Black Americans laud Juneteenth holiday, say more work ahead
WASHINGTON (AP) — Black Americans rejoiced Thursday after President Joe Biden made Juneteenth a federal holiday, but some said that, while they appreciated the recognition at a time of racial reckoning in America, more is needed to change policies that disadvantage too many of their brethren.
"It's great, but it's not enough," said Gwen Grant, president and CEO of the Urban League of Kansas City. Grant said she was delighted by the quick vote this week by Congress to make Juneteenth a national holiday because "it's been a long time coming."
But she added that "we need Congress to protect voting rights, and that needs to happen right now so we don't regress any further. That is the most important thing Congress can be addressing at this time."
At a jubilant White House bill-signing ceremony, Biden agreed that more than a commemoration of the events of June 19, 1865, is needed. That's when Union soldiers brought the news of freedom to enslaved Black people in Galveston, Texas — some 2 1/2 years after President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation had freed slaves in Southern states.
"This day doesn't just celebrate the past. It calls for action today," Biden said before he established Juneteenth National Independence Day. His audience included scores of members of Congress and Opal Lee, a 94-year-old Texas woman who campaigned for the holiday.
Iran votes in presidential poll tipped in hard-liner's favor
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Iran voted Friday in a presidential election tipped in the favor of a hard-line protege of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, fueling public apathy and sparking calls for a boycott in the Islamic Republic.
State-linked opinion polling and analysts put hard-line judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi as the dominant front-runner in a field of just four candidates. Former Central Bank chief, Abdolnasser Hemmati, is running as the race's moderate candidate but hasn't inspired the same support as outgoing President Hassan Rouhani, who is term limited from seeking the office again.
If elected, Raisi would be the first serving Iranian president sanctioned by the U.S. government even before entering office over his involvement in the mass execution of political prisoners in 1988, as well as his time as the head of Iran's internationally criticized judiciary — one of the world's top executioners.
It also would firmly put hard-liners in control across the Iranian government as negotiations in Vienna continue over trying to save Tehran's tattered nuclear deal with world powers, as it enriches uranium to the closest point yet to weapons-grade levels. Tensions remain high with both the U.S. and Israel, which is believed to have carried out a series of attacks targeting Iranian nuclear sites and assassinating the scientist who created its military atomic program decades earlier.
Polls opened at 7 a.m. local time for the vote, which has seen widespread public apathy after a panel under Khamenei barred hundreds of candidates, including reformists and those aligned with Rouhani. Khamenei cast the ceremonial vote from Tehran, where he urged the public to take part.
GOP needs new health care target; 'Obamacare' survives again
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court's latest rejection of a Republican effort to dismantle "Obamacare" signals anew that the GOP must look beyond repealing the law if it wants to hone the nation's health care problems into a winning political issue.
Thursday's 7-2 ruling was the third time the court has rebuffed major GOP challenges to former President Barack Obama's prized health care overhaul. Stingingly for Republicans, the decision emerged from a bench dominated 6-3 by conservative-leaning justices, including three appointed by President Donald Trump.
Those high court setbacks have been atop dozens of failed Republican repeal attempts in Congress. Most spectacularly, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., flashed a thumbs-down that doomed Trump's drive to erase the law in 2017.
Along with the public's gradual but decisive acceptance of the statute, the court rulings and legislative defeats underscore that the law, passed in 2010 despite overwhelming GOP opposition, is probably safe. And it spotlights a remarkable progression of the measure from a political liability that cost Democrats House control just months after enactment to a widely accepted bedrock of the medical system, delivering care to what the government says is more than 30 million people.
"The Affordable Care Act remains the law of the land," President Joe Biden said, using the statute's more formal name, after the court ruled that Texas and other GOP-led states had no right to bring their lawsuit to federal court.
UN: Millions driven from homes in 2020 despite COVID crisis
GENEVA (AP) — The U.N. refugee agency says war, violence, persecution and human rights violations caused nearly 3 million people to flee their homes last year, even though the COVID-19 crisis restricted movement worldwide as countries shut borders and ordered lockdowns.
In its latest Global Trends report released on Friday, UNHCR says the cumulative total of displaced people has risen to 82.4 million — roughly the population of Germany. It marks the ninth straight annual increase in the number of people forcibly displaced.
Filippo Grandi, the United Nations high commissioner for refugees, said conflict and the impact of climate change in places such as Mozambique, Ethiopia's Tigray region and Africa's broad Sahel area were among the leading sources of new movements of refugees and internally displaced people in 2020.
They added hundreds of thousands more people to the overall count, which has for years been dominated by the millions who have fled countries such as Syria and Afghanistan due to protracted wars or fighting.
"This is telling, in a year in which we were all locked down, confined, blocked in our homes, in our communities, in our cities," said Grandi in an interview before the report's release. "Almost 3 million people have had to actually leave all that behind because they had no other choice."
Migrant family's presence on Greek island hints at pushbacks
VATHY, Greece (AP) — Around dawn one recent spring day, an inflatable dinghy carrying nearly three dozen people reached the Greek island of Samos from the nearby Turkish coast. Within 24 hours, refugee rights groups say, the same group was seen drifting in a life raft back to Turkey.
But of the 32 people determined to have initially made it to Samos, only 28 were in the raft the Turkish coast guard reported retrieving at sea.
Four days later, the missing four — a Palestinian woman and her three children — appeared in Samos' main town of Vathy, apparently having eluded Greek authorities. She applied for asylum and last week was informed their application had been accepted.
"I consider that the arrival of this woman, if we're not speaking of a miracle, of a virgin birth, of her falling from the sky, we're speaking of clear proof of a pushback," said Dimitris Choulis, the lawyer who helped 31-year-old Huda Zaga apply for asylum, along with her 12-year-old daughter and sons, aged 11 and 5.
Accusations from rights groups and migrants that Greece has been carrying out pushbacks — the illegal summary deportation of migrants without allowing them to apply for asylum — are nothing new, on land or at sea. But it is rare for such cases to involve anyone managing to stay behind.
EXPLAINER: India switches policy but still short of vaccines
NEW DELHI (AP) — Starting Monday, every Indian adult can get a COVID-19 vaccine dose for free that was purchased by the federal government.
The policy reversal, announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week, ends a complex system of buying vaccines that worsened inequities in administering the shots. India is a key supplier of vaccines around the world, and its missteps have left millions of people waiting unprotected. Only about 3.5 percent of Indians are fully vaccinated and while the policy change is likely to address inequality, questions remain. Moreover poor planning means vaccine shortages will continue.
Here's a look at the changes to India's vaccine policy and what it means:
THE EARLIER POLICY
A massive virus surge in March pushed India's health systems to the breaking point: Hundreds of thousands of people were newly infected each day, hospitals overflowed with patients gasping for air and nighttime skies glowed as busy crematories burned bodies in the open air.
Convention circuit of delusion gives forum for election lies
NEW RICHMOND, Wisconsin (AP) — For a few hours last weekend, thousands of Donald Trump's supporters came together in a field under the blazing Wisconsin sun to live in an alternate reality where the former president was still in office — or would soon return.
Clad in red MAGA hats and holding "Trump 2021" signs, they cheered in approval as Mike Lindell, the My Pillow creator-turned-conspiracy peddler, introduced "our real president." Then Trump appeared via Jumbotron to repeat the lie that has become his central talking point since losing to Joe Biden by more than 7 million votes: "The election was rigged."
Lindell later promised the audience that Trump would soon be reinstated into the presidency, a prospect for which there is no legal or constitutional method.
In the nearly five months since Trump's presidency ended, similar scenes have unfolded in hotel ballrooms and other venues across the country. Attorney Lin Wood has told crowds that Trump is still president, while former national security adviser Michael Flynn went even further at a Dallas event by calling for a Myanmar-style military coup in the U.S. At the same conference, former Trump lawyer Sidney Powell suggested Trump could simply be reinstated and a new Inauguration Day set.
Taken together, the gatherings have gelled into a convention circuit of delusion centered on the false premise that the election was stolen. Lindell and others use the events to deepen their bond with legions of followers who eschew the mainstream press and live within a conservative echo chamber of talk radio and social media. In these forums, "evidence" of fraud is never fact-checked, leaving many followers genuinely convinced that Biden shouldn't be president.
Senator: Military justice changes must go beyond sex cases
WASHINGTON (AP) — Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is on the brink of success in her yearslong campaign to get sexual assault cases removed from the military chain of command. But getting over the finish line may depend on whether she can overcome wariness about broader changes she's seeking to the military justice system.
There is now widespread support for using independent military lawyers to handle sexual misconduct cases, but Gillibrand is promoting legislation that goes beyond that, extending that change to all major crimes. Top Pentagon officials and key lawmakers are open to the sexual assault shift, but they say applying it more broadly requires far more study and debate.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Gillibrand said the wider change is necessary to combat racial injustice within the military, where studies have found that Black people are more likely to be investigated and arrested for misconduct. She intends to press that point in the coming days.
Asked if she might compromise on her bill, Gillibrand said that time has passed. "We've been doing that for eight years. We've been getting something through every year, and some things just don't work. You need this broad-based reform," the New York Democrat said. "This is a bill whose time has come."
For years, however, lawmakers have framed their push for change in the military justice system around problems with sexual misconduct cases. Victims — largely women — have long said they are reluctant to file sexual assault or harassment complaints because they fear they won't be believed or will face retaliation. They've complained that allegations are sometimes dismissed by a good ol' boys network among unit commanders or that attackers get away with minimal punishments.
Ethiopia finally set to vote as PM vows 1st fair election
KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — Ethiopians will vote Monday in a landmark election overshadowed by reports of famine in the country's war-hit Tigray region and beset by logistical problems that mean some people won't be able to vote until September.
The election is the centerpiece of a reform drive by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, whose rise to power in 2018 seemed to signal a break with decades of authoritarian rule and led to his Nobel Peace Prize the following year. He has described the poll as "the nation's first attempt at free and fair elections."
Abiy's ruling Prosperity Party, formed in 2019 by merging groups who made up the previous ruling coalition, is widely expected to cement its hold on power. The party that wins a majority of seats in the House of Peoples' Representatives will form the next government.
"We will secure Ethiopia's unity," Abiy said ahead of his final campaign rally on Wednesday, repeating his vow of a free and fair election after past votes were marred by allegations of fraud.
But opposition groups have accused Ethiopia's ruling party of harassment, manipulation and threats of violence that echo abuses of the past.
Tropical system to bring heavy rain, flooding to Gulf Coast
MIAMI (AP) — Forecasters predict a tropical system will bring heavy rain, storm surge and coastal flooding to the northern Gulf Coast as early as Friday and throughout the weekend.
A tropical storm warning was in effect for parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida — extending from Intracoastal City, Louisiana, to the Okaloosa-Walton County line in the Florida Panhandle, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
The poorly-organized disturbance was located Friday morning about 310 miles south of Morgan City, Louisiana, with maximum sustained winds of 35 mph. It was moving north at 14 mph.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards late Thursday issued a state of emergency due to the potential weather threats. The move is an administrative step that authorizes the use of state resources to aid in storm response efforts, the governor's office said.
The system is expected to produce up to 8 inches of rain across the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico, and up to 12 inches through the weekend along the central U.S. Gulf Coast.