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US, British war dead honored at site where Revolution began

November 09, 2018

BOSTON (AP) — The British are coming again — this time in friendship. A memorial honoring fallen soldiers from the U.S. and Britain is being dedicated this month, and the venue couldn’t be more ironic: Boston’s historic Old North Church, where the American Revolution pitting rebellious colonists against English troops basically began.

“It’s the one place in Boston where you wouldn’t expect this to happen,” said Simon Boyd, a British-born real estate executive and Royal Air Force veteran leading the initiative. On April 18, 1775, two lanterns were displayed from the steeple of the church — a prearranged signal from Paul Revere that the British were heading to Lexington and Concord by sea across the Charles River rather than by land. That event, immortalized in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic poem, “Paul Revere’s Ride,” ignited the war of independence from Britain.

But Old North Church, Boston’s oldest surviving house of worship and the city’s most-visited historical site, since has become a symbol of Anglo-American affection. Every year on the Sunday closest to Nov. 11 — the date World War I ended in 1918 — the church built in 1723 has held a special remembrance service for Britons living in or near Boston, complete with bagpipes and poppies. This year’s commemoration will fall precisely on the 100th anniversary of the bloody Great War’s end.

Since 2005, Old North Church also has hosted a touching tribute to American troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the courtyard of the church, jingling like wind chimes, hang nearly 7,000 blank military dog tags — one set of tags for every U.S. life lost.

The new memorial, a bronze wreath, will honor British and other Commonwealth forces who perished alongside U.S. forces in both campaigns. And a bronze plaque will explain the meaning of the dog tags to the hundreds of thousands of visitors who pause to pay homage each year while walking Boston’s Freedom Trail — a 2.5-mile (4-kilometer) route that takes visitors past the church, Revere’s house and other historic landmarks.

“We once were enemies, but we’ve long since gotten over that,” said the Rev. Stephen Ayres, vicar of Old North Church. “We’re now a go-to church for the British community in Boston. That’s part of the improbability and wonder of Old North.”

Bruce Brooksbank, the Iraq-Afghanistan memorial’s volunteer caretaker, remembers how soldiers in the 1960s and ’70s were disrespected when they returned home from Vietnam. “This is my own little chance to make amends,” he said.

Fittingly, two top soldiers from both countries will join forces on Nov. 17 to unveil the wreath and plaque, both paid for by The Soldiers Fund, a Boston-based nonprofit that supports U.S. and British soldiers, veterans and their families.

Retired Gen. Martin Dempsey, a former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff under President Barack Obama who now oversees USA Basketball, and retired Gen. Sir Mike Jackson, who held the highest post in the British Army from 2003-2006, will preside over the unveiling. Both will speak at a Soldiers Fund dinner in Boston that evening.

There’s another tie that binds, said Boyd, who chairs the board of the Soldiers Fund: In 1917, Massachusetts sent one of the largest U.S. regiments to fight in WWI, naively dubbed “the war to end all wars.”

“We’re commemorating British and American lives lost, at a church where Paul Revere said with his lanterns that the British were coming,” he said. “It’s really all kind of come full circle.”

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Minority candidates see both success and veiled racism

November 08, 2018

WASHINGTON (AP) — For all the many successes among candidates of color, the midterm elections also proved to some the enduring power of racism, with minority politicians’ intelligence and integrity called into question by their opponents and President Donald Trump in what were widely seen as coded appeals to white voters.

Several Democratic strategists said Wednesday that the outcome showed the need for the party to recalibrate its strategy heading into 2020 and beyond. To win, they said, the party must expand its base of black and brown voters while also calling out racism more directly and doing more to persuade white voters to reject bigotry.

“At some point, voters have to stop rewarding racist behavior,” said activist Brittany Packnett. During the campaign cycle, Trump referred to black Tallahassee mayor and Democratic candidate for Florida governor Andrew Gillum as “a thief” because of an undercover FBI investigation into his acceptance of Broadway tickets. Trump also branded Gillum’s city “corrupt.”

And he framed Yale Law School graduate, veteran lawmaker and Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, a black woman, as incompetent. Republican Ron DeSantis, who beat Gillum on Tuesday, began the campaign by cautioning Florida voters not to “monkey this up” by voting for the Democrat — a remark that was also decried as racist.

In the end, Gillum came within less than 56,000 votes of DeSantis. In Georgia, the contest for governor was still too close to call on Wednesday. There were also campaigns around the country where allegations of racism were not enough to knock the candidate out of the running. In Iowa, Republican Rep. Steve King won a ninth term despite condemnation from his own party over his ties to white supremacists.

“Progressives have to have a better rebuttal to Trump’s tribalism than they have right now,” said Democratic strategist Cornell Belcher. “We have to give moderate white voters who are bothered by a sense of division some skin in this racism game. That’s not pivoting to health care. That’s talking about how this tribalism will affect them and their children. You don’t fix racism by not taking it on.”

In an often-combative morning-after news conference Wednesday, Trump rejected any suggestion that he emboldened white nationalists recently by describing himself as a “nationalist.” The president repeatedly said the question, posed by a black journalist, was itself racist.

On the plus side of the ledger for minorities Tuesday, a lot of the organizing during the midterm cycle was focused on minority voters, and record early turnout and long lines on Election Day suggested those efforts paid off.

Organizers pointed to the election to Congress of blacks and Latinos such as Massachusetts’ Ayanna Pressley, Connecticut’s Jahana Hayes, New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Texas’ Veronica Escobar, and the passage of a constitutional amendment in Florida that will restore the right to vote to more than a million former felons.

They also cited the defeat of GOP conservatives like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Kansas Gov. Kris Kobach as evidence that coalitions with liberal and centrist whites can work. Likewise, congressional candidates such as Illinois’ Lauren Underwood and New York’s Antonio Delgado showed that blacks can win in majority-white districts.

Packnett said there was a lot to be hopeful for going into 2020. “I’m saddened that the white women who also possess a marginalized identity are not voting in their interests more,” she said. “But just because we didn’t get all the wins in our column that we wanted doesn’t mean that there were not people who learned better and did better this election.”

Pressley, elected from a liberal, diverse Boston district as Massachusetts’ first black congresswoman, said candidates of color ignited and expanded the electorate in this year’s midterms. But she said America is not yet at the point where candidates of color are assumed to be capable or experienced.

“When we’re characterized as a fad or a trend or a fluke, that’s a disservice to our leadership,” she said.

Historic voter turnout drives Democrats’ win in House, governor’s races

NOV. 7, 2018

By Clyde Hughes

Nov. 7 (UPI) — For the first time in nearly a decade, the House of Representatives will be controlled by Democrats — after the party made substantial gains in the lower chamber in a number of key midterm races, many marked by record voter turnout.

With several races still unsettled Wednesday, Democrats had surpassed the 219-seat threshold it needed to wrest control from Republicans — a gain of 26 seats. Key additions in Virginia, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas and Florida races helped push the Democrats over the top.

The new majority will formally begin when lawmakers take office in January.

Democrats also performed well in gubernatorial races across the country, gaining at least six governorships in Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, New Mexico and Nevada. Republicans have picked up no gubernatorial races so far.

Republican Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is also projected to lose, which would total seven Democratic pickups. Races in Georgia and Connecticut have not yet been settled.

Republicans fared better in the Senate, winning three new seats.

Mike Braun convincingly beat Democratic incumbent Sen. Joe Donnelly in Indiana; Kevin Cramer defeated Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp in South Dakota; and Josh Hawley knocked off incumbent Democrat Claire McCaskill in Missouri.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott is expected to unseat incumbent Bill Nelson, though Nelson had not yet conceded.

The vote tallies follow what appears to be historic voter turnout nationwide.

The U.S. Election Project, run by Michael McDonald from the University of Florida, estimated that 111.56 million Americans cast votes in the midterms this year, easily making it the most participated midterms this century. The next highest total came in 2010 when 90.91 million ballots were counted around the country.

Eight million ballots were cast in Florida, an increase from 6 million for the last midterm in 2014, Time magazine reported. In 2010, 5.5 million voted in the state.

Every county in central Florida experienced higher voter turnout, and in Orange County, 59.7 percent of registered voters cast a ballot, an increase of 15 percent.

Many of the ballots, about 5 million, were early or mail-in ballots.

Arizona saw record turnout, as well. About 2.18 million voters participated, or 58.6 percent of all registered voters — the most in state history for midterms.

More than 2.6 million voters in Wisconsin topped the turnout for the hotly contested 2012 recall against Walker, and amounted to more ballots than some states recorded in the 2016 presidential election.

In Maryland, WUSA-TV reported turnout was so strong in Prince George’s County that at least four polling places ran out of ballots.

Buoyed by the Senate race between Democratic incumbent Tim Kaine and GOP challenger Corey Stewart, Virginians cast almost 3.3 million ballots, an increase of more than 1 million over 2014.

Almost 2.8 million votes were cast in New Jersey, beating its 2014 midterm total of fewer than 2 million, and Kentucky narrowly topped its 2014 turnout.

Texas saw its 2014 midterm totals beaten during early voting. The Houston Chronicle reported the state, which had ranked last in the United States in voter participation, saw 4.8 million early voters — higher than any of its last four midterms.

Source: United Press International (UPI).

Link: https://www.upi.com/Top_News/US/2018/11/07/Historic-voter-turnout-drives-Democrats-win-in-House-governors-races/6081541599925/.

Democrats gain governors’ seats, but GOP holds some states

November 07, 2018

Democrats tried Tuesday to fight their way back to power in state capitols across the country by reclaiming governor’s seats in several key states, marking significant steps in their nationwide strategy to reverse years of Republican gains in state capitols.

Still, their victories in Kansas, Illinois, Michigan, Maine and New Mexico were balanced by Republicans holding on to one of the top prizes, Florida, and the governor’s offices in Ohio and Arizona. All three states will figure prominently in the presidential map in two years.

Other closely watched governors’ races in Georgia and Wisconsin remained too close to call Tuesday night. In Michigan, Democrat Gretchen Whitmer defeated Republican Bill Schuette, upending years of Republican control in the state. The former legislative leader will become the second female governor in a state where Democrats heavily targeted other statewide and legislative offices.

Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner in Illinois lost his bid for a second term to Democrat J.B. Pritzker. The billionaire appears to have capitalized not only on Rauner’s lack of popularity but broader dissatisfaction with President Donald Trump. In Kansas, Democratic state lawmaker Laura Kelly defeated Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a close ally of Trump.

New Mexico also tipped into the Democratic column, with voters choosing Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham to succeed two-term Republican Gov. Susana Martinez. The campaign had been defined by conflicts over struggling public schools and high poverty rates.

In Maine, Democratic Attorney General Janet Mills won the race to succeed combative Republican Gov. Paul LePage, who was term-limited after eight years in office. Democrats Andrew Cuomo in New York and Tom Wolf in Pennsylvania easily won re-election, as did two Republicans in Democratic-leaning states — Larry Hogan in Maryland and Charlie Baker in Massachusetts.

In Iowa, Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds broke the Democrats’ run of Midwest success by being elected to a full term. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a former Republican presidential candidate and Trump ally, was seeking a third term in a race that remained too close to call.

In all, voters were choosing 36 governors and 6,089 state legislators in general and special elections that have attracted record amounts of spending from national Democratic and Republican groups. Republicans are in control more often than not in state capitols across the country, but Democrats were trying to pull a little closer in Tuesday’s elections.

The political parties are trying not only to win now, but also to put themselves in strong position for the elections two years from now that will determine which party will have the upper hand in redrawing congressional and state legislative districts.

Voters in Colorado, Michigan and Missouri approved ballot measures Tuesday overhauling the redistricting process in ways that are intended to reduce the likelihood of partisan gerrymandering by either major party. A redistricting ballot measure also was on the ballot in Utah.

Republicans entered Tuesday’s election with a sizable advantage, controlling two-thirds of the 99 state legislative chambers and 33 governors’ offices. The GOP held a trifecta of power in 25 states, compared with just eight for Democrats.

Democrats likely will gain full control in Illinois and New Mexico by winning the governor’s races. The Democratic victories in Kansas and Michigan will break up Republican trifectas. Republicans were largely on defense but also were angling for gains in a few traditionally Democratic states, such Connecticut.

The governor’s races have extra emphasis in 28 states where the winners will serve four-year terms with the potential power to approve or reject district boundaries drawn for Congress or state legislatures.

The Democratic Governors Association had focused on nine swing states — Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — where it believes the governorships could be pivotal in congressional redistricting.

As of mid-October, the Democratic Governors Association and its affiliated entities had raised $122 million during the past two years — a record outdone only by the Republican Governors Association’s new high mark of at least $156 million.

The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee and Republican State Leadership Committee, which focus on state races, also set record fundraising targets. The National Democratic Redistricting Committee, led by former Obama administration Attorney General Eric Holder, has pumped additional money into state races viewed as critical in future redistricting decisions.

Although most state lawmakers responsible for redistricting will be elected in 2020, voters on Tuesday were electing more than 800 state lawmakers in about two dozen states to four-year terms where they could play a role in approving new congressional or state legislative districts.

Right up to Armistice Day, US clout in WWI kept increasing

November 06, 2018

ROMAGNE-SOUS-MONTFAUCON, France (AP) — On the final morning of World War I, U.S. Gen. John J. Pershing was not eager to stop fighting. After all, if one nation had momentum after the first global war’s four years of unprecedented slaughter, it was the United States.

U.S. troops would push forward on several fronts in France until the minute a cease-fire took effect at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11, six hours after it was negotiated. With more time, the Americans might even have entered Germany soon after, establishing themselves as the world’s ascendant military power.

When Pvt. Jose De La Luz Saenz was awoken along the front lines of the Meuse-Argonne offensive in northeastern France on Nov. 11, 1918, the pre-dawn instructions were not only about sealing the imminent cease-fire.

“The orders called for continuing the artillery fire with the same intensity until eleven in the morning,” Saenz noted in his published diary. And despite the promise of the armistice, “the day seemed like all others because the artillery duel appeared to be continuing with even greater intensity,” he wrote.

In addition to military reasons, there was also a political point to be made, said Nicolas Czubak, a French military historian specializing in northeastern France, where U.S. troops fought. “For the Americans, it really is to show that they have played as important a role in victory as the other armies,” Czubak said.

After the United States declared war on Germany in April 1917, its standing army of 127,500 became an armed force of 2 million within 1½ years. On Nov. 11, 1918, allies like Britain and France were exhausted, Germany was as good as defeated and Pershing had another 2 million troops ready to come over.

“If war had continued into 1919, the No. 1 army in the world fighting at the front would have been the U.S. Army — without a doubt,” Czubak said. “It is also why he wanted to continue even after Nov. 11.”

Near the place where Saenz heard bombshells explode a century ago now stands the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery at the French town of Romagne-sous-Montfaucon. American soldiers who died on that armistice day — 100 of them — are buried there along with 14,146 fellow U.S. troops. The cemetery holds the largest number of U.S. military dead in Europe.

By the time World War I ended, Americans had been in enough battles that they were interred in a half-dozen cemeteries dotted across northern France. In a war where the dead would be counted in millions — 1.4 million for France, 1.1 million for British imperial forces — the United States had 126,000 dead to mourn.

When U.S. President Donald Trump joins other world leaders at World War I armistice events hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron this weekend, he plans to visit some of the burial sites. And standing among the white crosses, Trump will see that the pre-eminent military force he commands had its roots in French soil, where U.S. troops were instrumental in turning the tide after their nation shed its isolationism and stood by its European allies.

If the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery symbolizes America’s coming-of-age in the war, the Aisne-Marne cemetery at the Belleau Wood battleground marks its beginning. When the war started in 1914, most Americans considered it “Europe’s war.” A hit song in 1915 was titled “I Didn’t Raise My Boy To Be A Soldier” and President Woodrow Wilson won re-election in 1916 with the campaign slogan “He kept us out of war.”

German belligerence soon had Americans rethinking the wisdom of isolation, said Bruce Malone, a historian and superintendent of the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery. “Unrestricted warfare, sinking ships with Americans on them or American ships” and the infamous Zimmermann telegram in which Germany promised to give Mexico some American territory if it kept the U.S. engaged shifted the momentum, he said.

“Even President Wilson, who did not want to be in the war, had no choice,” said Malone. On April 6, 1917, the U.S. declared war, much to the relief of its European allies. “It wasn’t going well in Europe at the time, and the Germans were actually gaining some momentum. The Allies were essentially running out of men to fight the war,” Malone said.

There was one problem though, he added. “We join the war. We’ve made promises, but we don’t have an army. Certainly not of the European standard,” he said. Speed was of the essence. Russia left the war in March 1918 and Germany had sent its troops to the Western front for a final full onslaught. Just in time, U.S. soldiers started arriving en masse.

Pershing, disregarding British and French pleas to use U.S. troops to beef up depleted lines under British and French command, always wanted his men to fight as an independent American force. A major breakthrough came at Belleau Wood, when U.S. forces stopped a German advance on Paris against heavy odds. It proved their mettle to the enemy and allies alike.

The Americans kept building on their newly acknowledged grit through the end of the war. Saenz was there to record it. “The bloody fighting and our victory was the decisive blow that finished the Teutonic pride and dispelled forever the Germans’ false dream of global conquest,” he wrote after a Nov. 2 victory.

Instead, the United States could start dreaming of making the next century its own.

Videojournalist Mark Carlson and photojournalist Virginia Mayo contributed reporting.

Election Day: State, Congress races a referendum on Trump

NOV. 6, 2018

By Clyde Hughes

Nov. 6 (UPI) — Americans have one last chance to go to the polls on Election Day Tuesday, casting ballots according to their contentment or disgust with how things are going from the White House on down.

Many see Tuesday’s congressional and state races as a referendeum on President Donald Trump and his agenda.

The election has already set records for turnout with more than 30 million votes cast during early voting.

Michael McDonald, an associate professor at the University of Florida who researches American elections, said on Twitter 28 states and the District of Columbia have surpassed their 2014 early voting totals.

In two of those states, Nevada and Texas, early voting surpassed all ballots cast in the midterms four years ago.

There’s a lot riding on the congressional and gubernatorial races — leaders who will have the power to reshape district maps after the 2020 Census. Here are some of the highlights of what’s at stake o Tuesday.

The Trump referendum

Trump has been active on the campaign trail trying to rally his base to the polls. He has taken a personal interest in the U.S. Senate race in Montana, where he’s traveled four times since July.

Democratic incumbent Jon Tester is in a tight race to keep his seat against Republican challenger Matt Rosendale. With Trump’s help, Rosendale has closed the gap on Tester, who had led the race by 9 points in a poll last month (47-38).

Trump has also campaigned in recent days in West Virginia and Indiana, where vulnerable Senate Democrats Joe Manchin and Joe Donnelly are holding on to slim leads.

Trump vowed to unseat Tester after he led a Democratic effort to block former White House doctor Adm. Ronny Jackson from being appointed to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs.

In most of his rallies, Trump has played up immigration issues, like the caravan of Central American migrants in Mexico headed for the United States — and the tax cuts from Republicans this year.

In political ads around the country, perhaps no one has been mentioned more than Trump. According to a survey of television and Facebook ads by the Wesleyan Media Project, the president has been mentioned in about 13 percent of all television ads and 17 percent of Facebook ads.

Republicans have targeted Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer in ads. His name has been invoked in 11.3 percent of Republican television ads this season. House minority leader Nancy Pelosi has been mentioned in 7.1 percent of GOP ads.

“The economy is so good right now: highest wage increases in a decade, 250,000 new jobs, manufacturing jobs, hospitality, construction,” Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said in a statement last week.

“We are on a comeback and all Democrats want to do is stop that. … It’s a no-brainer, and we need to close strong and tell voters it is the economy, economy, economy.”

Democrats, meanwhile, have mentioned Trump in 10 percent of their ads — and have made taxes the top issue in their political advertising.

Tom Perez, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, countered McDaniel’s positive economic news, arguing that voters feel squeezed by rising prices and are not feeling the economic progress.

“If you get $1 more on your paycheck and the cost of gasoline, the cost of healthcare, the cost of housing goes up by $3, you’re not better off,” Perez said Sunday. “We created more jobs in the last 21 months of the Obama administration than the first 21 months of the Trump administration. People need to feel that if they work a full-time job, they actually able to feed their families and not tread water.”

Historical votes

History might be made in two states. In Florida, voters are deciding if Andrew Gillum will become the first African-American governor — and in Georgia, Stacey Abrams could be the first black female governor anywhere in the country.

While Gillum, the Democratic mayor of Tallahassee, has held a slim lead in the last five state polls, he has consistently led GOP opponent Ron DeSantis.

Trump has hit Florida hard with two campaign trips this past week in an effort rally his base for DeSantis and current Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who is trying to unseat incumbent Democrat U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.

In the same StPetePolls.org survey, Scott leads Nelson 49.1 percent to 47.5.

The latest Georgia polls gave Abrams and her opponent, Georgia Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp, split results.

The Georgia race has been marred by voter suppression charges against Kemp and how he is applying the state’s “exact match” voter identification law. A federal judge said Friday the state must change its procedures to make it easier for some people affected by the policy to vote, pointing out how the policy affected minorities disproportionately.

In Vermont, known for its independent streak, Democrat Christine Hallquist is fighting Republican incumbent Phil Scott to become the first openly transgender woman elected as governor. Experts have Scott leading by double-digits.

House in reach of Democrats

The House of Representatives is in play for the first time since President Barack Obama’s first term. According to the latest polling, the Democrats have a shot of winning the 23 seats needed to seize the majority in the lower chamber.

Analysis website FiveThirtyEight gives Democrats a 7-in-8 chance to taking back the House.

“The House playing field is exceptionally broad this year, because of Republican retirements, an influx of Democratic cash and other factors,” Nate Silver, the creator, and editor of FiveThirtyEight, said in a statement Saturday.

One of the “must-have” House races for both parties is in Florida’s 26th District, where Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo is fighting off a strong challenge from Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell. Recent polling has them neck-and-neck.

Curbelo had tried to separate himself from Trump’s tough immigration rhetoric in recent days, saying in a television interview he believed sending 15,000 U.S. troops to the country’s southern border was an “overreaction.”

Mucarsel-Powell, in the meantime, charged that Curbelo was trying to burnish his moderate credentials while voting with the Trump administration and Republicans 85 percent of the time.

Republicans feel better about Senate

While the House could flip, many Republicans feel more secure about keeping the Senate when the votes are officially counted Tuesday night.

FiveThirtyEight gives Republicans a 5-in-6 chance of holding the Senate majority, based on changes in several key races.

A KNXV-TV-OH Predictive Insights poll last week showed Arizona Republican Martha McSally with a seven-point lead over Democrat Kyrsten Sinema, who held a slim lead in previous polls for the seat to replace U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake.

OH Predictive chief pollster Mike Noble said McSally’s support for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh during his nationally-televised hearing appeared to be the turning point in the race.

“If Kavanaugh didn’t happen, I think it’d be an extremely tight race,” Noble told KNXV-TV. “If not, I’d actually say the edge would go to Sinema but after seeing the polling – seeing the results — everything else — I think that McSally will end up winning coming election night.”

While there’s been plenty of buzz around Sen. Ted Cruz and challenger Rep. Beto O’Rouke, experts say Cruz is likely to hold onto that seat — as he leads by an average of 6 to 10 percent.

“O’Rourke is within striking distance, but time is running out,” Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll, said in a statement last week.

“Sen. Cruz is ahead due to his winning the ‘gender gap.’ He wins men 56-39 percent, while Representative O’Rourke can manage only a 52-45 percent edge among women.”

Republicans may also be in position to pick off some Democratic seats. In South Dakota, incumbent Sen. Heidi Heitkamp trails GOP challenger Kevin Cramer by double-digits in some polling. In Missouri, Sen. Claire McCaskill was tied with challenger Josh Hawley in recent polling.

Big day for marijuana

The growing U.S. marijuana industry is hoping to expand even more Tuesday, with voters in four states weighing in on various legalization measures.

North Dakota will vote on allowing residents to grow, use and possess as much pot as they want, without government oversight. Michigan will vote on legalizing, taxing and regulating recreational-use pot, along with three other laws to allow medical use.

Missouri will vote on three plans to allow residents to grow, manufacture, sell and use marijuana with varying degrees of taxation and other provisions. Utah will vote whether to approve a medical cannabis measure.

Some 30 states have already legalized marijuana and the District of Columbia has legalized medical-use cannabis.

Other issues

Alabama will decide a constitutional amendment defining “personhood” at conception, in a key abortion rights measure.

Oregon and West Virginia will vote on amending their constitutions to limit Medicaid abortion funding only to cases where the life of the mother is in danger, rape and incest.

Colorado, Michigan and Utah will decide on creating independent commissions for redistricting. Those states currently have legislators draw their own lines, like most states.

Florida will vote on expanding voting rights to felons, which could give an estimated 1.5 million their right to vote back.

Michigan and Nevada will decide on making voter registration automatic, and Maryland will decide on approving same-day registration and voting.

Source: United Press International (UPI).

Link: https://www.upi.com/Election-Day-State-Congress-races-a-referendum-on-Trump/8011541435519/.

Turkish court convicts US pastor of terror yet frees him

October 12, 2018

ALIAGA, Turkey (AP) — A Turkish court on Friday convicted an American pastor on terror charges but released him from house arrest and allowed him to leave the country, a move that’s likely to ease tensions between Turkey and the United States.

The court near the western city of Izmir sentenced Andrew Brunson to 3 years, 1 month and 15 days in prison for allegedly helping terror groups. But since the evangelical pastor had already spent nearly two years in detention, Turkish law allowed him to remain free with time served.

The earlier charge of espionage against him was dropped. Brunson, a native of North Carolina whose detention had sparked a diplomatic dispute between the two NATO allies, had rejected the espionage and terror-related charges and strongly maintained his innocence.

The 50-year-old native of North Carolina had faced up to 35 years in jail if convicted of all the charges. With tears in his eyes, he hugged his wife Norine Lyn as he awaited the decision Friday. Lawyer Ismail Cem Halavurt said Brunson was expected to leave Turkey for the U.S., but it was not clear when. His lawyer said the electronic ankle bracelet for monitoring was removed. Brunson was seen going back to his home in Izmir from the court.

President Donald J. Trump tweeted he was praying for Brunson and announced his release, saying “WILL BE HOME SOON!” Washington had repeatedly called for Brunson’s release and in August had slapped sanctions on Turkey.

But a top Turkish official criticized Trump’s tweet and American pressures for the pastor’s release. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s communications director Fahrettin Altun repeated the president’s message that Turkey would not bow to threats of sanctions and said the court’s ruling proved the judiciary’s independence.

Brunson, who has lived in Turkey for more than two decades, was one of thousands caught up in a widespread government crackdown that followed a failed coup against the Turkish government in July 2016.

He was accused of committing crimes on behalf of terror groups and of alleged links to outlawed Kurdish militants and a network led by a U.S.-based Turkish cleric who is accused of orchestrating the coup attempt.

“I am an innocent man. I love Jesus. I love Turkey,” Brunson told the court Friday, speaking in Turkish. Earlier, the court called two witnesses following tips from witness Levent Kalkan, who at a previous hearing had accused Brunson of aiding terror groups. The new witnesses did not confirm Kalkan’s accusations. Another witness for the prosecution said she did not know Brunson.

The pastor, who is originally from Black Mountain, North Carolina, led a small congregation in the Izmir Resurrection Church. He was imprisoned for nearly two years – detained in October 2016 and formally arrested in December that year – before being placed under house arrest on July 25 for health reasons.

Tony Perkins, the commissioner for the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, said he welcomed the court’s decision Friday along with “the millions of Americans who have been praying for Pastor Brunson’s release.”

Washington imposed sanctions on two Turkish officials and doubled tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminum imports in August. Those moves, coupled with concerns over the government’s economic management, helped trigger a Turkish currency crisis.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had resisted U.S. demands for Brunson’s release, insisting that Turkish courts are independent. But he had previously suggested a possible swap of Brunson for the Pennsylvania resident Fethullah Gulen – the cleric that Erdogan has accused of being behind the coup attempt.

Gulen has denied the claim. Turkey has demanded his extradition but so far U.S. officials say Turkey has not provided sufficient reason for U.S. officials to extradite the cleric, a former ally of Erdogan who had a falling out with the powerful leader.

Brunson’s trial came as another major diplomatic case is developing in Turkey involving Saudi writer and U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi, who disappeared at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last week. Turkish officials claim the writer may have been killed inside the Saudi diplomatic mission and Turkish newspapers have released pictures of alleged Saudi agents flown in to allegedly handle the killing. Saudi officials reject the claim as “baseless.”

Associated Press journalists Mehmet Guzel contributed from Aliaga and Suzan Fraser from Ankara, Turkey.

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