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Sen. Mitt Romney introduces bill to review U.S. multilateral aid

U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, introduced a bill on Wednesday that would create an interagency task force to review and evaluate U.S. multilateral aid given to international organizations like the World Health Organization and Green Climate Club.

The “Multilateral Aid Review Act of 2020,” or MAR Act, calls on President Donald Trump to “establish an interagency Multilateral Review Task Force … to review and assess United States participation in multilateral entities” and submit a report to various congressional committees.

Among the objectives of the MAR Act are “to incentivize improvements in the performance of multilateral entities to achieve better outcomes, including in developing, fragile and crisis-afflicted regions” and “to protect United States taxpayer investments in foreign assistance by promoting transparency with regard to the funding of multilateral entities,” according the bill’s text.

The task force would be chaired by the U.S. Secretary of State, who is currently Mike Pompeo, and be made up of president-appointed and Congress-approved officials from the Department of State, Department of Agriculture, Department of Energy, Treasury Department and other relevant federal agencies.

Additionally, the MAR Act would establish a “Peer Review Group” composed of eight nongovernmental volunteer members who “have (the) appropriate expertise and knowledge of multilateral entities subject to the Review established by this Act.”

The peer review group would meet regularly with the task force “to offer their expertise of the funding and performance of multilateral entities.”

The bill would require the review of dozens of charitable international entities that the U.S. gives money to, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the World Meteorological Organization and the World Bank Group.

Romney said in a news release that reviewing multilateral aid would combat the efforts of countries like China to gain influence over international organizations.

“It is in our nation’s best interest that we have accountability and transparency of our investments in international organizations,” said Romney. “As China pursues its predatory path on the world stage, this legislation can help equip the U.S. to prioritize our investments in a way that aligns with our foreign policy objectives and counters China’s efforts to gain influence in international organizations.”

Romney introduced the MAR Act alongside four other Republican U.S. senators: Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.; Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho; Sen. Todd Young, R-In.; and David Perdue, R-Ga.

In the news release, Young said the COVID-19 pandemic “has shed new light on China’s disturbing behavior and growing influence within international multilateral organizations.”

“As China’s influence grows in these organizations, U.S. taxpayers are on the hook and we must ensure our tax dollars are being spent to advance America’s interests both at home and abroad,” the Indiana senator said. “We are facing significant global challenges such as the coronavirus pandemic, human rights abuses, nuclear proliferation, and global economic crises, but these challenges do not mean that we should blindly contribute to these organizations.”

The MAR Act would require the task force to establish “an analytical framework and assessment scorecard” to evaluate the efficiency of international entities, as stated in the bill.

The criteria includes whether the entity’s stated goals match its results, the extent to which the entity follows best management practices, the accountability and transparency of the entity, redundancies or overlap in goals and objectives, the effectiveness of a multilateral approach compared to a bilateral approach and “the extent to which policies and practices of the entity align with relevant United States foreign policy objectives.”

The U.S. Senate referred the bill to the Committee on Foreign Relations on Monday.

Parents showing gratitude in many ways during unique Teacher Appreciation Week

Teacher Appreciation Week has taken on a whole new meaning during the COVID-19 crisis of 2020.

Parents are walking a mile (or more) in the shoes of their teacher every day as they try to assist in online education of their children at home.

Aerwyn Whitlock is the mother of six children, four of which are still attending schools in the Alpine School District.

“Something everybody has realized through all of this is that we have amazing teachers,” Whitlock said. “They are unbelievable, amazing teachers. I’ve said this to people all across the country, I am so grateful to live in Utah. We are blown away by all the things teachers take care of that we don’t even know. They do it on a regular basis because they love our children. No one goes into teaching unless they love what they’re doing and love children.”

Jodi Jorgensen teaches third grade at Pony Express Elementary School in Eagle Mountain. She was chosen from a group of 4,000 teachers as the 2020 Alpine School District Teacher of the Year.

“For me, the best thing is being able to work with a small group of students on conference calls,” she said. “They’ve showed me their pets and their parents, their backyards and their trampolines. We do academic review as well but we try to make a connection. I’ve gotten a shaky iPad tour of someone’s home and they ask, ‘Can we see your house, too?’

“What I worry about is there are a few kids who we don’t see regularly online. I worry about their emotional and physical well-being.”

Kimberly Bird, who is the assistant to the superintendent of Alpine School District, said Jorgensen is the perfect example of who a teacher of the year should be.

“What it means to us is she represents the best of the best of our teachers,” Bird said. “She represents every quality we want our teachers to have. She loves and cares about our students, she’s dedicated and she’s learning along with her students.”

Jorgensen said she was shocked when she learned she had earned the teacher of the year honor and would be competing with other teachers at the state level for a similar award.

“I love teaching,” she said. “I do my best and I’m honored. I’ve been mulling this through my head, and I look around at everything teachers are doing, not just at my school. I’ve been talking to family members across the country about it. Teachers are really being cheerleaders and doing their best.”

Honoring teachers this week is more than just about awards. Stacy Bateman is the regional Parent Teacher Association director for Alpine School District.

“The way we’ve always approached Teacher Appreciation Week is like a finely tuned machine,” she said. “We have events planned for every day of the week. We have a room full of parents who look forward to this week all year long. At Eagle Crest where my kids go, they told us the theme way back in October: ‘Harry Potter.’ I felt like I’d been training my whole life for this.

“We kept hoping we’d be able to go back to school this spring but when we found out we weren’t, people turned on a dime to change our plans. Some schools gave gift baskets to teachers and called them ‘Quarantine Survival Kits.’ There have been teacher parades. When I watched ours on YouTube, I just cried.”

On a personal level, Bateman was grateful for the efforts of one of the teachers of her 14-year-old son.

“I have an eighth grader who by all accounts is a smart kid, but he’s lazy,” she said. “He doesn’t let you know how he feels about most things. His homeroom teacher did a ‘ding dong ditch’ that included a Mountain Dew and a candy bar with a note. When he read the note he gave me the paper and asked if we could save it.”

Bateman said parents also appreciate the way teachers have approached the shared education experience during the coronavirus outbreak.

“Parents have been forced into a position where they really need to figure this out now,” she said. “It would be easy for teachers to say, ‘We’ve been telling you this every week for years,’ but the patience teachers have approached it with has been phenomenal. They weren’t just teaching students, they were teaching parents. The grace with which they’ve handled it is beyond anything I would have expected and they should be commended. Some of the teachers have taken a real beating from parents and they’ve remained calm.”

Whitlock said the depth with which parents are appreciating teachers has grown during the coronavirus crisis.

“A lot of parents I’ve talked to have been much more specific in the ways they have been grateful,” she said. “It’s amazing how much goes into education in terms of socially, emotionally and mentally. Teachers are on top of everything that needs to be done with 30 students in a class and parents are really mindful of that.”

LDS temples to reopen in a phased plan

Temples of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will begin reopening in a phased plan, according to a letter released Thursday by the First Presidency.

“Beginning Monday, May 11, 2020, living husband-and-wife sealing ordinances will be performed in selected temples for members who have been previously endowed,” said the letter by the First Presidency, the church’s highest governing body, consisting of President Russell M. Nelson and counselors Dallin H. Oaks and Henry B. Eyring.

Temples worldwide have been closed for nearly two months, in some cases, as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The first phase of reopening allowing limited live sealings (marriages) for LDS members who are already endowed will begin with select temples in Idaho and Utah in the United States and in Germany and Sweden.

Members who are worthy to go to the temple are endowed, or receive a bestowing of knowledge and understanding of gospel principles given in temples, according to LDS Church information. After they have received those blessings for themselves, they may perform them by proxy for those who have died, including their ancestors.

“The reopening of temples will proceed in a cautious and carefully planned and coordinated manner based on local government restrictions and as authorized by the Temple Department,” the letter said. “The four phases of opening are designed to reduce risk, accommodate the demand and capacity of the temple, and observe any relevant health restrictions in the temple district.”

Phase 1: Living husband-and-wife sealings by appointment

  • Perform living sealings only for previously endowed members under strict guidelines and safety precautions, including limited temple staff and limited attendees.

Phase 2: Open for all living ordinances only

  • Perform all temple ordinances for living individuals.
  • Maintain closure of patron housing, clothing and cafeteria operations.

Phase 3: Open for all ordinances with restrictions

  • Continue providing ordinances for living individuals.
  • Provide proxy ordinances for ancestors in a restricted manner.
  • Open patron housing, clothing and cafeteria operations as needed.

Phase 4: Open for full operations

  • Resume regular temple operations.

Temple marriages will be scheduled Monday through Saturday by appointment only and will be limited to one sealing ceremony or family at a time in the temple, according to the church letter.

Couples will be required to live in the temple district of the temple they are scheduling.

“All government and public health directives will be observed, including restrictions related to travel and crossing of state or other regional borders, and the use of safety equipment such as masks,” the letter said.

In the first phase, temples will have a very limited number of staff on hand — as few as two or three people. Each bride, groom and their limited number of guests will be greeted at the door of the temple and escorted to the sealing room, according to the statement.

“The bride and groom are invited to come to the temple dressed in the customary white trousers, shirt and tie (for men) and dresses (for women). They will then dress in ceremonial temple clothing within the temple,” the First Presidency said.

The number of participants in each sealing will be restricted to the bride, groom and a limited number of guests per instructions provided at the time of scheduling.

“Only those who are in good health and have no symptoms of COVID-19 should come to the temple,” the letter said. “The sealing and other rooms in the temple will be thoroughly cleaned and sanitized following each ceremony.”

According to the First Presidency, as directed by the Temple Department, other temples will begin to reopen based on local government and public health directives.

For currently scheduled living ordinances, members will be contacted by temple staff to confirm their appointment or to reschedule. Priority for scheduling ordinances will then be given to members who had their appointments canceled because of temple closures. Members in this circumstance should call the temple to schedule an ordinance. Final priority will then be given to new appointments, according to the phased plans announced.

Many of the volunteer temple workers are of retirement age and older. Each temple president is to take extra precautions to protect temple workers and patrons, the letter said.

This will include allowing patrons to wear their own masks and gloves, providing hand sanitizer at several locations in the temple and encouraging frequent handwashing and social distancing.

Adjustments to temple operating schedules, seating arrangements and temple facilities also will be made to further increase safety, the letter said.

“We ask for your continued faith and prayers that this pandemic and its lingering effects may pass,” the letter concludes. “We look forward to the day that we can resume full operation of our temples, congregations and missionary service.”

The current status of individual temples can be viewed on each individual temple’s page on Temples. http:// ChurchofJesusChrist.org.

Authorities continue rescue operations at Utah Lake for 2 missing girls

The search continues for two Utah County teens who went swimming in Utah Lake on Wednesday afternoon.

Utah County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue teams began the rescue operation to find 18-year-old Priscilla Bienkowski and 17-year-old Sophia Hernandez on Wednesday evening in the midst of a wind storm.

The two traveled to the Knolls along the shore of Utah Lake off of State Road 68, Utah County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Spencer Cannon said. When the girls did not contact their parents for some time, the mother of one of the girls called her daughter.

A man fishing on the side of Utah Lake heard a phone ringing and looked to the ground where he saw one of the girl’s cellphones. When he answered the mother’s call, the mother became concerned and contacted authorities, Cannon said.

When Utah County Sheriff’s Office Deputies arrived on scene, they found a number of the girls’ personal items, including the cellphone, on shore. The car they used to drive to the lake was also discovered, but the girls were nowhere to be found.

Cannon said a tube was located in the reeds near the location of the girls’ personal items, and a second tube was later discovered 3.3 miles south from the first one.

While search and rescue continued to look for the two girls during the heavy windstorm, other teams were dispatched to a more northern location on Utah Lake where kayakers were trapped on the lake due to the dangerous wind and waves.

Crews returned to the lake Thursday morning to continue rescue efforts. At that time, water temperatures had reached 57 degrees Fahrenheit, and although the wind had calmed quite a bit, Cannon said the water was still choppy.

The human body loses body heat 24 times faster in water than on land, Cannon said, and with the low water temperatures, there is cause for concern.

Nine search and rescue team members were searching the water on wave runners as of Thursday morning. The Utah State Parks also joined the search with its own boat, the Utah County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue is on scene with its boat, and fire crews are searching the shore for the two girls. Utah State Parks also has deployed a boat with side scan sonar. Waves and wind have so far prevented teams from being able to use it.

Authorities are still classifying the effort as a rescue operation as of Thursday morning.

“There is grave concern for their well-being because of the conditions,” Cannon said.

Cannon said there is no indication that the two girls were wearing life jackets at the time of their disappearance.