American Football Legend Bart Starr Dies at 85

Former U.S. football superstar Bart Starr, who led his Green Bay Packers to victory in the first two Super Bowls, has died at 85.

The Packers gave no cause of death, but Starr had not fully recovered from two strokes and a heart attack five years ago.

Starr arrived in Green Bay in 1956 after playing college football for the University of Alabama.

He was a solid but unremarkable player until legendary coach Vince Lombardi took over the Packers in 1959.

Starr’s name became synonymous with football greatness in the 1960s.

Starr and Lombardi led Green Bay to five NFL championships, including wins in Super Bowls I and II.

The 1967 Super Bowl will be forever known as the Ice Bowl, with wind chills as low as minus 56 degrees Celsius at one point.

Despite the miserable conditions and with just minutes to go, Starr completed five consecutive passes and ran the ball into the end zone himself, to come from behind and beat the Dallas Cowboys, 21-17.

Starr retired from playing in 1971 and later coached the Packers. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1977.

Starr co-founded a ranch for troubled boys and the NFL’s annual Bart Starr Award goes to the player who shows outstanding charitable traits.

 

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Impeachment Questions Still Swirling in Washington

President Donald Trump and U.S. lawmakers are away from Washington, but questions about possible impeachment of the president continue to swirl as the White House thwarts multiple investigations led by House Democrats after the conclusion of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe. While the House could impeach, Trump is virtually assured of remaining in office as there is almost zero chance the Republican-led Senate would convict him.

Democrats are using their House majority to investigate Trump and his administration on everything from the treatment of migrant children at the U.S.-Mexico border to the president’s foreign business dealings and tax returns. Democrats also want the Justice Department to release the full, unredacted Mueller report. The White House is blocking them at almost every turn, causing tempers to boil over.

“The Trump administration has taken obstruction of Congress to new heights,” said Rep. Jerry Nadler, Democratic chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

His words were echoed by Judiciary Committee member Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, also a Democrat.

“We have to surmise that this is an absolute lawless behavior by this administration,” she said.

The House is taking steps to hold key administration officials in contempt of Congress, but the body has a more potent – and explosive – option: formally leveling charges against Trump, or impeachment.

“What we need to do is at least be on that track and at least be in the process of impeachment,” said. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat.

Republicans see Democrats as desperately clinging to a narrative of presidential wrongdoing after special counsel Mueller found no collusion between Trump’s inner circle and Russia.

“The Democrats have no plans, no purpose, and no viable legislative agenda beyond attacking this administration,” said Rep. Doug Collins, a Republican member of the House Judiciary Committee.

And powerful Democratic leaders, among them House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, are wary of launching impeachment proceedings, at least for now.

“Impeachment is a very divisive place to go in our country. And we can get the facts to the American people, through our investigation. It may take us to a place where it is unavoidable, in terms of impeachment.”

Meanwhile, President Trump, sticking to his guns, called on Democrats to “get these phony investigations over with.”

Last week, Trump halted consultations with Democrats on a major initiative to modernize U.S. infrastructure until congressional probes are complete.

“You (Democrats) can go down the investigation track and you can go down the investment track – or the track of let’s get things done for the American people,” Trump said.

Two U.S. presidents have been impeached, most recently Bill Clinton. The impeachment vote sullied Clinton’s record but did not lead to his removal from office. The same likely would be true for Trump. Democrats vying for the 2020 presidential nomination all want to oust Trump, but at the ballot box.

“It seems like every day or two, there is another affront to the rule of law … The best thing I can do to get us a new president is to win the nomination and defeat the president who’s there,” said Mayor Pete Buttigieg, a Democratic presidential candidate, one of more than twenty running to unseat Trump, speaking on ABC’s ‘This Week’ program.

Polls do not show the American people clamoring for Trump’s impeachment. Bill Clinton’s approval numbers actually rose after House Republicans launched impeachment proceedings against him in 1998.

 

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Experts: Combine US, S. Korean Missile Systems to Boost Defense vs. North

Kim Dong-hyun of the VOA Korean Service contributed to this report.

WASHINGTON — South Korea should integrate its missile defense system with that of the U.S. to maximize the combined capabilities to counter a potential incoming flight of North Korea’s missiles across the border, experts said in the wake of Pyongyang’s two missile launches in early May.

South Korea’s missile defense system and the U.S. antimissile defense system deployed in South Korea are coordinated but operate independently.

“The whole system would work better if it was fully integrated, if it was a completely combined operation,” said Bruce Bechtol, a former intelligence officer at the Defense Intelligence Agency who is now a professor at Angelo State University in Texas.

​Why not integrate systems?

The lack of integration is rooted in regional history. The South Korean government, whether it was conservative or liberal, never merged its system with the U.S. system for political reasons, in part, because integrating it would mean joining the U.S. missile defense alliance in the region that includes Japan, South Korea’s colonial adversary toward which South Korea’s public sentiment has been historically antagonistic, according to Bruce Bennett, a senior defense analyst at the Rand Corp. research center.

Streamlining the command and control of the two missile defense systems with autonomous command and control would cut the time needed to analyze data, share information, and cue the proper system for targeting and intercepting an incoming missile, according to David Maxwell, a former U.S. Special Forces colonel and current fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

On May 17, the Pentagon announced the U.S. had approved a $314 million sale of air defense missiles to South Korea.

South Korea’s missile defense system, termed the Korean Air and Missile Defense (KAMD), includes Aegis and Patriot systems, and is designed to protect South Korea from missiles that fly at different altitudes and distance by detecting, tracking and intercepting incoming missiles in the air. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), which currently falls under the U.S. missile defense system, is also deployed in South Korea.

Aegis, a sea-based missile defense system, and THAAD are area defense weapons that have the capabilities to defend wide areas against missiles that fly high altitudes. And, the Patriot system, known as pointed defense weapons, can intercept missiles directed against smaller areas such as air base, according to Maxwell.

​No perfect defense

But they don’t provide a perfect defense that prevents missiles from getting through, he added.

“There’s no impenetrable shield,” Maxwell said. “There [is] always going to be a gap, a seam, a weakness, that the enemy is always trying to exploit and defenders are always trying to fix and find a better way. This is constantly a game of where capabilities continue to evolve.”

This was part of what was happening when North Korea tested a new missile on May 4 that is considered to be similar to the Russian Iskander, a nuclear-capable missile that flies lower than the short-range ballistic missiles North Korea tested before.

“A ballistic missile leaves the earth’s atmosphere and glides back down,” Bechtol said. “This [test] missile does not, as far as I can tell, leave the Earth’s atmosphere. It operates more like a cruise missile than a ballistic missile.”

A cruise missile flies on a relatively straight line and at a lower altitude than a ballistic missile, which arcs up before curving down toward a target.

​Russian-like missile poses challenges

Experts said if the new missile is modeled after the Iskander, it could pose multiple challenges and could exploit gaps in the existing missile-defense coverage in South Korea. 

The new missile’s “flattened flight path” toward a target “makes it difficult to intercept” with current defense systems, said Michael Elleman, a senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

The North Korean version of the Iskander does not fly higher than 50 kilometers and can travel a ground distance as far as 280 kilometers, according to Elleman.

But THAAD and the Aegis SM-3 interceptor operate at an altitude above 50 kilometers, and the Patriot system’s effective intercepting range is at an altitude of about 25 to 30 kilometers with the Patriot variant PAC-3 Missile Segment Enhancement (MSE) interceptor extending its flight to an altitude of about 40 kilometers.

That leaves “a gap in interceptor coverage” of at least 10 kilometers between the missile defense systems that operate at roughly 40 to 50 kilometers, said Ellemen. “The Iskander spends most of its flight path in this gap, making it difficult to intercept.”

The Iskander can fly at a high speed, presenting another challenge for the current missile defense system.

Bennett said, “The Iskander flies perhaps 20-25 percent faster than the Scud,” a series of tactical ballistic missiles that could travel five times the speed of sound, potentially capable of reaching South Korea in about five minutes, Bennett said.

“THAAD and the SM-3 on the Aegis [equipped] ships should be able to handle this speed. [But] the Iskander flies low, [a] potential challenge for THAAD and the SM-3,” he added.

Most accurate North Korean missile

The Iskander can be mounted on mobile launch platforms, meaning it can be moved and fired quickly.

“It’s a solid fuel missile,” Bechtol said, explaining that the fuel can be loaded ahead of launch “and moved much more quickly than liquid-fuel missiles.” The latter need fueling just before launch.

The Iskander’s maneuverability also makes it difficult for THAAD, Aegis SM-3, and the Patriot system to intercept.

“The Iskander has fins mounted at the back of the missile, which allow it to maneuver during the entire flight,” Ellemen explained. “This makes it much more difficult to predict an intercept location and launches the interceptor on the optimal path for an engagement resulting in destruction of the threat.”

Bechtol said, “It would be the most accurate missile the North Koreans have ever had, so accurate that they could actually fire out … [and] target barracks, flight lines for aircraft, headquarter buildings.”

With the missile test, “the North Koreans are showing us that they have a missile [with which] they can accurately target Osan Air Base or Camp Humphreys in a very real, in a very dangerous way,” Bechtol said, citing American installations in South Korea.

“They were able to keep in accordance with the agreement they made with [President Donald] Trump, and at the same time, threaten the United States and South Korea in a very compelling way,” he added.

When the Pyongyang government began talks with Washington last year, it pledged to suspend nuclear and long-range missile tests.

​Complicated political situation

Merging South Korean and U.S. missile defense systems could be hampered by the political situation in South Korea, according to Maxwell. Public attitudes have changed little since 2017, when hundreds of South Korean citizens protested the installation of THAAD at a U.S. military south of Seoul.

“I just don’t see the political will for that in South Korea among majority of the people or the current rule and government,” Maxwell said.

Bennett said a North Korean missile that slipped under defense systems could devastate the peninsula, depending on the type of warhead it carried, “… which in theory could be conventional, nuclear or chemical,” he said. “So the defense would turn to passive defense: protecting people in shelters with masks and protective clothing.”

According to Maxwell, a variant of the Patriot interceptor, the PACT 3 Guidance Enhanced Missile (GEM-T) under the U.S. missile defense system in South Korea is better able “to defeat tactical ballistic missiles and aircraft and cruise missiles” and could potentially intercept the new kind of missile North Korea tested.

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Big Toys and a Sandbox for Grown-Ups at Las Vegas Attraction

Most kids love digging in the sand … and many never outgrow that. A new and unusual attraction nicknamed “sand box for grown-ups” is a big hit among teenagers and adults in Las Vegas, Nevada. It’s a heavy equipment playground that gives customers a change to operate gigantic, earth-moving bulldozers and hydraulic excavators, get tested on their skills and just have fun. Roman Mamonov tried his hand at operating some of the biggest construction vehicles there. Anna Rice narrates his story.

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US Transcontinental Railroad Celebrates 150th Anniversary

It’s been 150 years since the U.S. transcontinental railroad connected America’s East and West. To celebrate the anniversary, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History is highlighting an event that quite literally united the nation. VOA’s Maxim Moskalkov visited the exhibition and talked to the ancestors of those who helped build it.

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Volunteers Build Communities Through Service

In the heart of Watts, a minority neighborhood in south Los Angeles, 300 volunteers gathered on a recent Sunday to beautify an elementary school. Amid the poverty in this area, local residents and youngsters, and volunteers from other neighborhoods, pitched in to help.

Many students at Lovelia Flournoy Elementary School live in Nickerson Gardens, a public housing complex that 50 years ago gave birth to the Bounty Hunter Bloods, a notorious street gang.

School is a refuge for these students, and many joined their parents, planting trees and flowers, painting murals in the hallways and preparing bags of food for local families. For some volunteers, the project marked an opportunity to give back to the community.

Jesus Enrique Arrocha, a teaching assistant taking a break from digging a garden, said the adults were leading by example to “make sure that the kids understand hard work and they see that (we’re) making the campus beautiful, not only just for them but for the next generation.”

“There are challenges,” said Robin Arrocha, the school’s psychiatric social worker. “But the kids are amazing, and the teachers work really hard to help their kids out and do as much as they can.”

Big Sunday

The volunteer day was sponsored by Big Sunday, a charity that recruits people for community services projects on weekends and other days throughout the year.

Big Sunday started 20 years ago as a single Sunday devoted to service, said founder David Levinson, a Hollywood scriptwriter who organized the first event as part of an outreach at his synagogue. It grew into a charity that included Christians and others. Today, it is secular and non-political.

“We’re a community-building organization, he said. “Our mission is to connect people through helping.”

Volunteers from all walks of life came from many parts of Los Angeles, including Watts.

“We’re just beautifying the school, and the kids are enjoying it and having fun,” said Liliana Gonzalez Suarez, the mother of a Flournoy student. She has been involved in the school’s activities for the past nine years, as her children have progressed through the grades. Today, she’s filling bags with donated food for local families.

Nesly Trazile, who came with a group of volunteers from the web-based organic food company Thrive Market, said the volunteer work “gives me an opportunity to widen my experience and knowledge of different people and different lifestyles.”

2,000 events a year

Big Sunday produces, promotes or sponsors more than 2,000 events a year to build community ties, said founder Levinson. It is needed now, he said.

“We live in very divisive times, very fraught times. But I think when we turn off the TV, we turn off the internet, put down the newspaper for a minute, most people want to focus on what we share, what we have in common, and how we can make our world a better place together,” he said.

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Volunteers Build Ties Through Service in Politically Divided America

In politically divided America, there is an organization that is building ties and community through volunteer service, despite people’s differences. The organization Big Sunday recruits people for community service projects on the weekend and year-round — beautifying schools, coaching youth sports teams and distributing food to the hungry. Mike O’Sullivan reports from Los Angeles.

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Trump Begins State Visit to Japan

U.S. President Donald Trump has arrived in Japan for a four-day state visit heavy on ceremony and sports, although a senior White House official promises “there’ll be some substantive things to announce.”

Trump went directly from the airport on Saturday evening to the U.S. ambassador’s official residence to address several dozen top Japanese business leaders.

“The relationship with Japan and the United States I can say for a fact has never been stronger, never been more powerful, never been closer,” the president told the executives. “This is a very exciting time for commerce between the two countries that we both love.”

Trump expressed hope the United States and Japan will soon be able to reach a new trade pact.

“Japan has had a substantial advantage for many, many years, but that’s OK, maybe that’s why you like us so much,” said Trump, adding that the trade imbalance strongly in Japan’s favor for decades would become “a little bit more fair.”  

The overall visit, however, will focus more on photo opportunities rather than deal-making and that may be intentional on the part of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has forged a close relationship with Trump. The two have met or spoken more than 40 times, which is “absolutely unprecedented,” according to the White House.

Keio University Professor Tomohiko Taniguchi, the prime minister’s primary foreign policy speechwriter, envisions that apart from the visit’s ceremonial aspects, there will be little of substance. But Taniguchi points out Abe is the only foreign leader with whom “Trump can spend hours and hours speaking without prepared talking points, which in itself bears strategic value for Japanese diplomacy.”

Asked by VOA if the trip would result in any deliverables on trade and defense cooperation, a senior U.S. official pointing to a scheduled Monday Trump-Abe news conference replied, “they’ll have some very interesting announcements concerning the range of the relationship.”

​‘Trump Cup’

The president is to attend a banquet with the new emperor, golf with the prime minister and view the ancient sport of sumo — awarding what has been nicknamed the “Trump Cup” to a champion wrestler. The cup (officially known as the President’s Cup) is about 137 centimeters  tall, according to a senior White House official, and “weighs 27 to 32 kilograms.”

One goal of Abe’s during their time together in Tokyo is to ensure Trump is committed to next month’s Group of 20 leaders summit Japan will host in Osaka.

“The meeting will test Japan’s ability to act as a global statesman and champion the need for multilateralism,” says Shihoko Goto, the Wilson Center’s deputy director for geoeconomics and senior associate for Northeast Asia. “Making sure the United States is fully engaged in the G-20 summit will certainly be a key factor for Japan to achieve that goal.”

Abe also is eager to get Trump’s commitment not to skip this year’s Group of Seven summit in France.

“It’s critical for Japan’s survival that the U.S. uphold the international institutions built after the war,” says Michael Green, the Japan chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Abe hopes to demonstrate “nobody works better with this president or the United States than Japan,” Green added. “That’s an important message for Asia, which has seen mixed signals out of Washington over the last decade about whether China or Japan would be the most important partner for the U.S.”

Both leaders also desire an economic pact following the U.S. withdrawal from the multinational Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.

“Japan’s priority is to have a bilateral trade deal with the United States that would not impede its exports,” Goto, of the Wilson Center, told VOA. “In addition, Japanese businesses are looking for stability in trade rules, and certainly stability in U.S.-China relations that would allow them to make investment decisions in the longer term.”

Golf, sumo

Abe will have ample opportunity to lobby Trump about the global world order and trade while they golf and then sit side by side close to the sumo ring before their formal summit on Monday.

No immediate breakthrough in the trade arena is foreseen by analysts.

“Exactly how and when agriculture and autos is going to be addressed is still very much up for debate,” said Matthew Goodman, senior adviser for Asian economics at CSIS.

There is anxiety among Japanese officials that Trump could lash out at his hosts and reinforce his tough stance on trade.

“My gut is that he will be, in this context, on his best behavior because of the pomp and circumstance of this visit and the golf and all the rest of it,” predicted Goodman, a former White House and National Security Council staffer.

Trump on Monday also meets with Emperor Naruhito and attends a state banquet.

The U.S. president is Japan’s first formal guest of the Reiwa era, which began May 1 with the new monarch ascending to the Chrysanthemum Throne, succeeding his elderly father, Akihito, who abdicated.

​Yokosuka naval base

Trump and Abe on Tuesday, according to a Japanese defense source, are to inspect a Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force helicopter carrier at the Yokosuka naval base, putting the final focus for the president’s visit on the close military relationship between the two countries, which were on opposing sides during World War II.

 

The 250-meter-long Izumo-class vessel named the Kaga is categorized as a helicopter carrier but could be modified to launch the short take-off and landing version of the F-35B supersonic stealth fighter jet.

 

“The Japanese have not decided officially yet whether they’ll procure the F-35B, but there’s an awful lot of interest. I’m sure Donald Trump would like to sell them,” Green tells VOA. “The impression the Abe government had was that the Obama administration was much more ambivalent about all this stuff.”

 

Trump’s enthusiasm signals “to the region and to the Japanese public, and the American public, that the U.S. is fully supportive of what Abe is trying to do on security,” adds Green, a former National Security Council staffer.

 

At Yokosuka, Trump also is scheduled to address U.S. military personnel aboard a U.S. Navy amphibious assault ship while it’s still Memorial Day back home, specifically noting the “global nature of the partnership between Japan and the United States,” according to a senior White House official.

 

 

 

 

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Senate Foreign Relations Chief: North Macedonian NATO Accession Vote Possible by June

This story originated in VOA’s Macedonian Service. 

WASHINGTON — U.S. lawmakers may vote to approve North Macedonia as the 30th member of NATO as early as next month, according to Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Senator James Risch.

“The process is that we need to have a hearing on it in the Foreign Relations Committee, and I have tentatively scheduled that for approximately two weeks from now,” the junior Idaho Republican senator told VOA’s Macedonian Service. “Then, as far as when it will be finalized, it goes to the Senate floor, and we would very much like to have that done in June, and we are cautiously optimistic that we can get that done in June.”

North Macedonia’s long-standing bid to join the military alliance was blocked for more than a decade because of a name dispute with neighboring Greece, which has a province called Macedonia.

North Macedonia, formerly known as Macedonia, changed its name under the Prespa Agreement in June 2018 with Greece, opening the path to NATO and EU membership.

North Macedonia’s accession protocol was signed by all member states in Brussels on Feb. 6. The accession process continues in the capital of each allied nation, where individual protocols are ratified according to national procedures.

U.S. President Donald Trump, who has praised the country as a “steadfast security partner,” submitted its NATO accession protocol to the Senate for ratification on April 30.

North Macedonia’s full accession to the alliance would represent a blow to Russia, which opposes NATO expansion and, therefore, the country’s accession.

Asked if North Macedonia’s NATO membership can reduce Russian influence or political meddling within North Macedonia, he said “that’s going to be up to the North Macedonian people themselves.”

“But they’ve already spoken on that,” Risch said. “I think the election itself, regarding accession, was a good, clear indication that they don’t want that Russian influence, that they don’t want that Russian propaganda. So, this taking of what would really be a final step into NATO is a final rejection of Russia and what it stands for and the kind of malign influence they bring.”

Last August, members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Wisconsin Republican Senator Ron Johnson and Connecticut Democrat Senator Chris Murphy, sponsored a bipartisan resolution to put the tiny Balkan country on the path to NATO and European Union membership.

Risch also said he anticipates near-unanimous support for North Macedonia’s accession protocol when the bill arrives on the Senate floor.

 

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Pompeo to Make Up Canceled Germany Trip on Europe Tour

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo next week will make up a trip to Germany he canceled earlier this month amid heightened tensions with Iran.

The State Department says Pompeo will meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin before heading to additional stops in Europe.

Pompeo abruptly canceled a planned May 7 stop in Germany to make an unexpected visit to Iraq, shortly after the Trump administration announced it was sending an aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf in response to threats from Iran.

After meeting Merkel and German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, the department said Pompeo would travel on to Switzerland and the Netherlands before joining President Donald Trump on his state visit to Britain in London. Pompeo leaves Washington on Thursday.

 

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