Day: August 11, 2019

Guatemalans to vote in close presidential runoff

GUATEMALA CITY — Guatemalans go the polls Sunday in the second-round presidential runoff, pitting ex-first lady Sandra Torres against conservative Alejandro Giammattei in a nation beset by poverty, unemployment and emigration.

Giammattei, making his fourth bid for the presidency, is the favourite in a CID-Gallup poll which surveyed 1,216 people between July 29 and Aug. 5. The poll estimated support for Giammattei at 39.5%, compared to 32.4% for Torres. It had a margin of error of 2.8 points.

Running for the conservative Vamos party, Giammattei has earned a reputation of being tough on crime and wants to re-introduce the death penalty. The 63-year-old doctor, who uses crutches because he has multiple sclerosis, stridently opposes gay marriage and abortion and endorses family values.

Torres was married to — and later divorced — former President Álvaro Colom (2008-2012), but has a record of her own as a businesswoman, having run a textile and apparel company.

Her campaign platform has focused on improving education, health care and the economy. She also has proposed an anti-corruption program, but her Unity for Hope party (UNES) has come under fire because some of its mayoral candidates have been accused of receiving contributions from drug traffickers for their campaigns.

Polling stations open at 7:00 a.m. local time and close at 6:00 p.m., with preliminary results expected by late Sunday. There are about 8 million registered voters, but boosting turnout above 50% will be a challenge.

The country’s general elections were held June 16, but no candidate won the necessary votes to assume the post after the first round.

Sunday’s winner will take office on Jan. 14 and be tasked with attempting to stem the large flow of migrants headed toward the United States. At least 1% of Guatemala’s population of some 16 million has left the country this year.

On July 6, outgoing President Jimmy Morales signed a pact with the United States that would require Salvadorans and Hondurans to request asylum in Guatemala if they cross through the country to reach the U.S. The next president will be forced to decide whether to nullify or honour the so-called “third safe country” agreement, which could potentially ease the crush of migrants arriving at the U.S. border.

In addition to migration, voters say they are concerned about crime, unemployment, the rising costs of living and entrenched corruption.

Three of the last four elected presidents have been arrested post-presidency on charges of graft, and Morales himself decided to disband and bar the U.N. anti-corruption commission after he became a target for alleged campaign finance violations.

The campaign season has been marked by a chaotic flurry of court rulings, shenanigans, illegal party-switching and allegations of malfeasance that originally torpedoed the runs of two of the three presidential front-runners.

The Associated Press







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By The Wall of Law August 11, 2019 Off

AP News in Brief at 12:04 a.m. EDT

US attorney: Epstein abuse probe steadfast despite his death

NEW YORK (AP) — The FBI and the Justice Department’s inspector general’s office will investigate how Jeffrey Epstein died in an apparent suicide Saturday, while the probe into sexual abuse allegations against the well-connected financier remains ongoing, officials said.

Epstein, accused of orchestrating a sex-trafficking ring and sexually abusing dozens of underage girls, had been taken off suicide watch before he killed himself in a New York jail, a person familiar with the matter said.

Attorney General William Barr, in announcing the investigation, said he was “appalled” to learn of Epstein’s death while in federal custody.

“Mr. Epstein’s death raises serious questions that must be answered,” Barr said in a statement.

Epstein was found unresponsive in his cell Saturday morning at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Fire officials received a call at 6:39 a.m. Saturday that Epstein was in cardiac arrest, and he was pronounced dead at New York Presbyterian-Lower Manhattan Hospital.

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Epstein suicide sparks fresh round of conspiracy theories

Jeffrey Epstein’s apparent suicide Saturday morning in a federal jail launched new conspiracy theories online in a saga that has provided fodder for them for years, fueled by Epstein’s ties to princes, politicians and other famous and powerful people.

Online theorists Saturday quickly offered unsubstantiated speculation — including some retweeted by President Donald Trump — that Epstein’s death wasn’t a suicide, or it was faked.

That chatter picked up on the conjecture that resurged after Epstein’s July 6 arrest on allegations that he orchestrated a sex-trafficking ring designed to bring him teenage girls. Some of his accusers have described being sexually abused by the wealthy financier’s friends and acquaintances.

The combination created fertile ground for theories and misinformation to breed on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Epstein, 66, had been denied bail and faced up to 45 years behind bars on federal sex trafficking and conspiracy charges unsealed last month. He had pleaded not guilty and was awaiting trial next year.

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Biden is still the Democrat to beat, but rivals see weakness

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — In a barn down a gravel road in Iowa, Joe Biden tore into President Donald Trump’s moral character, declaring in one of the fiercest speeches of his campaign that the words of the American president matter.

The next day, Biden’s own words tripped him up. He told an audience in Des Moines that poor children are “just as bright and just as talented as white kids,” before immediately clarifying his remarks.

The back-to-back episodes magnified the promise and the peril of Biden’s candidacy. Three months after announcing his White House bid, he remains atop early polling for Democratic candidates, buoyed by a long history with voters and a belief among many of them that his decades of experience best position him to defeat Trump. Those attributes appear to have helped the former vice-president withstand weeks of attacks on his lengthy record in politics.

But Biden’s rivals remain confident that his fumbles, like the one in Iowa this week, eventually will catch up to him, undermining his electability argument.

“He has been durable,” said David Axelrod, a longtime political strategist for President Barack Obama. “The question is whether that durability is because we aren’t fully geared into the race or whether there are inherent strengths there.”

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State gun control laws face uncertainty amid court changes

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California has some of the toughest gun laws in the nation, including a ban on the type of high-capacity ammunition magazines used in some of the nation’s deadliest mass shootings.

How long those types of laws will stand is a growing concern among gun control advocates in California and elsewhere.

A federal judiciary that is becoming increasingly conservative under President Donald Trump and the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate has gun control advocates on edge. They worry that federal courts, especially if Trump wins a second term next year and Republicans hold the Senate, will take such an expansive view of Second Amendment rights that they might overturn strict gun control laws enacted in Democratic-leaning states.

The U.S. Supreme Court so far has left plenty of room for states to enact their own gun legislation, said Adam Winkler, a gun policy expert at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law. But he said the success of the Trump administration in appointing federal judges, including to the high court, could alter that.

“Those judges are likely to be hostile to gun-control measures,” Winkler said. “So I think the courts overall have made a shift to the right on guns. We’ll just have to see how that plays out.”

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Trump: Kim wants to meet again, apologized for missile tests

BERKELEY HEIGHTS, N.J. (AP) — President Donald Trump said Saturday that North Korea’s Kim Jong Un wants to meet once again to “start negotiations” after joint U.S.-South Korea military exercises end. He also said Kim apologized for the flurry of recent short-range missile tests that has rattled U.S. allies in the region.

Trump is tweeting more details from the “beautiful” three-page letter he told reporters on Friday that he’d received from Kim. Trump, who is on vacation at his golf club in New Jersey, said Kim spent much of his letter complaining about “the ridiculous and expensive exercises,” which North Korea sees as a threat.

He said Kim offered him “a small apology” for the recent tests and assured him “that this testing would stop when the exercises end.” North Korea on Saturday fired what appeared to be two short-range ballistic missiles into the sea, according to South Korea’s military — the fifth round of launches in less than three weeks.

“I look forward to seeing Kim Jong Un in the not too distant future!” Trump wrote.

The two leaders have met three times — in Singapore, Hanoi and at the Korean Demilitarized Zone — but critics say Trump has received few concessions in the standoff over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program in exchange for the meetings.

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N. Korea says Kim supervised weapons tests, criticizes Seoul

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea said Sunday leader Kim Jong Un supervised test-firings of an unspecified new weapons system, which extended a streak of launches that are seen as an attempt to build leverage ahead of negotiations with the United States while driving a wedge between Washington and Seoul.

The report by North Korean state media came hours after President Donald Trump said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has expressed a desire to meet again to start nuclear negotiations after the end of ongoing joint U.S.-South Korea military exercises, and apologized for the flurry of recent short-range ballistic launches that rattled U.S. allies in the region.

North Korea’s Foreign Ministry in a separate statement on Sunday blasted South Korea for continuing to host military drills with the United States, and said that its future dialogue will be held strictly between Pyongyang and Washington and not between the Koreas.

South Korea’s military said the North on Saturday fired what appeared to be two short-range ballistic missiles. It said they flew about 400 kilometres (248 miles) before landing in waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan.

Kim expressed “great satisfaction” over the launches, which Pyongyang’s Korean Central News Agency said verified that the new weapon system performs as designed. The official Rodong Sinmun newspaper published several photos that showed Kim watching from an observation post and what appeared to be a missile soaring from a mobile launcher.

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UN: Car bomb kills 3 UN staff outside mall in Libya

BENGHZI, Libya (AP) — A bomb-laden vehicle exploded Saturday outside a shopping mall in Libya’s eastern city of Benghazi, killing at least three U.N. staff members, a spokesman for the United Nations secretary-general said. The attack came even as the country’s warring sides said they accepted a cease-fire proposed by the U.N. aimed at halting combat in the capital Tripoli during an upcoming Muslim holiday.

Health officials said the blast took place outside Arkan Mall in the Hawari neighbourhood, where people were gathering for shopping a day before the Eid al-Adha holiday begins. The Benghazi municipal council said the attack targeted a convoy for the U.N. Support Mission in Libya.

The site of the attack is close to offices of the mission in Libya. Two of the dead hailed from Libya and Fuji, and the blast wounded nine people, according to health officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief reporters.

Stéphane Dujarric, a spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, said in a statement that three U.N. workers were among the wounded.

“The Secretary-General extends his deepest condolences to the bereaved families and wishes a swift recovery to all the injured. He calls on the Libyan authorities to spare no effort in identifying and swiftly bringing to justice the perpetrators of this attack,” Dujarric said.

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Amid protest, Hawaii astronomers lose observation time

HONOLULU (AP) — Asteroids, including those that might slam into Earth. Clouds of gas and dust on the verge of forming stars. Planets orbiting stars other than our own.

This is some of the research astronomers say they have missed out on at 11 observatories on Hawaii’s tallest mountain as a protest blocks the road to the summit, one of the world’s premier sites for studying the skies.

Astronomers said Friday they will attempt to resume observations, but they have already lost four weeks of viewing — and in some cases won’t be able to make up the missed research. Protesters, who are trying to stop the construction of yet another telescope at the site, say they should not be blamed for the shutdown.

Astronomers cancelled more than 2,000 hours of viewing at Mauna Kea’s existing telescopes, work they estimate would have led to the publication of about 450 papers in peer-reviewed scientific journals.

“Any one of them could have been spectacular, could have been Nobel Prize-winning science. We just now will never know,” said Jessica Dempsey, deputy director of the East Asian Observatory, which operates one of Mauna Kea’s telescopes.

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El Paso crowd decries racism week after mass shooting

EL PASO, Texas (AP) — More than 100 people marched through the Texas border city of El Paso on Saturday, denouncing racism and calling for stronger gun laws one week after 22 people were killed in a mass shooting that authorities say was carried out by a man targeting Mexicans.

Chanting “gun reform now,” ” El Paso strong” and “aquí estamos y no nos vamos” — Spanish for “here we are and we are not leaving” — the marchers included Hispanic, white and black people dressed in white to symbolize peace and carrying 22 white wooden crosses to represent the victims of the shooting at an El Paso Walmart.

The man charged in with capital murder in the attack, 21-year-old Patrick Crusius told investigators he targeted Mexicans at the store with an AK-47 rifle, an El Paso detective said in an arrest affidavit. Federal prosecutors have said they’re weighing hate-crime charges.

Jessica Coca Garcia, who was among those wounded in the shooting, spoke to those gathered at the League of United Latin American Citizens’ “March for a United America.”

“Racism is something I always wanted to think didn’t exist. Obviously, it does,” Coca Garcia said after rising from a wheelchair. Bandages covered gunshot wounds to her leg.

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Woodstock generation looks back, from varied vantage points

NEW YORK (AP) — It was the weekend that shaped the image of a “Woodstock Generation.” And that image would echo, appeal and provoke for generations to come.

To many who went or wished they did, the pivotal festival of “peace and music” 50 years ago remains an inspiring moment of counterculture community and youthful freethinking.

“We went for the music and found something so much more, and so much more important — camaraderie,” says Karen Breda, who was 17 when she went to Woodstock. She recalls feeling part of “a generation that felt like nothing could stop us. Peace. Love. The whole thing.”

Some other Americans saw Woodstock as an outrageous display of indulgence and insouciance in a time of war. And some didn’t look to Woodstock to celebrate their own sense of music and identity.

“There was no one baby boomer generation. There was no one approach to what Woodstock meant,” says David Farber, a University of Kansas professor of American history. But Woodstock became an “aspirational vision of what countercultural youth thought they could achieve in the United States.”

The Associated Press

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Soaring House Prices Could Return As Interest Rates Head To Zero: BMO

The recent slowdown in Canada’s hottest housing markets is turning a corner and a potential new price boom is threatening to frustrate would-be buyers’ hopes.

The real risk to Canada’s housing market today is not a crash, but a return to nosebleed levels of price growth thanks in part to falling interest rates, said Doug Porter, chief economist at Bank of Montreal.

Policymakers will have to “be ready to wield some tough measures” if they want to prevent housing costs from becoming even more unaffordable, Porter told HuffPost Canada ― though he said he would “leave it to policymakers” to decide what those should be.

Watch: Why does Canada have a rental crisis, and what can be done about it? Story continues below.

 

The latest data from the Toronto and Vancouver real estate boards shows the markets shaking off foreign buyers’ taxes and the mortgage stress test. Home sales jumped 24 per cent in both cities in July, compared to a year earlier.

Much of that has to do with more affordable mortgages. The collapse in interest rates on government debt around the world in recent months has pushed down the rates Canadian lenders can offer.

According to comparison site Ratehub, mortgage rates in Canada recently hit their lowest levels since July, 2017, and are near all-time record lows. The lowest fixed rate available at the site is currently 2.39 per cent, a drop of 0.8 percentage points since the start of this year.

The Bank of Canada’s posted rate, which is used in the mortgage stress test, has also come down, to 5.19 per cent, from 5.39 per cent.

This “simply pounds home the point that rates will remain low for long — or forever,” Porter wrote in a client note.

He worries that a jump in house prices will convince speculators and foreign buyers to jump back into the market.

“Domestic policymakers may need to consider other ways to control speculation — especially from abroad — in a world where interest rates stay below inflation, or even below zero,” he wrote.

‘No limit’ to house prices

But with housing affordability near its worst levels on record, how much room do house prices really have to run?

“When you’re looking at a market that becomes driven by wealth, and wealth from outside the city limits, then there isn’t necessarily a limit to house prices,” Porter said.

“You don’t have to look hard to find places around the world where prices have divorced from fundamentals,” he added, citing Hong Kong, the world’s least affordable housing market.

“I don’t think its too early to start planning for the housing market to start getting too hot for comfort again.”

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By The Wall of Law August 11, 2019 Off