In brief: October 4, 2021

Democrats see political peril in replacing Minneapolis PD

MINNEAPOLIS — As activists mobilized this summer to ask Minneapolis voters to replace their police department, one of the first prominent Democrats to slam the plan was a moderate congresswoman who doesn’t even live in the city.

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Angie Craig declared it “shortsighted, misguided and likely to harm the very communities that it seeks to protect.” She warned that it could push out the city’s popular Black police chief.

Craig’s district covers a suburban-to-rural and politically divided region south of the city, but her willingness to jump into the fight next door highlights the political threat that Democrats like Craig see in the proposal.

As a city that has become synonymous with police abuse wrestles with police reform, the effort is sharply dividing Democrats along ideological lines. The state’s best known progressives — U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar and Attorney General Keith Ellison — support the plan, which would replace the police department with a new Department of Public Safety. Other top Democrats, including Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Gov. Tim Walz, oppose it.

The debate is dominating the city’s mayoral and City Council races, the first since a Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd in May 2020 and sparked a global racial reckoning. Passing the amendment would be a major win for the reform movement — both in substance and symbolism. But many in the Democratic establishment believe calls to “dismantle” or “defund” police cost the party seats in statehouses and Congress last year. They’re determined not to let that happen again next year. Defeating the Minneapolis measure has become a critical, high-profile test.

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2 Koreas restore hotline

SEOUL, South Korea — North and South Korea restored a stalled communication hotline after weeks of a hiatus in a small, fragile reconciliation step Monday, as the North pushes hard to win outside concessions with a mix of conciliatory gestures and missile tests.

Liaison officials from the two Koreas exchanged messages over a cross-border communication channel on Monday morning local time, Seoul’s Unification Ministry said.

The two Koreas are expected to restore other communication channels running across their tense border later Monday as they have both previously expressed their intentions to reopen them.

The phone and fax channels — which the rival Koreas use to set up meetings, arrange border crossings and avoid accidental clashes — have been largely dormant for more than a year. Communications were briefly revived for about two weeks this summer, but North Korea later refused to exchange messages after Seoul staged annual military drills with Washington it viewed as an invasion rehearsal.

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Leaked records open a ‘Pandora’ box of financial secrets

Hundreds of world leaders, powerful politicians, billionaires, celebrities, religious leaders and drug dealers have been hiding their investments in mansions, exclusive beachfront property, yachts and other assets for the past quarter-century, according to a review of nearly 12 million files obtained from 14 firms located around the world.

The report released Sunday by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists involved 600 journalists from 150 media outlets in 117 countries. It’s being dubbed the “Pandora Papers” because the findings shed light on the previously hidden dealings of the elite and the corrupt, and how they have used offshore accounts to shield assets collectively worth trillions of dollars.

The more than 330 current and former politicians identified as beneficiaries of the secret accounts include Jordan’s King Abdullah II, former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair, Czech Republic Prime Minister Andrej Babis, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, Ecuador’s President Guillermo Lasso, and associates of both Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The billionaires called out in the report include Turkish construction mogul Erman Ilicak and Robert T. Brockman, the former CEO of software maker Reynolds &Reynolds.

Many of the accounts were designed to evade taxes and conceal assets for other shady reasons, according to the report.

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Ex-Facebook manager alleges social network fed Capitol riot

Facebook prematurely turned off safeguards designed to thwart misinformation and rabble rousing after Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump in last year’s elections in a moneymaking move that a company whistleblower alleges contributed to the deadly Jan. 6 invasion of the U.S. Capitol.

The whistleblower, former Facebook product manager Frances Haugen, also asserted during an exclusive interview that aired Sunday on CBS’ “60 Minutes” that a 2018 change to the content flow in Facebook’s news feeds contributed to more divisiveness and ill will in a network ostensibly created to bring people closer together.

Despite the enmity that the new algorithms were feeding, Facebook found that they helped keep people coming back — a pattern that helped the Menlo Park, California, company sell more of the digital ads that generate most of its advertising.

“The thing I saw at Facebook over and over again was there were conflicts of interest between what was good for the public and what was good for Facebook,” said Haugen, who joined Facebook in 2019 after working at other Silicon Valley companies such as Google and Pinterest. “”And Facebook, over and over again, chose to optimize for its own interests, like making more money.”

Facebook’s annual revenue has more than doubled from $56 billion in 2018 to a projected $119 billion this year, based on the estimates of analysts surveyed by FactSet. Meanwhile, the company’s market value has soared from $375 billion at the end of 2018 to nearly $1 trillion now.

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Virus surge hits New England despite high vaccination rates

Despite having the highest vaccination rates in the country, there are constant reminders for most New England states of just how vicious the delta variant of COVID-19 is.

Hospitals across the region are seeing full intensive care units and staff shortages are starting to affect care. Public officials are pleading with the unvaccinated to get the shots. Health care workers are coping with pent-up demand for other kinds of care that had been delayed by the pandemic.

“I think it’s clearly frustrating for all of us,” said Michael Pieciak, the commissioner of the Vermont Department of Financial Regulation who monitors COVID-19 statistics for the state. “We want kids to be safe in school, we want parents not to have to worry about their child’s education and health.”

Even though parts of New England are seeing record case counts, hospitalizations and deaths that rival pre-vaccine peaks, largely among the unvaccinated, the region hasn’t seen the impact the delta variant wave has wrought on other parts of the country.

According to statistics from The Associated Press, the five states with the highest percentage of a fully vaccinated population are all in New England, with Vermont leading, followed by Connecticut, Maine, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. New Hampshire is 10th.

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AP: States and cities slow to spend federal pandemic money

As Congress considered a massive COVID-19 relief package earlier this year, hundreds of mayors from across the U.S. pleaded for “immediate action” on billions of dollars targeted to shore up their finances and revive their communities.

Now that they’ve received it, local officials are taking their time before actually spending the windfall.

As of this summer, a majority of large cities and states hadn’t spent a penny from the American Rescue Plan championed by Democrats and President Joe Biden, according to an Associated Press review of the first financial reports due under the law. States had spent just 2.5% of their initial allotment while large cities spent 8.5%, according to the AP analysis.

Many state and local governments reported they were still working on plans for their share of the $350 billion, which can be spent on a wide array of programs.

Though Biden signed the law in March, the Treasury Department didn’t release the money and spending guidelines until May. By then, some state legislatures already had wrapped up their budget work for the next year, leaving governors with no authority to spend the new money. Some states waited several more months to ask the federal government for their share.

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3rd victim dies after angry co-worker’s rampage

DAVENPORT, Fla. — Authorities said Sunday a third victim has died following a violent attack where an angry electrician wielding a knife and baseball bat killed three co-workers and injured another at the Florida home they shared.

Polk County Sheriff’s officials said electrician Shaun Runyon got into the argument with his supervisor Friday, punching the man and fleeing the job site. He returned to the Davenport home he where he was temporarily living with his co-workers Saturday and beat one man to death while he slept, killed another man on the front porch and chased another victim into the street, beating him badly with a bat, Sheriff Grady Judd said.

A fourth victim suffered critical injuries and later died at the hospital. Another man, his wife and their 7-year-old daughter escaped unharmed. Authorities did not release the identifies of the victims.

Runyon and seven co-workers and their families were living at the home rented by a Pennsylvania company, J & B Electric, Inc.

It’s unclear what prompted the fight between 39-year-old Runyon and his supervisor Friday, but Sheriff Judd said he confessed.

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Puerto Ricans fume as outages threaten health, work, school

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Not a single hurricane has hit Puerto Rico this year, but hundreds of thousands of people in the U.S. territory feel like they’re living in the aftermath of a major storm: Students do homework by the light of dying cellphones, people who depend on insulin or respiratory therapies struggle to find power sources and the elderly are fleeing sweltering homes amid record high temperatures.

Power outages across the island have surged in recent weeks, with some lasting several days. Officials have blamed everything from seaweed to mechanical failures as the government calls the situation a “crass failure” that urgently needs to be fixed.

The daily outages are snarling traffic, frying costly appliances, forcing doctors to cancel appointments, causing restaurants, shopping malls and schools to temporarily close and even prompting one university to suspend classes and another to declare a moratorium on exams.

“This is hell,” said Iris Santiago, a 48-year-old with chronic health conditions who often joins her elderly neighbors outside when their apartment building goes dark and the humid heat soars into the 90s Fahrenheit.

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“Like any Puerto Rican, I live in a constant state of anxiety because the power goes out every day,” she said. “Not everyone has family they can run to and go into a home with a generator.”

By wire sources

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