify the callers? @gretabrawnerhttps://t.co/9UVn1SFk4c

— Maziar Bahari (@maziarbahari) January 16, 2020

Maziar Bahari, a journalist with the IranWire news site, was the first to tweet in English and share a clip of the IRIB news segment featuring an excerpt of U.S. TV network C-SPAN’s Washington Journal show. Bahari noted that the man who called in to the C-SPAN show, claiming to be the father of a U.S. soldier who was at the al-Asad base when Iran attacked it, had a heavy Iranian accent and appeared to be pretending to cry. 

“I don’t know if he is alive or he is dead,” the caller said in reference to his purported son, before cursing U.S. President Donald Trump.

Several other Iranian diaspora journalists shared Bahari’s assessment that the phone call to C-SPAN was bogus, including Hadi Nili of BBC Persian and Shayan Sardarizadeh of the BBC Monitoring service.

IR state TV aired what seems to be a prank call on @cspan, where someone pretends to be parent of a US soldier in Asad base.#IRGC-affiliated media been trying to convince their audience that Iran strikes on US bases in Iraq left 10s dead & 100s injured.pic.twitter.com/AExisfgHoQ

— Hadi Nili (@HadiNili) January 16, 2020

I’ve seen it all now. An Iranian bloke with an obvious Persian accent rings C-Span to say he is the father of a US soldier who has gone missing after Iran’s missile attack on Al Asad base. “God damn Trump,” he says, with an unmistakable Persian accent! https://t.co/ZNLKpHVkdp

— Shayan Sardarizadeh (@Shayan86) January 16, 2020

The apparent prank call by the man who gave his name as Allan was made to the Wednesday edition of the Washington Journal program hosted by U.S. journalist Greta Brawner.  

After listening to the call, Brawner offered sympathy to the man, saying, “Allan, I’m so sorry for you, for what’s happening with your family, not knowing what’s happening to your son,” before pivoting to another topic.  

“We do not and cannot fact-check each call or assess its legitimacy,” C-SPAN spokesman Howard Mortman told VOA Persian, in reference to calls made to Washington Journal’s “Open Phones” segment.  

He declined a direct response to the use of the C-SPAN content in an Iranian state TV news report promoting false claims of U.S. casualties in Iraq.  

In a phone interview with VOA Persian, BBC Monitoring journalist Sardarizadeh said Iranian state media outlets, including Fars, Tasnim and Khabar Online, had published a series of unsubstantiated claims of dozens to hundreds of U.S. troops being killed in the al-Asad base attack. He said the reports cited “informed IRGC sources,” who purportedly received the information from other sources in Iraq.

مهمترین چالش این روزهای ترامپ ، مخفی کردن جنازه سربازان امریکایی
270 کشته…#انتقام_سخت

— آمنه سادات ذبیح پور (@as_zabihpour) January 9, 2020

In one example of such reporting, IRIB TV journalist Ameneh Sadat Zabihpour tweeted the following message on January 9, a day after the Iranian missile strike: “Trump’s biggest challenge these days: hiding the bodies of U.S. troops. 270 dead… #Vengeance”.

At the same time that it was disseminating false reports of U.S. casualties, IRIB also echoed the Iranian government’s initial denials that it had any direct role in the January 8 crash of a Ukrainian passenger jet shortly after it took off from Tehran. For three days after the crash, it reported Iranian officials’ claims that mechanical problems likely caused the crash, until the government made a Saturday acknowledgement that Iranian forces shot down the plane, mistaking it for an enemy threat.  

The Iranian acknowledgement followed days of Western media reports citing Western intelligence agencies and officials as saying there was evidence of Iranian missile fire bringing down the plane.

IRIB’s broadcasting of the government’s initial denials of responsibility for the plane crash, which killed all 176 people on board, has drawn criticism from other members of Iran’s state-approved media and from university students who held anti-government rallies in Tehran and other cities in the past week.  

A Monday statement published by the Tehran Province Journalists Association said: “The publication of false information has had a severe impact on public confidence and public opinion, and more than ever shook the media’s shaky position … IRIB television employees acknowledge that their credibility has been lost. It should be noted that other media outlets objected to the situation, but IRIB television (management) favored it. This incident showed that people cannot trust official data and journalists should try to fill this gap as much as possible.”

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In a Tuesday protest at Tehran University, students assembled near the university’s medical school chanted, “Our state television is our disgrace.”

Asked why IRIB broadcasted an apparently prank call to C-SPAN to support false claims of U.S. casualties after facing domestic criticism for its reporting of erroneous government denials of responsibility for the Ukrainian plane crash, Sardarizadeh, a former IRIB journalist, said the network’s management is beholden to Iran’s Islamist rulers.  

“IRIB is so strategically important to the central message that the rulers in Tehran want to get out to their people, and the managers who run IRIB’s news department are so close to the establishment and trusted by them, that they don’t even care that what they are saying is ridiculous,” Sardarizadeh said. 

“They believe they are in the front line of an onslaught against the Islamic Republic,” he added.

This article originated in VOA’s Persian Service. Mehdi Jedinia of VOA’s Extremism Watch Desk contributed. 

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Senate Passes North American Trade Pact

On the day his Senate impeachment trial formally began, U.S. President Donald Trump scored a bipartisan victory Thursday as the Senate passed a North American trade pact, known as USMCA. The international accord replaces the 25-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, and governs trade between the United States, Canada and Mexico. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari looks at what this pact is expected to deliver both for the U.S. economy and for the president’s re-election campaign.

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