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Michigan bans gun open carry at Election Day polling places after Whitmer kidnap plot

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Armed protesters take part in an “American Patriot Rally,” organized on April 30, 2020, by Michigan United for Liberty on the steps of the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing, demanding the reopening of businesses.

Jeff Kowalsky | AFP | Getty Images

Michigan’s secretary of state on Friday banned the open carry of guns at polling places and other official voting locations on Election Day in the state, a move that comes on the heels of an alleged plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and after armed protests at the statehouse.

“Fair, free and secure elections are the foundation of our democracy,said Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson in announcing the open carry ban, which will be backed by the state attorney general and State Police.

“I am committed to ensuring all eligible Michigan citizens can freely exercise their fundamental right to vote without fear of threats, intimidation or harassment,” said Benson, who is Michigan’s top election official.

“Prohibiting the open-carry of firearms in areas where citizens cast their ballots is necessary to ensure every voter is protected.”

 Benson outlined the prohibition in a guidance issued to local election clerks.

The ban on opening carrying firearms applies to polling places, clerk’s offices and absent voter counting boards on Election Day, which falls on Nov. 3, and extends out 100 feet from those locations.

That guidance said that “the presence of firearms at” those locations “may cause disruption, fear, or intimidation for voters, election workers, and others present.”

State Attorney General Dana Nessel said, “Michigan voters have the right to vote in person on Election Day free from threat and intimidation.”

“An armed presence at the polls is inconsistent with our notion of a free democracy. I stand with the Secretary in her commitment to ensure that every eligible voter who wants to vote in person can do so safely and without fear or intimidation.”

Michigan has 16 electoral votes at stake in the contest between incumbent Republican President Donald Trump and the Democratic challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden.

Trump barely won Michigan in his 2016 contest against Hillary Clinton, edging the Democrat out by just 0.23% of the votes cast. The state was one of several in the Rust Belt which played a crucial role in giving Trump enough votes to defeat the former U.S. secretary of State in the Electoral College.

But recent polls show Biden leading Trump by an average of more than six percentage points in Michigan.

Trump has been critical of Whitmer for her response to the Covid-19 outbreak since last spring.

Earlier this month, federal authorities arrested six men in connection with allegedly plotting to kidnap Whitmer, with one of those defendants allegedly saying the group would try the governor for “treason.”

State terrorism charges have been filed against eight other men related to allegedly offering aid to that scheme and to efforts to ignite a civil war and commit violent acts against law-enforcement officials in the state. All fourteen defendants are alleged to be members or associates of militia groups, including one called the Wolverine Watchmen.

Michigan’s state house has also been the site of protests by people armed with guns, who were upset by Whitmer’s strict lockdown orders earlier this year of businesses and other entities because of the coronavirus outbreak.

The alleged plot to kidnap Whitmer, and discussions about also kidnapping Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, another Democrat, were fueled by anger over their Covid-19 lockdown measures.

In April, after armed protests at the state capitol by members of militia groups and others, Trump tweeted “Liberate Michigan!”

Whitmer and Nessel have said Trump’s rhetoric could have played a role in sparking the alleged plot.

Whitmer has called Trump “complicit,” while Nessel has said of Trump and state Republican elected officials, “When they say these things, people not only listen, they respond. … It’s not just a dog whistle, but a rallying cry.”

However, at least one of the men charged with the kidnap plot, Brandon Caserta, has reportedly posted messages criticizing Trump, referring to the president as a “tyrant.”

“Trump is not your friend, dude. It amazes me that people actually, like, believe that when he’s shown over and over and over again that he’s a tyrant,” Caserta said on a video being circulated online, The Detroit News reported. “Every single person that works for government is your enemy, dude.”

Several of Caserta’s co-defendants reportedly posted pro-Trump messages on social media.

Trump has continued attacking Whitmer for her policies even after the alleged kidnap plot was exposed.

Trump on Thursday during a Fox Business interview blasted Whitmer, accusing her of aspiring to be a “dictator.”

“Michigan, she has to open up,” Trump said. “She wants to be a dictator in Michigan, and the people can’t stand her.”


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Minority ethnic economists under-represented at top UK universities | Education

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An increasing number of academic economists in UK universities come from non-white backgrounds but ethnic minorities remain under-represented in the most prestigious institutions, new research has shown.

A study by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) found that of the economists doing research at universities, 24% were from ethnic minorities in 2018 – an increase of five percentage points since 2012.

The thinktank said individuals of Chinese and Indian ethnicity were over-represented while those of black were under-represented, especially in the Russell Group, a self-selecting association of 24 institutions including Oxford and Cambridge.

Ross Warwick, an IFS research economist, said: “Ethnic diversity among economists matters particularly because economists often play an important role in the formulation of policy. Overall academic economists in the UK are relatively ethnically diverse compared to other fields and the population as a whole.

“However, some groups remain under-represented, such as Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and black Caribbeans, reflecting a broader pattern across the academic sector.”

The IFS research, co-funded by the Royal Economic Society and the Economic and Social Research Council, found clear differences in the type of roles held by ethnic minority staff compared to white staff. Black economists were 64% less likely to work in Russell Group universities than white ones, while ethnic minority economists were less likely to hold senior academic or managerial positions.

The IFS added that among undergraduates, economics was a relatively popular subject, with non-white students making up 37% of those taking courses at UK universities in 2018. The study showed it was among white students – and white women in particular – that the take-up of economics was lowest.

The IFS said there were persistent and growing attainment gaps for economics students from minority ethnic backgrounds compared with white students. African-Caribbean students were 24 percentage points less likely to get a first-class degree in 2018, and the gaps could not be explained by characteristics like institution attended or prior attainment.

Bangladeshi undergraduates were half as likely as white students to study economics in Russell Group universities, while black African-Caribbeans were more than 60% less likely.

Arun Advani, assistant professor at the University of Warwick and co-chair of Discover Economics, a campaign to increase diversity in economics, said: “Our research shows that ethnic minority students are more likely than white students to study economics at the undergraduate level. However, they are less likely to study at Russell Group universities, to get top degrees, or to go on to further study. Further research is required to better understand the causes of these differences.”

Many economics students apply for jobs with the Government Economic Service, which provided data for the study. This showed 22% of white applicants who passed the initial assessment through the fast stream were successful, against 8% for non-white applicants. The IFS said this suggested another important obstacle after university.


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Can California’s top wine region survive the era of megafire? | US news

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The Silverado Trail, a two-lane road that weaves through the bucolic hillsides in the heart of California’s wine country, is the quintessential vision of Napa Valley. Home to dozens of wineries, it is a destination within a destination – one that welcomes both vacationing imbibers and oenophiles from around the world.

But recently the amber hillsides have been laced with the ashen aftermath of wildfires that have torn through the region, leaving behind charred rubble that is fast becoming as much a part of the landscape as the neatly trussed rows of vines.

It is a sign of an increasingly uncertain future for the crown jewel of California’s $43bn wine industry – one in which vintners must adapt to a changing climate and increasingly unpredictable fire seasons in order to survive.

Devastating wildfires have pummeled Napa and Sonoma over the last five years, most recently this summer’s Glass fire, which torched close to 67,500 acres and destroyed 1,555 structures, including damage to numerous wineries. Annual evacuations, smoke-filled skies and the existential threat posed by higher and drier temperatures have taken a toll. This year Covid-19 has compounded the impact on tourism, restaurants and labor, with losses from the crisis expected to total close to half a billion dollars.

Firefighters work on a vineyard to contain the Glass fire, which tore through the Napa region this summer



Firefighters work on a vineyard to contain the Glass fire, which tore through the Napa region this summer. Photograph: Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times/Rex/Shutterstock

Yet even with the risks, California’s wine industry is growing, with the market rising roughly 42% in retail value over the last decade. Napa has attracted a steady flow of newcomers who may not be willing to withstand the obstacles ahead. But many winemakers and growers, some with generational ties to the region and its industry, are counting on research, innovation and sheer determination in a race against the changing climate.

“We are resilient,” says Nicole Bacigalupi who runs Bacigalupi Vineyards with her twin sister, Katey.

Nicole Bacigalupi runs Bacigalupi Vineyards, a multi-generational wine operation.



Nicole Bacigalupi runs Bacigalupi Vineyards, a multi-generational wine operation. Photograph: Gabrielle Canon/The Guardian

Bacigalupi, the third generation in her family to farm the land, is finding ways to mitigate the threat of fires. Speaking under a giant oak tree, the sound of cow calls ring out from an adjacent pasture. The animals are there to help keep the vegetation down.

The vineyard is also building its own fire truck, she says, adding that a friend helped protect them when the Walbridge fire, which morphed into the sprawling LNU Lightning Complex fire, got close last month.

Bacigalupi admits that three terrifying fire seasons in a row have prompted tough questions about the future.

“You get to a point where you are so overwhelmed that you are not sure if it’s worth fighting for,” she says.

Winemaking in the era of wildfires

Since 2015, California Alcohol Beverage Control has received roughly 170 new wineries registries a year – up from roughly seven registered annually in the 1990s. Some critics have called for crackdowns on the continuing expansion, and have concerns about how crowding affects safe and sustainable land use practices, especially in the face of faster-moving flames.

“It has gotten to the point of absurdity now, there are so many wineries in that little valley,” says James Conaway, the author of Napa: The Story of an American Eden. “Global warming is here and the changes are not going to turn around in anybody’s lifetime,” he adds. “Napa is going to have to alter what it is doing.”

Charred bottles of wine from the Castello di Amorosa winery sit in the debris of the Glass fire, which gutted part of the property.



Charred bottles of wine from the Castello di Amorosa winery sit in the debris of the Glass fire, which gutted part of the property. Photograph: Samuel Corum/AFP/Getty Images

He champions the idea that newcomers might move out, and make room for those most dedicated to sustainable winemaking. “Some of the people who have been there a long time are doing it – there are some really nice wines still being made in Napa,” he says. “But, it is not the nice sociable agrarian dream that it was back in the 80s.”

Kirk Venge, a third-generation veteran of the wine industry who was born and raised in Napa Valley, is optimistic, and says he’s not going anywhere. “We just have to be patient and not give up,” he says with a smile during a bustling day on his namesake vineyard, Venge, housed on the Silverado Trail. He has faced the dangers of Napa Valley’s new normal up close.

On this sunny afternoon in October, it would be hard to tell just how close the Glass fire came to his property, were it not for the surrounding scorched hillsides. Venge describes watching embers rain down from the sky and treetops and explode on the horizon, feeling certain he’d say goodbye to his winery that morning.

“The whole valley was starting to go up,” he says, pointing at the blackened landscape.

But his vineyard was spared and within hours, Venge and a small crew got back to work. “We have to keep making the wine,” he says. “People depend on us for their livelihood and we can’t just stop, we can’t run away.”

Now, he’s better preparing the property by increasing its “defensible space” – areas without debris or vegetation that can serve as a natural fire break. “No more bark around the building!” he laughs.

Venge is also dealing with another major challenge – the effects of persistent wildfire smoke, which is dangerous for workers to breathe and can also be absorbed by the grapes, altering the feel and flavor of the wine produced from them. A 2015 study by the Australian Wine Research Institute found that just a half-hour of smoke exposure was enough to have an impact. This year, some areas were cloaked in the grey haze for weeks on end.

So-called ‘smoke taint’ from wildfires can destroy a harvest of grapes.



So-called ‘smoke taint’ from wildfires can destroy a harvest of grapes. Photograph: Samuel Corum/AFP/Getty Images

“Smoke taint” has affected harvests in Napa already after bad fire seasons, and this year’s was no different. Venge says he lost more than two dozen tons of grapes as a result. “We didn’t pick any pinot this year at all,” he says. “Anything picked after the Glass fire is going to have smoke taint.”

To make up for the loss, Venge and his team are getting creative, replacing the unusable year with new products from the 2018 and 2019 stock, and hoping they are spared in 2021.

Searching for solutions

California’s wine country has always been disaster-prone, the land primed for floods, fires and earthquakes. Now, with winemakers around the world facing similar climate-related issues, the region is looking elsewhere for answers.

California has already benefited from lessons learned in fire-prone areas such as Australia and Chile. Resources are being shared up and down the west coast – Oregon and Washington are dealing with the same threats – and the winegrowing associations are collaborating on a taskforce to study smoke taint. There are also robust research centers based locally, including UC Davis, where viticulturalists are working to develop more resilient vines, and Sonoma State University, where there are studies into strategies for better sustainability and risk mitigation.

“The one thing we know about California farmers and ranchers – and I view the wine sector as a real leader in this – is they are all trying to look around that curve and trying to get ahead of that curve,” says Karen Ross, the secretary of the California department of food and agriculture, who also spent more than a decade serving as the president of the California Association of Winegrape Growers, and helped usher in a sustainable winegrowing program.

Ross admits that the effects of the climate crisis have descended on the region sooner than anticipated. “We have always talked about these kinds of impacts as the future – but the future is now,” she says, adding that Golden State growers are relying on research and science to navigate new obstacles. “It may look different but I think it will still be an important and leading part of what California agriculture is all about.”

Kirk Venge, a winemaker in Napa, is having to use wine from previous years to cover for grapes lost to smoke taint in 2020.



Kirk Venge, a winemaker in Napa, is having to use wine from previous years to cover for grapes lost to smoke taint in 2020. Photograph: Gabrielle Canon/The Guardian

Still, there is a long road ahead, and adjustments will have to be made quickly. Already, winemakers are predicting warming weather will mean the end for some wines in the region in the future, including favorites like pinot and chardonnay. Even cabernet, the valley’s most prized varietal, is under threat from the changing climate.

Because vines can take years to cultivate, the wine business is by nature future-facing, but Dr Judith Ford, a sustainability and resilience fellow at Sonoma State University hopes the latest fire season spurs a sense of urgency.


“There is a saying to never let a good crisis go to waste,” says Ford, who evaluated the wine industry’s preparedness following 2017 North Bay Fires, which hammered the region, and found that those who were directly affected were more likely to make changes.

“Right after 2017 there was a real drive to do some things and then it got back to business as usual,” she says.

Speaking at a wine industry conference at the beginning of this year, she was dismayed to see that only a dozen people showed up for a panel on disaster preparedness. “Our region feels like it has been hit with crisis after crisis after crisis – and that can really freeze you,” she says. “But this is escalating and it is important to keep moving forward.”

Despite the obstacles, many longtime residents like Bacigalupi are determined to stick it out. She says she could see how less-dedicated hobbyists might be driven away from the crisis-stricken area, “but we will stay”, she says, resolutely.

Her 95-year-old grandmother is still alive to see the legacy she built continue to grow. Bacigalupi says that is a big part of what keeps her going. “I feel strongly that you are given a gift in a generational family,” she says. “You are supposed to take the land, make it better, revive it if you need to and continue to make it healthier to pass down to the next generation.”


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Tenants are facing eviction again, despite the UK government’s promises | David Renton | Opinion

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After a seven-month gap, the housing courts are open. Although many of them will not be operating at any capacity until early November, some cases are starting to be heard. In mid-October I represented a typical couple, Monty and Lola (not their real names). They were in court to prevent a bailiff’s appointment that had been scheduled for the Friday.

The government has insisted that such hearings should continue. It has set in place two main protections for tenants. First, in the majority of cases, landlords have to wait several months after serving notices on tenants before issuing proceedings. Second, where cases were begun during the first lockdown, landlords must serve a “reactivation notice”, telling the courts whether a tenant has been affected by Covid. The idea of both provisions is to filter out the cases where the justification for eviction is clearest.

Monty and Lola were excluded from either protection because a final possession order had already been made against them before Covid. In drafting the rules, the government refused to include any safeguards for people in that situation.

Eighteen months earlier, their landlord had served a section 21 notice, a document that requires a tenant to leave without the landlord needing to show the tenant has done anything wrong. Monty and Lola went to their local Citizens Advice office and were told that the landlord could not win. He had taken a deposit from them but had not registered it within the statutory time and any section 21 notice would be invalid.

The government has promised, many times, to repeal section 21 – however, it has indefinitely postponed acting on that promise.

Although Monty and Lola had been in a strong position, they tried to be fair. They told the landlord’s solicitor they just needed to stay in their home until June 2020 when their son was due to leave school. The solicitor offered Monty and Lola a compromise: they could stay till the summer so long as they promised to leave then. They signed a consent order granting the landlord outright possession against them, never imagining that the pandemic would destroy all their plans.

The issue before the court was simply whether that order had been properly made. The hearing was supposed to start on the Wednesday at 2.45pm using the court’s cloud video platform. Fifteen minutes beforehand, I logged into an online waiting room. I could see an icon representing me and one for my opponent. I could see a blue dot by the names of the people in the hearing, as the judge invited each of them to speak. But I could not hear them, and nor could they hear me. By now, my pulse was racing at around 200 beats a minute – think what it was like for my clients.

The hearing was stopped and began again by telephone at 3.30pm. The judge had promised us a decision that day, but I needed to explain my client’s case, and the landlord’s barrister had to reply. Time wore on: past four, four thirty … We stopped at five, with no decision but the promise of a judgment on the Thursday.

On Thursday morning, I spoke to my clients and asked how they were. “Terrible,” said Monty. “We couldn’t sleep,” added Lola. Monty was focusing on their son who is in year 12. He suffers from dyslexia and has a statement of special educational needs. They had been expecting to take him out of school after his GCSEs. But his mock grades had been so poor (and, because of Covid, they had become his final results) that he had been forced to stay at school another year to re-sit his exams. That was why they were trying so hard to stay in a home they had previously been planning to leave.

Lola was focusing on the practicalities: they would not be able to find a moving company in the short time available to them. She and her husband had already driven more than 20 times to storage, they had moved everything they could. What they had left was heavy furniture, things they could not move without someone else’s assistance. They had asked the local authority to help, but it had refused. She could not imagine how they would move everything before the bailiffs arrived.

“We can’t do it,” she told me, “we just can’t.”

I had my telephone on speakerphone as the judge gave us her decision. She spoke gently and softly, but with urgency. The judge noted the decision of the higher courts that I had quoted. She referred to the cases my opponent had cited.

The tension was so great, my hands clawed up. I could not type.

She said that she agreed with me on the law – a consent order is binding in possession cases only if both parties had been absolutely clear in recording the factual admissions that would justify granting possession. That hadn’t happened in this case. Accordingly, she set aside the possession order and dismissed the warrant. Court officers would call the bailiffs and tell them the appointment was cancelled.

When I rang Lola and Monty later, they sounded drunk with relief.

Covid made everything rushed. It meant my clients had no proper warning of the bailiff’s appointment. It caused the hearing to be listed just days before the bailiff’s date. It meant that if we lost there would be no time to appeal to another judge. If the local authority had ended up moving my clients to emergency housing, it would have been shared accommodation – including possibly with people who might be ill.

The government is aware that there is a problem, and has recently begun a process of negotiating with the bailiff’s bodies, inviting them to hold back from evictions in tier 2 and tier 3 areas. While this is to be welcomed, it doesn’t go far enough. There isn’t any proper legal basis on which bailiffs can refuse to carry out court orders, even at the government’s request. The new measures also are not being properly publicised, when (as we saw in Monty and Lola’s case) the problem in evictions is repeatedly that tenants don’t know their rights, and landlords rely on their ignorance.

Much better would be a return to the summer’s ban on evictions. That system worked well and protected people who needed it. Until we do, many tens of thousands of people like Monty and Lola are going to suffer unnecessarily.

David Renton is a housing barrister at Garden Court Chambers



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