Republican Hunter’s admission on campaign funds gives Palestinian rival edge in California congressional race

Democratic candidate for the 50th congressional district Ammar Campa Najjar makes an appearance outside federal court where incumbent Duncan Hunter (R-CA) and his wife were being arraigned in San Diego, California, US 23 August 2018. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 04 December 2019

Republican Hunter’s admission on campaign funds gives Palestinian rival edge in California congressional race

  • Hunter, who was handed the 50th Congressional District seat in 2008 succeeding his father who served the district for 28 years, faced a tough challenge
  • Campa-Najjar, whose father is Palestinian and mother Mexican American, standing against him

LOS ANGELES: California Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter, indicted on corruption charges, has announced he would plead guilty to avoid a trial on one count of misusing his campaign funds for personal use, opening the door to the election of Palestinian rival Ammar Campa-Najjar.

Hunter, who was handed the 50th Congressional District seat in 2008 succeeding his father who served the district for 28 years, faced a tough challenge for re-election in November 2018 from Campa-Najjar.

Thirty-year-old Campa-Najjar’s grandfather was Muhammad Yusuf Al-Najjar, or Abu Yusuf, a senior member of the militant Black September Organization who was accused of masterminding the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics in Germany.

Although Campa-Najjar, whose father is Palestinian and mother Mexican American, was not born until years after, it did not stop Hunter from accusing his Democratic opponent of being part of a terrorist conspiracy to take over the US Congress.

Despite the attacks, Campa-Najjar, who changed his name from Ammar Yasser Najjar, came within 9,000 votes of defeating the incumbent Republican out of more than 259,000 votes cast. Campa-Najjar won the right to challenge Hunter after defeating five other candidates in California’s open primary contest on June 5, 2018.

Hunter had faced more than 60 Federal charges over the misuse of more than $250,000 in monies he raised for election campaigns but instead allegedly used for personal expenses including for his wife and children.

Campa-Najjar told reporters on Monday he was surprised by Hunter’s decision to plead guilty but said it was a “sad day” for the district and the country to have a member of Congress engage in illegal activities.

“Today is a sad day for this district, no constituent hopes to see their congressman plead guilty to corruption. But today is also a day filled with opportunity because it’s the first time in years people, not political scandals, will come first again,” Campa-Najjar wrote on his Twitter account.

Despite having been the target of vicious attacks during the last campaign from Hunter about his Palestinian heritage, Campa-Najjar offered sympathy to Hunter, his wife and his children.

“My thoughts are with Major Hunter and his family, I want to thank him for serving our country,” he Tweeted, referring to Hunter’s military rank as a major.

The 50th district has been considered a battleground state that American President Donald Trump believed would remain Republican, but the latest twists suggest it could turn Democratic next year.

Campa-Najjar is expected to lead those seeking to replace Hunter in the March 3, 2020 California primary election. The top two candidates in the election will face-off in the Nov. 3, 2020 general election.

Syrian American and former Republican Congressman Darrell Issa, who served in Congress from 2001 until retiring in January 2019, announced his intention to challenge Hunter in the 50th district, suggesting he anticipated Hunter would remove himself from the race. It is very rare for members of the same political party to challenge an incumbent office holder.

If he is elected to Congress, Campa-Najjar would become the third Palestinian to hold congressional office, joining Michigan members Justin Amash (Republican) and Rashida Tlaib (Democrat).

During the last election, Hunter attacked Campa-Najjar as a “Muslim” playing into America’s growing Islamophobia. But Campa-Najjar, whose father is Muslim, and mother is Christian, was raised in the Christian faith by his mother, who is separated from her husband.

Campa-Najjar served in various roles within former US President Barack Obama’s administration, including a public relations position in the employment and training administration.


World Bank: Indonesia forest fires cost $5.2bn in economic losses

Updated 11 December 2019

World Bank: Indonesia forest fires cost $5.2bn in economic losses

  • Economic losses equal to 0.5 percent of Indonesia’s gross domestic product
  • Drifting smoke at the height of the dry season in September triggered a diplomatic spat between Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur

JAKARTA: The total damage and economic loss from forest fires in Indonesia this year amounted to at least $5.2 billion, equal to 0.5 percent of gross domestic product, the World Bank said in a report on Wednesday.
The estimate was based on its assessment in eight affected provinces from June to October 2019, though analysts at the multinational bank said fires had continued to rage through to November.
“The forest and land fires, as well as the resulting haze, led to significant negative economic impacts, estimated at $157 million in direct damage to assets and $5.0 billion in losses from affected economic activities,” the World Bank wrote in the report.
Over 900,000 people reported respiratory illnesses, 12 national airports halted operations, and hundreds of schools in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore had to temporarily close due to the fires.
Drifting smoke at the height of the dry season in September triggered a diplomatic spat between Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta.
More than 942,000 hectares (2.3 million acres) of forests and lands were burned this year, the biggest since devastating fires in 2015 when Indonesia saw 2.6 million hectares burned, according to official figures. Officials said the spike was due to El Nino weather patterns lengthening the dry season.
The World Bank also estimated a 0.09 and 0.05 percentage points reduction in Indonesia’s economic growth in 2019 and 2020, respectively, due to the fires. Its growth forecast for Indonesia is 5 percent for 2019 and 5.1 percent for 2020.
The blazes were “manmade and have become a chronic problem annually since 1997” because fire is considered the cheapest method to prepare land for cultivation, the bank said.
Because about 44 percent of the areas burned in 2019 were in peatlands, carbon emissions from Indonesia’s fires were estimated to be almost double the emissions from the fires in the Brazilian Amazon this year.
The European Center for Medium Range Weather Forecast estimated a total of 720 megatons of CO2 emissions came from Indonesian forest fires in January-November this year.
Longer-term effects of repeated fires were not included in this estimate, the World Bank said. Repeated haze exposure would reduce health and education quality and damage the global image of palm oil — an important commodity for Indonesia.