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Majority Of National Park Service Board Resigns Citing Administration Indifference

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke speaks on the Trump Administration’s energy policy at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, in September. Nine of 12 members of the National Park Service advisory board resigned Monday citing Zinke’s unwillingness to meet with the panel.

Andrew Harnik/AP


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Andrew Harnik/AP

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke speaks on the Trump Administration’s energy policy at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, in September. Nine of 12 members of the National Park Service advisory board resigned Monday citing Zinke’s unwillingness to meet with the panel.

Andrew Harnik/AP

Three-quarters of the seats on the U.S. National Park Service advisory board are vacant following a mass resignation Monday night, citing Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s unwillingness to meet with them.

Nine of the panel’s 12 members, led by former Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles, handed in their resignations. The bipartisan panel was appointed by President Obama and the terms of all members who quit were set to expire in May.

Knowles, in a letter of resignation from himself and the eight other members to Zinke, said the board had “worked closely and productively through 2016 with dedicated National Park Service employees, an inspiring Director and a fully supportive Department.”

Since then, as explained in the letter, the board had repeatedly tried and failed to secure a meeting with the new interior secretary.

“[Our] requests to engage have been ignored and the matters on which we wanted to brief the new Department team are clearly not part of the agenda,” the letter reads.

Alaska Public Radio quoted Knowles as saying that the Department of the Interior “showed no interest in learning about or continuing to use the forward-thinking agenda of science, the effect of climate change, protections of the ecosystems, education.”

“And it has rescinded NPS regulations of resource stewardship concerning those very things: biodiversity loss, pollution and climate change,” he added.

According to The Washington Post:

“The three board members who did not resign include Harvard University public finance professor Linda Bilmes, University of Maryland marine science professor Rita Colwell and Carolyn Hessler Radelet, the chief executive of Project Concern International. Terms for the first two end in May, while Radelet’s term does not expire until 2021.

In an email, Bilmes said she did not resign her post because she is conducting research with other colleagues funded by the National Park Foundation, and wanted to complete her project.”

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Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell, a Democrat who is the ranking member on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, issued a statement of support for the resigning board members.

“The President still hasn’t nominated a director for the National Park Service and Secretary Zinke has proposed tripling entrance fees at our most popular national parks,” she said. “His disregard of the advisory board is just another example of why he has earned an ‘F’ in stewardship.”

Since taking office, President Trump has sought to roll back protections of national parks and public lands under the auspices of the Department of the Interior. The administration has ordered a dramatic downsizing of two massive national monuments in Utah and has announced plans to open up oil drilling in protected areas of the Artic and the Atlantic.

North Korean nuclear weapons crisis at a ‘tenuous stage,’ Tillerson says

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday warned that the crisis over North Korea’s nuclear weapons is at a “tenuous stage” and said the time for Pyongyang to show a willingness to talk about denuclearization is now.

“The North Koreans know our channels are open, and they know where to find us,” Tillerson told reporters in a news conference at the conclusion of a summit of 20 countries seeking ways to strengthen U.N. sanctions.

When asked directly whether Americans might soon be at war with North Korea, Tillerson did not offer easy reassurances.

“I think we all need to be very sober and clear-eyed about the current situation,” he replied, citing North Korea’s advances in developing nuclear weapons and the missiles capable of delivering them. “We have to recognize that the threat is growing. And if North Korea does not choose the path of engagement, of discussion, negotiations, then they themselves will trigger an option.”

The Vancouver summit was called to explore ways to tighten sanctions against North Korea and discuss maritime interdiction of ships carrying banned goods and materials to and from the country.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson talks with South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha at a Vancouver summit on North Korea on Jan. 16. (Ben Nelms/Reuters)

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis joined Tillerson at the Vancouver summit. The dichotomy of the diplomat and the general underscores the difficulty faced by many foreign governments trying to discern whether hawks outweigh the pro-diplomacy voices in the Trump administration — and whether the world may be on the precipice of nuclear war.

“It shows an integration of diplomatic efforts with the military option on the table,” said a senior State Department official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks. “But our preferred solution is a diplomatic solution. Secretary Mattis raised that repeatedly. I think this was a chance to raise people’s confidence that we have thought through this.”

Tillerson also frequently repeated the sentiment that diplomacy is the best option, compared to endless sanctions, or worse.

“What I hope they are able to realize is, the situation only gets worse,” he said of North Korea. “It gets worse with every step they take. It gets worse with time.”

Tillerson also expressed hope that the message is starting to sink in that the world will insist on North Korea abandoning its nuclear weapons.

“The stand we are taking is, we will never accept them as a nuclear power,” he said. “So, it’s time to talk. But they have to take the step that says they want to talk.”

But Tillerson sidestepped a question about whether President Trump had any direct contacts with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, as Trump seemed to suggest last week in an interview with the Wall Street Journal before the White House said he had been misunderstood.

“If we want that to be made known and made public, we will announce it,” Tillerson said.

At the onset of the summit, Tillerson underscored what was at stake when he unveiled a visual aid, a map showing air traffic across Asia on one day. Hundreds of yellow icons on the map represented planes, which the Federal Aviation Administration calculated to hold more than 150,000 seats within range of North Korean missiles.

“Based on its past recklessness,” Tillerson said, “we cannot expect North Korea to have any regard for what might get in the way of one of its missiles, or parts of a missile breaking apart.”

But Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono cautioned against being misled by North Korea’s talks with the South, which he depicted as part of a campaign to achieve sanctions relief.

“We should not be naive about their intent,” he said. “Nor should we be blinded by North Korea’s charm offensive. In short, it is not the time to ease pressure or to reward North Korea.”

Tillerson has insisted that a diplomatic solution is a way out of the impasse, although he said the United States would not go along with a proposal to curtail military exercises with South Korea if North Korea stops developing nuclear weapons.

“We reject a ‘freeze for freeze’ approach in which legitimate defensive military exercises are placed on the same level of equivalency as the DPRK’s unlawful actions,” he said, using the initialis for North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. “The pressure campaign will continue until North Korea takes decisive steps to denuclearize.”

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson deflected a reporter’s question about the impact of Trump’s tweets directed at Kim, such as a recent one proclaiming his “nuclear button” bigger than the North Korean leader’s and another advising Tillerson that he was wasting his time trying to get North Korea to negotiate.

“There’s a diplomatic way to do that,” Johnson said. “Rex Tillerson gets it.”

Tillerson and Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland co-hosted the summit, which gathered representatives from 20 countries that sent troops or humanitarian aid under a U.N. effort to repel the North during the Korean War from 1950 to 1953. Two world players were excluded: China and Russia, which supported the North in the war and sit on the U.N. Security Council. Both border North Korea and are crucial to any push to enforce U.N. sanctions and cut off its trade.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters Monday that the meeting was “destructive,” and he mocked the list of invited nations, some of which are small countries peripherally involved in the standoff with Pyongyang.

“When we found out about the meeting, we asked: Why do you need all those countries together?” Lavrov said. “Greece, Belgium, Colombia, Luxembourg — what do they have to do with the Korean Peninsula?”

China has dismissed the summit as “meaningless” and said the solution lies in dialogue with the Kim regime.

Assistant Secretary of State Susan Thornton, head of the East Asia bureau, will travel to Beijing after the meeting to brief Chinese officials on the talks, and Tillerson will speak with his counterparts in Russia and China.

How a malnourished teen escaped a house full of chains and freed her 12 siblings

There were no toys and no bicycles on the front lawn — only weeds that sometimes reached six feet tall.

Neighbors rarely saw the 13 siblings who lived inside the home in a quiet neighborhood in Southern California, because they never went outside to play. Instead, authorities said, they were held captive in a dirty and foul-smelling house, some shackled to the furniture with chains and padlocks.

Minutes before sunrise Sunday, a 17-year-old girl escaped from the home in Perris, not far from Los Angeles, slipping through a window and dialing 911 on a deactivated cellphone, Capt. Greg Fellows of the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department said Tuesday at a news conference. Under federal law, cellphones — even those that are no longer operational — must be able to call emergency services.

Deputies met the teenager, who reported that she and her siblings were being held against their will.

Fellows said she showed them photos that convinced them to believe her and conducted a welfare check at the home. There, he said, deputies found a dozen other siblings, age 2 to 29, malnourished and living in what authorities called “horrific” conditions.

“We do need to acknowledge the courage of the young girl who escaped from that residence to bring attention so they could get the help that they so needed,” he said during the news conference.

Fellows said he could not provide details about the scene, but told reporters, “If you can imagine being 17 years old and appearing to be a 10-year-old, being chained to a bed, being malnourished and the injuries associated with that — I would call that torture.” He said there was no evidence to indicate sexual abuse but noted that authorities are still investigating the circumstances.

The biological parents, David Allen Turpin, 57, and Louise Anna Turpin, 49, have been arrested on charges of torture and child endangerment, authorities said.

The Riverside County Sheriff’s Department said in an earlier news release that the 13 siblings all appeared to be children, so deputies were “shocked” to discover that seven of them are adults.

They appeared malnourished and dirty and told authorities that they were starving.

Authorities gave them food and beverages, then the six minors were taken to Riverside University Hospital System Medical Center for treatment, according to the sheriff’s department. The seven older siblings were taken to a different hospital.

Kimberly Trone, a spokeswoman for the Riverside County Regional Medical Center in Moreno Valley, said Tuesday that the minors were admitted into the pediatrics unit for treatment Sunday but that she could not comment on their conditions. However, she noted that the patients, who range in age from 2 to 17, were taken to the sheriff’s department before being transported to the hospital.

Corona Regional Medical Center spokeswoman Linda Pearson confirmed Tuesday that the seven adult siblings were being treated at the hospital, but did not elaborate.

Susan von Zabern, with the Riverside County Department of Public Social Services, said during the news conference that social services officials are seeking court authorization to provide care for the siblings, including the adults, if necessary.

Authorities said that David and Louise Turpin were “unable to immediately provide a logical reason” why their children were shackled and chained and that Louise Turpin seemed “perplexed” by the investigators’ questions. After an interview with police, the two were arrested. Bail is set at $9 million each.

A public information officer for the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office said no criminal case has yet been filed, so no court documents are available. The couple is expected to be arraigned Thursday, so prosecutors have until then make a decision, he said.

Perris Mayor Michael Vargas said he was “devastated by this act of cruelty.”

“I can’t begin to imagine the pain and suffering they have endured,” he said.

David Turpin’s parents, James and Betty Turpin of West Virginia, told ABC News that they were “surprised and shocked” by the allegations. They said their son and daughter-in-law, whom they have not seen for several years, are religious and kept having children because “God called on them.”

The grandparents said that the children are home-schooled, made to memorize long scriptures in the Bible. Some of the children, the grandparents told ABC News, have tried to memorize the entire book.

Louise Turpin’s sister, Teresa Robinette, told NBC News Tuesday that the discovery of the childrens’ living conditions felt “like a bad dream.”

“I’m seriously so heartbroken for my nieces and nephews,” she said. “I can’t even say the words to you that I would like to say to [Louise Turpin]. I’m so angry inside. I’m mad. I’m hurt.”

David Turpin is listed in a state Department of Education directory as the principal of Sandcastle Day School, a private K-12 school that he ran from the couple’s home. The school opened in 2011, according to the directory. In the 2016-2017 year, the school enrolled six students — one in each the fifth, sixth, eighth, ninth, 10th and 12th grades.

Fellows, with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, said Tuesday that there is no indication that other students were involved in the school. He also said that authorities have no information about any involvement with any religious organization.

Fellows said the Turpins have lived in the city since 2014 and that authorities had never been called to the residence in that time.

But according to public records, the couple own the home and have lived there since 2010. They previously lived in Texas for many years and have twice declared bankruptcy.

The Turpins most recently filed for bankruptcy in California in 2011. According to court documents, David Turpin made about $140,000 per year as an engineer at Northrop Grumman. The couple listed about $150,000 in assets, including $87,000 in 401(k) plans from Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin. Louise Turpin’s occupation was listed as a “homemaker.” The couple owed debt between $100,000 and $500,000, according to bankruptcy documents.

One of their bankruptcy lawyers, Nancy Trahan, said in a phone interview with The Washington Post on Monday evening that she met with the couple about four or five times in 2011 but hasn’t seen them since then. She described them as “just very normal.”

“They seemed like very nice people,” Trahan said. “They spoke often and fondly of their children.”

She did not recall hearing about a school run from their home.

“I just hope those kids are okay,” Trahan said. “I wouldn’t have seen it coming.”

Photos on a Facebook page that appeared to be created by David and Louise Turpin show the couple at Disneyland with the children, wearing matching shirts. Several photos appeared to be taken at a wedding ceremony. The parents posed in bride and groom attire, surrounded by 10 female children smiling for the camera in matching purple plaid dresses and white shoes. Three male children stood behind them wearing suits.

The couple’s middle-class neighborhood is a new tract housing development of ranch-style homes located about 70 miles east of Los Angeles. The homes were all built close together, with only about five feet between the houses.

Andria Valdez, a neighbor, told the Press-Enterprise that she had teased in the past that the Turpins reminded her of the Cullen family from the fictional series “Twilight.”

“They only came out at night,” she told the newspaper. “They were really, really pale.”

Shortly after Kimberly Milligan, 50, moved to the neighborhood in June 2015, a contractor for the development told her the Turpins had about a dozen children, she said in an interview with The Post.

But in the years that followed, Milligan rarely heard the children and only occasionally saw three or four of the children briefly leave or enter the home. Milligan found this particularly odd, because their houses are only about 50 feet apart from each other.

“I thought they were very young — 11, 12, 13 at the most — because of the way they carried themselves,” Milligan said. “When they walked they would skip.” They all looked very thin, their skin as white as paper, said Robert Perkins, Milligan’s son.

And their yard would “always look in disarray,” Milligan said. Code enforcement officials “cracked down” on the overgrown weeds in the front yard, several neighbors told media outlets.

Milligan recounted speaking to the children once, around Christmas 2015. Three of the children were setting up a Nativity display while she was out for a walk. When she complimented the children on the decorations, “they actually froze,” she said. Milligan apologized, telling them that there was no need to be afraid.

“They still did not say a word,” Milligan said. “They were like children whose only defense was to be invisible.”

Milligan said she started seeing less and less of the family in the last year or so. She said she feels a bit guilty for not saying something about the family’s oddities earlier.

“You knew something was off. It didn’t make a lot of sense,” Milligan said. “But this is something else entirely.”

Law enforcement officers could be seen at the family’s home from about 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday, Perkins said. He managed to briefly glance inside the open door of the home and noticed a messy array of boxes and chairs all over the place, he said.

One neighbor, Josh Tiedeman, told the Associated Press that the children were “super skinny — not like athletic skinny, like malnourished skinny.”

“They’d all have to mow the lawns together, and then they’d all go in,” Tiedeman said.

Mark Uffer, chief executive of Corona Regional Medical Center, said during the news conference Tuesday that the adult siblings have been “friendly” and “cooperative.”

Although medical experts acknowledged that the siblings will likely require long-term psychological support to aid in their recovery, Uffer said, “I believe that they’re hopeful life will get better for them.”

Marwa Eltagouri contributed to this report.

This post has been updated.

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UNRWA chief appeals for Palestinian refugee funds after US cut

JERUSALEM/GAZA (Reuters) – The head of the U.N. agency that provides aid to Palestinian refugees appealed on Wednesday for world donations after the United States withheld about half its planned funding for the organization, a move he said risks instability in the region.

Washington said on Tuesday it would provide $60 million to the U.N. Relief and Welfare Agency while keeping back a further $65 million for now. The U.S. State Department said UNRWA needed to make unspecified reforms.

Palestinians, already angered by U.S. President Donald Trump’s Dec. 6 recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, denounced the decision, which could deepen hardship in the Gaza Strip where UNRWA helps much of its population of 2 million.

UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl (not Krähenbüh) said he would appeal to other donor nations for money and launch “a global fundraising campaign” aimed at keeping the agency’s schools and clinics for refugees open through 2018 and beyond.

“At stake is the dignity and human security of millions of Palestine refugees, in need of emergency food assistance and other support in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and the West Bank and Gaza Strip,” he said in a statement.

Krähenbühl said 525,000 boys and girls in 700 UNRWA schools could be affected by the fund cut, as well as Palestinian access to primary health care, but he pledged to keep facilities open through 2018 and beyond.

“The reduced contribution also impacts regional security at a time when the Middle East faces multiple risks and threats, notably that of further radicalization,” he said.

UNRWA was established by the U.N. General Assembly in 1949 after hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were expelled from their homes in the 1948 war that followed Israel’s creation. It says it currently aids five million registered Palestinian refugees in the Middle East.

TRUMP THREAT

In a Twitter post on Jan. 2, Trump said that Washington gives the Palestinians “HUNDRED OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect.” Trump added that “with the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?”

While U.S. officials did not link the decision to Trump’s tweet, they made a point often advanced by him, saying the United States had been UNRWA’s single largest donor for decades.

Trump’s aides initially debated whether to cut off all UNRWA aid, an unidentified U.S. official said, but those opposed argued that could further destabilize the region.

Hanan Ashrawi, a senior official in the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) said the White House was “targeting the most vulnerable segment of the Palestinian people”.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has called for a gradual cut in UNRWA funding and transferring its responsibilities to the U.N. global refugee agency, voiced measured support for the U.S. step.

But he appeared to acknowledge it could leave Israel – which maintains tight restrictions on the movement of people and goods across its border with Hamas Islamist-controlled Gaza – with a potential humanitarian crisis on its doorstep.

Netanyahu this month proposed gradually dismantling UNRWA, arguing it “perpetuates the Palestinian problem”, and moving funds to the UNHCR agency. UNRWA said the Palestinian refugee crisis stems from the failure of Israel and the Palestinians to agree a solution for Palestinian refugees.

Asked on Wednesday by Israeli reporters accompanying him on a diplomatic trip to India whether he supports the U.S. funding cut, Netanyahu said: “Of course, but I still suggest, because I think there are certain needs, to do what I have said … every step taken also contains some risk.”

(Corrects spelling of UNRWA Commissioner-General’s name.)

Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Jeffrey Heller, William Maclean


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