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The fight over Arizona’s shipping container border wall ends with dismissal of federal lawsuits

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The fight over Arizona's shipping container border wall ends with dismissal of federal lawsuits

PHOENIX (AP) — Two federal lawsuits filed over former Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey’s decision last year to place thousands of shipping containers along the U.S.-Mexico border have been dismissed after the state said it would pay the U.S. Forest Service $2.1 million to repair environmental damage.

The Sept. 15 dismissal of the cases in U.S. District Court in Phoenix ends the fight over the double-stacked containers that were placed as a makeshift border wall in the summer of 2022.

Ducey, a Republican, sued in U.S. District Court seeking to stop the federal government from preventing placement of the containers.

The U.S. Department of Justice then sued Ducey and other Arizona officials, saying the wall interfered with federal control of the land along the international boundary. Many of the 3,000 containers were placed in the Yuma area of western Arizona and in the remote San Rafael Valley in southeastern Cochise County.

Ducey agreed in December to remove the container wall shortly before his term ended, saying it had been envisioned only as a temporary measure.

Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs, who took office in January, had criticized the container wall as a political stunt.

James Anderson is currently working on his second novel, a YA fantasy called Reaper, and on a number of freelance projects. His first novel, Allegedly, is available on Amazon.

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Some Virginia Democrats say livestreamed sex acts a distraction from election’s real stakes

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Some Virginia Democrats say livestreamed sex acts a distraction from election's real stakes

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — More Virginia Democrats on Tuesday cast the controversy surrounding a legislative candidate who livestreamed herself performing sex acts as a distraction from the stakes in this fall’s elections, while stopping short of fully championing her continued campaign.

Neither the state party nor the House Democratic caucus has publicly called for Susanna Gibson to end her campaign after it was revealed last week that she had sex with her husband in live videos posted on a pornographic website and asked viewers to pay them money in return for carrying out specific sex acts.

But neither group has publicly declared how much support — financial or otherwise — Gibson can expect moving forward.

“Our focus is and has always been on flipping the House and taking back the majority. The MAGA Republicans are continuing to try to distract us while working to implement their plan to ban abortion and roll back the rights and freedoms of all Virginians,” House Democratic Caucus Executive Director Amy Friedman said in a statement to The Associated Press.

House Democratic Leader Don Scott said in a brief interview Tuesday: “Us regaining the majority is all I’m focused on so that we can make sure we protect women’s reproductive freedom.”

Del. Dan Helmer, campaign chair for the House Democrats, said Monday his thoughts were with Gibson’s family while emphasizing that she’s running against an opponent who supports additional restrictions on abortion.

Every seat in the General Assembly, which is currently politically divided with the House of Delegates controlled by Republicans and the Senate by Democrats, will be on the November ballot. Both parties see a possible path to total control, and the suburban Richmond seat where Gibson, a nurse practitioner, is competing with retired home builder David Owen is seen as a critical battleground.

Virginia Democrats, Gibson among them, have made protecting abortion access a top campaign priority. Many Republican candidates in competitive districts, including Owen, have coalesced around GOP Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s proposed ban on abortion after 15 weeks with certain exceptions. Most abortions take place before that cutoff, federal data show.

Virginia, an outlier in the South for its relatively permissive access, currently allows abortion during the first and second trimesters. The procedure may be performed during the third trimester only if multiple physicians certify that continuing the pregnancy is likely to “substantially and irremediably” impair the mental or physical health of the woman or result in her death.

Gibson’s campaign did not respond to an interview request or a detailed list of questions from the AP on Tuesday. Gibson previously denounced the release of the videos as a violation of law and her privacy. She’s given no indication of ending her campaign, saying she won’t be intimidated or silenced.

On Tuesday, the Richmond Times-Dispatch published a commentary piece by Gibson addressing prescription drug prices and her work in health care. She didn’t mention the controversy.

While the caucus and some of its leaders have weighed in, many other Virginia Democrats have either declined to comment, insisted on anonymity to discuss their frustrations or deliberations about the matter, or have not responded to media inquiries. The state party also maintained its silence on Tuesday, with spokesperson Liam Watson declining to comment.

Among elected officials, Democratic state Sen. Louise Lucas has stood out for her early, clear and vocal support of Gibson.

A spokesman for U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger, who previously endorsed Gibson, did not immediately respond to an emailed inquiry asking about a post on X, the social media platform previously known as Twitter, featuring Spanberger and Gibson that appeared to have been deleted.

Clean Virginia, an energy policy advocacy group that’s a major donor to mostly Democratic candidates, is “not commenting on this story,” spokesperson Cassady Craighill said. Clean Virginia gave Gibson $175,000 in August, according to campaign finance records, which also show Gibson ended the latest reporting period with over $460,000 cash on hand, about $220,000 more than Owen.

Citing what he called Gibson’s “remarkable” fundraising, Bob Holsworth, a longtime political analyst, said he thinks it’s entirely possible that Democrats “come back in the end” and help Gibson campaign and raise money.

“My big question is: Does she still have the organizational volunteers who are going to generate enthusiasm and turnout?” Holsworth said.

Most Republican elected officials also have kept their distance from the matter, although the state party has spoken out, casting Gibson’s behavior as disqualifying.

In a social media post days after the news broke, the Republican Party of Virginia accused Democrats of “celebrating a candidate who moonlights as a porn star,” adding: “They are the party of moral decay.”

Aaron Evans, a campaign spokesperson for Owen, said Tuesday that Gibson’s campaign was misrepresenting Owen’s position on abortion.

“The Gibson campaign is dumping thousands of dollars into lying about David’s commitment to defend choice during the first 15 weeks of pregnancy and his support for exceptions in the cases of rape, incest, and health of the mother. The fact they are lying about David reinforces that his common-sense, consensus building position is resonating with voters for a win in November,” Evans said in a written statement.

___

Associated Press reporter Denise Lavoie in Glen Allen, Virginia, contributed to this report.

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‘Stop the war’ and Zelenskiy need not speak, UN Security Council chair tells Russia

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'Stop the war' and Zelenskiy need not speak, UN Security Council chair tells Russia

By Gabriela Baczynska

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) -It was to be Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskiy’s first in- person appearance at a U.N. Security Council meeting on Moscow’s invasion of his country when Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia objected to him taking the floor at the start of the meeting.

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, serving as president of the tense session, responded with a gibe at Moscow, which has long said the invasion does not amount to a war but was a mere “special military operation”.

“I want to assure our Russian colleagues and everyone here that this is not a special operation by the Albanian presidency,” Rama, known for a piercing sense of humor, said to muted laughter across the room.

“There is a solution for this,” Rama continued, addressing Nebenzia directly: “If you agree, you stop the war and President Zelenskiy will not take the floor.”

Nebenzia did not agree. He went on to say the session was a show and criticized Rama for what he said was making politically charged statements rather than acting as a neutral guardian of procedure.

After the session, Zelenskiy thanked Rama on social media, saying the Albanian, who is both an artist and former basketball player, “showed the world how to correctly handle Russia, its lies, and its hypocrisy.”

In seeking to justify its invasion, Moscow has said Ukraine’s ambitions to integrate with the West – including NATO – pose a threat to Russia’s national security, an assertion that Kyiv and its allies deny as a baseless pretext to attack.

When given the floor after the back-and-forth, Zelenskiy asked Russia be stripped of its veto right as one of five permanent members of the post-World War Two U.N. Security Council as punishment for attacking Ukraine.

Appearing in the room after Zelenskiy left, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov defended Moscow’s use of the veto as legitimate, accusing Kyiv and the West of selectively following principles of the 1945 U.N. Charter only when it suits them.

(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Howard Goller)

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The Russian empire is crumbling before Putin’s eyes

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The Russian empire is crumbling before Putin’s eyes

It is not just in Ukraine that Vladimir Putin’s dream of restoring Russia’s imperial greatness is collapsing before his eyes. The violence this week in the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh in the Caucasus provides yet further proof of Moscow’s inability to provide even a modicum of influence over a region that once formed a key part of the Soviet Union.

During the two decades that he has dominated Moscow’s political arena, Putin has committed himself to restoring Russia to something approaching the immense power it was in the Soviet era. From his perspective, Moscow reserves the right to exercise its influence over Russia’s so-called near abroad, the independent republics that emerged following the dissolution of the Soviet Union – an event he maintains was “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the 20th century.

Yet, despite maintaining a relentless campaign to persuade them to return to Moscow’s fold, Putin’s bully boy tactics have achieved the opposite effect. His ill-judged decision to invade Ukraine has merely strengthened the resolve of former Soviet republics, especially in the Baltics and eastern Europe, to protect themselves from any future threat of Russian encroachment.

If the Ukraine conflict has greatly diminished the Kremlin’s hopes of re-establishing its influence on its western flank, its waning powers are also evident in the former Soviet republics of Central Asia and the south Caucasus, as the resumption of hostilities over Nagorno-Karabakh graphically illustrates.

The rival claims of Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh have been a constant source of concern for Moscow since they achieved independence in 1991.

A mountainous region located at the southern end of the Karabakh mountain range, the enclave is internationally recognised as being part of Azerbaijan, despite the fact that most of its 120,000 inhabitants are ethnic Armenians, who have their own government with links to Armenia. Tensions, which have seen Armenia and Azerbaijan fight two wars over the enclave in the past three decades, have been exacerbated by claims from the Armenian minority, who are Christian, that they are at risk of persecution by Azerbaijan’s Turkic Muslims.

Ideally, Moscow would like to distance itself from the dispute and remain on good terms with both Baku and Yerevan. It was with this in mind that, after Azerbaijan initiated the Second Karabakh War in 2020 in which at least 6,500 people were killed, Moscow negotiated a ceasefire. Under the terms of the deal, Russia, which has a defence treaty with Armenia, agreed to deploy 1,960 Russian peacekeepers to protect the Lachin Corridor, the main humanitarian supply route linking Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh.

By the end of last year, with Moscow desperately seeking reinforcements for its faltering military offensive in Ukraine, its inability to fulfil its commitments to protect the Lachin Corridor resulted in Azerbaijani paramilitary groups establishing roadblocks. This prevented aid supplies from reaching the Armenians, effectively placing the enclave under siege.

This week, Azerbaijan went further. It insists that it was forced to launch its “anti-terrorist operations” because the supply route was being used to smuggle arms by Armenian separatists. These are concerns that should now be allayed after leaders of the Armenian separatists agreed to dissolve their army and hand over their weapons as part of a fresh ceasefire deal agreed yesterday.

Russia’s failure, though, to avert another flare-up in the dispute between two former Soviet republics underlines its growing inability to influence events in areas it used to dominate.

During the Soviet era, the so-called “stans” of central Asia – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan – made a significant contribution to the Soviet economy, providing energy for its industry and manpower for the military. Since 2002, Moscow has sought to maintain its historic ties with the region through the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), a military and political alliance comprising Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

Whether Moscow can maintain its ties with these rapidly developing regions must now be open to question after its failure to keep the peace in the south Caucasus. It will certainly not have escaped the attention of capitals ranging from Tashkent to Dushanbe that Moscow’s defence pact with Armenia amounted to very little when facing aggression from Azerbaijan.

This may well lead them to conclude that their long-term interests are far better served by moving closer to China, another major power that covets the region’s vast mineral wealth. This trend was already evident earlier this year when Beijing hosted the China-Central Asia Summit in Xi’an, a city located on the Silk Road. While all the “stans” were represented, Russia was the one notable absentee, a reflection of Moscow’s diminishing role in a region it once regarded as its own backyard. With Putin preoccupied by Ukraine, Beijing was able to conclude investment deals worth $50 billion.

Putin may dream of rebuilding the Russian empire, but the brutal reality is that Moscow no longer has the strength or influence to do so.

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