From potential vice-presidential candidates to voter suppression and debates, these are the areas the Guardian’s politics team will be following * Join us for a live digital event with the former US attorney general Eric Holder to discuss voter suppression in the 2020 election, next Thursday at 5pm ET. Register nowElection day in the US is officially 3 November, but amid the coronavirus pandemic, Americans are being encouraged to take advantage of early voting initiatives that open as soon as September to decrease the risks to themselves and others.From voter suppression to polling and debates, here are some of the key areas and figures the Guardian’s politics team will be watching as the race enters its final stretch. Donald TrumpThe Trump campaign has less than 100 days to change the dominant narratives of the year: that the president failed the leadership test during the coronavirus pandemic and missed the profound shift in public mood following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May.With his attempts to distract having largely failed, Trump has finally worn a face mask and promised a coronavirus “strategy” but provided few details so far. He may be pinning his hopes on an “October surprise”, such as the discovery of a vaccine, and a better than expected economic recovery, which has experienced the sharpest contraction since the second world war according to data released this week.He has shown even less willingness to engage with the cause of Black Lives Matter, inverting it to a racist campaign theme, stoking fear of violence in cities and portraying it as an existential threat to suburbs. “Law and order” may resonate with parts of his base but, polls suggest, it may be too little too late to rescue Trump from a one-term presidency. David Smith Joe BidenLess than 100 days out, the Biden campaign is currently well positioned to defeat Trump in November. The former vice-president leads Trump by double digits in a slate of new national polls, as the president’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic weighs on his approval rating.Biden has narrower but consistent margins in several battleground states as his campaign eyes an expansion in traditionally Republican states such as Arizona and Georgia, which could pave the way for Democrats to take back the Senate. And with the party largely united behind him, Biden has started to lay out an ambitious recovery plan as Trump’s edge on the economy slips.But there are risks, too. Though Biden is less unpopular than Hillary Clinton was in 2016, Democrats worry about his favorability ratings, which have slipped amid an advertising assault by the Trump campaign.Biden’s supporters are far less enthusiastic about his candidacy than Trump’s supporters are about his re-election. And polling suggests Biden has more work to do to mobilize young and minority voters, who were a key part of the coalition that twice elected Barack Obama. Lauren Gambino Biden’s pick for vice-presidentA presidential candidate’s running mate is usually one of the bigger lodestars in any campaign cycle. But Biden’s pick is particularly momentous, and he has said it will be announced in the first week of August. He has vowed to choose a woman, and if he wins, would usher into the White House the first female vice-president in American history.He has also said four of the candidate he is considering are African American. There has never been an African American female nominee on either the Republican or Democratic presidential tickets.The selection is also important because Biden, 77, has indicated he may not run for a second term, immediately elevating his running mate into contention as his presidential heir.Running mates rarely tip an election dramatically in one direction but it’s possible that Biden’s vice-presidential pick could help energize key voting blocks such as women or African Americans. Daniel Strauss Swing statesThe 2020 presidential election will really be fought in just a handful of states scattered across the country, which will determine the winner of the electoral college, and therefore determine who takes the White House.In 2016, Trump pulled off a shocking victory by becoming the first Republican presidential candidate in 28 years to win Michigan, Pennsylvania or Wisconsin. Trump swept all three midwestern states, and he can only afford to lose two of them in November and still secure a second term.But the president is also struggling to maintain control of states he won a bit more easily in 2016 – namely Florida, Arizona and North Carolina. Polls indicate Biden is pulling ahead in those battleground states, as well as in the midwest.With only 100 days to go until the election, Trump’s campaign resources are expected to be stretched thin, and the president’s path to re-election is narrowing. Joan E Greve PollingPolling might be the one thing that a lot of people are decidedly not watching out for in the 100 days until the election. The failure of polls to detect Trump’s momentum in the upper midwest, Pennsylvania and Florida in the 2016 election lured many people who feared a Trump victory into a false sense of security and teed up a painful reckoning.So why watch polls in 2020? For one thing, there’s reason to believe that state-level polling has improved since 2016. The polls then had a particular blind spot to voters without a college degree, a group that ended up voting overwhelmingly for Trump. This time around most pollsters are weighting for education. Other factors working in pollsters’ favor: there are fewer undecided voters this time, and there has been more polling in places such as Michigan and Wisconsin.But there are good reasons, apart from 2016, to take the polls with a big grain of salt. In order to accurately interpret their data, pollsters must make predictions about voter turnout – and this year, with the pandemic, mail-in voting and aggressive Republican efforts to suppress the vote, predicting voter turnout could pose a unique challenge.No matter how any one polling snapshot might be right or wrong, the polls are worth glancing at to see how they’re changing. A noticeable shift across the polls could indicate a narrowing or widening race. One hundred days isn’t long, but it’s enough time for twists that could decide the election. Tom McCarthy The SenateTrump’s falling poll numbers have rendered the Republican party into a state somewhere between anxiety and panic not only about what November’s elections will mean for the White House, but what it will mean for congressional candidates too.“The mood is like probably what it felt like when you were on the Titanic,” Joe Walsh, a former congressman from Illinois, recently told the Guardian.Republicans realise they could lose everything, with the presidency and Senate following the House of Representatives, which they surrendered to the “blue wave” in the 2018 midterm election.The Senate is critical, and Democrats need a net gain of three seats to flip it. If Republicans can retain their majority, they will be able to obstruct significant parts of the Democratic agenda, just as they did for much of Obama’s presidency.The Republican senators Susan Collins of Maine, Joni Ernst of Iowa, Cory Gardner of Colorado, Martha McSally of Arizona and Thom Tillis of North Carolina are all trailing in polls. Even leading Trump loyalists Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham face stiff challenges from Democratic opponents raising huge funds in Kentucky and South Carolina, respectively. David Smith Voter suppressionThere is deep concern about America’s ability to run a free and fair election this year. Trump is already laying the groundwork to contest the results of the election, falsely saying that increased mail-in balloting will lead to widespread “fraud” and that the election will be rigged.There is no evidence to support the president’s claims, but his rhetoric offers another threat to America’s election infrastructure, which is already straining under the pandemic. Trump’s rhetoric is particularly concerning this year, when experts expect there to be delays in reporting official election results. Trump, they say, could use the uncertainty in the days after the election to claim victory as ballots are still being counted.Election officials across the country also face the unprecedented challenge of having to accommodate expected high turnout both in mail-in and in-person voting. Many states that do not typically see widespread mail-in voting have seen an unprecedented surge of requests for ballots and have struggled to keep up with them, while some states, such as Texas, have refused to ease restrictions around mail-in voting, even amid Covid-19. Thousands of mail-in ballots have been rejected during the primaries, and even more could be blocked this fall, for technical reasons.Election officials are also scrambling to figure out how they can staff the polls and find places for polling sites as the people and locations that would typically serve drop out because of concern over the virus. Republicans in Congress have also refused to allocate much money to states to help them run elections; one estimate says states need about $4bn to upgrade their election systems, Congress has allocated just $400m so far. Sam Levine Foreign interferenceUS intelligence agencies found that the Russian government, under the direction of Vladimir Putin, conducted a coordinated campaign to influence the 2016 election, which aimed to damage Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid and undermine the US democratic process.In a statement to Congress this month, William Evanina, the director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, said Russia was again using a range of methods to weaken the US ahead of the 2020 election, including online disinformation “designed to undermine confidence in our democratic process and denigrate what it sees as an anti-Russia ‘establishment’ in America”.Intelligence experts have warned that the US this year will be most vulnerable to a foreign disinformation campaign in the immediate aftermath of the vote, if the outcome is close and there are disputes over the legitimacy of the vote count.Evanina also issued a warning about Chinese and Iranian interference, saying the three campaigns represented “a direct threat to the fabric of our democracy”.Democrats, however, complained that the warning was far too vague, and created a false equivalence between the activities and intent of the three countries. They see Russia as by far the most urgent threat in terms of seeking to undermine confidence in democratic institutions, for example by amplifying Donald Trump’s unsubstantiated claims that postal ballots are subject to rigging. Julian Borger ConventionsThe coronavirus pandemic has dampened both parties plans to stage conventions in late August, where presidential nominations are traditionally conferred in front of massive, cheering crowds.Trump recently canceled the Republican national convention events in Jacksonville, Florida, amid record numbers of coronavirus cases and deaths in that state. The change-up came after the president’s insistence on packed crowds compelled the party to move the event to Florida from North Carolina, where the governor had balked at hosting a full-scale event.Democrats still plan on having Biden accept his nomination in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, though the party officials have urged most attendees to stay home. All the official business – setting rules, adopting a policy platform and formally nominating Biden, will be conducted remotely.This will be the first time in modern US history that the major parties have abandoned crowded conventions, a tradition they upheld during the civil war and second world war.By giving the event a miss, Democrats and Republicans are also losing a chance to galvanize supporters in crucial swing states. Despite the restrictions this year, both parties have promised a spectacle, with “exciting” TV programming and virtual celebrations. Maanvi Singh DebatesThe two septuagenarian presidential nominees are set to go head-to-head in three televised presidential debates between 29 September and 22 October, with one vice-presidential debate.After initially threatening not to take part, the Trump campaign has recently pushed for an additional debate in September, arguing that the coronavirus crisis could prompt much earlier voting. But the debate format also suited Trump in 2016, when the then candidate loomed behind the Democratic contender Hillary Clinton, mocked her and threatened to jail her, and his campaign will be hoping to dominate the stage again.But Biden’s campaign has said it will not “ride the rollercoaster of the ever-changing Trump campaign position on debates, nor are we going to be distracted by his demands”. Enjoli Liston
China Sentences Canadian to Death on Drugs Charges
(BEIJING) — China has sentenced a third Canadian citizen to death on drug charges amid a steep decline in relations between the two countries.
The Guangzhou Municipal Intermediate Court announced Xu Weihong’s penalty on Thursday and said an alleged accomplice, Wen Guanxiong, had been given a life sentence.
Death sentences are automatically referred to China’s highest court for review.
The brief court statement gave no details but local media in the southern Chinese city at the heart of the country’s manufacturing industry said Xu and Wen had gathered ingredients and tools and began making the drug ketamine in October 2016, then stored the final product in Xu’s home in Guangzhou’s Haizhu district.
Police later confiscated more than 120 kilograms (266 pounds) of the drug from Xu’s home and another address, the reports said. Ketamine is a powerful pain killer that has become popular among club goers in China and elsewhere.
Relations between China and Canada soured over the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, an executive and the daughter of the founder of Chinese tech giant Huawei, at Vancouver’s airport in late 2018. The U.S. wants her extradited to face fraud charges over the company’s dealings with Iran. Her arrest infuriated Beijing, which sees her case as a political move designed to prevent China’s rise as a global technology power.
In apparent retaliation, China detained former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and Canadian entrepreneur Michael Spavor, accusing them of vague national security crimes.
Soon after, China handed a death sentence to convicted Canadian drug smuggler Robert Schellenberg in a sudden retrial, and in April 2019, gave the death penalty to a Canadian citizen identified as Fan Wei in a multinational drug smuggling case.
China has also placed restrictions on various Canadian exports to China, including canola seed oil, in an apparent attempt to pressure Ottawa into releasing Meng.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said there was no connection between Xu’s sentencing and current China-Canada relations.
“I would like to stress that China’s judicial authorities handle the relevant case independently in strict accordance with Chinese law and legal procedures,” Wang said at a daily briefing Thursday. “This case should not inflict any impact on China-Canada relations.”
Like many Asian nations, China deals out stiff penalties for manufacturing and selling illegal drugs, including the death penalty. In December 2009, Pakistani-British businessman Akmal Shaikh was executed after being convicted of smuggling heroin, despite allegations he was mentally disturbed.
“Death sentences for drug-related crimes that are extremely dangerous will help deter and prevent such crimes,” Wang said. “China’s judicial authorities handle cases involving criminals of different nationalities in accordance with law.”
Hezbollah Will Not Escape Blame for Beirut
(Bloomberg Opinion) — As if the Lebanese haven’t suffered enough. For months, they have been caught between an economic meltdown, crumbling public services and a surging pandemic. Now they must count the dead and survey the extensive damage to their capital after two giant explosions on Tuesday.The blasts, especially the second, were so huge they were reportedly heard and felt in Cyprus. At least 100 people are reported to have been killed — that number will almost certainly rise — and thousands injured. A large expanse of the port and its immediate neighborhood lies in smoking ruin; miles away, streets are full of shattered glass.Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s government says the explosions were caused when careless welding ignited about 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, a highly combustible material used as fertilizer and for bomb-making. By comparison, Timothy McVeigh used about 2.4 tons of the same chemical in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. The 2015 disaster in the Chinese city of Tianjin was caused by the explosion of 800 tons of ammonium nitrate.The equivalent of 1,100 Oklahoma City-size bombs could indeed account for the devastation and the reddish mushroom cloud that plumed gaudily over the Beirut port. But it doesn’t mean Lebanese will simply accept that the explosion was an unavoidable, force majeure event.Assuming the official account holds up, the disaster again exposes the rot that is destroying the country — an especially corrosive mix of corruption, ineptitude and malign intentions.The ammonium nitrate was apparently seized in 2013 from a Moldovan-flagged ship traveling from Georgia to Mozambique. But someone — who, we don’t yet know — brought it into Beirut; instead of returning, auctioning or disposing of it, the port management inexcusably allowed it to be stored there for years.There are no prizes for guessing who in Lebanon might be interested in keeping such vast quantities of explosive material close at hand. The U.S. Treasury and Israel both believe Hezbollah controls many of Beirut’s port facilities.Diab, whose government is entirely dependent on political support from Hezbollah and its Maronite Christian allies, has vowed to hold those responsible to account. More than likely, some minor officials will be fingered for permitting improper storage of highly dangerous material.Iran-backed Hezbollah, with its large and well-armed militia as well as its political hold on the prime minister, has nothing to fear from the state. But it will not escape public opprobrium: Most Lebanese will assume the ammonium nitrate belonged to the militia, for use in Syria and against Israel.Why the chemicals exploded is another matter, rich with possibilities of conjecture. In the court of public opinion, the usual suspects will be rounded up from the ongoing shadow war between Iran and Hezbollah on one side and Israel on the other. President Donald Trump, who can be relied upon to make everything worse, speculated it was a deliberate attack. This will be picked up and amplified by conspiracy theorists in the Middle East.But suspicions of Hezbollah’s culpability will intensify on Friday when a United Nations special tribunal for Lebanon that has been looking into the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri is expected to issue verdicts in cases against four Hezbollah cadres being tried in absentia. The men are in hiding, and have not been seen in years; even if they are found guilty, no one expects them to be handed over. Hariri, remember, was killed in a massive blast.A guilty verdict would increase domestic pressure on Hezbollah, its allies and the government. When Lebanese have finished mourning their dead, anger will return — the kind that fueled the massive street demonstrations that brought down Diab’s predecessor last October.Even without the Beirut blasts, the timing of the verdict would have been awkward for Diab, who is struggling to negotiate an economic bailout with the International Monetary Fund: Among the hurdles is Hezbollah’s resistance to the necessary reforms. Hezbollah finds itself uncomfortably positioned as the principal backer of the government presiding over a thoroughgoing collapse of the Lebanese state and society. It will not easily shake off blame for the Beirut blast, or for the Hariri assassination. Even in this country that has suffered so much and for so long, the latest of Lebanon’s tragedies will not soon be forgotten, nor its perpetrators forgiven.(Corrects the number of Oklahoma City-size bombs that would equal the size of the Beirut explosion in the fourth paragraph.)This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.Hussein Ibish is a senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington. For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
Survivors Mark 75th Anniversary of World’s First Atomic Attack
(HIROSHIMA, Japan) — The dwindling witnesses to the world’s first atomic bombing marked its 75th anniversary Thursday, with Hiroshima’s mayor and others noting as hypocritical the Japanese government’s refusal to sign a nuclear weapons ban treaty.
Mayor Kazumi Matsui urged world leaders to more seriously commit to nuclear disarmament, pointing out Japan’s failures.
“I ask the Japanese government to heed the appeal of the (bombing survivors) to sign, ratify and become a party to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons,” Matsui said in his peace declaration. “As the only nation to suffer a nuclear attack, Japan must persuade the global public to unite with the spirit of Hiroshima.”
His speech highlights what survivors feel is the hypocrisy of Japan’s government, which hosts 50,000 American troops and is protected by the U.S. nuclear umbrella. Tokyo has not signed the nuclear weapons ban treaty adopted in 2017, despite its non-nuclear pledge, a failure to act that atomic bombing survivors and pacifist groups call insincere.
The U.S. dropped its first atomic bomb on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, destroying the city and killing 140,000 people. The U.S. dropped a second bomb three days later on Nagasaki, killing another 70,000. Japan surrendered Aug. 15, ending World War II and its nearly half-century of aggression in Asia.
Survivors, their relatives and other participants marked the 8:15 a.m. blast anniversary with a minute of silence.
Thursday’s peace ceremony at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park was scaled down because of the coronavirus pandemic. The fewer than 1,000 attendees was one-tenth of those attending in past years.
Some survivors and their relatives prayed at the park’s cenotaph before the ceremony. The registry of the atomic bombing victims is stored at the cenotaph, whose inscription reads “Let all the souls here rest in peace for we shall not repeat the mistake.”
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, in his speech at the ceremony, said Japan is committed to nuclear weapons ban but a nuclear free world cannot be achieved overnight and that it has to start from dialogue between opposite sides.
“Japan’s position is to serve as a bridge between different sides and patiently promote their dialogue and actions to achieve a world without nuclear weapons,” Abe said. Nuclear policies are divided amid a harsh security environment, so it is necessary to create common ground first, he said.
U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres said there is nothing in between.
”The only way to totally eliminate nuclear risk is to totally eliminate nuclear weapons,” he said in his video message from New York for the occasion.
“Seventy-five years is far too long not to have learned that the possession of nuclear weapons diminishes, rather than reinforces, security,” he said. “Today, a world without nuclear weapons seems to be slipping further from our grasp.”
An aging group of survivors, known as hibakusha, feel a growing urgency to tell their stories, in hopes of reaching a younger generation. Many peace events, including their talks, leading up to the anniversary had been cancelled due to the coronavirus, but some survivors have teamed with young students or pacifist groups to speak at online events, sometimes connecting with international audiences.
On the 75th anniversary, elderly survivors, whose average age now exceeds 83, lamented the slow progress of nuclear disarmament.
They expressed anger over what they said was the Japanese government’s reluctance to help and listen to those who suffered from the atomic bombing.
“Abe’s words and actions don’t seem to match,” said Manabu Iwasa, 47, who came to the park to pray for his father, a survivor who died at age 87 in March. “Japan apparently sides with the U.S. and make more effort toward nuclear weapons ban,” he said. “It’s frustrating, but there is not much we individuals can do.”
Keiko Ogura, 84, who survived the atomic bombing at age 8, wants non-nuclear states to pressure Japan into signing the nuclear weapons prohibition treaty. “Many survivors are offended by the prime minister of this country who does not sign the nuclear weapons prohibition treaty,” said Ogura.
She and other members of her group of English interpreters are providing a virtual tour of the park from the cenotaph, reaching out to audiences from around the world.
Survivors also urged world leaders, especially those from nuclear weapons states, to visit Hiroshima and see the reality of the atomic bombing.
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