China halts military, climate dialogue with US over Pelosi Taiwan trip

The Ground Force under the Eastern Theatre Command of China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) conducts a long-range live-fire drill into the Taiwan Strait, from an undisclosed location in this handout released on August 4, 2022. (REUTERS)
The Ground Force under the Eastern Theatre Command of China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) conducts a long-range live-fire drill into the Taiwan Strait, from an undisclosed location in this handout released on August 4, 2022. (REUTERS)
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Updated 06 August 2022

China halts military, climate dialogue with US over Pelosi Taiwan trip

China halts military, climate dialogue with US over Pelosi Taiwan trip
  • Taiwan’s defense ministry said on Friday it scrambled jets to warn away Chinese aircraft that it said entered the island’s air defense zone, some of which crossed the Taiwan Strait median line, an unofficial buffer separating the two sides

TAIPEI: China announced on Friday it was halting dialogue with the United States in a number of areas, including between theater-level military commanders and on climate change, in a furor over US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan.
China’s foreign ministry said it was also suspending exchanges with Washington on countering cross-border crime and drug trafficking, all moves Washington called “irresponsible.”
Enraged when Pelosi became the highest-level US visitor in 25 years to the self-governed island that Beijing regards as its territory, China launched military drills in the seas and skies around Taiwan on Thursday. The live-fire drills, the largest ever conducted by China in the Taiwan Strait, are scheduled to continue until noon on Sunday.




In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, a Chinese military H-6K bomber is seen conducting training exercises, as the People's Liberation Army (PLA) air force conducted a combat air patrol in the South China Sea on Nov. 23, 2017. (AP)

Taiwan’s defense ministry said on Friday it scrambled jets to warn away Chinese aircraft that it said entered the island’s air defense zone, some of which crossed the Taiwan Strait median line, an unofficial buffer separating the two sides.

HIGHLIGHTS

• China staging unprecedented military drills around Taiwan

• Pentagon says China no longer responding to its calls

• US calls China's moves irresponsible

A total of 68 Chinese military aircraft and 13 navy ships had conducted missions in the strait, the ministry said.
China’s Eastern Theater Command of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) said in a statement it conducted air and sea drills to the north, southwest and east of Taiwan on Friday “to test the troops’ joint combat capabilities.”




Three French-made Mirage 2000 fighter jets taxi on a runway in front of a hangar at the Hsinchu Air Base in Hsinchu on August 5, 2022. (AFP)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington has repeatedly made clear to Beijing it does not seek a crisis over Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan earlier this week during a congressional tour of Asia.
“There is no justification for this extreme, disproportionate and escalatory military response,” he told a news conference on the sidelines of ASEAN regional meetings in Cambodia, adding, “Now, they’ve taken dangerous acts to a new level.”
Blinken emphasised that the United States would not take actions to provoke a crisis, but it would continue to support regional allies and conduct standard air and maritime transit through the Taiwan Strait.
“We will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows,” he said.
A US official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Chinese officials had not responded to calls made by senior Pentagon officials this week, but the move was seen as China showing displeasure over the Pelosi trip rather than severing the channel between senior defense officials including US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi told a media briefing after the ASEAN meetings: “I heard that US Secretary of State Blinken held his news conference and spread some misinformation and was not speaking truthfully.”
“We wish to issue a warning to the United States: Do not act rashly, do not create a greater crisis,” Wang said.
Jing Quan, a senior Chinese Embassy official in Washington, echoed that, telling a briefing: “The only way out of this crisis is that the US side must take measures immediately to rectify its mistakes and eliminate the grave impact of Pelosi’s visit.”
He said Washington should “avoid pushing China-US relations down the dangerous track of conflict and confrontation.”

DIPLOMATIC FRONT
White House national security spokesperson John Kirby countered that China’s move to suspend some communication channels was “fundamentally irresponsible.”
“There’s nothing here for the United States to rectify. The Chinese can go a long way to taking the tensions down simply by stopping these provocative military exercises and ending the rhetoric,” Kirby told reporters.
China has not mentioned a suspension of military talks at the senior-most levels, such as with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley. While those talks have been infrequent, officials have said they are important to have in the case of an emergency or accident.




A Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) aircraft flies over the 68-nautical-mile scenic spot, one of mainland China's closest points to the island of Taiwan, in Pingtan island, Fujian province, China August 5, 2022. (REUTERS)

Kirby said it was not atypical for China to shut down military talks at times of tension, but that “not all channels” between the two countries’ military leaders had been cut off.
The Pentagon said China was overreacting and that Washington was still open to building crisis communication mechanisms.
“Part of this overreaction has been strictly limiting its defense engagements when any responsible state would recognize that we need them now the most,” Acting Pentagon spokesman Todd Breasseale said.
Beijing separately announced that it would impose sanctions on Pelosi personally and her immediate family in response to her “vicious” and “provocative” actions.
Speaking at a news conference in Japan after meeting Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, Pelosi said her trip to Asia was “not about changing the status quo in Taiwan or the region.”

’STAY CALM’
Taiwan’s defense ministry said on Friday the island’s military had dispatched aircraft and ships and deployed land-based missile systems to monitor ships and aircraft that briefly crossed the Taiwan Strait median line.
On Thursday, China fired multiple missiles into waters surrounding Taiwan.
Japan’s defense ministry, which is tracking the exercises, first reported that as many as four of the missiles flew over Taiwan’s capital, which is unprecedented. It also said that five of nine missiles fired toward its territory landed in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), also a first, prompting a diplomatic protest by Tokyo.
Later, Taiwan’s defense ministry said the missiles were high in the atmosphere and constituted no threat.
Some Taipei residents, including Mayor Ko Wen-je, criticized the government for not putting out a missile alert, but one security expert said that could have been done to avoid stoking panic and playing into China’s hands.
“It counteracted the effect of the Chinese Communist Party’s psychological warfare,” said Mei Fu-shin, a US-based analyst.
Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen urged residents not to panic, saying in a Facebook post: “Please rest assured, stay calm and live as normal.”
Bonnie Glaser, a Washington-based Asia security specialist at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, said China may be rehearsing for a blockade, “demonstrating it can block Taiwan’s ports and airports and prevent shipping.”
Taiwan has been self-ruled since 1949, when Mao Zedong’s communists took power in Beijing after defeating Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang (KMT) nationalists in a civil war, prompting the KMT-led government to retreat to the island.
Beijing has said its relations with Taiwan are an internal matter, and that it reserves the right to bring Taiwan under Chinese control, by force if necessary.


’Shadow government’ scandal roils Australian politics

’Shadow government’ scandal roils Australian politics
Updated 17 sec ago

’Shadow government’ scandal roils Australian politics

’Shadow government’ scandal roils Australian politics
  • Prime Minister Anthony Albanese accuses Scott Morrison of ‘tin-pot activity’
  • Scandal has shone a light on the opaque nature of decision-making inside Australia’s government
SYDNEY: Revelations that Australia’s ex-prime minister secretly appointed himself to several ministerial posts during the pandemic sparked a political firestorm Monday, with his successor promising a rapid investigation.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese accused Scott Morrison of “tin-pot activity” after it emerged the former leader had made himself minister of health, finance and resources, among other positions, without informing colleagues, parliament or voters.
Describing Morrison’s actions as “extraordinary and unprecedented,” Albanese said Monday he had sought legal advice from the solicitor-general and would be briefed later today.
“This is a sort of tin-pot activity that we would ridicule if it was in a non-democratic country,” Albanese said. “Scott Morrison was running a shadow government.“
In some cases, Morrison made himself a co-minister without telling the cabinet members he had already appointed to those positions.
The scandal has shone a light on the opaque nature of decision-making inside Australia’s government — and raised questions about whether more stringent democratic safeguards are needed.
It is still not clear how many posts Morrison held, but local media reported that he took on the resources portfolio and used his power to axe a significant gas project off Sydney’s coast.
Morrison’s conservative coalition lost power in May elections, ending nearly a decade of center-right rule in the country.
In Australia, elected politicians are selected by the prime minister before being sworn in by the governor-general in a formal ceremony that is usually publicly recorded.
Constitutional law expert Anne Twomey described the allegations as “bizarre” and said it raised possible legal challenges to some of the former government’s decisions.
“The secrecy involved in this is just simply bizarre. I mean, you know, you just wonder what’s wrong with these people, if they have to do everything in secret,” she said.
“It’s just utterly inappropriate. We live in a democracy, which requires transparency.”

Philippines in talks to buy US helicopters after dropping Russia deal

Philippines in talks to buy US helicopters after dropping Russia deal
Updated 17 min 33 sec ago

Philippines in talks to buy US helicopters after dropping Russia deal

Philippines in talks to buy US helicopters after dropping Russia deal
  • Cancelation of contract was precipitated mainly by the war in Ukraine
  • The Philippines at the tail-end of a five-year modernization of its outdated military hardware

MANILA: The Philippines is looking to buy heavy-lift Chinook helicopters from the United States, after scrapping a deal with Russia worth 12.7 billion pesos ($227.35 million) in order to avoid sanctions, Manila’s ambassador to Washington said on Monday.
In June, days before President Rodrigo Duterte ended his six-year term, the Philippines scrapped a deal to buy 16 Mi-17 Russian military transport helicopters because of fears of US sanctions linked to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“This cancelation of this contract is precipitated mainly by the war in Ukraine. While there are sanctions expected to come our way, from the United States and western countries, obviously it is not in our interest to continue and pursue this contract,” ambassador Jose Manuel Romualdez told journalists in a virtual forum.
Moscow says it is conducting a “special military operation” in Ukraine.
Romualdez said the Chinooks would replace existing hardware used for the movement of troops and in disaster preparedness in the Southeast Asian country.
The United States is willing to strike a deal for the amount the Philippines was set to spend on the Russian helicopters, Romualdez said, adding the deal with Washington will likely include maintenance, service and parts.
The Philippines is pursuing discussions with Russia to recover its $38 million down payment for the helicopters, the delivery of which was supposed to start in November next year, or 24 months after the contract was signed.
The Philippines is at the tail-end of a five-year, 300 billion-pesos modernization of its outdated military hardware that includes warships from World War Two and helicopters used by the United States in the Vietnam War.
Aside from military deals, the Philippines, under new President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., also wants increased economic exchanges with the United States including in fields of manufacturing, digital infrastructure and clean energy, including modular nuclear power, Romualdez said.


Malaysia’s former leader Najib Razak begins final bid to toss out graft conviction

Malaysia’s former leader Najib Razak begins final bid to toss out graft conviction
Updated 32 min 20 sec ago

Malaysia’s former leader Najib Razak begins final bid to toss out graft conviction

Malaysia’s former leader Najib Razak begins final bid to toss out graft conviction
  • He would become Malaysia’s first former prime minister to be imprisoned if his case fails
  • The Court of Appeal described the case as a ‘national embarrassment’

PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia: Malaysia’s top court Monday began hearing a final appeal by former Prime Minister Najib Razak to toss out his graft conviction linked to the massive looting of the 1MDB state fund.
He would become Malaysia’s first former prime minister to be imprisoned if his case fails. Najib, 69, has reiterated his innocence and has been out on bail pending his appeals.
He was sentenced to 12 years in jail by a high court in July 2020 after being found guilty of abuse of power, criminal breach of trust and money laundering for illegally receiving $9.4 million (42 million ringgit) from SRC International, a former unit of 1MDB.
The Court of Appeal upheld the conviction and sentence in December, describing the case as a “national embarrassment.” His last avenue, the Federal Court, is scheduled to hear the case until Aug. 26.
Najib has changed to a new team of lawyers for his final appeal. His defense team is attempting to introduce new evidence that would spark a retrial, citing conflict of interest by the high court judge who convicted Najib.
1MDB was a development fund Najib set up shortly after taking power in 2009. Investigators allege at least $4.5 billion was stolen from the fund and laundered by Najib’s associates.
The scandal sparked investigations in the US and several other countries and caused the downfall of Najib’s government in 2018 elections. Najib faces a total of 42 charges in five separate trials linked to 1MDB, and his wife is also on trial for corruption.
Despite his graft conviction, Najib remains politically influential. His United Malays National Organization leads the current government after defections of lawmakers caused the collapse of the reformist government that won the 2018 polls.
Najib is still a lawmaker pending his appeal but he cannot contest if an early general election is called. National polls are not due until the second half of 2023, but there have been strong calls from UMNO leaders for early elections.


Caste in California: Tech giants confront ancient Indian hierarchy

Caste in California: Tech giants confront ancient Indian hierarchy
Updated 15 August 2022

Caste in California: Tech giants confront ancient Indian hierarchy

Caste in California: Tech giants confront ancient Indian hierarchy
  • Wake up call in tech sector after a low-caste engineer at Cisco Systems accused two higher-caste bosses of blocking his career
  • Caste discrimination was outlawed in India over 70 years ago, yet bias persists, according to several studies in recent years

OAKLAND, California : America’s tech giants are taking a modern-day crash course in India’s ancient caste system, with Apple emerging as an early leader in policies to rid Silicon Valley of a rigid hierarchy that’s segregated Indians for generations.
Apple, the world’s biggest listed company, updated its general employee conduct policy about two years ago to explicitly prohibit discrimination on the basis of caste, which it added alongside existing categories such as race, religion, gender, age and ancestry.
The inclusion of the new category, which hasn’t been previously reported, goes beyond US discrimination laws, which do not explicitly ban casteism.
The update came after the tech sector — which counts India as its top source of skilled foreign workers — received a wake-up call in June 2020 when California’s employment regulator sued Cisco Systems on behalf of a low-caste engineer who accused two higher-caste bosses of blocking his career.
Cisco, which denies wrongdoing, says an internal probe found no evidence of discrimination and that some of the allegations are baseless because caste is not a legally “protected class” in California. This month an appeals panel rejected the networking company’s bid to push the case to private arbitration, meaning a public court case could come as early as next year.
The dispute — the first US employment lawsuit about alleged casteism — has forced Big Tech to confront a millennia-old hierarchy where Indians’ social position has been based on family lineage, from the top Brahmin “priestly” class to the Dalits, shunned as “untouchables” and consigned to menial labor.
Since the suit was filed, several activist and employee groups have begun seeking updated US discrimination legislation — and have also called on tech companies to change their own policies to help fill the void and deter casteism.
Their efforts have produced patchy results, according to a Reuters review of policy across the US industry, which employs hundreds of thousands of workers from India.
“I am not surprised that the policies would be inconsistent because that’s almost what you would expect when the law is not clear,” said Kevin Brown, a University of South Carolina law professor studying caste issues, citing uncertainty among executives over whether caste would ultimately make it into US statutes.
“I could imagine that parts of ... (an) organization are saying this makes sense, and other parts are saying we don’t think taking a stance makes sense.”
Apple’s main internal policy on workplace conduct, which was seen by Reuters, added reference to caste in the equal employment opportunity and anti-harassment sections after September 2020.
Apple confirmed that it “updated language a couple of years ago to reinforce that we prohibit discrimination or harassment based on caste.” It added that training provided to staff also explicitly mentions caste.
“Our teams assess our policies, training, processes and resources on an ongoing basis to ensure that they are comprehensive,” it said. “We have a diverse and global team, and are proud that our policies and actions reflect that.”
Elsewhere in tech, IBM told Reuters that it added caste, which was already in India-specific policies, to its global discrimination rules after the Cisco lawsuit was filed, though it declined to give a specific date or a rationale.
IBM’s only training that mentions caste is for managers in India, the company added.
Several companies do not specifically reference caste in their main global policy, including Amazon, Dell , Facebook owner Meta, Microsoft and Google. Reuters reviewed each of the policies, some of which are only published internally to employees.
The companies all told Reuters that they have zero tolerance for caste prejudice and, apart from Meta which did not elaborate, said such bias would fall under existing bans on discrimination by categories such as ancestry and national originon policy.

Casteism outlawed in India
Caste discrimination was outlawed in India over 70 years ago, yet bias persists, according to several studies in recent years, including one that found Dalit people were underrepresented in higher-paying jobs. Debate over the hierarchy is contentious in India and abroad, with the issue intertwined with religion, and some people saying discrimination is now rare.
Government policies reserving seats for lower-caste students at top Indian universities have helped many land tech jobs in the West in recent years.
Reuters spoke to about two dozen Dalit tech workers in the United States who said discrimination had followed them overseas. They said that caste cues, including their last names, hometowns, diets or religious practices, had led to colleagues bypassing them in hiring, promotions and social activities.
Reuters could not independently verify the allegations of the workers, who all spoke on condition of anonymity, saying they feared harming their careers. Two said they had quit their jobs over what they viewed as casteism.
Some staff groups, including the Alphabet Workers Union (AWU) at Google’s parent company, say explicit mention of caste in corporate rules would open the door to companies investing in areas such as data collection and training at the same levels as they do to protect other groups.
“Significant caste discrimination exists in the United States,” said Mayuri Raja, a Google software engineer who is a member of the AWU and advocates for lower-caste colleagues.
Over 1,600 Google workers demanded the addition of caste to the main workplace code of conduct worldwide in a petition, seen by Reuters, which they emailed to CEO Sundar Pichai last month and resent last week after no response.
Google reiterated to Reuters that caste discrimination fell under national origin, ancestry and ethnic discrimination. It declined to elaborate further on its policies.

‘Not good for business’
Adding caste to a general code of conduct is not unheard of.
The World Wide Web Consortium, an industry standards body partly based in Massachusetts, introduced it in July 2020. California State University and the state Democratic Party have followed over the past two years.
In May this year, California’s employment regulator, the Civil Rights Department, added caste to its example equal employment opportunity policy for employers.
Yet the move by Apple, a $2.8 trillion behemoth with more than 165,000 full-time employees globally, looms large.
The iPhone maker’s fair hiring policy now states that Apple “does not discriminate in recruiting, training, hiring, or promoting on the basis of” 18 categories, including “race, color, ancestry, national origin, caste, religion, creed, age” plus disability, sexual orientation and gender identity.
By contrast, many employers are hesitant to go beyond laws with their primary policies, according to three employment attorneys including Koray Bulut, a partner at Goodwin Procter.
“Most companies simply quote from the federal and state statutes that list the protected categories,” Bulut said.
Some companies have, however, gone further in secondary policies that govern limited operations or serve only as loose guidelines.
Caste is explicitly written into Dell’s Global Social Media Policy, for example, and in Amazon sustainability team’s Global Human Rights Principles and Google’s code of conduct for suppliers.
Amazon and Dell confirmed they had also begun mentioning caste in anti-bias presentations for at least some new hires outside India. They declined to specify when, why and how broadly they made the addition, though Dell said it made the change after the Cisco lawsuit was filed.
The companies’ presentations include explanations of caste as an unwanted social structure that exists in parts of the world, according to a Reuters review of some of the online training, with the Dell material referencing a recent lawsuit “from the headlines.”
John-Paul Singh Deol, lead employment attorney at Dhillon Law Group in San Francisco, said that only including caste in training and guidelines amounted to “giving lip service” to the issue because their legal force is questionable.
This characterization was rejected by Janine Yancey, CEO of Emtrain, which sells anti-bias training to about 550 employers, and a longtime employment attorney.
“No company wants to have employee turnover, lack of productivity and conflict — that’s just not good for business,” she said.
Yet explicitly referencing caste would likely invite an increased number of HR complaints alleging it as a bias, Yancey added. “Whenever you’re going to call out something specifically, you’re exponentially increasing your caseload,” she said.
Apple declined to say whether any complaints had been brought under its caste provision.
South Carolina law professor Brown expects no immediate resolution to the debate over of whether companies should reference caste.
“This is an issue that ultimately will be resolved by the courts,” he said. “The area right now is unsettled.” 

Decoder

Casteism

It is a millennia-old hierarchy in India where social position has been based on family lineage, from the top Brahmin “priestly” class to the Dalits, shunned as “untouchables” and consigned to menial labor. While caste discrimination was outlawed in India over 70 years ago (though studies say bias persists), it has gotten exported abroad in some way by members of the Indian diaspora. In the US, the tech sector — which counts India as its top source of skilled foreign workers — received a wake-up call in June 2020 when California’s employment regulator sued Cisco Systems on behalf of a low-caste engineer who accused two higher-caste bosses of blocking his career. 


Republicans push to see affidavit that justified FBI search of Trump’s home

Republicans push to see affidavit that justified FBI search of Trump’s home
Updated 15 August 2022

Republicans push to see affidavit that justified FBI search of Trump’s home

Republicans push to see affidavit that justified FBI search of Trump’s home
  • "The Justice Department should "show that this was not just a fishing expedition, that they had due cause to go in and to do this, that they did exhaust all other means," Rounds said

WASHINGTON: Republicans stepped up calls on Sunday for the release of an FBI affidavit showing the justification for its seizure of documents at former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago home amid reports of heightened threats against federal law enforcement personnel.
A search warrant released last week after the unprecedented search showed that Trump had 11 sets of classified documents at his home, and that the Justice Department had probable cause to conduct the search based on possible Espionage Act violations.
Republicans are calling for the disclosure of more detailed information that persuaded a federal judge to issue the search warrant, which may show sources of information and details about the nature of the documents and other classified information. The unsealing of such affidavits is highly unusual and would require approval from a federal judge.
"I think a releasing the affidavit would help, at least that would confirm that there was justification for this raid," Republican Senator Mike Rounds told NBC's "Meet the Press".
"The Justice Department should "show that this was not just a fishing expedition, that they had due cause to go in and to do this, that they did exhaust all other means," Rounds said. "And if they can't do that, then we've got a serious problem on our hands."
Separately on Sunday, the bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee, led by Democrat Mark Warner and Republican Marco Rubio, asked the Justice Department and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to provide the seized documents on a classified basis.
A spokesperson for the committee, charged with oversight of the handling of classified information, said the two senators had also requested "an assessment of potential risks to national security" as a result of possible mishandling of the files.
Representative Mike Turner, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, said on CNN on Sunday that the Biden administration should provide more details on what led to the search.
"Congress is saying, 'Show us. We want to know what did the FBI tell them? What did they find?'" Turner said.
The Department of Justice did respond to a request for comment on the FBI affidavit.

HEIGHTENED THREATS
The calls from Republicans came amid reports https://www.cbsnews.com/news/mar-a-lago-search-fbi-threat-law-enforcement that the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security warned of increased threats to law enforcement emanating from social media platforms in the wake of the Mar-a-Lago search.
The FBI said in a statement that it is always concerned about threats to law enforcement and was working with other agencies to assess and respond to such threats, "which are reprehensible and dangerous."
Republican Representative Brian Fitzpatrick, a former FBI agent and prosecutor from Pennsylvania, said he was concerned about the safety of federal law enforcement officers amid such threats, adding "everybody needs to be calling for calm."
He told CBS' "Face the Nation" that the search of Trump's home "was an unprecedented action that needs to be supported by unprecedented justification" and the probable-cause affidavit would show whether that standard was reached -- even if it was only shown to lawmakers in a classified briefing.
"I've encouraged all my colleagues on the left and the right to reserve judgment and not get ahead of yourself because we don't know what that document contains. It's going answer a lot of questions."

DAMAGE ASSESSMENT
Democrats on Sunday did not echo calls for the affidavit's release.
Instead, Representative Adam Schiff, the California Democrat who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, said he was asking for an assessment of potential damage done to U.S. national security from Trump's possession of the classified documents, along with an intelligence briefing.
The "Top Secret" and "Sensitive Compartmented Information" documents could cause "extremely grave damage to national security" if disclosed, Schiff told CBS.
"So the fact that they were in an unsecured place that is guarded with nothing more than a padlock, or whatever security they had at a hotel, is deeply alarming," Schiff said.
Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, told NBC that she could not make a judgment as to whether the Justice Department should indict Trump on criminal charges.
"This is going to be up to the Justice Department to make a decision about what happened here, why it happened, and if it rises to the level of a crime," Klobuchar said.