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Trump Says the U.S. Did Not Pay North Korea $2 Million for Otto Warmbier

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  • President Donald Trump denied that the U.S. paid North Korea $2 million for Otto Warmbier’s medical care.
  • The comments came after reports emerged Thursday that the regime forced U.S. officials to sign a pledge to do so before returning the American student in 2017.

“No money was paid”

President Donald Trump on Friday denied that his administration paid any money as part of a deal to get North Korea to return American student Otto Warmbier.

“No money was paid to North Korea for Otto Warmbier, not two Million Dollars, not anything else,” Trump tweeted.

Outside the White House later in the day, Trump told reporters “We did not pay money for our great Otto.”

“I haven’t paid money for any hostage,” he said, adding that the Otto case is “very unusual.”

Earlier Report

The president’s comments came in response to a Washington Post report published Thursday. The report claimed that North Korea had issued a $2 million bill to the United States for the medical care costs of Warmbier, who was returned in a state of “unresponsive wakefulness” in June of 2017.

According to The Post, North Korean officials demanded that the U.S sign a pledge to pay the bill before they handed Warmbier over. Joseph Yun, a state department official who traveled to North Korea in 2017 to help retrieve Warmbier, reportedly signed the agreement at Trump’s direction.

The publication said the bill was sent to the U.S. Treasury Department and remained unpaid throughout 2017. Various news outlets like Fox, CNN, and others have also reported that their sources confirmed the existence of the bill.

However, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Thursday, “We do not comment on hostage negotiations, which is why they have been so successful during this administration.”

Who is Otto Warmbier?

When Warmbier was 21-years-old, he was arrested in North Korea for taking a propaganda banner from a hotel in January of 2016. He was later sentenced to 15 years of hard labor.

The government eventually released him in June of 2017, but according to U.S., doctors, he was returned “with severe brain damage and in a nonresponsive state.” Warmbier died days after returning home.

Previous coverage of Otto Warmbier.

The Warmbier family has sued the Kim regime over their son’s death, winning a $500 million judgment in December. It seems very unlikely that North Korea will ever pay that money, however, the family said it was “thankful that the United States has a fair and open judicial system so that the world can see that the Kim regime is legally and morally responsible for Otto’s death.”

In February, President Trump faced backlash from politicians on both sides of the aisle for seemingly absolving North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un of any blame in Warmbier’s death.

Following a summit with Kim, Trump said at a press conference that it “just wasn’t to (Kim’s) advantage to let that happen.” He added, “He tells me that he didn’t know about it, and I will take him at his word.”

However, the president later tweeted that his comments had been misinterpreted and said, “Of course I hold North Korea responsible.”

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Fox News) (CNN)  

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NJ Judge Who Spared Teen Accused of Rape Because He Was From a “Good Family” Steps Down

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  • New Jersey Judge James Troiano has resigned after facing criticism for ruling that a teenage boy accused of rape should not be tried as an adult because he was from a “good family” and had good grades.
  • An appellate court overturned the ruling and made the decision public, prompting widespread outrage, protests, and numerous lawmakers to call for Troiano’s resignation. It was also reported that Troiano and his family received threats of violence.
  • Troiano’s resignation was announced by the state’s Supreme Court, which also said that they were starting the proceedings to remove Judge John Russo, who asked a woman if she had closed her legs to try to prevent an alleged sexual assault.
  • The state’s Supreme Court has ordered a new initiative to enhance the training of judges in the areas of sexual assault, implicit bias, and more.

Judge Troiano Steps Down

A New Jersey judge who recommended that a 16-year-old boy accused of rape get leniency because he was from a “good family” resigned, according to an order from the New Jersey Supreme Court issued Wednesday.

In 2018, Monmouth County Judge James Troiano denied a waiver that would have allowed the teenage boy to be tried as an adult.

The teenager was accused of raping an intoxicated girl at a party, recording it, and then sending the recording to multiple people with the caption “when your first time is rape.”

Troiano argued that the defendant should not be tried as an adult because he had good grades and was from a good family. 

He also said he did not think the incident was a “traditional case of rape,” which he defined as “two or more generally males involved, either at gunpoint or weapon, clearly manhandling a person.”

Troiano’s decision was later overturned by an appellate court, which made the ruling public in June.

Troiano has already been retired since 2012, but had continued to hear cases part-time. According to the order from the New Jersey Supreme Court, Troiano requested to step down effective immediately, and the court agreed.

Protests & Calls for Resignation

After Troiano’s decision was made public, he was met with widespread criticism and condemnation.

Numerous elected officials in New Jersey called for Troiano to resign or be removed from the bench, and petitions calling for his impeachment were circulated.

It was also reported that Troiano and his family had received phone calls and emails threatening violence. According to The New York Times, Troiano also received death threats.

On July 11, protestors gathered outside the Monmouth County Courthouse to call for the resignation of Troiano and Judge Marcia Silva, who ruled that a 16-year-old boy accused of assaulting a 12-year-old girl should not be tried as an adult because the “offense is not an especially heinous or cruel offense.”

Silva’s decision was overturned by the same appellate court.

Judge John Russo 

The state’s Supreme Court also announced that it was beginning proceedings to remove Judge John Russo, who asked an alleged victim if she had closed her legs to try to prevent being sexually assaulted.

“Because of the seriousness of the ethical violations here, it is appropriate for the Court to consider the full range of potential discipline, up to and including removal from office,” Justice Stuart Rabner, the chief justice of the Supreme Court of New Jersey wrote in the order.

According to NBC News, the state’s Supreme Court is seeking a harsher punishment for Russo after a judicial ethics commission recommended three-month unpaid suspension earlier this year.

Russo has said he was just trying to get more information from the alleged victim. 

NBC also reported that Russo had been reassigned to another county court in December, and will have until next month to contest his removal in front of a panel of state Supreme Court judges.

He will be suspended without pay during the process.

Officials Respond

New Jersey Gov. Philip Murphy released a statement on Wednesday applauding the state Supreme Court’s decision.

“Unfortunately, the inexcusable actions of several judges over recent months have threatened this reputation for thoughtful and reasoned opinion, and common decency,” Murphy said. “I am gratified that Judge Troiano will no longer sit on the bench and that removal proceedings will begin against Judge Russo.”

However, last week, New Jersey’s top public defender, Joseph Krakora, defended Troiano and Silva in a rare public statement.

“Vilifying or seeking the removal of judges who make unpopular or even erroneous decisions threatens the independence of the judiciary,” he said. “Judges are simply lawyers entrusted with the responsibility of deciding difficult cases.” 

“Litigants sometimes feel that their decisions are incorrect or unfair. That is why we have appellate courts,” he continued.

The New Jersey Supreme Court also ordered a new initiative Wednesday to improve how judges are trained to address sexual assault and domestic violence, as well as diversity and implicit bias.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NBC News) (USA Today)

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Berkeley To Remove Gendered Language From City Code

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  • The City Council voted unanimously to replace more than two dozen terms often used in the city’s municipal code with gender-neutral words.
  • Along with changing “he” and “she” pronouns to “they” and “them,” the move will also swap words like “manholes” with “maintenance holes,” and tiles like “firemen” with “firefighters.”
  • Local officials say the move is necessary to make “the environment of City Hall and the language of city legislation consistent with the principles of inclusion.

Inclusive Language

The Berkeley City Council unanimously passed a measure on Tuesday that would replace more than two dozen gender-specific words from its municipal code in a move towards improving nonbinary gender inclusivity. 

The ordinance on gender-neutral language will replace words like “he” an “she” to “they” and “them” in the city code. But it will also do away words like “manholes,” “manmade,” and “manpower.” Instead, “manholes” will be changed to “maintenance holes” and other references to “manmade” will be changed to “artificial.” Terms like “human effort” or “workforce” will replace “manpower.”

Other terms that will be changed include “pregnant women”, which will be switched to “pregnant employees.” “Brother” and “sister” will be switched to a “sibling.”

Job titles like “bondsman” will be “bonds-person,” “firemen” and “firewomen” will now be “firefighters.”

“Fraternity” and “sorority” soon be changed to “collegiate Greek system residence,” along with several other changes.  

The City of Berkeley

Why? 

Berkeley city councilmember Rigel Robinson, a 23-year-old recent graduate of the University of California at Berkeley, sponsored the ordinance in March. “In recent years, broadening societal awareness of transgender and gendernonconforming identities has brought to light the importance of non-binary gender inclusivity,” Robinson’s ordinance reads. 

“Therefore, it is both timely and necessary to make the environment of City Hall and the language of city legislation consistent with the principles of inclusion.”

“Having a male-centric municipal code is inaccurate and not reflective of our reality,” Robinson later told The Washington Post via email.

The move still requires a second reading at the council for the proposal to become official. That will then be followed by a 30-day waiting period. However, based on Tuesday’s unanimous vote, the language change is expected to easily pass through the remainder of the process.

“There is power in language. This is a small move, but it matters,” Robinson tweeted after the ordinance was approved.

Robinson’s office estimates that it will cost about $600 to implement the change to the municipal code. 

Similar Changes

The move is not surprising for Berkeley. The city has implemented similar changes in the past in an effort to make the community more inclusive. In February, the city began giving all employees the option to receive a name badge with a preferred pronoun printed alongside their professional title.

Other efforts to improve inclusivity have also made waves across the state. In 2014, then-Governor Jerry Brown approved a measure that replaced “husband” or “wife” in state law with “spouse.” 

Then in 2017, California became the first state to provide a third gender option on state driver’s licenses, identification cards, and birth certificates with the passage of Senate Bill 179. 

California is not alone in that move. Maine and Washington D.C. have also made efforts to recognize gender-neutral individuals on drivers licenses. 

See what others are saying: (Fox News) (CBS News) (Los Angeles Times) 



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Was an Iowa Official Asked to Resign Over His Love of Tupac? He Says He Doubts It

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  • Jerry Foxhoven, the former director of Iowa’s Department of Human Services, was ordered to resign from his job days after sending a mass email to all 4,300 employees encouraging them to celebrate Tupac’s birthday. 
  • AP news obtained 350 pages of emails between Foxhoven and staff, which included quotes, lyrics, or other references to the rapper that he sent in hopes of uplifting his staff.
  • The messages were mostly met with praise, but at least one staff member complained. 
  • Foxhoven was abruptly asked to resign without an explanation other than the office wanting to move “in a new direction,” but he says he doesn’t believe his love of Tupac was the reason for the decision.

Foxhoven Asked to Resign

A former Iowa official, who many believe was fired over his love of Tupac Shakur, says he thinks his firing had nothing to do with his support of the rapper. 

Jerry Foxhoven, the former director of Iowa’s Department of Human Services, was ordered to resign from his job days after he sent a mass email to employees celebrating Tupac. 

On Tuesday, the Associated Press issued a report that said it had obtained emails that showed Foxhoven routinely sent messages to employees about Tupac.  According to AP News, the agency released 350 pages of email with the words “Tupac” or “2Pac” in then, which were sent to and from Foxhoven’s account during is two-years on the job.

The mass email in question was sent on June 14 and was sent to all 4,300 agent employees. In it, Foxhoven reminded employees that Father’s day was just a few days away and coincided with Tupac’s birthday. He encouraged staff to celebrate by listening to one of his songs and included what he said was an “inspiration quote” from the artist: “Pay no mind to those who talk behind your back, it simply means that you are 2 steps ahead.” 

Along with celebrating the rapper’s birthday, Foxhoven also noted that he was celebrating his two-year anniversary as director and thanked the staff for their work. 

The following workday, Governor Kim Reynolds’ chief of staff asked him to resign. 

Longrunning Love For Tupac 

Foxhoven says he had been a huge Tupac fan since the ‘90s. “I’m a 66-year-old white guy from the Midwest who likes rap music, who likes Tupac!” he told NPR. 

Foxhoven hosted weekly “Tupac Fridays” to play his music in the office and even celebrated his 65th birthday with Tupac-themed cookies, including ones decorated with the words “Thug Life.” 

However, he was also known to quote other celebrities in holiday-themed messages. In other emails, Foxhoven marked the anniversary of the rapper’s death and sent a Valentine’s day message that shared lyrics and quotes about love.

Foxhoven also allegedly told employees that Tupac’s lyrics inspired him to improve the company’s culture, specifically pointing to lyrics like “It’s time for us as a people to start makin’ some changes.”

Many praised Foxhoven for using his love of hip hop music to lift up the workplace, “I love your 2Pac messages,” one manager wrote June 14. “And the fact that you still send them (despite the haters) makes me appreciate them even more.”

“You are such a breath of fresh air Jerry!” another staff member wrote. “Thanks for all you do, to lift us up and help us feel better about what we do than we have felt in a long time!”

However, not everyone was a fan of the messages. According to AP News, at least one person complaining to lawmakers last year about them. 

Motivation For Firing Unclear

Foxhoven’s departure comes after numerous controversies at the agency including difficult contract negotiations with companies that run the Medicaid program, a trial concerning alleged mistreatment of boys at a state juvenile home, and an increase in deaths at a center for the disabled. 

While it hasn’t been confirmed that Foxhoven was pushed to leave over various Tupac messages, the timing is making many suspicious. Employees have been speculating that the two must be linked, thought Foxhoven has said they might not be. 

In a text message to AP News, he said believed that the governor had made the decision to “go in a different direction” before he sent his mass email. He said he wasn’t given a reason for the resignation request, but added that he doubted Tupac was a factor.

“I think it’s a coincidence,” Foxhoven told The New York Times in a phone interview, adding that the governor’s office had requested a meeting with him days before he sent the email. 

“I always try to assume the best of everybody, and I can’t imagine that [the governor] would base her decision on the Tupac incident,” he told NPR. “If this is the reason, I’m really disappointed.”

However, Foxhoven also told NPR that his tenure at the Department of Human Services ended without warning or a chance for an orderly transition. He said he was not even granted a meeting with Reynolds and added that the governor’s chief of staff confiscated his cellphone and ID cards on the spot, ordering him not to return to his office. 

Foxhoven also said that many directors do not serve long terms and said that his two-year tenure meant that he had outlasted many of his predecessors. Foxhoven, who had previously worked as a lawyer, professor, and children’s rights advocate, told the Times that he believed Reynolds was simply filling posts with “more political people.”

Pat Garrett, a spokesperson for the governor, told the AP: “As the governor has said, a lot of factors contributed to the resignation of Jerry Foxhoven and now Gov. Reynolds is looking forward to taking DHS in a new direction.”

According to the AP: “The governor’s office has refused to elaborate on those factors, despite an Iowa law that requires state agencies to release the “documented reasons and rationale” when employees resign instead of being terminated.”

For now, Gerd W. Clabaugh, the director of the Department of Public Health, will serve as interim director of human services.

As for Foxhoven, he told NPR that he was glad his emails are making headlines because it allows for discussions about stereotypes and music. He then noted being especially upset by a recent story about a 17-year-old teen in Arizona who was fatally stabbed by a man who said the victim’s rap music made him feel “unsafe.”

“It’s important for us to break down those stereotypes: if you listen to rap music, you’re a criminal or dangerous. It’s not true at all,” he said., adding that he hoped his situation could lead to “having open discussions about race and what we have in common, instead of what separates us.”

See what others are saying: (AP News) (The New York Times) (NPR)


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