It’s time to choose, Biden tells Republicans in fiery voting rights speech

It’s time to choose, Biden tells Republicans in fiery voting rights speech
US President Joe Biden speaks to a crowd at the Atlanta University Center Consortium, part of both Morehouse College and Clark Atlanta University on January 11, 2022 in Atlanta, Georgia. (AFP)
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Updated 12 January 2022

It’s time to choose, Biden tells Republicans in fiery voting rights speech

It’s time to choose, Biden tells Republicans in fiery voting rights speech
  • Challenged senators to “stand against voter suppression” by changing Senate rules to pass voting rights legislation that Republicans are blocking from debate and votes

ATLANTA, US: President Joe Biden on Tuesday made a full-throated appeal for US voting rights legislation stalled in Congress, saying Democratic lawmakers should rewrite Senate rules to overcome Republican opposition.

In a speech designed to breathe life into the fight to pass federal voting laws and convince skeptical Democrats of his commitment, Biden called many Republicans cowardly and committed to changing the US Senate “filibuster” to pass legislation.
Calling it a “battle for the soul of America,” the Democratic president put the voting rights effort on par with the fight against segregation by slain civil rights leader the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Former President Donald Trump maintains the 2020 election was stolen by Democrats through voter fraud, despite investigations’ finding no supporting evidence. Since then, Republican lawmakers in 19 states have passed dozens of laws making it harder to vote. Critics say these measures target minorities, who vote in greater proportions for Democrats.
Biden on Tuesday said Republicans must choose which side of history they want to be on, as he contrasted civil rights heroes with the country’s most ardent white supremacists.
“Do you want to be on the side of Martin Luther King or George Wallace?” Biden asked, referring to the segregationist former Alabama governor.
His tone echoed remarks on the one-year anniversary of the attacks on the US Capitol, reflecting a new White House calculus after a year focused on working with Republicans. Supporters of Trump were attempting “a coup” on Jan. 6, 2021, Biden said Tuesday.
“Not a single Republican has displayed the courage to stand up to a defeated president to protect America’s right to vote,” Biden said. “Not one.”
Before Biden spoke, there was a moment of solemnity as he and Vice President Kamala Harris stood before King’s gravesite, with King’s family standing nearby, heads bowed. Biden and Harris later spoke on the shared campus of Clark Atlanta University and Morehouse College, two historically Black schools.
Jesiah Osbourne, 21, a senior at Morehouse who gives Biden mixed reviews overall, said he credits the president for pushing for a cornerstone civil right even in the absence of a clear legislative path. “It’s not going to happen overnight,” he said. “There’s no unity.”
Many activists say Biden should have done more during his first year in office to push for reforms, and some, including Georgia’s Stacey Abrams, did not attend his speech.
Biden told reporters on Tuesday that he spoke to Abrams, and despite a schedule mix-up, they are “on the same page.”
“The President deeply understands that Congress must pass” the voting-rights bills “by whatever legislative means necessary,” said Abrams, a Democratic candidate for governor in Georgia.

Filibuster carve-out
Biden wants to build public support for the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. The bills would make Election Day a holiday, register new voters and strengthen US Justice Department oversight of local election jurisdictions with a history of discrimination.
Both bills have languished in the Senate under united opposition from Republicans, who argue they would impose questionable national standards on local elections.
Biden said if no breakthrough on the legislation can be achieved, lawmakers in the Senate should “change the Senate rules, including getting rid of the filibuster for this.”
The filibuster is a parliamentary maneuver effectively requiring a 60-vote majority in the Senate for passage of most bills, instead of a simple majority.
“Sadly, the United States Senate, designed to be the greatest deliberative body, has been rendered a shell of its former self,” Biden said.
Republicans criticized Biden’s proposal as overreach.
“What the Democrats have coined a ‘voting rights’ bill is really just a partisan, political power grab. And now they want to eliminate the filibuster in order to advance this terrible legislation, which would only compound confusion in our election process,” Senator Mike Crapo said after Biden’s speech.
It was Biden’s most direct plea to date for the Senate to change its rules. Democrats, with only narrow control of the chamber, do not currently have the votes for such a maneuver.
Biden said he had had quiet conversations with lawmakers about the legislation in recent months, but “I’m tired of being quiet.”
Newly passed laws in Republican states could impact as many as 55 million Americans, the White House said.
Georgia was a battleground state in the 2020 election, and Democrats won two crucial US Senate seats there that gave them effective control of the chamber. Last year, the Republican-led state legislature approved sweeping voting restrictions. The Justice Department sued, saying the law infringes the rights  of Black voters.
Democrats are girding themselves for tough 2022 congressional elections that could strip them of their majority and the chance to change federal voting laws.
 

 

 


Islamic communities fearful after 4 killings in Albuquerque

Islamic communities fearful after 4 killings in Albuquerque
Updated 8 sec ago

Islamic communities fearful after 4 killings in Albuquerque

Islamic communities fearful after 4 killings in Albuquerque
  • Killings have sent ripples of fear through Islamic communities in New Mexico and beyond and fueled a race to find who was responsible
First was the killing of a Muslim man from Afghanistan late last year. Then came two more slayings in the last two weeks — men from Pakistan who attended the same mosque in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Those deaths were followed Friday by the city’s fourth homicide of a Muslim man in nine months. Together the killings have sent ripples of fear through Islamic communities in New Mexico and beyond and fueled a race to find who was responsible.
Authorities on Monday identified the latest victim as they sought help searching for a vehicle believed to be connected to the slayings. The common elements were the victims’ race and religion, officials said.
Naeem Hussain was killed Friday night, and the three other men died in ambush shootings. Police in New Mexico’s largest city are trying to determine if the deaths are linked.
“The fact the suspect remains at large is terrifying,” Debbie Almontaser, a Muslim community leader in New York, wrote on Twitter. “Who is next?!”
In a phone interview, Almontaser said that a female friend who lives in Michigan and wears the hijab head covering shared with her over the weekend just how rattled she was. “She’s like, ‘This is so terrifying. I’m so scared. I travel alone,’” Almontaser said.
Hussain, 25, was from Pakistan. His death came just days after those of Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, 27, and Aftab Hussein, 41, who were also from Pakistan and members of the same mosque.
The earliest case involves the November killing of Mohammad Ahmadi, 62, from Afghanistan.
Aneela Abad, general secretary at the Islamic Center of New Mexico, described a community reeling from the killings, its grief compounded by confusion and fear of what may follow.
“We are just completely shocked and still trying to comprehend and understand what happened, how and why,” she said.
Some people have avoided going out unless “absolutely necessary,” and some Muslim university students have been wondering whether it is safe for them to stay in the city, she said. The center has also beefed up its security.
Police said the same vehicle is suspected of being used in all four homicides — a dark gray or silver four-door Volkswagen that appears to be a Jetta or Passat with dark tinted windows. Authorities released photos hoping people could help identify the car and offered a $20,000 reward for information leading to an arrest.
Investigators did not say where the images were taken or what led them to suspect the car was involved in the slayings. Police spokesperson Gilbert Gallegos said in an email Monday that the agency has received tips regarding the car but did not elaborate.
“We have a very, very strong link,” Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller said Sunday. “We have a vehicle of interest … We have got to find this vehicle.”
Gallegos said he could not comment on what kind of gun was used in the shootings, or whether police know how many suspects were involved in the violence.
President Joe Biden said he was “angered and saddened” by the killings and that his administration “stands strongly with the Muslim community.”
“These hateful attacks have no place in America,” Biden said Sunday in a tweet.
The conversation about safety has also dominated WhatsApp and email groups that Almontaser is on.
“What we’ve seen happen in New Mexico is very chilling for us as a Muslim minority community in the United States that has endured so much backlash and discrimination” since the 9/11 attacks, she said. “It’s frightening.”
Few anti-Muslim hate crimes have been recorded in Albuquerque over the last five years, according to FBI data cited by Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism and a professor of criminal justice at California State University at San Bernardino.
From 2017 through 2020, there was one anti-Muslim hate crime a year. The highest recent number was in 2016, when Albuquerque police recorded six out of a total of 25 hate crimes.
That largely tracks with national trends, which hit the lowest numbers in a decade in 2020, only to increase by 45 percent in 2021 in a dozen cities and states, Levin said.
Albuquerque authorities say they cannot determine if the slayings were hate crimes until they have identified a suspect and a motive.
Louis Schlesinger, a forensic psychology professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, said bias killings are often perpetrated by a small group of people, typically young white men. A lone perpetrator is rare.
“These are basically total losers by every dimension, whether it’s social, economic, psychological, what have you,” he said. “They’re filled with hatred for one reason or another and target a particular group that they see, in their mind, to blame for all their problems in life.”
It was not clear whether the victims knew their attacker or attackers.
The most recent victim was found dead after police received a call of a shooting. Authorities declined to say whether the killing was carried out in a way similar to the other deaths.

Russian casualties in Ukraine up to 80,000: Pentagon

Russian casualties in Ukraine up to 80,000: Pentagon
Updated 09 August 2022

Russian casualties in Ukraine up to 80,000: Pentagon

Russian casualties in Ukraine up to 80,000: Pentagon
  • Kahl admitted that the Ukraine side also had significant losses of manpower on the battlefield, but gave no figures

WASHINGTON: A senior Pentagon official estimated Monday that as many as 80,000 Russians have been killed or wounded in Ukraine since the war began in late February
“The Russians have probably taken 70 or 80,000 casualties in less than six months,” Under Secretary of Defense Colin Kahl said.
Kahl also said Russian forces have also lost “three or four thousand” armored vehicles, and could be running low on available precision-guided missiles, including air and sea-launched cruise missiles, after firing a large number on Ukraine targets since launching the invasion on February 24.
Those losses are “pretty remarkable considering the Russians have achieved none of Vladimir Putin’s objectives at the beginning of the war,” he told reporters, referring to the Russian president.
He said the slowdown in Russian forces’ use of longer range and precision guided missiles was an indicator that their supplies had fallen close to what Moscow needed to hold in reserve for “other contingencies.”
Kahl admitted that the Ukraine side also had significant losses of manpower on the battlefield, but gave no figures.
“Both sides are taking casualties. The war is the most intense conventional conflict in Europe since the Second World War,” he said.
“But the Ukrainians have a lot of advantages, not the least of which is their will to fight.”

 


Life sentences for Georgia father, son for murder of Black jogger

Life sentences for Georgia father, son for murder of Black jogger
Updated 09 August 2022

Life sentences for Georgia father, son for murder of Black jogger

Life sentences for Georgia father, son for murder of Black jogger
  • Travis McMichael, 36, and his father, Gregory McMichael, 66, are already serving life sentences after being found guilty in a state trial for the 2020 murder of Ahmaud Arbery

WASHINGTON: A Georgia man and his father convicted of federal hate crimes for the murder of a Black man who was shot dead while jogging were sentenced to life in prison on Monday.
Travis McMichael, 36, and his father, Gregory McMichael, 66, are already serving life sentences after being found guilty in a state trial for the 2020 murder of Ahmaud Arbery.
US District Judge Lisa Godbey Wood sentenced both men to life in prison on separate hate crimes charges and denied their requests that they be allowed to serve out their sentences in a federal prison instead of a state facility.
The McMichaels, who are white, chased Arbery in a pickup truck on February 23, 2020 as he jogged through their neighborhood near the town of Brunswick, Georgia.
Travis McMichael confronted the 25-year-old Arbery as he passed by their truck and shot and killed him.
The racially-charged case added fuel to nationwide protests over police killings of African Americans sparked initially by the murder in May 2020 of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
A third man who was involved in the chase, William Bryan, who had a less direct role in the murder and cooperated with investigators, was given life with the possibility of parole on the state charges.
He received a sentence of 35 years in prison on the federal charges.
During the federal hate crimes trial, prosecutors recounted the three men’s alleged use of vulgar racial slurs and history of racism.
“The Justice Department’s prosecution of this case and the court’s sentences today make clear that hate crimes have no place in our country,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement.
“Protecting civil rights and combatting white supremacist violence was a founding purpose of the Justice Department, and one that we will continue to pursue with the urgency it demands.”
FBI director Christopher Wray said that hate crimes strike “at the very heart of our society.”
“This is why combatting hate crimes and protecting civil rights are top priorities for the FBI,” he said in the statement.


FBI searches Trump’s Florida home as part of presidential records probe

FBI searches Trump’s Florida home as part of presidential records probe
Updated 09 August 2022

FBI searches Trump’s Florida home as part of presidential records probe

FBI searches Trump’s Florida home as part of presidential records probe
  • The unprecedented search of a former president’s home would mark a significant escalation into the records investigation, which is one of several probes Trump is facing from his time in office and in private business

Former President Donald Trump said FBI agents raided his Mar-a-Lago estate on Monday and broke into his safe in what his son acknowledged was part of an investigation into Trump’s removal of official presidential records from the White House to his Florida resort.

The unprecedented search of a former president’s home would mark a significant escalation into the records investigation, which is one of several probes Trump is facing from his time in office and in private business.

The US Justice Department declined to comment on the search, which Trump in a statement said involved a “large group of FBI agents.” The FBI’s headquarters in Washington and its field office in Miami both declined comment.

Eric Trump, one of the former president’s adult children, told Fox News the search concerned boxes of documents that Trump brought with him from the White House, and that his father has been cooperating with the National Archives on the matter for months.

A source familiar with the matter also confirmed to Reuters the raid appeared to be tied to Trump’s removal of classified records from the White House.

Trump said the estate “is currently under siege, raided, and occupied.” He did not say why the raid took place.

“After working and cooperating with the relevant Government agencies, this unannounced raid on my home was not necessary or appropriate,” Trump said, adding: “They even broke into my safe!“

Trump was not present at the time as he was in New York on Monday, Fox News Digital reported, publishing a photo of Trump that a Fox reporter said showed him leaving Trump Tower.

Trump, who has made his club in Palm Beach his home since leaving the White House in January 2021, has generally spent summers at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, because Mar-a-Lago typically closes for the summer.

A federal law called the US Presidential Records Act requires the preservation of memos, letters, notes, emails, faxes and other written communications related to a president’s official duties.

Any search of a private residence would have to be approved by a judge, after the investigating law-enforcement agency demonstrated probable cause that a search was justified.

It almost certainly would also be approved by FBI Director Christopher Wray, a Trump appointee, and his boss, Attorney General Merrick Garland, who was appointed by Trump’s successor and political rival, President Joe Biden.

Democratic supporters of Biden have criticized Garland for being overly cautious in investigating Trump over his attempts to overturn his 2020 election loss to Biden.

But Trump supporters in turn have accused the Democrats of weaponizing the federal bureaucracy to target Trump, even as Biden has taken steps to distance himself from the Justice Department.

“Make no mistake, the attorney general had to authorize this,” said Phillip Halpern, a former federal prosecutor who specialized in public corruption cases, adding that Wray and a host of prosecutors would also be involved.

“This is as big a deal as you can have, and ... every single person in the chain would have had to sign off on this,” Halpern said.

In February, Archivist David Ferriero told US House lawmakers that the National Archives and Records Administration had been in communication with Trump throughout 2021 about the return of 15 boxes of records. He eventually returned them in January 2022.

At the time, the National Archives was still conducting an inventory, but noted some of the boxes contained items “marked as classified national security information.”

Trump previously confirmed that he had agreed to return certain records to the Archives, calling it “an ordinary and routine process.” He also claimed the Archives “did not ‘find’ anything.”

The Justice Department launched an early-stage investigation into Trump’s removal of records to the Florida estate, a source familiar with the matter said in April.

Lara Trump, the former president’s daughter-in-law, said he only removed mementos that he was legally authorized to take.

“Look, my father-in-law as anybody knows who’s been around him a lot loves to save things like newspaper clippings, magazine clippings, photographs, documents that he had every authority to take from the White House,” Lara Trump told Fox News.

“And you know, again, he’s been cooperating every single step of the way with the people that have questioned any of this.”

Besides the presidential records case, Trump is under investigation on a number of other fronts, including a congressional probe into the Jan. 6, 2021, assault by Trump supporters on the US Capitol and accusations that Trump tried to influence Georgia’s 2020 election results.

In addition, the US Attorney in Washington, D.C., is probing a scheme by Trump’s allies to submit slates of fake electors in a failed bid to overturn the 2020 presidential election.

In an interview in July with NBC News, Garland was asked whether the Justice Department would indict Trump over the events of Jan. 6 if evidence supported such an action.

Garland replied, “We intend to hold everyone, anyone who was criminally responsible for the events surrounding Jan. 6, for any attempt to interfere with the lawful transfer of power from one administration to another, accountable. That’s what we do. We don’t pay any attention to other issues with respect to that.”


Ukraine, Russia trade blame for nuclear plant shelling amid global alarm

Ukraine, Russia trade blame for nuclear plant shelling amid global alarm
Updated 09 August 2022

Ukraine, Russia trade blame for nuclear plant shelling amid global alarm

Ukraine, Russia trade blame for nuclear plant shelling amid global alarm
  • Ukraine blamed Russia for weekend attacks around the complex, which is still being run by Ukrainian technicians. It said three radiation sensors were damaged and two workers injured by shrapnel

KYIV: Kyiv and Moscow traded blame on Monday for the weekend shelling of Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear complex amid international alarm that their battle for control of the plant could trigger catastrophe.
Calling any attack on a nuclear plant “suicidal,” United Nations chief Antonio Guterres demanded UN nuclear inspectors be given access to Zaporizhzhia, the largest complex of its kind in Europe.
Russia’s invading forces seized the southern Ukrainian region containing Zaporizhzhia in March, when the site was struck without damage to its reactors. The area, including the city of Kherson, is now the target of a Ukrainian counter-offensive.
Ukraine appealed for the area around the complex to be demilitarised and for the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN’s nuclear watchdog, to be let in. Russia said it too favored an IAEA visit, which it accused Ukraine of blocking while trying to “take Europe hostage” by shelling the plant.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Kyiv warns of Chornobyl-style disaster unless area secured

• Both sides say in favour of visit by nuclear inspectors

• UN's Guterres says any attack on a nuclear plant is 'suicidal'

• UK scientist says risk of major nuclear incident is small

Ukraine blamed Russia for weekend attacks around the complex, which is still being run by Ukrainian technicians. It said three radiation sensors were damaged and two workers injured by shrapnel.
As of Monday morning, the plant appeared to still be running, said Petro Kotin, head of Ukraine’s state nuclear power company Energoatom. He said 500 Russian soldiers and 50 pieces of heavy machinery, including tanks, trucks and armored infantry vehicles were at the site.
The Ukrainian staff at the plant had nowhere to shelter, he added.
Reuters could not independently verify either side’s account.
Kotin called for peacekeepers to run the Zaporizhzhia site, flagging the risk of shells hitting its six containers of highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel. In an evening video shared online, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called for new Western sanctions on Russia’s nuclear industry “for creating the threat of a nuclear disaster.”
Dr. Mark Wenman, a nuclear expert at Imperial College London, played down the risk of a major incident, saying the Zaporizhzhia reactors were relatively robust and the spent fuel well protected.
“Although it may seem worrying, and any fighting on a nuclear site would be illegal ...the likelihood of a serious nuclear release is still small,” he said in a statement.

WORKING UNDER ‘RUSSIAN GUNS’
Yevhenii Tsymbaliuk, Ukraine’s ambassador to the IAEA, said Zaporizhzhia staff were “working under the barrels of Russian guns.”
Meanwhile, Russia’s defense ministry said Ukrainian attacks had damaged power lines servicing the plant and forced it to reduce output by two of its six reactors to “prevent disruption.”
The UN’s Guterres said IAEA personnel needed access to “create conditions for stabilization.”
“Any attack (on) a nuclear plant is a suicidal thing,” he told a news conference in Japan, where he attended the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Ceremony on Saturday to commemorate the 77th anniversary of the world’s first atomic bombing.
The world’s worst civil nuclear disaster occurred in 1986 when a reactor at the Chornobyl complex in northwest Ukraine exploded. Soon after this year’s Feb. 24 invasion, Russian troops occupied that site, withdrawing in late March.
Ukraine has said it is planning to conduct a major counter-offensive around Kherson and that it has already retaken dozens of villages.
Its forces are also fighting to retake areas near Kharkiv in the north, where Russian forces launched artillery strikes on Monday, Ukraine’s general staff said.
In Ukraine’s Donetsk region, where pro-Moscow separatists seized territory after the Kremlin annexed Crimea to the south in 2014, Russia was “using all available fire power...to try and inflict maximum losses on Ukrainian units to prevent them from reinforcing other areas,” the general staff added.
Stepping up its fiscal aid and military spending on Ukraine, Washington announced it will send $4.5 billion in budgetary support and $1 billion in weapons, including long-range rocket munitions and armored medical transport vehicles. Overall, the United States has contributed more than $18 billion to Ukraine this year.
Russia’s foreign ministry meanwhile told the United States it was suspending inspection activities under their START nuclear arms control treaty, though it said Moscow remained committed to the treaty’s provisions.

GRAIN EXPORTS PICK UP
Adding weight to a rare diplomatic success since the war began, a deal to unblock Ukraine’s food exports and ease global shortages gathered pace as two grain ships carrying almost 59,000 tons of corn and soybeans sailed out of Ukrainian Black Sea ports.
That raised the total to 12 since the first vessel left a week ago.
The July 22 grain export pact, brokered by Turkey and the United Nations, was further underpinned as the parties issued procedures for merchant ships carrying Ukrainian grain, including a 10-nautical-mile military exclusion zone, according to a document seen by Reuters.
Before the invasion, Russia and Ukraine together accounted for nearly a third of global wheat exports.
Russia says it is waging a “special military operation” in Ukraine to rid it of nationalists and protect Russian-speaking communities. Ukraine and the West describe Russia’s actions as an unprovoked war of aggression.
The conflict has displaced millions, killed thousands of civilians and left cities, towns and villages in ruins.