Browsing articles from "October, 2018"

Voters Could Clamp Down On Ethics, Campaign Finance At The Ballot Box

Oct 31, 2018   //   by Administrator   //   News from US  //  Comments Off on Voters Could Clamp Down On Ethics, Campaign Finance At The Ballot Box

Voters in Missouri cast ballots on Election Day 2016. This year, it’s one of many states where voters will decide on ballot measures aimed at stricter government ethics rules.

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Voters in Missouri cast ballots on Election Day 2016. This year, it’s one of many states where voters will decide on ballot measures aimed at stricter government ethics rules.

Whitney Curtis/Getty Images

Voters in more than a dozen states will vote on ballot questions next Tuesday to enact stringent laws on campaign finance and other government ethics issues affecting state and local lawmakers.

The surge in ballot questions comes as national Democrats are embracing ethics reform issues. House Democrats have legislation ready to launch, with more than 100 Democratic congressional candidates signing a letter this month calling for reforms to be “the very first item Congress addresses” in January. And 120 Democratic nonincumbents on next week’s ballots have pledged to reject contributions from corporate PACs.

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“It’s telling that we have so many challengers for Congress that are running on this issue,” said Larry Norden, deputy director of the democracy program at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice. “But to get real change now, the only way to do that is at the local and the state level.”

Some of the ballot measures would exceed federal standards, which have been steadily relaxed by the Supreme Court. Congress last passed a major campaign finance bill in 2001.

One of this year’s broadest measures is in South Dakota. Known as Amendment W, it’s a rerun of 2016, when voters adopted major reforms — which the Legislature promptly rescinded. Proponents then drafted the current version as a constitutional amendment, Amendment W, which the Legislature cannot reverse.

Among its provisions are restrictions on gifts from lobbyists to lawmakers, a ban on campaign contributions from foreign sources, reductions in special interest money and creation of a more independent ethics commission with greater enforcement powers. Amendment W drops a proposed system of publicly financing campaigns, which was the most controversial piece of the 2016 measure.

A well-financed national group, RepresentUs, is pouring money and other support into South Dakota. It also backed the 2016 initiative.

“What we do is we decide which are the states where there is a real possibility of impact, of victory, and protecting those victories post-passage,” said RepresentUs Director Josh Silver. “When we see that combination, then we get in and support them with time and treasure.”

Leaders of the opposition in South Dakota say RepresentUs and its allies exaggerate both the problem and the proposed fixes. They contend Amendment W would give the ethics commission too much money and power.

“I understand that people are concerned, and angry,” said David Owen, president of the South Dakota Chamber of Commerce and Industry. But he added, “I think there’s a growing sense that W is wrong, and we’re trying to fan that flame with everything we’ve got.”

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The pro-W effort is financed by RepresentUs, based in Massachusetts, and a Washington, D.C., superPAC called End Citizens United. Disclosure reports show they spent about $200,000 this summer and fall, most of it raised from foundations and wealthy donors. Its biggest donor, former Microsoft executive Jon DeVaan, gave $50,000.

The W Is Wrong campaign raised about $150,000 during the same period, mainly from South Dakota business and trade associations. It also got $25,000 from Americans For Prosperity, a politically active nonprofit in the Koch network.

South Dakota may be debating one of the most wide-reaching ballot questions, but 18 other states are asking voters to deal with elections and politics issues.

Colorado, Massachusetts, Missouri and North Dakota propose campaign finance reforms ranging from bans on foreign money in campaigns to restrictions on corporate and union money; in Denver, there is a proposal for public financing of local candidates. Tougher ethics rules are on the ballot in Florida, Missouri, New Mexico, North Dakota and South Dakota.

Voters will decide on proposed ethics reforms, such as creating new ethics commissions, in states including the Dakotas and New Mexico. Long Beach, Calif., has proposals for municipal commissions on ethics and redistricting. And in Baltimore, voters will decide whether to have a citizens commission consider public funding for municipal candidates.

Silver, at RepresentUs, said the interest in reform is stronger than in the years after the Watergate scandal, which is considered a high-water mark for good-government issues.

“The reforms we’re seeing across the country to elections and campaign finance and ethics are the most robust set of reforms we’ve ever seen in the history of the country,” he said.

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Legal Scholars Doubt Trump Can End Birthright Citizenship With An Order

Oct 31, 2018   //   by Administrator   //   News from US  //  Comments Off on Legal Scholars Doubt Trump Can End Birthright Citizenship With An Order

President Trump prepares to depart for Pittsburgh, where 11 people were killed Saturday in a mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue. In an interview with Axios, the president says he intends to sign an executive order ending birthright citizenship.

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President Trump prepares to depart for Pittsburgh, where 11 people were killed Saturday in a mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue. In an interview with Axios, the president says he intends to sign an executive order ending birthright citizenship.

Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

President Trump says he can end birthright citizenship with an executive order. But most legal scholars — and even leaders of the president’s own party — are skeptical.

In an interview with Axios, published Tuesday, the president said he wants to end the automatic right to citizenship for babies born in the U.S. to noncitizens.

“You can definitely do it with an act of Congress,” Trump said in the Axios interview. “But now they’re saying I can do it just with an executive order.”

The 14th Amendment holds that “all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States.” Most legal scholars take that as an explicit protection of birthright citizenship — and think it will take much more than an executive order to change that.

“Trump may have a lawyer who is telling him the 14th Amendment means something else, but that lawyer is like a unicorn,” said Rebecca Hamlin, a professor of legal studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Trump’s proposal seems to rely on the work of a small but vocal group of conservative legal scholars who argue the 14th Amendment has long been misread. In particular, they argue, five key words — “subject to the jurisdiction thereof” — have been misread and that the authors of the 14th Amendment did not intend to give citizenship to the children of temporary visitors and other noncitizens.

“We’ve got this notion that just kind of developed over the last 40 or 50 years that is completely without any sort of legal authority,” said John Eastman, a constitutional law professor at Chapman University and a senior fellow at the Claremont Institute.

Most legal scholars say the Supreme Court settled this debate more than a century ago, holding that “subject to the jurisdiction thereof” refers to anyone present in the U.S., except for the children of diplomats and enemy soldiers (and, at the time, Native Americans).

“I think it’s kind of a lunatic fringe argument,” said Margaret Stock, an attorney at the Cascadia Cross-Border Law Group in Anchorage, Alaska, and a former law professor at the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. “I’ve been debating folks like this for more than a decade, and they claim that the 14th Amendment’s been misinterpreted,” she said. “And now they’ve got a president in office who apparently was fixated on this as well.”

Trump’s critics say the proposal’s timing — just a week before the midterm elections — suggests that it is intended to motivate his political base.

“This is about getting the base worked up before the midterms,” Hamlin said. “He may not ever even issue the executive order that he floated in the Axios interview.”

Even Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House of Representatives, thinks the president’s proposal is unlikely to succeed.

“You cannot end birthright citizenship with an executive order,” Ryan said Tuesday in an interview with Kentucky radio station WVLK.

“You know as a conservative, I’m a believer in following the plain text of the Constitution,” Ryan added. “And I think in this case the 14th Amendment is pretty clear, and that would involve a very, very lengthy constitutional process.”

Heavy Rains, Wind Blamed For 11 Deaths In Italy

Oct 31, 2018   //   by Administrator   //   World News  //  Comments Off on Heavy Rains, Wind Blamed For 11 Deaths In Italy

People walk in a flooded Saint Mark Square in Venice, Italy.

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People walk in a flooded Saint Mark Square in Venice, Italy.

Manuel Silvestri/REUTERS

Torrential rains, gusting winds and landslides over the Italian peninsula have killed 11 people over two days.

As the Associated Press reports, many of the dead were vehicle drivers or pedestrians who were struck by falling trees. Other casualties were caused by mudslides and high flood waters.

Strong winds were as strong as 90 mph and in Rome alone knocked down more than 100 trees.

A felled tree taken down by strong winds is seen in downtown Rome.

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A felled tree taken down by strong winds is seen in downtown Rome.

Stefano Rellandini/REUTERS

Venice saw an unusually high tide leaving three-quarters of the city covered in water. The famed St. Mark’s Square was heavily flooded and tourists crossed the plaza in near waist-deep water.

Reuters, quoting Italian media, said “it was the second time this century that [St. Mark’s] basilica had been flooded, and just the fifth time it had seen such high water within the body of the cathedral in its 1,000-year history.”

The AP added:

“Italian News agency ANSA reported damage to the mosaic floors inside St. Mark’s Basilica, where Monday’s flood waters reached a peak of 90 centimeters (35 inches.) The bronze metal doors and columns also sustained damage in what was the fifth most serious flood in the church’s 924-year history.

“First Procurator Carlo Alberto Tesserin, who is charged with the basilica’s preservation, told ANSA the church ‘aged 20 years in one day.’ He said that parts of the building, near the main entrance opposite the main altar, were under water for 16 hours.”

Destroyed yachts lie on the shore after windstorm and the strong sea storm in Rapallo, Italy.

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Destroyed yachts lie on the shore after windstorm and the strong sea storm in Rapallo, Italy.

Massimo Pinca/REUTERS

Officials advised residents to stay indoors as schools in large areas of the country remained closed Tuesday. The floods are forecast to subside through Wednesday.

Government Lawyer Says Puerto Rico’s Hurricane Response Plan ‘Does Not Exist’

Oct 31, 2018   //   by Administrator   //   World News  //  Comments Off on Government Lawyer Says Puerto Rico’s Hurricane Response Plan ‘Does Not Exist’

A year after Hurricane Maria touched down in September 2017, the island is still recovering. On Tuesday lawyers for the government admitted they had not yet overhauled the island’s emergency response plans for the next major hurricane.

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A year after Hurricane Maria touched down in September 2017, the island is still recovering. On Tuesday lawyers for the government admitted they had not yet overhauled the island’s emergency response plans for the next major hurricane.

Angel Valentin/Getty Images

Officials in Puerto Rico have been saying for months that they are prepared should another hurricane strike their island, even one as big as Hurricane Maria, which made landfall with devastating fury last fall.

But on Tuesday afternoon, an attorney for Puerto Rico’s government admitted in a San Juan courtroom that, in fact, the island’s emergency management agency does not yet have a document outlining a hurricane-specific response plan.

“The agency is still working on those plans,” the attorney, Tania Fernández Medero, told a judge overseeing a lawsuit seeking to get the government to release the plans. She said the government was still assessing proposals from private companies, “so that it can hire people who specialize in producing those types of emergency response plans. So, as of today they aren’t available. As of today, they don’t exist.”

It was a stunning admission given that, early last month, Governor Ricardo Rosselló and other officials announced that their newly overhauled plan was finally complete, and that residents of the island should feel secure knowing that their government was prepared.

Officials had acknowledged that their previous emergency response plan had proved inadequate to respond to a hurricane as devastating as Maria.

Days after Rosselló’s announcement, the head of the Puerto Rico Emergency Management Agency, Carlos Acevedo, told a committee of Puerto Rico’s Congress that, should a hurricane of similar magnitude strike, “we’re confident that our government’s response will be very different.”

In fact, the plan that his agency had completed was a general one, designed to guide the government’s response to a broad array of emergencies. The government finally released that plan Monday evening following weeks of delays and repeated requests from journalists, including from NPR. It released the plan on the eve of the first court hearing in a lawsuit filed by Puerto Rico’s Center for Investigative Journalism seeking to compel the government to release it and other documents.

What was not publicly known until Tuesday’s hearing was that the general plan — called the Joint Operational Catastrophic Incident Plan — did not yet include supplemental sections for guiding the government’s response to specific types of disasters, like hurricanes.

“This plan will include further plans for specific situations,” Fernández told the judge. “For example, earthquakes or hurricanes.”

Those supplemental sections had not been completed, she said, prompting the judge in the case, Anthony Cuevas Ramos, to ask her to clarify.

“Since you have to hire a company to prepare those documents, should we assume that the documents don’t exist yet?” the judge asked.

“They do not exist,” Fernández responded. “What the agency has, it has released.”

Carla Minet, director of the island’s Center for Investigative Journalism, suspected this all along. She said that the government’s refusal to release its emergency response plan despite publicly saying it was complete had driven her to believe it might not be finished. That’s why she sued.

The government’s admission in court Tuesday – five months into Puerto Rico’s hurricane season — confirmed those suspicions.

“We thought we were safe,” Minet said. “We were not.”

Calls to Puerto Rico’s governor’s office and to the Puerto Rico Emergency Management Agency were not immediately returned.

The English Beat On World Cafe

Oct 30, 2018   //   by Administrator   //   News from US  //  Comments Off on The English Beat On World Cafe

The English Beat’s Dave Wakeling

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The English Beat’s Dave Wakeling

Jay Gilbert/Courtesy of the artist

My introduction to Dave Wakeling was a little unusual. Sure, I’d heard The English Beat as a kid growing up, (shout out to my Dad who had ALL of their vinyl), but the first time I saw the ska crooner pogoing around the stage was at a club show in a tiny college town in Illinois back in 2001. And that was 19 years after the last Beat record at the time, 1982’s Special Beat Service.

Watching from the front of the crowd, I thought. “This guy hasn’t lost a step.” If you’ve seen a Beat show in the last 20 years, you probably had the same thought.

It’s 2018, and yes, Dave Wakeling is still touring like a man 30 years his younger, but he’s also recorded a new studio album, Here We Go Love, that contains a lot of the infectious energy that The Beat was known for.

In this World Cafe session, hear live recordings of new songs from the record and the stories behind them. Plus, the band performs classics like “Tenderness” and “Save it For Later.” I’ll also talk to Wakeling about his band General Public and the other spin off from The English Beat, Fine Young Cannibals.

We start with a live performance of “The Love You Give.” Hear it all in the player above.

Suburbs Could Be Key In Race For Virginia’s 7th Congressional District

Oct 30, 2018   //   by Administrator   //   News from US  //  Comments Off on Suburbs Could Be Key In Race For Virginia’s 7th Congressional District

In the suburbs of Richmond, Va., GOP Rep. Dave Brat pulled off an upset in 2014, as a Tea Party candidate defeating an establishment leader. Now, a Democrat could turn Virginia’s 7th District blue.

340 Words Of Reassurance From George Washington To An American Hebrew Congregation

Oct 30, 2018   //   by Administrator   //   World News  //  Comments Off on 340 Words Of Reassurance From George Washington To An American Hebrew Congregation

Following the shooting that left 11 dead in Pittsburgh on Saturday, we look back at a 1790 letter from President George Washington to a Jewish Community in Rhode Island.

Trump Administration Asks Supreme Court To Delay Census Citizenship Question Trial

Oct 30, 2018   //   by Administrator   //   World News  //  Comments Off on Trump Administration Asks Supreme Court To Delay Census Citizenship Question Trial

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross arrives at a U.S. Senate hearing in June. He added a citizenship question to the 2020 census that has sparked six lawsuits from dozens of states, cities and other groups that want it removed.

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Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross arrives at a U.S. Senate hearing in June. He added a citizenship question to the 2020 census that has sparked six lawsuits from dozens of states, cities and other groups that want it removed.

Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Trump administration is asking the Supreme Court to delay the first trial over the controversial citizenship question it added to the 2020 census.

The emergency request to the high court comes less than a week before the trial is scheduled to begin on Nov. 5 for the two lead lawsuits in New York City. Last week, lower courts rejected similar requests from the Justice Department, which is representing the administration.

Postponing the trial, U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman wrote in his opinion, “could make a timely final decision next to impossible.” It would also ratchet up the pressure this legal battle has put on preparations for the constitutionally mandated head count of every person living in the U.S. The Census Bureau has been waiting for a decision on the citizenship question to finalize the census form. Printing of the 2020 census forms is scheduled to begin in May.

But in court filings submitted Monday, Solicitor General Noel Francisco argued that delaying the trial is necessary. The administration wants the Supreme Court to review its new request to permanently block lower court orders allowing the plaintiffs’ attorneys to question Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. Ross oversees the Census Bureau and approved adding the question. Last week, the high court put Ross’ deposition temporarily on hold.

The Justice Department is arguing that these lawsuits should be resolved based on the internal documents initially released by the administration about the citizenship question. Its attorneys want the Supreme Court to block earlier rulings that allowed testimony from Justice Department official John Gore and documents requested by the plaintiffs to be considered for the final ruling in these cases.

Gore, who sat for questioning under oath last week, has led the Justice Department’s civil rights division, which the administration argues needs the citizenship question to better enforce the Voting Rights Act.

Francisco asked the Supreme Court for an “expedited” consideration of the Trump administration’s requests.

“All parties have an interest in speedy resolution of this case,” the solicitor general wrote in one of the administration’s court filings.

More than two dozen states and cities, as well as other groups, are suing the administration to stop its plans to add the question. They have filed six lawsuits around the country. Potential trials for the cases in California and Maryland could start in January.

Trump Officials Prepared For Supreme Court Fight Over Census Question

Whether the citizenship question remains or is removed could have lasting impacts on how political power and federal funding are shared in the U.S. Population numbers from the once-a-decade head count will be used to divide up congressional seats and Electoral College votes — plus an estimated $800 billion annually in tax dollars — among the states.

The citizenship question was added in March by Ross. The commerce secretary has said the Justice Department needs the question to better enforce the Voting Rights Act’s protections against discrimination of racial and language minorities.

Before announcing his decision to add the citizenship question in March, Ross testified during congressional hearings that the Justice Department “initiated” the request for the question and that he was “not aware” of any discussions about adding the question between the White House and him or his staff at the Commerce Department.

Jeff Sessions Told DOJ Not To Discuss Citizenship Question Alternatives

Later, the administration filed documents with federal courts that backtrack Ross’ testimony. Internal memos, emails and other court filings released as part of the lawsuits make clear that Ross pushed to get the question onto the census shortly after his confirmation as the head of the Commerce Department in February 2017. This month, the administration’s attorneys said Ross recently recalled that then-White House adviser Steve Bannon did contact him about the question in the spring of 2017. And earlier this year, Ross disclosed in a memo that his staff approached Justice Department staff to ask the DOJ to submit a request for a citizenship question. That attempt, an internal memo revealed, was initially rejected.

The lawsuits’ plaintiffs argue that Ross misused his discretion over the census and discriminated against immigrant communities of color by adding the question. They cite Census Bureau research that suggests asking about U.S. citizenship status could scare noncitizens from taking part in the census and harm the accuracy of the information collected.

The plaintiffs also point out that Ross overruled warnings against the question from Census Bureau researchers, who urged the commerce secretary to choose an alternative method for generating citizenship data that would produce more accurate information and cost less money.

Pittsburgh Holds Vigil To Honor Victims In Synagogue Shooting

Oct 29, 2018   //   by Administrator   //   News from US  //  Comments Off on Pittsburgh Holds Vigil To Honor Victims In Synagogue Shooting

Victims of the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue are honored at a community gathering in Pittsburgh on Sunday night.

Pittsburgh Grapples To Explain Synagogue Tragedy To Children

Oct 29, 2018   //   by Administrator   //   News from US  //  Comments Off on Pittsburgh Grapples To Explain Synagogue Tragedy To Children

Visitors to a children’s museum in Pittsburgh react to Saturday’s shooting at The Tree of Life synagogue.

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