Author Archive: Economist

Mississippi Could Drop Jim Crow-era Statewide Voting Process

Mississippi just ditched its Confederate-themed state flag. Later this year, the state’s voters will decide whether to dump a statewide election process that dates to the Jim Crow era.Facing pressure from a lawsuit and the possibility of action from a federal judge, legislators are putting a  state constitutional amendment on the ballot in November.  The amendment would simplify elections for governor and other statewide officials by erasing an Electoral College-type provision from Mississippi’s 1890 constitution — one that was written to dilute Black voting power and maintain white control of state politics.Mississippi Lawmakers Vote to Remove Rebel Emblem From State FlagIt’s the last state flag that included a Confederate symbol that many people condemn as racistMississippi is the only state with such a system for state elections.If voters adopt the amendment, a statewide candidate receiving a majority of the popular vote would win. If nobody receives that in a race with at least three candidates, the top two would go to a runoff.Legislators’ final action to put the amendment on the ballot happened Monday, a day after they took historic votes to retire a 126-year-old state flag  that was the last in the U.S. with the Confederate battle emblem. Amid widespread protests over racial injustice, Mississippi faced growing pressure to drop a symbol that’s widely condemned as racist.A commission will design a new Mississippi flag without the rebel symbol and with the phrase, “In God We Trust.” Voters will be asked to accept or reject the new flag Nov. 3, the same day the amendment and the presidential race are on the ballot.Mississippi Center for Justice is one of the groups representing plaintiffs in a 2019 lawsuit against the state. The center’s president, Vangela M. Wade, said documents show the complex electoral process was created to uphold white supremacy.”As you go back through these documents, there’s language that clearly shows intent to circumvent the rights of African Americans,” Wade said Thursday.About 38% of Mississippi’s residents are Black. The lawsuit — backed by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder — argues that Mississippi’s election system violates the principle of one-person, one-vote.The Mississippi Constitution currently requires a statewide candidate to win a majority of the popular vote and a majority of electoral vote. One electoral vote is awarded to the candidate receiving the most support in each of the 122 state House districts.Mississippi Takes Step Toward Dropping Rebel Image from FlagState lawmakers vote to file a bill to change the flag If no candidate wins both the popular vote and the electoral vote, the race is decided by the state House. But representatives are not obligated to vote as their districts did, so arm-twisting could decide the outcome.The process was written when white politicians across the South were enacting laws to erase Black political power gained during Reconstruction. The electoral vote was promoted as a way for the white ruling class have the final say in who holds office.Plaintiffs argued that Mississippi’s history of racially polarized voting means that candidates preferred by Black voters must receive a higher share of the statewide vote to win a majority of House districts.U.S. District Judge Daniel P. Jordan III wrote last November that he has “grave concern” about the constitutionality the electoral vote provision. Jordan wrote that the plaintiffs’ argument about violation of one person, one vote is “arguably … their strongest claim.”Jordan put the lawsuit on hold in December, saying he would give legislators a chance to remedy the system by putting a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot. The amendment will need approval from a simple majority of voters.  The last time a governor’s race was thrown to the Mississippi House was 20 years ago. Nobody received the required majorities in a four-person race for governor in 1999. The top two candidates were white, and each won 61 electoral votes. In January 2000, House members chose Democrat Ronnie Musgrove, who led the popular vote, over Republican Mike Parker. At the time, the House was controlled by Democrats. It is now controlled by Republicans.Some Democrats thought the electoral provision might come into play in a tight 2019 governor’s election, but Republican Tate Reeves easily defeated Democrat Jim Hood and two lesser-known candidates.  

Trump Plans Large Fireworks Display in Washington Despite City’s Concerns

The Trump administration is planning a large Independence Day fireworks display in Washington Saturday despite the city’s concerns about the coronavirus.  US Continues to Lead in COVID CasesUS has nearly 2.8 million of the globe’s more than 11 million casesInterior Secretary David Bernhardt outlined plans for the July Fourth celebrations, which include a milelong firing of 10,000 fireworks that he called “the largest in recent memory.”Bernhardt said in a statement that Defense Department flyovers would give a “one-of-a-kind air show” and said, “President Trump’s 2020 Salute to America will be a patriotic tribute to our men and women in uniform.”Trump Address Mount Rushmore Crowd Without a MaskPresident says radical left needs to be stopped to preserve American way of lifeInterior Department officials say they will have 300,000 face masks on hand to be given to spectators who come to the National Mall for the festivities, although there is no indication that people will be required to wear them.   Bernhardt said visitors would be encouraged to wear masks and keep a six-foot distance from one another.D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has criticized the plans, saying they go against established health guidelines.  “We know this is a special event for the Department of Interior. We’ve communicated to them that we do not think this is in keeping with the best CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and Department of Health guidance,” she said.  She noted the event would take place entirely on federal property, which means she does not have the right to shut down the holiday festivities.  Bowser has asked city residents to avoid large crowds and to celebrate July Fourth near their homes.  President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump plan to host events Saturday from the White House South Lawn as well as the Ellipse.COVID-19 Spreading in US Too Fast to Control, CDC Expert Says Dr. Anne Schuchat calls the surge in new cases just “the beginning” In the northeast U.S., where coronavirus cases have generally been subsiding, beaches are open. However, government officials are urging people to avoid crowding. The CDC advised Americans who do go to the beach to wear face coverings.Sales of fireworks have been strong, indicating that many Americans are planning to celebrate the holiday in their backyard, according to the Associated Press.    

Advertisers Boycott Facebook, Demand Changes

Companies such as Coca-Cola, Adidas, Ford and Lego are boycotting Facebook this month, pulling ads that appear on the social network in the United States. Some advertisers are part of an organized boycott demanding the company do more to crack down on hate speech, conspiracies and misinformation on its site on topics such as voting. Facebook has responded with some changes but will it be enough? Michelle Quinn reports.
Camera: Deana Mitchell

Can Trump’s Anti-Mail-Voting Crusade Hurt Him in Key States?

President Donald Trump’s campaign and allies have blocked efforts to expand mail-in voting, forcing an awkward confrontation with top GOP election officials who are promoting the opposite in their states.  The rare dissonance between Trump and other Republican elected officials also reflects another reality the president will not concede: Many in his party believe expanding mail-in voting could ultimately help him. Trump’s campaign has intervened directly in Ohio, while allies have fired warning shots in Iowa and Georgia, aimed at blunting Republican secretaries of state in places that could be competitive in November.  “There is a dimension to legislatures underfunding or undercutting election officials that could ironically backfire and hurt Republicans,” said Michael McDonald, a University of Florida professor and director of the nonpartisan United States Election Project. Action by these three secretaries of state, who are the top election officials in their states, was designed to make ballot access easier during the coronavirus pandemic. Trump has repeatedly made the unfounded claim that voting by mail could lead to fraud so extensive it could undermine the integrity of the presidential election. In OhioIn Ohio last month, senior Trump campaign adviser Bob Paduchik weighed in on Secretary of State Frank LaRose’s proposal, insisting to GOP legislative leaders that they drop a provision to allow voters to file absentee ballot applications online, according to Republican officials involved in the discussions. The GOP officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal communications regarding the legislation. FILE – Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRoseOhio already allows the secretary of state to send absentee ballot requests to every registered voter. The provision was aimed at allowing a faster processing option, while making mail-in application processing available.  Paduchik, Trump’s 2016 Iowa campaign director, insisted there be no substantive changes ahead of the November election in Ohio, which Trump won in 2016 by 8 percentage points under the existing rules, according to the GOP officials.  Trump campaign aides did not respond to requests for comment.  “This bill didn’t do everything I wanted it to do. In fact, there’s several things I wanted to get done that are not included in this bill,” LaRose said in a video statement this month, promising to try “to get some of those other changes made in the future.” Trump has railed against expanding vote by mail, arguing without evidence that the practice, despite being the primary voting method in Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington and Utah, is ripe for widespread fraud. On Sunday, he renewed the criticism, tweeting “Mail-In Voting, on the other hand, will lead to the most corrupt Election is USA history. Bad things happen with Mail-Ins.”  That claim is part of a pattern. He also has incorrectly equated a secretary of state widely distributing absentee ballot requests with the ballots themselves in Michigan. In Iowa, GeorgiaFILE – Iowa Secretary of State Paul PateLast week, after Iowa voters broke a 26-year-old statewide primary election turnout record, the Iowa Senate’s GOP majority pressed to bar Secretary of State Paul Pate from sending absentee ballots to all 2 million registered voters this fall, as he did before the June 3 primary.  Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Trump ally, last week signed compromise legislation requiring Pate and his successors to seek approval from a partisan legislative council for similar future actions. The GOP-controlled council unanimously rejected Pate’s request to widely send absentee ballot applications this fall.  “My goal was to protect Iowa voters and poll workers while finding ways to conduct a clean and fair election,” Pate said last month. “I stand by my decisions.”  FILE – Georgia Secretary of State Brad RaffenspergerHis Georgia counterpart, Brad Raffensperger, faced a similar fate after he, too, sent absentee ballot applications to nearly 7 million registered voters ahead of the state’s June primary. Although Raffensperger objected to proposed limits being put on his authority, legislation to do that died when the legislature adjourned and after he said he would not repeat the move this fall.  Trump carried Georgia, Iowa and Ohio comfortably in 2016. To win again, he would likely need to match his sizable winning margins in their rural counties, home to many in his older, white base. Support for mail-in ballotsPresumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has backed mail-in voting, saying it would make it easier for people to vote this November amid the coronavirus pandemic.  Some longtime GOP activists say expanded vote by mail is essential for older voters who are accustomed to voting in person but hesitant to during the pandemic and who are unfamiliar with the process. Ann Trimble Ray, a veteran Iowa GOP activist, voted in June by mail and says Pate made the right call, especially for the many older voters in her rural home in Sac County, which Trump carried with 72% of the 2016 vote. “Reducing their exposure by voting absentee, we think, was a considerate thing to do,” she said. “I was grateful for Secretary of State Pate’s mailing and encouragement for absentee voting.” Rural votersConsolidation of rural polling places, shrunken election staff and long lines may deter rural voters vital to Trump, said University of California Irvine professor Richard Hasen, chair of a committee of U.S. scholars that has recommended changes ahead of the 2020 elections.  “The voters Trump is hurting are likely his own when he’s making these comments against mail-in balloting,” said Hasen, “because it’s a safe and generally effective way to cast a ballot, especially in the midst of a pandemic.” The check on ballot request steps in Iowa and Georgia also could threaten rural votes from being counted, based on McDonald’s study.  Though Ohio counts all mail-in ballots postmarked by Election Day, a number of absentee ballots came in late for the March 17 primary, including 4,000 in Greene County in southeast Ohio, a county where Trump won 60% of the vote.  Understaffed election offices and longer processing time between rural areas and metro postal centers could leave some rural voters unable to mail their ballots on time, McDonald said.  “I’m pretty convinced that ballot request step is hurting rural voters,” McDonald said.  

Biden Rebukes Trump on Bounty Allegations, in Foreign Policy Contrast

Joe Biden, the Democratic Party’s presumptive presidential nominee, has rebuked President Donald Trump for his handling of allegations the Russians paid bounties to kill American soldiers. It’s a reflection of Biden’s longstanding criticism of Trump’s national security and foreign policies. But as VOA’s Brian Padden reports, the two men aren’t actually all that far apart on many key issues. Produced by: Brian Padden

Biden Slams Trump on Russia Bounties in Foreign Policy Contrast

Presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s rebuke of President Donald Trump’s handling of allegations that Russians paid bounties for the killing of American soldiers reflects his longstanding criticism of the president on national security and foreign policy. However, on closer inspection the two presidential rivals are not that far apart on key issues, such as ending foreign wars, protecting American jobs, and countering China’s aggression.On Tuesday, Biden slammed Trump’s passive response to intelligence reports that Russians paid Taliban fighters to kill American soldiers in Afghanistan, claiming he was not briefed, and the reports were not credible.“The idea that somehow he didn’t know or isn’t being briefed, it is a dereliction of duty. If that’s the case, and if he was briefed and nothing was done about this, that’s a dereliction of duty,” Biden said to reporters in Wilmington, Delaware on Tuesday.The White House has disputed a New York Times report on Friday that a Russian military intelligence unit had offered bounties to Taliban fighters in Afghanistan for U.S. and allied soldiers, saying it has “not been verified, and there is no consensus among the intelligence community.”FILE – American soldiers wait on the tarmac in Logar province, Afghanistan.Brink of warBiden, who served as President Barack Obama’s vice president, has been highly critical of what he says is Trump’s “deference” to Russian President Vladimir Putin and other authoritarian leaders, his “haphazard” handling of national security threats, and his “America First” foreign policy.In January, Biden said Trump put the U.S. on the brink of war, after the president authorized a U.S. airstrike that killed top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad, after deadly Iranian backed attacks on Americans in Iraq.  “The failure to consult with our allies or Congress and the reckless disregard for the consequences that would surely follow was, in my view, dangerously incompetent,” Biden said in New York Jan. 7. Calls for “harsh revenge” during Soleimani’s massive funeral in Tehran raised concerns that military conflict with the United States could escalate, but tensions have eased after Iran retaliated with a non-lethal missile attack against a U.S. military base in Iraq.Biden agenda  In contrast to Trump’s reliance on personal diplomacy and unilateral action to confront U.S. security threats, the former vice president said he would organize a summit of democracies to strengthen alliances in the face of growing authoritarianism around the world, and would prioritize negotiation over confrontation. Biden wants to restore military ties with NATO in Europe after Trump strained relations by demanding increased defense spending. Trump recently ordered the military to withdraw about 10,000 U.S. troops from Germany, unless Berlin increases its NATO contributions.  The Trump administration has also demanded steep cost sharing increases for basing U.S. troops in Germany, South Korea and Japan.However, the Democratic presidential candidate is closer to Trump’s position on ending U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan and Syria, continuing negotiations with North Korea to end its nuclear program, and confronting China’s suppression of human rights in Hong Kong and military buildup in the South China Sea.  
On Thursday, Biden issued a statement denouncing China’s crackdown on democracy protests in Hong Kong and as said as president he would prohibit U.S. companies from “abetting repression” in Hong Kong and impose sanctions on China for human rights abuses.NEW: Statement by Vice President Joe Biden on China’s Human Rights Abuses
Biden’s most comprehensive statement to date on China human rights, including several steps he’ll take as President.
— Ely Ratner (@elyratner) FILE – Vice President Joe Biden and President Barack Obama wave to the delegates at the conclusion of President Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention, September 6, 2012.Obama eraBiden would likely rejoin the Iran nuclear deal, negotiated by the Obama administration, that Trump pulled out of because it did not limit ballistic missile development and support for Iranian backed militias.He would recommit the U.S. to the Paris climate accord, signed by nearly 200 countries and designed to cut greenhouse gas emissions from cars and factories to counter global warming.But Biden said he would not rejoin the Obama-era Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact, which Trump pulled out of in early 2017, until stronger protections for labor and American jobs are added.  “There is no going back to business as usual on trade,” Biden said on his campaign website. But he also argues in favor multilateral trades agreements to improve fair trade practices and democratic values in the developing world.  

Pelosi Accuses White House of Trying to ‘Con’ US Public on Intelligence

Leading Democratic lawmakers are slamming the White House, one of them accusing the president and his aides of trying to trick the American public into believing intelligence on an alleged Russian plot to pay for attacks on U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan is not serious.The criticism from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi followed a classified briefing Thursday by the directors of the CIA and the National Security Agency and the recently confirmed director of national intelligence.CIA Director Gina Haspel arrives to brief U.S. congressional leaders on reports that Russia paid the Taliban bounties to kill U.S. service members in Afghanistan, on Capitol Hill, July 2, 2020.While Pelosi refused to comment on the intelligence itself, she said efforts by President Donald Trump and his staff to minimize the seriousness of the information were a disservice to U.S. forces in the region.“You got the con. The White House put on a con that if you don’t have 100% consensus on intelligence, it shouldn’t rise to a certain level,” she told reporters.“Don’t buy into that, and neither does the intelligence community,” Pelosi added. “They have enough intelligence to know where we have to go next with it.”Pointing to CIA brieferTop White House officials, including national security adviser Robert O’Brien, have repeatedly defended the decision not to brief the president on intelligence indicating Russian intelligence was paying bounties to Taliban-aligned militants for deadly attacks on U.S. and coalition troops in Afghanistan.O’Brien on Wednesday placed responsibility for that decision on Trump’s CIA briefer, telling reporters, “She made that decision because she didn’t have confidence in the intelligence that came out.”Trump on Wednesday took to FILE – President Donald Trump speaks during a news briefing at the White House, in Washington, July 2, 2020.”We never heard about it because intelligence never found it to be of that level,” the president said.”The intelligence people, many of them didn’t believe it happened at all,” he added. “I think it’s a hoax based on the newspapers and the Democrats.”But Pelosi said not only was it clear to her that the president should have been briefed, but that intelligence officials were negligent for failing to keep Congress in the loop.“It was of a consequential level that the intelligence community should have brought it to us,” Pelosi said.’Not close to tough enough’Pelosi and fellow Democrat Chuck Schumer, the House minority leader, also called on Trump to take a tougher line on Russia and its leader, President Vladimir Putin.”I believe the president is not close to tough enough on Vladimir Putin,” Schumer told reporters after leaving the briefing earlier.They also raised concerns about what they described as Trump’s soft approach to Russia despite evidence of a threat to U.S. troops; his request for the removal of proposed sanctions on Russia’s intelligence and defense sectors; and his suggestion that Russia should be invited to rejoin the G-7, a group of the world’s top industrialized nations.Despite the assertions by the Trump administration and the Pentagon that the intelligence on the alleged Russian bounty plot remained uncorroborated, officials said the threat was not taken lightly.FILE – Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe leaves after briefing senators on Capitol Hill about reports of Russia paying bounties for the killing of U.S. troops in Afghanistan July 1, 2020, in Washington.Officials from the White House and the CIA said the information was shared with U.S. intelligence agencies, the military and U.S. allies in Afghanistan, and that precautions were put in place.White House officials also said there was no evidence any U.S. troops were harmed.”We always act in the best interest of our troops,” press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters late Wednesday.“The Defense Department has said they do not know of any Americans that have been killed in relation to this unverified intelligence that’s currently being assessed,” she added.Longtime concernU.S. defense and intelligence officials have long been concerned about Russian interference in Afghanistan, complaining repeatedly that Moscow has been providing the Taliban with weapons and training.A new Pentagon report released Wednesday, while making no mention of the alleged bounties, warned that Russian involvement was growing.“Russia has politically supported the Taliban to cultivate influence with the group, limit the Western military presence, and encourage counter-ISIS [Islamic State terror group] operations, although Russia publicly denies their involvement,” the report said.FILE – Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a news conference at the State Department, July 1, 2020, in Washington.U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday tried to downplay concerns.“The fact that the Russians are engaged in Afghanistan in a way that’s adverse to the United States is nothing new,” he said. “The Russians have been selling small arms that have put Americans at risk there for 10 years. We have objected to it.”“When we see credible information that suggests that the Russians are putting American lives at risk, we’re responding in a way that is serious,” he added.VOA’s Katherine Gypson and Steve Herman contributed to this report.

Biden Rebuke of Trump on Bounty Allegations Highlights Foreign Policy Differences

Joe Biden, the Democratic Party’s presumptive presidential nominee, has rebuked President Donald Trump for his handling of allegations the Russians paid bounties to kill American soldiers. It’s a reflection of Biden’s longstanding criticism of Trump’s national security and foreign policies. But as VOA’s Brian Padden reports, the two men aren’t actually all that far apart on many key issues. Produced by: Brian Padden

US Supreme Court Keeps Hold on Secret Russia Investigation Material

The Supreme Court is denying Congress access to secret grand jury testimony from special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation through the November election.The justices agreed on Thursday to hear the Trump administration’s appeal of a lower court order for the material to be turned over to the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives. The high court’s action will keep the documents out of congressional hands at least until the case is resolved, which is not likely to happen before 2021.Arguments themselves might not even take place before Americans decide whether to give President Donald Trump a second term.The delay is a victory for Trump, who also is mounting a Supreme Court fight against congressional efforts to obtain his banking and other financial records. Those cases are expected to be decided in the coming days or weeks.The court’s action also could mean the justices never have to reach a definitive ruling in a sensitive dispute between the executive and legislative branches of government, if either Trump loses reelection or Republicans regain control of the House next year. It’s hard to imagine Democrat Joe Biden’s administration would object to turning over the Mueller documents or House Republicans would continue to press for them.The House wants previously undisclosed details from the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.The federal appeals court in Washington ruled in March that the documents should be turned over because the House Judiciary Committee’s need for the material in its investigation of Trump outweighed the Justice Department’s interests in keeping the testimony secret.  Mueller’s 448-page report, issued in April 2019, “stopped short” of reaching conclusions about Trump’s conduct, including whether he obstructed justice, to avoid stepping on the House’s impeachment power, the appeals court said.  The committee was able to persuasively argue that it needed access to the underlying grand jury material to make its own determinations about the president’s actions, the court said.The materials initially were sought last summer, but by the time the appeals court ruled in March, Trump had been impeached by the House and acquitted by the Senate.The Justice Department said in its Supreme Court filings that the court’s action was needed in part because the House hasn’t given any indication it “urgently needs these materials for any ongoing impeachment investigation.”The House had opposed the delay on the grounds that its investigation of Trump was continuing and that time is of the essence because of the approaching election. The current session of the House will end Jan. 3, and lawmakers elected in November will take their seats.Democrats have suggested that the grand jury materials could reveal new misconduct that could potentially form the basis of new articles of impeachment, but such a course would have been unlikely so close to the 2020 election even if the court had allowed the material to be turned over immediately.The House impeached Trump for his efforts to get Ukraine to dig up dirt on Biden, but the Republican-controlled Senate acquitted the president in February.It is also unclear how many new, or incendiary, revelations might be contained in the grand jury transcripts. Mueller’s report, though redacted in parts, revealed more than a year ago significant information about the president’s efforts to choke off the investigation and raised substantial questions about whether he had committed obstruction of justice.Besides, many of the witnesses closest to Trump appeared voluntarily before Mueller’s team of prosecutors, and the Justice Department in recent months has released written — albeit redacted — summaries of those interviews. That means the public already has insight into the accounts of key Trump associates including son-in-law Jared Kushner and advisers like Steve Bannon and Hope Hicks.   

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