Category: Corruption In Governance

Congress Stalls Out — Again — Dealing With National Trauma

WASHINGTON (AP) — For a moment, Congress had a chance to act on policing reform, mobilized by a national trauma and overwhelming public support. Now those efforts have stalled and seem unlikely to be revived in an election year.

It’s latest example of the ways hyper-partisanship and deepening polarization on Capitol Hill have hamstrung Congress’ ability to meet the moment and keep up with public opinion. As a result, police reform seems likely to join gun control and immigration as issues where Americans overwhelmingly support changes to laws that elected representatives are unable or unwilling to pass.

“In this moment, as it was with gun violence and immigration reform, we don’t know where the president really is,” said Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., who weeks ago was expressing skepticism that this time would be any different from prior failures. “If this were the first time we were in this situation, I’d be more hopeful,” he said then.

The bipartisan outcry over the deaths of George Floyd and other Black Americans appeared to be a chance for Congress to reshape its reputation. Polls showed nearly all Americans in a favor of some measure of change to the criminal justice system, and both chambers moved quickly to draft legislation.

There were common elements in the House Democratic proposal and the Senate Republican bill, including a national database of use-of-force incidents by law enforcement and restrictions on police chokeholds. But efforts to bridge the divides that did exist in the bills quickly got bogged down in a debate over process, stirred an outcry among liberal activists and exposed again how little trust there is between the top Senate leaders Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

McConnell said Democrats refused to take him at his word that he was willing to negotiate over the final bill; Schumer and other Democrats said there was little in McConnell’s tenure as majority leader that suggests that’s true.

The swift rise and fall of prospects for police reform also underscored one of the harsh realities of modern American politics. Lawmakers are often driven more by the views of their parties’ hardliners than overall public opinion.

“The incentive structure is misaligned for compromise. That’s the reality of it. Members are more likely to be rewarded electorally for representing their base primary voters than for reaching out to voters in the middle,” said Michael Steel, who was a top aide to former House Speaker John Boehner. “The giants of yesteryear are remembered as such because voters rewarded them for successfully legislating. And that just seems to be less and less the case.”

Public support for some measure of police reform following the death of Floyd, who died when a white police officer pressed a knee on his neck for several minutes, is overwhelming. A new Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll shows 29% of Americans say the criminal justice system needs a complete overhaul, 40% say it needs major changes and 25% say it needs minor changes.

There are other high-profile examples where public support has been unable to overcome hyper-partisanship in Congress — most notably on gun control. An AP-NORC survey from March 2019 found 83% of Americans in favor of a federal law requiring background checks on all potential gun buyers. Trump has also supported the idea.

But gun control legislation has gone nowhere in Washington, not even after the horrific shooting deaths of 20 first-graders and six educators in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012. The obstinacy on gun control has largely been among Republicans, though a handful of Democratic senators joined them in blocking legislation after the Newtown shooting.

The parties have also failed to make progress in overhauling the nation’s fractured immigration laws, despite broad public support. The most overwhelmingly popular immigration measure — granting legal protections to young people brought to the U.S. illegally as children — has gotten caught in the fray, with GOP leaders unwilling to pass it on its own so it can be used as leverage in broader talks.

The congressional gridlock has only been exacerbated by Trump’s reputation on Capitol Hill as an unreliable negotiating partner on major issues. On police reform, he spoke generally about supporting legislation but exerted little political capital when the process hit a roadblock.

“To do really hard things you always need a president leaning in and engaged,” said Brendan Buck, a top aide to former Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., during Trump’s first two years in office. “And on the really hard things he has not shown a willingness to get engaged.”

The police reform debate also suffered from the realities of the political calendar. With the Congressional Black Caucus, progressive activists and the civil rights community all calling the Republican bill too weak to be salvaged, some Democrats saw little incentive to give ground now when they might be able to get more if their party has sweeping successes in the November elections, now just over four months away.

“Why cut a bad deal now when you could potentially be in the driver’s seat to write a real bill that effects real change in just a few months?” said Matt House, a former Schumer leadership aide.

Some veteran lawmakers in both parties have found ways to navigate the fierce partisanship on Capitol Hill and make progress on major issues. Health and Labor Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and top panel Democrat Patty Murray of Washington have shepherded both a major education policy rewrite and legislation to combat opioids through a McConnell-led Senate. They did so by building sweeping consensus among lawmakers in both parties before committee or floor action.

Murray said in an interview that there was little attempt to do that kind of behind-the-scenes work on policing reform.

“This didn’t even smell like an attempt to get something done,” Murray said. “The feeling that you want to accomplish something, that you want to get something done … is a very different feeling than we saw with policing reform.”

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Supreme Court Rules For Pipeline In Appalachian Trail Dispute

WASHINGTON, June 15 (Reuters) – Ruling against environmentalists, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday decided that the federal government has the authority to allow a proposed $7.5 billion natural gas pipeline to cross under the popular Appalachian Trail in rural Virginia.

The 7-2 ruling was a victory for Dominion Energy Inc and President Donald Trump’s administration, both of which appealed a lower court ruling that halted construction of the 600-mile (965-km) Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which would run from West Virginia to North Carolina.

The decision, written by conservative Justice Clarence Thomas, removes one of several obstacles facing the project. Two liberal justices, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, dissented.

Environmental groups including the Sierra Club and Southern Environmental Law Center had sued to stop the pipeline after the U.S. Forest Service gave the green light for the project to run through the George Washington National Forest. Dominion Energy leads a consortium of companies in the project that also includes Duke Energy Corp.

After a protracted application process involving multiple federal agencies, the Forest Service granted the consortium a right of way under the trail in 2018.

But the Richmond-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found in 2018 that the Forest Service lacked the authority to grant a right of way for the pipeline where it crosses the Appalachian Trail in the national forest land.

The Supreme Court reversed that decision.

The proposed pipeline would be 600 feet (180 meters) below a section of the 2,200-mile (3,500 km) trail, which stretches from Maine to Georgia. (Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)

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Lebanon Protesters Call On Government To Resign Amid Crisis

BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanese protesters took to the streets in Beirut and other cities Saturday in mostly peaceful protests against the government, calling for its resignation as the small country sinks deeper into economic distress.

The protests come after two days of rallies spurred by a dramatic collapse of the local currency against the dollar. Those rallies degenerated into violence, including attacks on private banks and shops.

The local currency, pegged to the dollar for nearly 30 years, has been on a downward trajectory for weeks, losing over 60% of its value. But the dramatic collapse this week deepened public despair over the already troubled economy. Lebanon is heavily dependent on imports, and the dollar and local currency have been used interchangeably for years.

The unparalleled economic and financial crises are proving a major challenge to the government of Prime Minister Hassan Diab, who took office earlier this year after his predecessor resigned amid nationwide protests. Soon after taking office, Diab was faced with handling the coronavirus pandemic, which put the country in lockdown for months, further compounding the crisis.

Anti-government protesters shout slogans in Beirut, Lebanon, Saturday, June 13, 2020. Lebanese protesters took to the streets in Beirut and other cities in mostly peaceful gatherings against the government, calling for its resignation as the small country sinks deeper into economic distress. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

Diab’s government is supported by the powerful militant group Hezbollah and its allies, but has already been weakened by the economic crisis.

In a speech Saturday, Diab urged the public to be patient, saying there were a great many political hurdles, including from rivals he said sought to undermine his government. Diab offered no solutions to the crisis, nor did he name his opponents, but said his government is working to fight corruption and uphold the power of the state.

Anti-government protesters shout slogans against the government in Beirut, Lebanon, Saturday, June 13, 2020. (AP Photo/Hassan

Anti-government protesters shout slogans against the government in Beirut, Lebanon, Saturday, June 13, 2020. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

For the protesters Saturday, many of them members of organized political parties, Diab’s government has failed to handle the crisis.

Neemat Badreddin, a political activist, described the government as captive to the interests of political groups and not the public.

“This current government proved to be a failure,” said Badreddin, wearing a face mask featuring the Lebanese flag with its green cedar tree in the center. “We want a new government … we want stability and we want to be able to live without begging or without people having to migrate.”

Protesters in Beirut carried a banner that read “There is an alternative.”

In the southern city of Sidon, some directed their wrath at the central bank governor. One protester raised a banner called him the “protector of all thieves in Lebanon.”

An anti-government protester, right, sits near Lebanese army soldiers standing guard in Beirut, Lebanon, Saturday, June 13, 2

An anti-government protester, right, sits near Lebanese army soldiers standing guard in Beirut, Lebanon, Saturday, June 13, 2020. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

In the northern city of Tripoli, army troops forcefully dispersed dozens of protesters who had blocked the road preventing trucks from moving forward, according to videos posted online. The protesters allege the trucks were smuggling goods to Syria — a common complaint in Lebanon as the neighboring country grapples with its own economic hardships. Later, Lebanon’s customs authorities said in a statement that the trucks were transporting U.N. aid destined to Syria.

Tension continued in Tripoli on Saturday. A local TV station filmed a fire raging at a private bank branch in central Tripoli, while videos posted online showed protesters lobbing firecrackers in another neighborhood amid the sounds of rubber bullets being fired.

After an emergency Cabinet meeting Friday to address the crisis, the government announced that the central bank would inject fresh dollars into the market to prop up the Lebanese pound — a measure that many say is likely to offer only temporary relief.

The dollar shortage, coupled with already negative economic growth, has crunched Lebanon’s middle class and increased poverty in the small Mediterranean nation of over five million that’s home to over 1 million Syrian refugees.

The heavily indebted government has been in talks for weeks with the International Monetary Fund after it asked for a financial rescue plan but there are no signs of an imminent deal.

Associated Press writer Fadi Tawil contributed to this report.

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Ex-Judge Says Push To Dismiss Flynn Case Is 'Abuse Of Power'

WASHINGTON (AP) — A former federal judge appointed to review the Justice Department’s motion to dismiss criminal charges against former national security adviser Michael Flynn has found that the government’s request should be denied because there is “clear evidence of a gross abuse of prosecutorial power.”

Former U.S. District Judge John Gleeson said in a filing Wednesday that the government “has engaged in highly irregular conduct to benefit a political ally of the President.”

Gleeson was appointed by U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan in a special role to weigh in on the case, but it will ultimately be up to Sullivan and potentially an appeals court whether to accept the Justice Department’s motion to drop the case.

Flynn pleaded guilty, as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, to lying to the FBI about conversations with the Russian ambassador to the United States during the presidential transition period.

In January, Flynn filed court papers to withdraw his guilty plea, saying federal prosecutors had acted in “bad faith” and broken their end of the bargain when they sought prison time for him.

Initially, prosecutors said Flynn was entitled to avoid prison time because he had cooperated extensively with the government, but the relationship with the retired Army lieutenant general grew increasingly contentious in the months before he withdrew his plea, particularly after he hired a new set of lawyers who raised misconduct allegations against the government.

But the Justice Department filed a motion last month to dismiss the case, saying the FBI had insufficient basis to question Flynn in the first place and that statements he made during the interview were not material to the broader counterintelligence investigation into ties between Russia and the Trump campaign.

Officials have said they sought to dismiss the case in the interest of justice, upon the recommendation of a U.S. attorney who had been appointed by Attorney General William Barr to review the handling of the Flynn investigation.

“The Government’s ostensible grounds for seeking dismissal are conclusively disproven by its own briefs filed earlier in this very proceeding,” Gleeson wrote. “They contradict and ignore this Court’s prior orders, which constitute law of the case. They are riddled with inexplicable and elementary errors of law and fact. And they depart from positions that the Government has taken in other cases.”

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BAME People Pleaded For Help During The Coronavirus Pandemic. This Is How They Were Let Down

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In the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, Dr Chaand Nagpaul found himself puzzled, and alarmed. 

The north London GP was noticing high numbers of patients from Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds dying of Covid-19.

“At our practice, we experienced the death of BAME patients who we would have not expected to die including younger patients and it was very distressing.

“These were people who we would not have expected to die but they were succumbing to this disease.”

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, a GP and chair of the council at the British Medical Association

After it emerged that the first 10 doctors who died of Covid-19 in the UK were all of BAME origin, Nagpaul, who is also chairperson of the British Medical Association (BMA), called on the government in early April to urgently investigate the disproportionate impact coronavirus appeared to be having.

“We found out that the first 10 doctors that had died from coronavirus were all from a BAME background and all apart from one of them was from abroad.”

Nagpaul’s concerns deepened when figures published by the Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre revealed that a third of people in the UK admitted to intensive care due to Covid-19 by that point were from a BAME background.

“We spoke out then as these statistics about BAME NHS doctors dying and about the high proportion of BAME intensive care admissions were stark, took us completely by surprise and were alarming.”

Nagpaul wrote formally to NHS England chief executive Sir Simon Stevens urging him to investigate the virus’s impact on BAME communities as well as the high number of deaths among BAME doctors specifically.

“We asked for action from the government to protect both health workers and people from BAME communities.” Nagpaul told HuffPost UK. “There wasn’t an understanding as to why this was happening. But there were things the government could have done.”

Nagpaul was invited by Simon Stevens to take part in an urgent meeting the following week about the impact of Covid-19 on the BAME population. The government subsequently announced the launch of the review led by Public Health England.

Nagpaul says the BMA has repeatedly called on the government and Public Health England to make sure the review looked at real-time data and factors such as the working hours and shift patterns of the deceased doctors; the personal protective equipment (PPE) they were supplied with and their level of exposure to Covid-19 patients.

The BMA also urged NHS England to develop risk assessments to protect healthcare workers at greatest risk of coronavirus so they could be protected and redeployed to other areas.

As the weeks passed, more health workers from BAME backgrounds were dying and Nagpaul says there have now been more than 200 deaths of healthcare workers from all backgrounds who have died as a result of coronavirus.

Of the doctors who have died, 90% have been from BAME backgrounds, while 70% of deceased nurses have been of BAME origin. Overall, more than 60% of healthcare workers who have died of Covid-19 have been BAME.

Nagpaul says NHS England finally wrote to all trusts to tell them that BAME healthcare workers should have a risk assessment – but he says they failed to explain how this should happen, prompting him to write another letter.

Then just over two weeks ago, NHS Employers published guidance tools for trusts on risk assessments. However, Nagpaul said the issue was these were not being implemented in a systematic manner, so he wrote to all doctors in the UK of a BAME origin telling them they were entitled to a risk assessment.

I don’t think anyone was expecting a clear scientific explanation instantly as to why there were such high numbers of BAME deaths to coronavirus. But what we were expecting was some practical action to protect those that we know to be at risk. Dr Chaand Nagpal, British Medical Association

Nagpaul admitted to HuffPost UK that the BMA had to repeatedly push for action as they felt it was critical for people to be protected while the review took place.

He said: “The BAME community has served the nation at every level throughout the lockdown from healthcare, public transport and serving in shops and supermarkets.

“Clearly, the BAME community and the medical profession feels they deserved more prompt action when these stark statistics came to light.

“I don’t think anyone was expecting a clear scientific explanation instantly as to why there were such high numbers of BAME deaths to coronavirus.

“But what we were expecting was some practical action to protect those that we know to be at risk.”

The awaited Public Health England report was published this week and identified a higher mortality risk among BAME people. 

The research suggested that people of Bangladeshi ethnicity were twice as likely to die of coronavirus as those who are white British and that those of Chinese, Indian, Pakistani, other Asian, Caribbean and other Black ethnicities had a 10% to 50% higher risk of death than white people.

But the report has been surrounded by controversy and has been highly criticised for failing to bring any new facts to light and failing to make any recommendations.

“It’s like going to the doctor and being told you are ill,” said Weyman Bennett, co-convener of Stand Up To Racism. “It is completely stating the obvious.

“All they have done in this report is point out that BAME people are at higher risk to coronavirus. They haven’t explained why or said what they can do to prevent it.”

Weyman Bennett, co-convener at Stand Up To Racism.

Weyman Bennett, co-convener at Stand Up To Racism.

Bennett told HuffPost UK he first became aware of the early signs that high numbers of people from BAME communities were being affected by coronavirus in early March, as he was involved in organised a demonstration for anti-racism day on the 21st, but people began pulling out.

“There were lots of BAME people who were planning to attend the demonstration, but early on, people began saying they couldn’t come as they were sick. We identified coronavirus was becoming a problem even before the government lockdown and we announced we were cancelling the demonstration.” 

It’s like going to the doctor and being told you are ill. It is completely stating the obvious. Weyman Bennett, Stand Up To Racism

But Bennett says his first real inkling of the disproportionate effect of Covid-19 on the BAME community came when a friend – a black man living in North London – told him he had lost 19 of his friends to the disease.

“I knew then that BAME people were being disproportionately impacted by this pandemic.

“My concerns grew when a friend of mine who works in ICU told me that there were high numbers of BAME people in intensive care fighting Covid.

“The warning signs were there and people were calling for action and investigations. Why didn’t the government listen?”

Bennett told HuffPost UK he believes institutionalised racism has played a role in the disproportionate numbers of BAME deaths to coronavirus as he feels many people from the community feel they cannot speak up about their concerns about being exposed to risk.

“The warning signs were there and people were calling for action and investigations. Why didn’t the government listen?” Weyman Bennett, Stand Up To Racism.

He said when Stand Up To Racism tried to raise the issue about BAME people being disproportionately affected by Covid-19, he felt they were made to feel as though they were exploiting the situation when they were actually trying to save lives.

Sabby Dhalu from Stand Up To Racism added that a key issue she feels has been ignored in the PHE report is the lack of PPE for doctors and nurses and the issue of BAME health workers feeling like they were being targeted to work on Covid wards.

She told HuffPost UK research had shown that NHS staff from BAME backgrounds were less likely to be in senior positions, more likely to be bullied and felt less confident about raising concerns around health and safety.

Sabby Dhalu, co-convener for Stand Up To Racism

Sabby Dhalu, co-convener for Stand Up To Racism

“The government has not only been slow to respond to this issue – it actually seems to have ignored certain issues.

“Now that lockdown has eased quite significantly, there are fears of a second wave – which could again disproportionately affect BAME communities.

“The government does not have a clear plan for protecting the health and safety of people and we feel people, particularly those from BAME backgrounds, are being led like lambs to the slaughter back to the workplace.”

GMB, Britain’s general union, has criticised the Public Health England report for telling people what they already know – that BAME workers have made a disproportionate sacrifice during this pandemic. 

Rehana Azam, GMB national secretary, told HuffPost UK that people from BAME communities had been “massively let down.”

“People have been dying and government ministers have been too slow to protect lives.” she said. “They keep saying this virus doesn’t discriminate but the response and the lives lost definitely shows that BAME people have experienced a discrimination that ended in their deaths.

“But I don’t think it was down to the government not listening – I think they didn’t have a clue what they were doing and have been far too slow.

“We have had a chaotic dealing of this crisis from the start and they didn’t seem to take any notice of what was happening globally.” 

Rehana Azam, GMB national secretary

Rehana Azam, GMB national secretary

Azam says her biggest criticism is that Secretary of State Matt Hancock commissioned Public Health England to carry out the review into the disproportionate BAME deaths due to Covid-19. 

“You can’t mark your own homework.” she said. “Someone totally independent should have done this review. 

“We have lost valuable time by having a report undertaken on facts that were already in the public domain.

“All this report does is give data on BAME deaths. We need answers and solutions.”

You can’t mark your own homework. Someone totally independent should have done this review.

Patrick Vernon, Windrush campaigner, has been personally affected by the coronavirus pandemic as he lost his brother-in-law to the disease at the end of March.

He told HuffPost UK he feels the government has not been listening to BAME voices, and an independent public inquiry is now needed for transparency. 

Patrick Vernon

Patrick Vernon

“My brother-in-law was in his early 50s and had underlying health conditions and was admitted to hospital. While he was there, he had a Covid test and was positive and died within a week.

“We suffered the grief of losing a family member and the impact on my sister. I also know other BAME people who have died as a result of Covid-19.

“The warning signs were there early on in this pandemic that BAME communities were disproportionately affected as we could see what was happening around the world.

“We need evidence from frontline staff, families and experts to fully assess the impact of coronavirus on BAME communities and learn lessons from what went wrong.” Patrick Vernon

“The Public Health England review has been a complete botch job and we now need an independent public inquiry. They had a colourblind approach.

“We need evidence from frontline staff, families and experts to fully assess the impact of coronavirus on BAME communities and learn lessons from what went wrong.”

Dr Salman Waqar, general secretary of the British Islamic Medical Association, told HuffPost UK that the exact nature of the disproportionality of coronavirus deaths needs to be researched and that BAME groups must be an integral part of the conversation.

“As the first 10 doctors who died from Covid-19 were all from BAME backgrounds, it dawned on us all that this disturbing fact may not be a tragic coincidence,” he said.

“Nearly all explanations that have been offered are not new. We have known about differential attainment, workplace discrimination, health inequalities and even excess mortality amongst BAME groups for a long time.

“The solutions are not complex but require compassionate and inclusive leadership that has the trust of BAME communities.

“The recognition that this is wrong and a problem to be fixed is only the first step and requires everyone to do their part by aligning themselves as part of the solution.

“Focus must turn towards credible and enduring actions such as improving BAME representation and visibility in NHS management and public health communications which speak to BAME communities.”

Equality watchdog the Equality and Human Rights Commission has announced it will be carrying out an inquiry into “long standing structural race inequality” which it says has been thrown into stark relief by the coronavirus pandemic.

The EHRC says analysis and evidence based guidance is needed to tackle issues including Covid-19 death rates in minority groups.

A Public Health England  spokesperson told HuffPost UK: “On Tuesday PHE published the rapid data review and this has been published in full.  

“This was contributed to by Professor Kevin Fenton alongside a wide variety of PHE colleagues.

“Professor Fenton has been engaging with a significant number of individuals and organisations within the BAME community over the past couple of months, to hear their views, concerns and ideas about the impact of the virus on their communities.   

“The valuable insight he has gathered will inform the important work the Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch is now taking forward.”  

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Democrats Unveil Police Reform Overhaul, Kneel At Capitol To Honor George Floyd

WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats proposed a sweeping overhaul of police oversight and procedures Monday, a potentially far-reaching legislative response to the mass protests denouncing the deaths of black Americans in the hands of law enforcement.

Before unveiling the package, House and Senate Democrats held a moment of silence at the Capitol’s Emancipation Hall, reading the names of George Floyd and others killed during police interactions. They knelt for 8 minutes and 46 seconds — now a symbol of police brutality and violence — the length of time prosecutors say Floyd was pinned under a white police officer’s knee before he died.

“We cannot settle for anything less than transformative structural change,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, drawing on the nation’s history of slavery.

The Justice in Policing Act would limit legal protections for police, create a national database of excessive-force incidents and ban police choke holds, among other changes, according to an early draft. It is the most ambitious change to law enforcement sought by Congress in years.

Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, which is leading the effort, said called it “bold” and “transformative.”

“The world is witnessing the birth of a new movement in this country,” Bass said.

Despite the worldwide protests, with tens of thousands of demonstrators taking to the streets in cities across America and abroad since Floyd was killed May 25, the idea of broad-based U.S. police reforms remains politically polarized and highly uncertain in this election year.

While Democrats are expected to swiftly approve the legislation this month, it does not go as far as some activists want to “defund the police.” The outlook for passing the package in the Republican-held Senate is slim.

President Donald Trump, who will meet with law enforcement officials later Monday at the White House, was quick to characterize the Democrats as having “gone CRAZY!”

As activists call for restructuring police departments the president tweeted, “LAW & ORDER, NOT DEFUND AND ABOLISH THE POLICE.”

Republican campaign officials followed suit.

“No industry is safe from the Democrats’ abolish culture,” said Micahel McAdams, a spokesman for the House Republican campaign committee, in an email blast. “First they wanted to abolish private health insurance, then it was capitalism and now it’s the police.”

Democrats fought back.

This isn’t about that,” Pelosi said. Congress is not calling for any wholesale defunding of law enforcement, leaving those decisions to local cities and states, she noted.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., center, and other members of Congress, kneel and observe a moment of silence at the Capitol’s Emancipation Hall, Monday, June 8, 2020, on Capitol Hill in Washington, reading the names of George Floyd and others killed during police interactions.

The package confronts several aspects of law enforcement accountability and practices that have come under criticism, especially as more and more police violence is captured on cellphone video and shared widely across the nation, and the world.

The proposed legislation would revise the federal criminal police misconduct statute to make it easier to prosecute officers who are involved in misconduct “knowingly or with reckless disregard.”

The package would also change “qualified immunity” protections for police “to enable individuals to recover damages when law enforcement officers violate their constitutional rights.”

The legislation would seek to provide greater oversight and transparency of police behavior in several ways. For one, it would grant subpoena power to the Justice Department to conduct “pattern and practice” investigations of potential misconduct and help states conduct independent investigations. It would ban racial profiling and boost requirements for police body cameras.

And it would create a “National Police Misconduct Registry,” a database to try to prevent officers from transferring from one department to another with past misconduct undetected, the draft said.

A long-sought federal anti-lynching bill stalled in Congress is included in the package.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., a co-author with Bass and the Democratic senators, will convene a hearing on the legislation Wednesday.

It is unclear if law enforcement and the powerful police unions will back any of the proposed changes or if congressional Republicans will join the effort.

At least one Republican, Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, who has long pushed for a criminal justice overhaul, has said he’d like to review the package coming from Democrats.

And Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has said his panel intends to hold a hearing to review use of force issues and police practices.

Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, who marched in support of Floyd in Houston, penned an op-ed Monday about his own black father instructing him as a teen how to respond if he was pulled over by the police. Hurd offered his own proposals for improved police practices.

The presumed Democratic presidential nominee, Joe Biden, has backed a ban on chokeholds and other elements of the package.

“I can’t breathe” has become a rallying cry by protesters. Floyd pleaded with police that he couldn’t breathe, echoing the phrase Eric Garner said while in police custody in 2014 before his death.

“All we’ve ever wanted is to be treated equally — not better, not worse,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y. “Equal protection under the law.”

Democratic senators said they would pressure Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to consider the legislation.

Sen. Cory Booker, a Democratic rival who had been critical of Biden during the presidential primary campaign, said Sunday he “fully” put his faith in Biden now “to be the person who could preside over this transformative change.”

Booker and fellow one-time presidential hopeful, Sen. Kamala Harris of California, are co-authors of the package in the Senate.

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Democratic Lawmakers To Probe Trump's Firing Of State Dept Watchdog

 

Trump, in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi late Friday, said he no longer had confidence in Inspector General Steve Linick’s ability to serve. The letter did not specify a reason for the latest in a string of government watchdogs to be removed in recent weeks under the Republican president.

The Democratic-led House Foreign Relations Committee, along with colleagues in the Senate, in a statement questioned the timing and motivation of what they called an “unprecedented removal.”

“We unalterably oppose the politically-motivated firing of inspectors general and the President’s gutting of these critical positions,” wrote House panel chairman Eliot Engel and Senator Bob Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the Republican-led Senate Foreign Relations panel.

Engel and Menendez called on the Trump administration to turn over any related documents by May 22.

The two Democrats said it was their understanding that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo personally recommended Linick’s firing because the inspector general “had opened an investigation into wrongdoing by Secretary Pompeo himself.”

Representatives for the White House and the department could not be immediately reached for comment on the probe.

Linick, appointed to the role in 2013 under the Obama administration, is the fourth inspector general fired by Trump since early April following his February acquittal by the Republican-led Senate in his impeachment trial.

Pelosi described the ousting as an acceleration of a “dangerous pattern of retaliation.”

The U.S. Department of State later said Stephen Akard, the director of the Office of Foreign Missions, would replace Linick.

In April, Trump removed a top coronavirus watchdog, Glenn Fine, who was to oversee the government’s COVID-19 financial relief response. He also notified Congress that he was firing the inspector general of the U.S. intelligence community, Michael Atkinson, who was involved in the triggering the impeachment investigation.

Earlier in May, Trump ousted Christi Grimm, who led the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General (OIG) after accusing her of having produced a “fake dossier” on American hospitals suffering shortages on the frontlines of the novel coronavirus outbreak.

“Trump is methodically eliminating anyone who would bring wrongdoing to light,” Senator Jeff Merkley, a Democrat on the Foreign Relations panel, tweeted.

Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru and Susan Heavey in Washington; Editing by Pravin Char and David Gregorio

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Coronavirus: BAME People 'Thrown To The Wolves' With New Back-To-Work Guidelines

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New government guidelines urging those who can’t work from home to return to work will disproportionately impact Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people who are already at greater risk of dying from coronavirus, campaigners are warning.

Boris Johnson, in his speech on Sunday night, actively encouraged those who cannot work from home to return to their jobs this week, while avoiding public transport where they can.

However, campaigners say the new measures will hit BAME communities hardest as they are less likely to be in jobs where they can work from home and will be forced to use public transport if they are pressured to return to work.

People from minority ethnic groups are also more likely to be in occupations where they are at higher risk of being exposed to Covid-19 – jobs such as care workers, security guards, bus drivers and taxi drivers.

Ethnic minority groups are at greater risk of dying from coronavirus than the white population according to the latest analysis by the Office for National Statistics. 

Anti-racist campaigners say the government’s new policy encouraging people to return to work is particularly dangerous for BAME people and have described the easing of lockdown measures as “premature”, “reckless” and “irresponsible”.

Sabby Dhalu, co-convener for Stand Up To Racism, told HuffPost UK she believes the new guidelines are “herd immunity by stealth” and she fears it will lead to a spike in coronavirus cases which will disproportionately affect people from BAME communities.

Sabby Dhalu, co-convener for Stand Up To Racism

“These new guidelines are throwing people from BAME communities under the bus and the government is failing them by putting their lives at risk,” said Dhalu.

“The government’s easing of the lockdown is reverting back to the policy before lockdown which was creeping herd immunity and letting this virus rip through communities.

“People have been put in the very difficult position of choosing to make an income by risking their life going back to work and no one should be put in that position. 

“Any further increase in the death and infection rate will carry on disproportionately impacting BAME communities.”

She said she felt the lockdown measures should have been stronger and easing them now is “way too premature”.

“It is herd immunity by stealth by urging sections of the workforce to return to work without enforcing any health and safety measures,” she added.

“Many workers not working from home will be forced to use public transport and this will impact on BAME communities harder.”

Stand Up To Racism is calling for a public inquiry to expose the neglect of BAME communities amid the coronavirus pandemic by looking into issues such as institutional racism, and socio-economic factors such as poverty.

Charity So White, a campaign group led by people of colour tackling institutional racism within the charity sector, has been documenting the various ways BAME communities have been disproportionately impacted throughout the coronavirus crisis – including in health, housing and employment.

Yasmin Mahmoudi, an organiser at Charity So White

Yasmin Mahmoudi, an organiser at Charity So White

Organiser Yasmin Mahmoudi told HuffPost UK the group is alarmed by what the easing of lockdown could mean for BAME workers.

She said the government’s revised “Stay Alert” slogan shunts responsibility onto individuals for protecting themselves against the virus and that more people will now be faced with the stark choice between keeping themselves safe and economic survival.

I feel people from BAME backgrounds are being thrown to the wolves. Yasmin Mahmoudi, Charity So White

“I feel people from BAME backgrounds are being thrown to the wolves,” said Mahmoudi.

“These are people in society who already have the least and face so many disadvantages and now they are facing pressure to return to work.

“A lot of the jobs done by BAME people are public-facing roles with interaction which can’t be done from home.

“It is a class issue as well, as people from BAME communities tend to disproportionately be in lower paid jobs.

“We condemn any plans to ease lockdown while it is still unsafe to do so and whilst protections for workers and the most marginalised members of society remain woefully inadequate.

“It is as if the government is prioritising returning the economy to business as usual at the risk of these BAME workers’ lives.”

Professor Azeem Majeed, head of primary care and public health at Imperial College, London, told HuffPost UK that people who are least able to work at home have the highest Covid-19 death rates among people of working age and that these are the people being encouraged to return to work.

They are roles in which BAME people are over-represented.

He believes a rigorous occupational health risk assessment is essential for everyone before they return to work to reduce their risk of infection.

Azeem Majeed, professor of primary care and head of the department of primary care and public health at Imperial College, Lon

Azeem Majeed, professor of primary care and head of the department of primary care and public health at Imperial College, London,

“I think for any job, we need thorough risk assessments before people return to work,” he said. “This is a duty of care. 

“People’s roles need to be assessed and it needs to be made sure they will not be put at risk. Perhaps those at high risk can be put in roles which are not public-facing.”

The first thing we need to do is get the infection rate down in the community and then there needs to be testing and contact tracing. Professor Azeem Majeed, Imperial College, London,

Majeed believes the weeks in lockdown have been “wasted” as he feels a proper contact tracing system should have been put in place long ago.

“The first thing we need to do is get the infection rate down in the community and then there needs to be testing and contact tracing.”

Marsha de Cordova, shadow women and equalities secretary and MP for Battersea, said there was “appallingly little mention of them” or the equalities impact in the government’s Covid-19 plans and recovery strategy.

She told HuffPost UK: “Any gaps in the government’s safety at work guidelines will mean low-paid workers with the poorest employment rights are most at risk.

“This includes many BAME workers who are disproportionately impacted by the Covid-19 crisis.

“We have already seen how Covid-19 has exposed and amplified social and economic inequalities in our society.

“The government must ensure that employers work with trade unions to maintain safe workplaces that are adequately risk assessed so that all communities are protected.”

Marsha de Cordova, shadow women and equalities secretary and MP for Battersea.

Marsha de Cordova, shadow women and equalities secretary and MP for Battersea.

More than 70 BAME British figures have united to call for an independent public inquiry into the disproportionate deaths from Covid-19 among Britons from minority backgrounds.

Signatories include industry experts and people in public life such as Phil Wang, Kwame Kwei-Armah, Saloum N’jie, Bonnie Greer, Farooq Chaudhry, Matt Henry, Shaun Escoffery and Jermaine Jackman.

They have written to the prime minister calling for more transparency and for an inquiry to be broadened to include a focus on the levels of exposure BAME staff are facing and whether employers are fulfilling their duty of care.

The Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) is preparing to mount a legal challenge on behalf of its members and says it is crucial that workers such as couriers, cleaners and delivery drivers are protected from the virus.

Jason Moyer-Lee, IWGB general secretary, said to HuffPost UK on the issue of BAME workers: “The prime minister has acknowledged the danger of taking public transport and going into work, but has nevertheless encouraged those who have no alternative to do so.

“The impact of this will not be spread evenly through society – it will disproportionately hit low-paid and BAME workers.

“That’s why the IWGB has been campaigning and taken urgent legal action against the government to protect incomes and health and safety as much as possible.”

Public Health England told HuffPost UK it is currently working on a rapid research review into factors impacting health outcomes for Covid-19. This work includes reviewing disparities in health outcomes of coronavirus between different ethnic groups.

A Public Health England spokesperson said: “The data on Covid-19′s impacts on different communities is rapidly evolving. 

“Actions to address these inequalities do not rest with one agency but require collaborative actions at multiple levels of society.

“PHE’s role of providing guidance and data to inform and support local action is an important part of the response and exactly why we are undertaking a research review at this time.” 

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Senate Set To Reopen Amid Pandemic With Focus On Trump Judicial, Executive Nominees

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate will gavel in Monday as the coronavirus rages, returning to an uncertain agenda and deepening national debate over how best to confront the deadly pandemic and its economic devastation.

With the House staying away due to the health risks, and the 100 senators convening for the first time since March, the conflicted Congress reflects an uneasy nation. The Washington area remains a virus hot-spot under stay-home rules.

Tops on the Senate agenda is not necessarily the next virus aid package, despite a nationwide jobless rate that’s approaching Great Depression-level heights and pleas from the governors for more money.

“There’s kind of a pause period right now,” said White House’s Larry Kudlow, director of the national economic counsel, on CNN. “Let’s see how it’s doing as we gradually reopen the economy.”

Senate Republicans are trying to set the terms of debate, frustrated that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was able to fill up earlier aid bills with Democratic priorities. They’re reluctant to unleash federal funds beyond the nearly $3 trillion Congress already approved in virus relief.

“We are going to need more help,” Republican Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland, the chairman of the National Governors Association, said on CNN.

Instead, Senate Republicans are counting on the country’s reopening to kick-start the economy as their best hope to limit a new round of big spending on virus aid.

President Donald Trump, on the eve of the Senate’s return, held a town hall encouraging Americans to get back to work.

“We have to reopen our country,” Trump said, even as he revised upward his projection for the total U.S. death total to 80,000 or 90,000.

The COVID-19 crisis has all but closed Congress since late March, a longer absence than during the 1918 Spanish Flu or the 2001 terror attacks.

In making a snap decision to return, Senate Majority Mitch McConnell said the Senate cannot “sit on the sidelines.” He compared the senators to the essential work force of grocery clerks, truck drivers and others keeping Americans fed during the crisis.

Yet re-opening part of Capitol Hill poses health risks not just for the lawmakers but the cooks, cleaners, police officers and other workers who keep the lights on at the Capitol complex.

Capitol Hill erupted late last week after the attending physician informed top GOP officials the health office did not have the means to perform instant virus tests on returning lawmakers or staff.

Over the weekend, Trump himself offered Congress access to the instant virus test system used to screen visitors to the White House.

But in an extraordinary rebuff, McConnell and Pelosi said in a rare joint statement Saturday that they would “respectfully decline” the offer and instead direct resources to the front lines “where they can do the most good.”

Senators will instead return to a partially reopened Capitol Hill with new guidelines, including the recommendation that senators wear masks — blue face coverings will be available for free — keep their distance and leave most staff at home. Hand sanitizer is back in stock. But public access will be limited, including at public hearings. The Capitol itself remains closed to visitors and tours.

Democrats complain the risks of reopening the Capitol complex is not worth the noticeably light agenda, which is focused on confirming Trump’s judicial and executive nominees rather than the virus pandemic.

With more than 65,000 U.S. deaths due to the virus and 30 million Americans suddenly unemployed, Democratic senators say the focus needs to be singular — to ease this crisis and prevent a second wave of infections.

“If we’re going to go back, let’s do something about COVID,” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said.

McConnell has loaded up the agenda with hearings for Trump’s nominees, including Justin Walker, a conservative, McConnell-backed pick to be a federal judge on the U.S. Courts of Appeal in the District of Columbia Circuit, which is seen as a stepping stone to the Supreme Court.

A nomination hearing also is scheduled for John Ratcliffe, the Texas Republican congressman who is Trump’s choice to lead the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Several committees will meet to debate issues related to the virus outbreak, including the nominee for a new oversight commission. The Health Committee will hold a session on potential cures and the Commerce Committee a hearing on the airline industry.

For all that’s changed during the pandemic, some traditions remain in Congress.

Republican senators still plan to sit down for their regular luncheons, though the physician’s social distancing guidance limits them to three to a table. It was after one of their lunches in March that several senators went into self-quarantine because of their exposure to fellow GOP Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who tested positive.

Democrats, who will meet for lunch over conference call, are assessing whether to appear in person for the committee hearings or dial in remotely.

The physician’s office sent guidelines late Friday encouraging Senate offices to minimize staff presence and reschedule any visitors who are visibly ill with “shaking chills” or “vomiting.”

But for Republicans, operating the Senate even in a diminished capacity aligns with Trump’s effort to return to a sense of normalcy, despite the ongoing health risks.

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Cities And States Request $1 Trillion In Coronavirus Aid, Says Pelosi

WASHINGTON (AP) — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday that state and local governments are seeking up to $1 trillion for coronavirus costs, a stunning benchmark for the next aid package that’s certain to run into opposition from Senate Republicans.

Pelosi acknowledged the federal government may not be able to provide that much. But she said money for “heroes” is needed to prevent layoffs as governors and mayors stare down red ink in their budgets. Many jurisdictions are facing rising costs from the health pandemic and plummeting revenues in the economic shutdown. The best way Americans can support front-line community workers, Pelosi said, is to make sure they don’t lose their jobs to budget cuts.

“This is something of the highest priority,” Pelosi said. “It honors our heroes.”

Nurses, transit bus drivers and other workers “are risking their lives to save lives, and now they’re going to lose their jobs,” she said.

The $1 trillion price tag comes after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell shifted his tone, suggesting he is “open” to considering additional funds in the next coronavirus relief bill.

But the eye-popping figure would be on top of the nearly $3 trillion Congress has already approved to salvage the economy and confront the health crisis.

At the White House, President Donald Trump said, “We’ll see what happens.”

Trump said, “If we do that, we’ll have to get something for it.”

Congress is partially reopening next week as the House convenes key committee hearings and the Senate gavels into session after being shuttered for more than a month during the pandemic.

But the legislative branch will be a changed place.

Senators are recommended to wear masks, keep 6 feet apart and have most staff work from home, according to official guidance. At the private Republican lunches, it will be just three senators to a table. Democrats will have lunch by conference call.

Senators are raising alarms about the health risks of resuming operations.

On a conference call Thursday, the Capitol physician said his office does not have a testing system available for instant virus checks, as happens at the White House, according to a Republican familiar with the call with chiefs of staff.

Instead, the physician said the office only checks those lawmakers who are showing symptoms. Test results take up to seven days, he told them.

Notably, key public hearings may not have many members of the public, under guidance from the Senate Rules Committee that says people can view the proceedings online.

Officials are especially concerned about the hundreds of cooks, custodial staff and maintenance workers needed to run the vast Capitol complex for the 100 senators.

The House declined this week to bring its 430 members back into session after the Capitol physician warned it was not worth the health risks. McConnell has declined to say if he consulted with the physician in deciding to resume Senate operations.

As the new aid package takes shape, McConnell said Thursday on Fox that he’s willing to consider money for the states but isn’t about to send federal dollars to bail out overspending.

“We’re not interested in borrowing money from future generations to send down to states to help them with bad decisions they made in the past unrelated to the coronavirus epidemic,” the GOP leader said.

McConnell insists any fresh funding must be tied to liability reforms to prevent what he calls “an epidemic of lawsuits” against doctors, hospitals and businesses reopening in the pandemic.

In meeting with Trump at the White House, Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy of New Jersey said his state alone may need $20 billion to $30 billion.

“This is a big hit,” Murphy said. “We don’t see it as a bailout.”

Economic wreckage from the coronavirus outbreak threatens McConnell’s own home state as well. Kentucky’s state government faces a revenue shortfall, according to a budget report issued Thursday.

The grim projections could force Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear to make painful budget cuts at a time when the virus outbreak has shuttered many businesses and put hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians out of work.

Beshear said he made a pitch for additional federal assistance in a Thursday conversation with McConnell.

“I appreciate him hearing me out,” Beshear said at his daily briefing. “Now I hope that he will be able to act.”

In outlining priorities for the next package, Pelosi said the new funding for state, county and city governments could be spread out over several years.

The California Democrat said governors have asked for $500 billion, and county and city governments are requesting a similar amount.

“We’re not going to be able to cover all of it,” Pelosi said.

But to the extent the federal government can provide funds to prevent widespread layoffs, she said, “that’s our goal.”

Congressional leaders staked out priorities for the next, fifth round of aid, even as key senators sounded alarms over the health risks of reopening the U.S. Capitol.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., urged McConnell to reconsider. “This is the wrong example for the country,” she said in a statement.

The Washington, D.C., region remains a virus hot spot, health officials say. Stay-home orders are in place through mid-May for the District of Columbia.

“I think we can conduct our business safely,” McConnell said on Fox.

The Republican leader faced a storm of criticism from the nation’s governors after panning Democrats’ proposal for more state aid. Last week, he suggested states should be allowed to go bankrupt.

His priority as senators return Monday is to consider Trump’s nominees for judicial and executive branch positions, including Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, Trump’s choice to be the new director of the Office of National Intelligence.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said the Senate instead should focus on congressional oversight of the federal coronavirus response.

Schreiner reported from Frankfort, Ky. Associated Press writers Kevin Freking, Mary Clare Jalonick and Laurie Kellman in Washington contributed to this report.

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