Briefs: GOP's rising stars and dark warnings

Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley speaks during the Republican National Convention from the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium in Washington, Monday, Aug. 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Associated Press

Business at the convention, Scotland's pandemic response, New Zealand sentencing hearing for racial terrorist

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — A rising generation of Republican stars offered an optimistic view of President Donald Trump's leadership but was undermined on the opening night of the GOP's scaled-back convention by speakers issuing dark warnings about the country's future and distorting the president's record, particularly on the coronavirus pandemic.

As Trump faces pressure to expand his appeal beyond his loyal supporters, Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, the Senate's sole Black Republican, and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, the daughter of Indian immigrants, sought to cast the GOP as welcoming to Americans of color, despite the party's overwhelmingly white leadership and voting base.

"I was a brown girl in a black and white world," Haley said Monday night, noting that she faced discrimination but rejecting the idea that "America is a racist country." She also gave a nod to the Black Lives Matter movement, saying "of course we know that every single Black life is valuable."

But the prime-time convention proceedings, which featured a blend of taped and live speeches, focused largely on dire talk about Joe Biden, Trump's Democratic challenger in the November election. Speakers ominously warned that electing Biden would lead to violence in American cities spilling into the suburbs, a frequent Trump campaign message with racist undertones. One speaker called Trump the "bodyguard of Western civilization."

Scrambling to find a message that sticks, Trump's team tried out multiple themes and tactics over the course of the night. They featured optimism from those who could represent the GOP's future, attempts to characterize Biden as a vessel for socialists and far-left Democrats despite his moderate record and humanizing stories about the 74-year-old man who sits in the Oval Office.

Trump convention blurs official business and politics

WASHINGTON (AP) — Plenty of presidents have walked right up to the line separating official business from politics — or even stepped over it. President Donald Trump has blown past it with a bulldozer, and his planned Republican convention speech from the White House lawn this week might be the latest and most blatant example yet.

Down in the polls and facing the headwinds of a coronavirus-battered economy, Trump made the case that the White House is the easiest location for the Secret Service and law enforcement to secure for his acceptance speech after Republicans were forced to scale back their convention because of the pandemic.

Left unsaid was that the Executive Mansion offers Trump a grand setting as he attempts to make his case that voters should stick with him in the midst of a health catastrophe that has touched nearly every aspect of American life. 

"What makes this particularly galling is that the president owns a hotel four blocks away from the White House that he's shown no qualms about profiting from over the course of his presidency," said Donald Sherman, deputy director of the nonprofit government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. "Now he feels compelled to use the White House grounds to deliver this political speech?"

That's not the only mixing of government and politics this week: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is among the Trump Cabinet officials who will address the convention, in his case a recorded address from Jerusalem while on a taxpayer-funded trip to the region. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue talked up Trump's reelection during an "official" visit Monday to a North Carolina farm with the president. 

WHAT TO WATCH: Melania, Pompeo and Trump at GOP convention

Tuesday's program at the Republican National Convention is likely to wade into familiar waters, with a lineup expected to speak on divisive issues like abortion and "cancel culture," while lambasting Democratic rival Joe Biden and the Democrats' progressive wing.

Unlike Democrats, who shifted their convention to an all-virtual affair, Republicans kept a scaled-down, in-person gathering in Charlotte, North Carolina. Several hundred delegates gathered there Monday voted to renominate President Donald Trump, but there are no in-person meetings for delegates scheduled the rest of the week.

What to watch at the convention Tuesday:

Trump appeared frequently during the first day of his party's convention. While he is expected to make an appearance during prime-time Tuesday night, details haven't been released. With Biden's proposals already cast as "socialist" and "radical," the president is likely to revive those criticisms in any remarks.

Weeks after blast, Lebanon patronage system immune to reform

Three weeks after a catastrophic explosion ripped through Beirut, killing nearly 200 people and rendering thousands homeless, the change many hoped for is nowhere in sight. Instead, activists said they are back to square one. 

The same politicians whose corruption and negligence the public blames for the disaster are negotiating among themselves over forming a new government. Calls for early elections have petered out. To devastated Beirutis, still sweeping shards of glass and fixing broken homes, the blast revealed the extent to which an entrenched system of patronage remains impervious to reform. 

In fact, the tools that the ruling elite have used to ensure a lock on power the past 30 years are only more powerful.

Rising poverty amid a severe economic crisis gives them greater leverage, with more people desperate for the income their patronage provides. Their grip on electoral politics was made tighter by an election law they passed in 2017, making it harder for independents to win seats. And there are armed groups affiliated with political parties. 

"Basically, we have no way to force them out," said Nizar Hassan, a civil activist and an organizer with LiHaqqi, a political movement active in the October mass anti-government protests.

Fierce storm surge feared as Laura bears down on Gulf Coast

NEW ORLEANS  — Tropical Storm Laura entered the warm and deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday, gathering strength on a path to hit the U.S. coastline as a major hurricane that could unleash a surge of seawater higher than a basketball hoop and swamp entire towns.

The National Hurricane Center projected that Laura will become a Category 3 hurricane before landfall, with winds of around 115 mph (185 kph), capable of devastating damage.

“The main point is that we’re going to have a significant hurricane make landfall late Wednesday or early Thursday,” National Hurricane Center Deputy Director Ed Rappaport said Tuesday.

The decapitating cross winds that killed Marco are not present, so there is little to keep Laura from turbocharging. Nearly all the computer simulations that forecasters rely on show rapid strengthening at some point in the next couple of days.

Scotland's handling of virus boosts support for independence

EDINBURGH, Scotland — There is wide agreement that Britain's devastating coronavirus outbreak has been met by strong, effective political leadership. Just not from Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

While Johnson has often seemed to flounder and flip-flop his way through the biggest national crisis in decades, Scottish leader Nicola Sturgeon has won praise for her sober, straight-talking response. 

The gulf between the neat, concise Sturgeon and the rumpled, rambling Johnson has catapulted the idea of Scottish independence from the United Kingdom — the long-held dream of Sturgeon's nationalist government — back up the political agenda. 

The issue appeared settled when Scottish voters rejected secession by 55 percent to 45 percent in a 2014 referendum. But after Brexit and COVID-19, "there are signs that the anchors of the union are beginning to shift," said Tom Devine, emeritus professor of history at the University of Edinburgh.

Devine said Sturgeon's government "has demonstrated it can manage the greatest catastrophe since World War II. And that suggests to some people who might have been on the edge of 'yes' and 'no' (for independence) that they could actually run a normal government."

Liberty: Falwell agreed to resign, then reversed course

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Jerry Falwell Jr.'s future at evangelical Liberty University amid a sex scandal was uncertain Monday, after the school said he had offered his resignation but then reversed course. 

Falwell agreed to "resign immediately as President of Liberty University today but then instructed his attorneys to not tender the letter for immediate resignation," according to a university news release distributed late Monday night. 

The news of Falwell's possible departure followed the publication of news stories about his wife's sexual encounters with a much younger business partner. They marked the latest in a series of controversies related to the couple to roil the school founded by Falwell's late father, the Rev. Jerry Falwell Sr. 

"I call upon the University community and supporters to be in prayer for the University and for all its leadership, past, present and future, as we walk with the Lord through this stormy time of transition," Acting Liberty President Jerry Prevo said in the news release.

Falwell had already been on an indefinite leave of absence since Aug. 7, following an uproar over a photo he posted on social media, and then deleted, showing him with his pants unzipped, stomach exposed and arm high around the waist of his wife's pregnant assistant.

Kenosha delayed body cameras for years before Blake shooting

City and law enforcement leaders in Kenosha, Wisconsin, unanimously endorsed the use of body cameras in 2017 as a way to increase police accountability and collect evidence at scenes of domestic violence, among other benefits.

But since then, they have balked at the price tag, raised policy concerns and put off implementation. The delays meant that officers who were on the scene of Sunday's shooting of Jacob Blake while responding to a domestic call were not equipped with technology that could give their perspective on an incident that has roiled the nation.

Instead, the public has only seen video captured by a neighbor that shows an officer shooting an unarmed Blake, 29, in the back several times as the Black man tried to get into a vehicle with his three children. It doesn't show what happened before or after the shooting like body camera footage would.

The shooting has prompted civil unrest in Kenosha, a city of 100,000 people between Milwaukee and Chicago. But it also shined a light on Kenosha's delays in equipping its roughly 200 police officers with body-worn cameras, which has made the city fall behind many of its neighbors and similar-sized peers.

"This is a tragedy. But at least some good could come from this if this is finally the incident where Kenosha says, 'we've got to get body cameras on these cops right away'," said Kevin Mathewson, a former member of the common council.

New Zealand survivor to mosque gunman: 'You are the loser'

CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand — A man who was shot and wounded in the New Zealand mosque attacks had a simple message for the mass-murderer responsible: "You are the loser, and we are the winners."

Mirwais Waziri was among the survivors and family members who spoke on the second day of a four-day sentencing hearing for white supremacist Brenton Harrison Tarrant, who killed 51 worshippers at two mosques during the March 2019 attacks.

Waziri said Tarrant had not shown any remorse during the hearing and so instead of giving a victim's impact statement he wanted to deliver the gunman a message. Coming from Afghanistan, Waziri said, he was sometimes associated with terrorism but now he'd been freed.

"You took that name from me," Waziri said. "Today, you are the terrorist."

His comments elicited spontaneous applause from other victims in the courtroom. Others told Tarrant during their statements that he was a coward, a monster, a rat.

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