Loading articles...

AP News in Brief at 12:04 a.m. EDT

Last Updated Jun 30, 2020 at 10:14 pm MDT

Trump’s two Russias confound coherent US policy

WASHINGTON (AP) — When it comes to Russia, the Trump administration just can’t seem to make up its mind.

For the past three years, the administration has careered between President Donald Trump’s attempts to curry favour and friendship with Vladimir Putin and longstanding deep-seated concerns about Putin’s intentions. As Trump has repeatedly and openly cozied up to Putin, his administration has imposed harsh and meaningful sanctions and penalties on Russia.

The dizzying, often contradictory, paths followed by Trump on the one hand and his hawkish but constantly changing cast of national security aides on the other have created confusion in Congress and among allies and enemies alike. To an observer, Russia is at once a mortal enemy and a misunderstood friend in U.S. eyes.

Even before Trump took office questions about Russia abounded. Now, nearing the end of his first term with a difficult reelection ahead, those questions have resurfaced with a vengeance. Intelligence suggesting Russia was encouraging attacks on U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan by putting bounties on their heads has thrust the matter into the heart of the 2020 campaign.

The White House says the intelligence wasn’t confirmed or brought to Trump’s attention, but his vast chorus of critics are skeptical and maintain the president should have been aware.

___

After security law’s passage, Hong Kong marks China rule

HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong’s leader strongly endorsed the new security law China’s central government is imposing on the semi-autonomous territory in her speech marking Wednesday’s anniversary of its handover from colonial Britain.

“This decision was necessary and timely to maintain Hong Kong’s stability,” Carrie Lam said.

A pro-democracy political party, The League of Social Democrats, organized a protest march during the flag-raising ceremony preceding Lam’s speech. About a dozen participants chanted slogans echoing demands from protesters last year for political reform and an investigation into accusation of police abuse.

The law’s passage Tuesday further blurs the distinction between the legal systems of semi-autonomous Hong Kong, which maintained aspects of British law after the 1997 handover, and the mainland’s authoritarian Communist Party system. Critics say the law effectively ends the “one country, two systems” framework under which Hong Kong was promised a high degree of autonomy.

The law directly targets some of the actions of anti-government protesters last year, which included attacks on government offices and police stations, damage to subway stations, and the shutdown of the city’s international airport. Acts of vandalism against government facilities or public transit can be prosecuted as subversion or terrorism, while anyone taking part in activities deemed as secessionist would also be in violation of the new law.

___

Coronavirus’ spread in GOP territory, explained in 6 charts

Coronavirus first spread in the United States as a mostly coastal and big-city scourge, sparing many rural areas, small towns and even small cities. Translated into U.S. political geography: The virus hit Democratic areas first.

No more. An Associated Press analysis of coronavirus case data shows the virus has moved — and is spreading quickly — into Republican areas, a new path with broad potential political ramifications.

States that President Donald Trump won in the 2016 election account for about 75% of the new cases, a trend that has accelerated since the end of May. Counties that voted for Trump in 2016 have seen cases and deaths rising — now seeing an impact nearly even with counties that voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton.

The virus’s spread into red America could scramble partisan divisions over the disease. In the first phase, the virus was an undeniable reality for many Democrats, and it largely fell to Democratic governors and mayors to issue the strictest stay-at-home orders that helped slow the economy to a crawl.

Trump’s base, meanwhile, wasn’t so directly affected. His supporters have been less likely to support preventive measures, more likely to believe dangers were exaggerated and less likely to worry about friends or family contracting the virus. Some Republican governors followed the president’s lead, taking longer to issue stay-at-home orders, making the orders less strict when they did, and then more eagerly relaxing the limits on business operations in late April and May.

___

With a pen stroke, Mississippi drops Confederate-themed flag

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — With a stroke of the governor’s pen, Mississippi is retiring the last state flag in the U.S. with the Confederate battle emblem — a symbol that’s widely condemned as racist.

Republican Gov. Tate Reeves signed the historic bill Tuesday at the Governor’s Mansion, immediately removing official status for the 126-year-old banner that has been a source of division for generations.

“This is not a political moment to me but a solemn occasion to lead our Mississippi family to come together, to be reconciled and to move on,” Reeves said on live TV just before the signing. “We are a resilient people defined by our hospitality. We are a people of great faith. Now, more than ever, we must lean on that faith, put our divisions behind us, and unite for a greater good.”

Mississippi has faced increasing pressure to change its flag since protests against racial injustice have focused attention on Confederate symbols in recent weeks.

A broad coalition of legislators on Sunday passed the landmark legislation to change the flag, capping a weekend of emotional debate and decades of effort by Black lawmakers and others who see the rebel emblem as a symbol of hatred.

___

Businesswoman upsets 5-term congressman in Colorado primary

DENVER (AP) — Five-term Colorado U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton was upset in Tuesday’s Republican Party primary by Lauren Boebert, a pistol-packing businesswoman, ardent defender of gun rights and border wall supporter who wants to abolish the U.S. Department of Education.

Boebert won after a campaign in which she accused Tipton of not being sufficiently pro-Donald Trump even though the president had endorsed Tipton, and even though Tipton is the Trump campaign’s co-chair for Colorado. Trump congratulated Boebert on Twitter, saying, “Congratulations on a really great win.”

She will run in November’s general election against Diane Mitsch Bush, who won the Democratic nomination on Tuesday by defeating James Iacino.

Tipton conceded in an email sent by his longtime campaign consultant Michael Fortney.

“(Third) District Republicans have decided who they want to run against the Democrats this November,” Tipton wrote. “I want to congratulate Lauren Boebert and wish her and her supporters well.”

___

High court sparks new battle over church-state separation

The Supreme Court elated religious freedom advocates and alarmed secular groups with its Tuesday ruling on public funding for religious education, a decision whose long-term effect on the separation of church and state remains to be seen.

In Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, the high court ruled 5-4 that states must give religious schools the same access to public funding that other private schools receive, preserving a Montana scholarship program that had largely benefited students at religious institutions.

It prompted a jubilant reaction from the reelection campaign of President Donald Trump, who counts religious conservatives as a core part of his base. The campaign lauded the decision as “a victory for educational freedom,” underscoring its importance for a White House that often spotlights religious liberty.

Sister Dale McDonald, public policy director for the National Catholic Education Association, said the ruling has the potential to stem nationwide enrolment declines at Roman Catholic schools that are forcing the closure of hundreds of institutions.

“This is a chance to get public schools and religious schools on equal footing,” McDonald said, adding that the extent of change would depend on how many state legislatures opt to expand tuition assistance.

___

Police say missing kids’ mom helped keep their bodies hidden

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Prosecutors say the mother of two children who were found dead in rural Idaho months after they vanished in a bizarre case that captured worldwide attention had conspired with her new husband to hide or destroy the kids’ bodies.

The new felony charges against Lori Vallow Daybell came late Monday, the latest twist in a case tied to the mysterious deaths of the couple’s former spouses and their beliefs about zombies and the apocalypse that may have affected their actions.

A judge set Daybell’s bail at $1 million during her first court appearance on the new felony charges Tuesday. The judge asked if she understood the allegations and that if convicted she could be sentenced to up to 10 years behind bars. Daybell, who wiped her eyes occasionally with a tissue, answered “yes.”

Daybell is already charged with abandoning or deserting 7-year-old Joshua “JJ” Vallow and 17-year-old Tylee Ryan, but because police found their remains buried in her husband’s yard, it’s not clear if those allegations will stand. She’s also charged with obstructing a police investigation, asking a friend to lie to police on her behalf and contempt of court for failing to follow a order to produce the kids.

Daybell’s attorney has indicated that she intends to defend herself against the charges, but she hasn’t yet had a chance to enter a plea.

___

Carl Reiner, comedy’s rare untortured genius, dies at 98

NEW YORK (AP) — No one in the world of comedy was more admired, and loved, than Carl Reiner.

Reiner was the rare untortured genius of comedy, his career a story of laughter and camaraderie, of innovation and triumph and affection. His persona was so warm and approachable — everyone’s friend or favourite uncle — that you could forget that he was an architect of modern comedy, a “North Star,” in the words of Billy Crystal.

As a writer and director, he mastered a genial, but sophisticated brand of humour that Steve Martin, Jerry Seinfeld and others emulated. As an actor, he was the ideal straight man for such manic performers as Mel Brooks and Sid Caesar and dependably funny on his own. As an all-around talent, he helped perfect two standard television formats — sketch and situation comedy.

Reiner’s death Monday at 98 from natural causes prompted an outpouring from t hose he inspired, a group that included Brooks, Dick Van Dyke, George Clooney and Billy Eichner and millions more.

Tall and agile, equally striking whether bald or toupeed, he entertained in every medium available to him, from movies and vinyl records to Broadway and Twitter. But he will be remembered best for “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” the landmark series which aired from 1961-66 and was a master class of wit, ensemble playing, physical comedy and the overriding good nature of Reiner himself.

___

Fauci: US ‘going in wrong direction’ in coronavirus outbreak

The U.S. is “going in the wrong direction” with the coronavirus surging badly enough that Dr. Anthony Fauci told senators Tuesday some regions are putting the entire country at risk — just as schools and colleges are wrestling with how to safely reopen.

With about 40,000 new cases being reported a day, Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, said he “would not be surprised if we go up to 100,000 a day if this does not turn around.”

“I am very concerned,” he told a hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee.

Infections are rising rapidly mostly in parts of the West and South, and Fauci and other public health experts said Americans everywhere will have to start following key recommendations if they want to get back to more normal activities like going to school.

“We’ve got to get the message out that we are all in this together,” by wearing masks in public and keeping out of crowds, said Fauci, infectious disease chief at the National Institutes of Health.

___

Baseball’s minor leagues cancel 2020 seasons

NEW YORK (AP) — Baseball’s minor leagues cancelled their seasons Tuesday because of the coronavirus pandemic, and the head of their governing body said more than half of the 160 teams were in danger of failing without government assistance or private equity injections.

The National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, the minor league governing body founded in September 1901, made the long-expected announcement. The minors had never missed a season.

“We are a fans-in-the-stands business. We don’t have national TV revenues,” National Association president Pat O’Conner said during a digital news conference. “There was a conversation at one point: Well, can we play without fans? And that was one of the shortest conversations in the last six months. It just doesn’t make any sense.”

O’Conner estimated 85-90% of revenue was related to ticket money, concessions, parking and ballpark advertising. The minors drew 41.5 million fans last year for 176 teams in 15 leagues, averaging 4,044 fans per game.

MLB teams are planning for a 60-game regular season and most of their revenue will derive from broadcast money.

The Associated Press