(CANBERRA, Australia) — Australia’s highest court ruled on Friday to make public letters between Queen Elizabeth II and her representative that would reveal what knowledge she had, if any, of the dismissal of an Australian government in 1975.
The High Court's 6-1 majority decision in historian Jenny Hocking’s appeal overturned lower court rulings that more than 200 letters between the monarch of Britain and Australia and Governor-General Sir John Kerr before he dismissed Prime Minister Gough Whitlam’s government were personal and might never be made public.
The only-ever dismissal of an elected Australian government on the authority of a British monarch created a crisis that spurred many to call for Australia to sever its constitutional ties with Britain and create a republic with an Australian president. Suspicions of a U.S. Central Intelligence Agency conspiracy persist.
Hocking, a Monash University academic and Whitlam biographer, said she expected to read the 211 letters at the National Archives of Australia in Canberra next week when a coronavirus lockdown is lifted.
She described as absurd that communications between such key officials in the Australian system of government could be regarded as personal and confidential.
“That they could be seen as personal is quite frankly an insult to all our intelligence collectively —– they're not talking about the racing and the corgis,” Hocking told The AP, referring to the queen's interest in horse racing and the dog breed.
“It was not only the fact that they were described quite bizarrely as personal, but also that they were under an embargo set at the whim of the queen,” she added.
The archives said it would release a statement on the court finding later on Friday.
Kerr dismissed Whitlam’s government and replaced him with opposition leader Malcolm Fraser as prime minister to resolve a month-old deadlock in Parliament. Fraser’s coalition won an election weeks later.
The archives had held the correspondence, known as the Palace Letters, since 1978. As state records, they should have been made public 31 years after they were created.
Under an agreement struck between Buckingham Palace and Government House, the governor-general’s official residence, months before Kerr resigned in 1978, the letters covering three tumultuous years of Australian politics were to remain secret until 2027. The private secretaries of both the sovereign and the governor-general in 2027 still could veto their release indefinitely under that agreement.
A Federal Court judge accepted the archives’ argument that the letters were personal and confidential.
An appeals court upheld that ruling in a 2-1 decision.
The archives’ lawyers argued the records were created with the “strong conception” that their character was private, and they were received by the archives under those conditions.
The convention across British Commonwealth nations is that communications between the queen and her representatives are personal, private and not accessible by the executive government, they argued.
Buckingham Palace and Government House have previously declined The AP's requests for comment on the case and did not immediately respond to renewed requests on Friday.
Hocking has been fighting since 2016 to access the letters written by Kerr to the queen through her then private secretary Martin Charteris.
“I'm absolutely delighted by the decision,” she said. “We can't possibly know our history and write the complete and accurate history if we don’t have access to the original documents that reveal it to us.”
The British royal family is renowned for being protective of their privacy and keeping conversations confidential.
The family went to considerable lengths to conceal letters written by the queen’s son and heir, Prince Charles, in a comparable case in Britain that was fought through the courts for five years.
Britain’s Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that 27 memos written by Charles to British government ministers could be made public despite objections that their publication might damage public perceptions of the future king’s political neutrality.
Years of dogged research by journalists and historians have pieced together answers to many of the questions surrounding how and why Whitlam’s government was dismissed and who was behind it.
Kerr, who died in 1991, rejected in his memoirs media speculation that the CIA ordered Whitlam’s dismissal over fears that his government would close the top secret U.S. intelligence facility that still exists at Pine Gap in the Australian Outback.
In the 1985 Hollywood spy drama “The Falcon and the Snowman,” a CIA plot to oust Whitlam motivated a disillusioned civilian defense contractor played by Sean Penn to sell U.S. security secrets to the Soviet Union.
(DENVER) — Shots were fired and protesters blocked traffic during a demonstration in downtown Denver to protest the death of a handcuffed black man during a confrontation with a white police officer in Minnesota, authorities said. There were no immediate reports of injuries.
Gary Cutler, a spokesman for the Colorado State Patrol, said the shooting happened in a park across the street from the Capitol. Most of the protesters already had left the area and were marching downtown.
Cutler said the Capitol building was locked down, and everyone inside was safe.
State Rep. Leslie Herod, who was at the Capitol, tweeted, “We just got shot at.”
Police said they don't know if the protesters were being targeted.
“We do believe that the shots were towards the Capitol, but we do not at this point have any correlation to the protest or the protesters,” police spokesman Kurt Barnes told The Denver Post.
He said about six or seven shots were fired, and no one has been arrested.
Several hundred protesters had gathered to call for justice following the death of George Floyd, who died in police custody in Minneapolis on Monday after an officer knelt on his neck for almost eight minutes. In footage recorded by a bystander, Floyd pleaded that he couldn't breathe.
Some among the Denver protesters carried signs reading “Black Lives Matter” and chanted, “Hey, hey. Ho, ho. Racist police got to go.”
They marched through downtown Denver, snarling traffic. Aerial footage showed protesters briefly blocking traffic from moving on Interstate 25 in both directions before swarming back through the downtown streets outside the Capitol.
Four police officers have been fired. The mayor of Minneapolis has called for the officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck to be criminally charged.
The death has led to violent protests in Minneapolis and demonstrations in other cities, including Los Angeles.
Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson doesn’t follow the President of the United States on Twitter.
She was sitting in her basement office eating breakfast May 20 when her staff called to inform her that Donald Trump had called Benson a “rogue Secretary of State,” accusing her of mailing ballots to Michigan voters (in fact, they were ballot applications) and suggesting (incorrectly) that vote by mail would lead to fraud. Oh, and he threatened to withhold funding from Michigan over the issue. (It's unclear what funding he was referring to; the White House did not respond to a request for comment.)
What stood out about the episode to Benson, a Democrat, wasn’t just how Trump had addressed her, the factual inaccuracies, or the threat tucked into his tweet. It was that she was hardly the only Secretary of State to take a step like this. States like Iowa, Georgia,Nebraska, and West Virginia—which Trump won in 2016, and which have Republican Secretaries of State—have taken similar actions in sending out applications for absentee ballots in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, at least for their primaries.
“This is nothing other than me doing my job. And it’s the same policy, vote by mail, that voters on both sides of the aisle embrace,” Benson says. “To me it was just disingenuous that while you have Republican colleagues of mine doing the same thing, that I get singled out, in part I’m sure because I’m a Democrat. I’m sure it’s relevant that Michigan’s playing an important, prominent role in this year’s election. It helps feed into a national narrative that there are shenanigans happening in states that are critical to the election. A false narrative.”
Before the pandemic, five states (Washington, Utah, Hawaii, Oregon and Colorado) conducted all-mail elections, and three (California, North Dakota, and Nebraska, the latter with some exceptions) gave counties the ability to determine their rules, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Twenty-nine states plus Washington, D.C. have no-excuse absentee voting, which means voters do not need to provide a reason to request an absentee ballot.
But with the prospect of the coronavirus disrupting elections looming, others have moved to make vote-by-mail more easily accessible, with some taking action for primaries and others for the general election. Three states (Michigan, New Hampshire and California) have made changes to enhance vote-by-mail availability in November. Michigan announced it will send out absentee ballot applications for the general election. New Hampshire, which typically is not a no-excuse absentee voting state, decided to allow absentee voting in November if the pandemic is still a factor, a decision announced by the state's Republican governor. And California will distribute vote-by-mail ballots to all of its registered voters.
In recent weeks, Trump has seized on these changes, turning a process designed to safeguard voters' health and ballot access into a political wedge, arguing falsely that it will lead to widespread voter fraud and creating fear among election experts that the President is undermining the legitimacy of the contest. The irony in this goes beyond the fact that Trump often votes by mail himself. There is little evidence, experts say, that either party benefits politically from allowing citizens to vote by mail, while places that use it see increased voter turnout overall. And it’s not just Democrats pushing the idea: Republican Secretaries of State and other executives in red states have also employed it. “I’m bumfuzzled by the President’s objections to vote by mail. Republicans historically have done fine if not better in heavy-mail scenarios,” says Michael Steel, a Republican strategist. “They disproportionately tend to be used by older voters who disproportionately tend to vote Republican.”
“It’s kind of a mystery why he’s picked this particular fight to have at this particular time with a pandemic raging and a very tight election,” Steel adds. “If I were the President, I would be encouraging the Republican Party nationally and across the country to invest in the infrastructure to make sure that we can vote by mail successfully.”
You don’t need to reach back very far to find an example of vote-by-mail helping Republicans. The May special election in California’s 25th congressional district was mostly conducted by mail. Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom had ballots and prepaid postage-return envelopes sent to every registered voter. An analysis by Political Data Inc., a voter data firm, showed that of the approximately 425,000 ballots sent to all voters, 34% were mailed back in. Though more ballots went out to Democrats, Republicans returned them at a higher rate. The seat, previously held by a Democrat, was won by the Republican candidate, Mike Garcia.
Which isn't to say vote-by-mail favors Republicans, either. A study published earlier this spring by Stanford University examined counties in a handful of states that implemented vote-by-mail programs and concluded vote by mail “does not appear to increase either party’s vote share.” The researchers noted it's difficult to extrapolate their findings to wider use during a pandemic. But generally, “vote by mail doesn’t overwhelmingly advantage one party over the other,” says Daniel Thompson, a PhD candidate at Stanford and the paper's lead author.
In Michigan's May 5 county and municipal elections, turnout was double past May contests, coming in at 25% of eligible voters, with 99% of those who cast a ballot doing so by mail. Vote-by-mail was equally popular in Republican and Democratic communties, Benson said. “The ability to vote by mail actually significantly increased turnout across the board.”
Despite this, many of Trump's allies have followed suit in attacking the process. The Republican National Committee, the National Republican Campaign Committee, and the California GOP this week filed a lawsuit against Newsom and Secretary of State Alex Padilla over expanding vote-by-mail in California, arguing it would invite “fraud, coercion, theft, and otherwise illegitimate voting.” Lawsuits over voting rights are playing out in several states, including Texas, where Democrats also sought to expand vote by mail.
Sam Reed, an advocate for vote-by-mail who served from 2001 to 2013 as a Republican Secretary of State in Washington, says suggesting that vote by mail will lead to voter fraud “is totally incorrect.” He pointed to checks in place to avoid it, like election staff taking training from the state police on how to verify signatures. “We have really tight systems,” Reed says.
Yet Trump has a history of pushing false narratives about voter fraud. He has long propagated conspiracy theories of widespread voter fraud despite the fact that studies have found it to be rare. A voter fraud commission the President put in place was disbanded by January 2018 with nothing to show for it.
The President’s tweets on voter fraud even led to Twitter attempting to fact check him for the first time on Tuesday. In response to a tweet claiming in part that “Mail boxes will be robbed, ballots will be forged & even illegally printed out & fraudulently signed,” the social media platform added a label directing users to “Get the facts about mail-in ballots.”
Asked on Thursday by TIME whether the President's comments on vote-by-mail were an effort to lay groundwork to cast doubt on November election results, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany responded: “No, he’s certainly not doing that.”
The May 25 death of George Floyd, 46, marks one more chapter in a long history for America — and for Minneapolis, which has been the site of protests in the days following Floyd’s death.
After Floyd, who was black, died in police custody, bystander video revealed that a white police officer knelt on his neck at a Minneapolis intersection. The video did not match initial police-department statements about what happened, and resulted in the firing of four police officers involved in the arrest. That the episode happened against the backdrop of a global pandemic has only heightened longstanding racial tensions. Not only is the virus disproportionately affecting African Americans, but the policed enforcement of social distancing in cities nationwide has also disproportionately affected African Americans.
Floyd's death also “falls within a larger pattern” of clashes between police officers and residents in black communities that “goes way back to the period of Reconstruction, when a lot of police departments were created to surveil black communities and control and corral large black populations,” says Keith A. Mayes, a professor of African American & African Studies at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities.
But while the problem is national, Minneapolis has its own particular history with the issue. Several such encounters there helped fuel the Black Lives Matter movement. In 2019, Minneapolis was ranked the fourth worst metro area in the United States for black Americans, and the city is highly segregated. Accusations of police racism have also been a consistent issue for the city.
Understanding how things got so tense in Minneapolis requires understanding the history of the city's racial geography, says Kirsten Delegard, a historian and director of Mapping Prejudice, a University of Minnesota project that has plotted the locations of racial covenants, legal clauses inserted into property deeds that reserved that land for the exclusive use by white people.
“Minneapolis wasn't particularly segregated when racial covenants were first introduced in 1910; they were preemptively put into place before black people lived in Minneapolis in large numbers,” Delegard says. “You have 2,700 African Americans living in the city in 1910 and [then] 30,000 racial covenants blanketing the city to make sure all this land could never be occupied by people who aren't white. After they had been in place for 30 years, the city became highly segregated and people who weren't white were sorted into just a handful of very, very small neighborhoods.”
Those small neighborhoods include one near the intersection of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue in Minneapolis, where the officer knelt on Floyd and where subsequent demonstrations have taken place. The nearby area has historically been known as a hub for black middle-class life and working-class communities. Just west is the neighborhood's commercial center, the Old South Side. It's been home to African-American journalists, doctors and lawyers, as well as NAACP presidents, important black churches and some of Prince's old stomping grounds.
“Like every black neighborhood in the country, it's also been subject to over-policing and very different kinds of police practices than the predominantly white neighborhood a couple of blocks away,” she says. “When you get to the edges of those neighborhoods, there tends to be more literal policing and more contention over who can be in public space and what people are doing.”
The very intersection where the violent arrest took place is one such edge. At that corner, properties were governed by racial covenants. Delegard's research shows these covenants were often put in place on the borders of black neighborhoods, in an effort to contain the population.
“Even though 38th and Chicago right now is not seen as overtly white space, what these covenants show is that this intersection has always been a point of contention. ‘Whose space is this? Who gets to be here? Who doesn't get to be here? And who's going to enforce that?'” Delegard tells TIME. “Structural racism is really baked into the geography of this city and as a result it really permeates every institution in this city.”
Fifty years after the racial covenants were put in place in Minneapolis in the early 20th century, that kind of racism was the subject of demonstrations nationwide, as the civil rights movement fought for equal access to housing.
Mayes says the protests following George Floyd's death can be compared to the 1967 uprising in northern Minneapolis during “the long hot summer of 1967.” While there are several theories about how that clash started, the most common involves a conflict between police officers and a neighborhood resident. “I wish I could tell you there were differences between the 1960s and today, when it comes to police incidents, but it's the same,” says Mayes.
The Fair Housing Act of 1968 made racial covenants illegal, but other ways to maintain the neighborhood demographics emerged. Delegard cites freeway 35W, which was built in the 1960s and runs between downtown and the southern suburbs, as a modern barrier between the Old South Side and whiter, wealthier areas. Then, in 1969, police detective and political newcomer Charles Stenvig was elected mayor on the platform of “take the handcuffs off the police,” becoming one of the first so-called “law and order” mayors in the country. The already powerful police department became even more powerful.
And the effects of now-illegal racial covenants can still be seen today.
“The places on the map where we found these racial restrictions are still the whitest parts of the city today,” says Delegard. “Our research shows that there was this preoccupation with making sure the city would stay all white. The racial composition of the neighborhoods we have today was created, deliberately constructed through time. These rigid racial boundaries were enforced through courts and the police for a century in Minneapolis, and it does lead to violent encounters.”
(NEW YORK) — A woman whose skeletal remains were found along a suburban New York beach highway, in an area where body parts of 10 other people had been strewn, was identified as a Philadelphia escort who went missing two decades ago, police said Thursday.
Suffolk County police said the woman previously known as “Jane Doe No. 6” was identified through genetic genealogy technology as Valerie Mack, who also went by Melissa Taylor and was last seen in 2000 near Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Determining the victim's identity has brought clarity to a long-running Long Island mystery that attracted national headlines, was featured on true-crime TV shows and was the subject of a recent Netflix film, Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart said.
“For two decades, Valerie Mack’s family and friends were left searching for answers and while this is not the outcome they wanted, we hope this brings some sense of peace and closure,” Hart said in a statement.
Mack, born in 1976 two days shy of the U.S. bicentennial, was 24 years old when she disappeared. She was never reported as a missing person, police said.
Her remains were found in two places more than 40 miles (65 kilometers) and a decade apart: in 2000 in Manorville, near where Long Island splits into its two forks, and in 2011 near Gilgo Beach, where the remains of the other deceased individuals were found. Most were young women who worked as prostitutes.
Mack is at least the second person whose remains were found at the beach and also in Manorville. Police found the skull of Jessica Taylor, a 20-year-old prostitute who disappeared in 2003, near Gilgo Beach and most of the rest of her body in a wooded area of Manorville.
There is no familial relationship between Mack and Jessica Taylor, despite Mack’s Melissa Taylor pseudonym, police said.
The 2010 disappearance of Shannan Gilbert, a 24-year-old sex worker who vanished after leaving a client’s house on foot in the seafront community of Oak Beach, triggered the hunt that exposed the larger mystery. Months later, a police officer and his cadaver dog were looking for her body in the thicket along Ocean Parkway when they happened upon the remains of a different woman. Within days, three other bodies were found, all within a short walk of one another.
By spring 2011, that number had climbed to 10 sets of human remains — nine adults and one toddler.
Investigators have been unable to determine who is responsible for all of the deaths, or whether a lone serial killer or several suspects were involved. Over the years, they’ve said it is unlikely one person killed all the victims.
In January, police revealed a previously unreleased photograph of initials on a black leather belt — either an HM or WH, depending on the angle — that they say was handled by an unknown suspect.
Last fall, state officials gave investigators the green light to ask the FBI to deploy genetic genealogy, a technique in which genetic profiles are run though databases to find potential relatives of a homicide victim or suspect. It’s that technology that led to Mack's identification, police said.
Using DNA, investigators created a genealogy profile for the remains, leading them to possible relatives who provided DNA samples, which allowed for a positive identification, police said.
“We will continue to use every investigative tool available to aggressively investigate these murders,” Hart said.
Associated Press reporter Frank Eltman contributed to this report.
(WASHINGTON) — President Donald Trump escalated his war on social media companies, signing an executive order Thursday challenging the liability protections that have served as a bedrock for unfettered speech on the internet.
Still, the move appears to be more about politics than substance, as the president aims to rally supporters after he lashed out at Twitter for applying fact checks to two of his tweets.
Trump said the fact checks were “editorial decisions” by Twitter and amounted to political activism. He said it should cost those companies their protection from lawsuits for what is posted on their platforms.
Trump and his allies, who rely heavily on Twitter to verbally flog their foes, have long accused the tech giants in liberal-leaning Silicon Valley of targeting conservatives on social media by fact-checking them or removing their posts.
“We’re fed up with it,” Trump said, claiming the order would uphold freedom of speech.
It directs executive branch agencies to ask independent rule-making agencies including the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission to study whether they can place new regulations on the companies — though experts express doubts much can be done without an act of Congress.
Companies like Twitter and Facebook are granted liability protection under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act because they are treated as “platforms,” rather than “publishers,” which can face lawsuits over content.
A similar executive order was previously considered by the administration but shelved over concerns it couldn't pass legal muster and that it violated conservative principles on deregulation and free speech.
Two administration officials outlined the draft order on the condition of anonymity because it was still being finalized Thursday morning. But a draft was circulating on Twitter — where else?
“This will be a Big Day for Social Media and FAIRNESS!” Trump tweeted.
Press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said the Twitter fact checks reflected “bias in action” and Trump aimed to sign the order by the end of the day.
Trump and his campaign reacted after Twitter added a warning phrase to two Trump tweets that called mail-in ballots “fraudulent” and predicted “mail boxes will be robbed.” Under the tweets, there’s now a link reading “Get the facts about mail-in ballots” that guides users to a page with fact checks and news stories about Trump’s unsubstantiated claims.
Trump accused Twitter of interfering in the 2020 presidential election” and declared “as president, I will not allow this to happen.” His campaign manager, Brad Parscale, said Twitter’s “clear political bias” had led the campaign to pull “all our advertising from Twitter months ago.” In fact, Twitter has banned political advertising since last November.
Late Wednesday, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey tweeted, “We’ll continue to point out incorrect or disputed information about elections globally.”
Dorsey added: “This does not make us an ‘arbiter of truth.’ Our intention is to connect the dots of conflicting statements and show the information in dispute so people can judge for themselves.”
Fact check: there is someone ultimately accountable for our actions as a company, and that’s me. Please leave our employees out of this. We’ll continue to point out incorrect or disputed information about elections globally. And we will admit to and own any mistakes we make.
On the other hand, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told Fox News his platform has “a different policy, I think, than Twitter on this.”
“I just believe strongly that Facebook shouldn’t be the arbiter of truth of everything that people say online,” he said.
The president’s critics, meanwhile, scolded the platforms for allowing him to put forth false or misleading information that could confuse voters.
“Donald Trump’s order is plainly illegal,” said Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat and advocate for internet freedoms. He is “desperately trying to steal for himself the power of the courts and Congress… All for the ability to spread unfiltered lies.”
Trump’s proposal has multiple, serious legal problems and is unlikely to survive a challenge, according to Matt Schruers, president of the Computer and Communications Industry Association, a Washington-based organization that represents computer and internet companies.
It would also seem to be an assault on the same online freedom that enabled social media platforms to flourish in the first place — and made them such an effective microphone for Trump and other politicians.
“The irony that is lost here is that if these protections were to go away social media services would be far more aggressive in moderating content and terminating accounts,” Schruers said. “Our vibrant public sphere of discussion would devolve into nothing more than preapproved soundbites.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said it was “outrageous” that while Twitter had put a fact-check tag on Trump’s tweets asserting massive mail-in election fraud, it had not removed his tweets suggesting without evidence that a TV news host had murdered an aide years ago.
“Their business model is to make money at the expense of the truth and the facts that they know,” she said of social media giants, also mentioning Facebook. She said their goal is to avoid taxes “and they don’t want to be regulated, so they pander to the White House.”
The order was also expected to try to hold back federal advertising dollars from Twitter and other social media companies that “violate free speech principles.”
The president and fellow conservatives have been claiming, for years, that Silicon Valley tech companies are biased against them. But there is no evidence for this — and while the executives and many employees of Twitter, Facebook and Google may lean liberal, the companies have stressed they have no business interest in favoring on political party over the other.
The trouble began in 2016, two years after Facebook launched a section called “trending,” using human editors to curate popular news stories. Facebook was accused of bias against conservatives based on the words of an anonymous former contractor who said the company downplayed conservative issues in that feature and promoted liberal causes.
Zuckerberg met with prominent right-wing leaders at the time in an attempt at damage control, and in 2018, Facebook shut down the “trending” section,.
In August 2018, Trump accused Google of biased searches and warned the company to “be careful.” Google pushed back sharply, saying Trump’s claim simply wasn’t so: “We never rank search results to manipulate political sentiment.”
Experts, meanwhile, suggested that Trump’s comments showed a misunderstanding of how search engines work.
Last year, Trump again blasted social media companies after Facebook banned a slew of extremist figures including conspiracy peddler Alex Jones from its site and from Instagram.
Meanwhile, the companies are gearing up to combat misinformation around the November elections. Twitter and Facebook have begun rolling out dozens of new rules to avoid a repeat of the false postings about the candidates and the voting process that marred the 2016 election.
The coronavirus pandemic has further escalated the platforms' response, leading them to take actions against politicians — a move they’ve long resisted — who make misleading claims about the virus.
Last month, Twitter began a “Get the Facts” label to direct social media users to news articles from trusted outlets next to tweets containing misleading or disputed information about the virus. Company leaders said the new labels could be applied to anyone on Twitter and they were considering using them on other topics.
The Democratic National Committee said Trump’s vote-by-mail tweets should have been removed, not just flagged, for violating the company’s rules on posting false voting information.
“After taking too long to act, Twitter once again came up short out of fear of upsetting Trump,” the party said in a statement.
AP writers Amanda Seitz, Barbara Ortutay and David Klepper contributed.
(LUXEMBOURG) — Luxembourg started a coronavirus testing program Wednesday to check each and every one of its roughly 600,000 people, as well as cross-border workers, over the next nine weeks.
Although formally a Grand Duchy, Luxembourg isn't all that big — the second-smallest country by area and population in the 27-nation European Union. Shoehorned in between France Germany and Belgium, it’s also one of the richest in the world in terms of GDP per capita.
Still, the new coronavirus initiative is also testing its means.
The point of the program is to try and blunt a potential second wave before it develops, as many predict will happen after the European summer. So far, Luxembourg has 110 confirmed deaths and almost 4,000 people have been confirmed as having tested positive.
“The first aim is to break these infection chains throughout the whole population, to basically dampen a second potential wave that might ensue,” said Paul Wilmes, Luxembourg’s COVID 19 task force spokesperson.
The large-scale testing is necessary because it often is unclear to what extent someone is contagious.
Authorities will have 17 drive-through, walk-through and even cycle-through test stations which should have everyone processed by the end of July. People will undergo a throat swab and results will be known within two days.
Positive cases will have to self-isolate while their contacts will be traced.
The testing will be done in several stages, with those most at risk, such as nurses, police and hairdressers, invited for the swab first. They will be invited back every two weeks. Testing is voluntary but authorities are counting on enough civic responsibility to make sure almost all citizens will participate.
(NICOSIA, Cyprus) — Cyprus is pledging to cover all costs for anyone testing positive for the coronavirus while on vacation on the eastern Mediterranean island nation, according to a letter obtained by The Associated Press on Wednesday.
The Cypriot government says it will cover lodging, food, drink and medication for COVID-19 patients and their families. Patients will only have to pay for the taxi ride to the airport and the flight back home.
A 100-bed hospital will cater exclusively to foreign travelers who test positive. About 112 intensive care units equipped with 200 respirators will be reserved for critically-ill patients. A 500-room “quarantine hotel” will be reserved for patients’ family members and other close contacts.
The pledge came in a five-page letter dated Tuesday that was sent out to governments, airlines and tour operators outlining strict health and hygiene protocols that the government is enacting to woo visitors to the tourism-reliant country.
Tourism directly accounts for 13% of Cyprus’ economy. This year, the country expects to lose as much as 70% of the 2.6 billion euros ($2.85 billion) in tourism-generated revenue.
The letter, signed by Cyprus’ foreign affairs, transport and tourism ministers, boasts that the country has one of the lowest coronavirus ratios per capita in Europe after having tested more than 10% of its population.
International air travel to Cyprus begins June 9, initially from 19 countries, with passengers required to undergo a COVID-19 test three days prior to departure. That measure will be lifted June 20 for 13 countries, including Germany, Finland, Israel, Greece and Norway.
Officials say travel will be expanded to more countries depending on a constant evaluation of their infection rates.
Passengers will have to show their test certificate prior to boarding an aircraft and may have to wear masks throughout the flight. Their temperature will be taken on arrival to Cyprus and some random testing may take place at no cost to the traveler.
Tourists will also have to fill out a “COVID-19 Traveler Declaration” stating all their travels 14 days prior to their Cyprus trip and that they have neither shown any coronavirus symptoms for 72 hours before departure nor that they have been in contact with infected people 14 days before.
While in Cyprus, people who aren’t in the same travel group are obliged to keep apart at least two square meters (21 square feet) outdoors and three square meters (32 square feet) indoors.
Regularly disinfected sunbeds will be two meters (6.5 feet) apart for people not belonging to the same travel group.
Hotel staff will be obliged to wear masks with rooms being disinfected after every departure. At restaurants, bars, cafes and pubs, tables will be at least two meters (6.5 feet) apart with a maximum party size of 10. Guests will be encouraged to pay by card instead of cash.
Protesters breached the Minneapolis police precinct in the neighborhood where George Floyd died in police custody, setting fire to the building as dozens watched it burn late Thursday, according to TV footage.
Minneapolis police told local media that officers evacuated the third precinct about 10 p.m. Thursday “in the interest of the safety of our personnel.”
Local station KSTP-TV, which was broadcasting live from the scene, reported that firefighters were not attempting to reach the scene to put out the fire—as a large crowd gathered around the blaze. Minneapolis Fire Chief John Fruetel later told that station that firefighters had been staged about one mile from the precinct and were waiting for the area to become safe before they moved in to fight the fire.
“It is 100% a safety issue. There's been projectiles thrown at us, we've had rocks and bottles thrown at us the last couple of nights,” he said.
The city of Minneapolis warned the crowd to disperse late Thursday, tweeting that gas lines to the precinct may have been cut and that the building may have explosives inside: “If you are near the building, for your safety, PLEASE RETREAT in the event the building explodes.” Video footage showed the crowd begin to move away from the building shortly after the tweet was published.
We're hearing unconfirmed reports that gas lines to the Third Precinct have been cut and other explosive materials are in the building.
If you are near the building, for your safety, PLEASE RETREAT in the event the building explodes.
In neighboring Saint Paul, authorities reported that 170 business had been damaged and there were dozens of fires late Thursday, but no serious injuries reported. “Calm on the horizon,” a tweet from the Saint Paul Police Department said.
As Thursday turns to Friday, our officers continue to work shoulder-to-shoulder with local, state, federal and fire partners to protect St. Paul.
More than 170 businesses damaged or looted. Dozens of fires. Thankfully, no reports of serious injuries. Calm on the horizon.
George Floyd, 46, died after a police officer knelt on his neck for an extended period of time during an arrest on May 25. The four Minneapolis officers involved have since been fired. Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey hascalled for the arrest of the officer who pinned Floyd's neck under his knee. “If you had done it, or I had done it, we would be behind bars right now,” Frey said on Wednesday.
The takeover of the police precinct came after Gov. Tim Walz activated the Minnesota National Guard Thursday following violent protests this week after Floyd's death on Monday.
The Minnesota National Guard tweeted Thursday that 500 had been sent to Minneapolis, Saint Paul and the surrounding communities to “preserve property and the right to peacefully demonstrate.” They said a key goal was ensuring firefighters were able to respond to fires in the area, and tweeted a photo of a Humvee next to a Minneapolis fire truck.
We have activated more than 500 soldiers to St. Paul, Minneapolis and surrounding communities. Our mission is to protect life, preserve property and the right to peacefully demonstrate. A key objective is to ensure fire departments are able to respond to calls.
President Donald Trump weighed in on the fire at the police precinct to criticize state and local officials, who are members of the Minnesota Democratic–Farmer–Labor Party. Although the governor had already activated the national guard, Trump said he would also “send in the National Guard & get the job done right.”
He called violent protesters “thugs” and appeared to suggest that they should be shot, “Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts. Thank you!”
I can’t stand back & watch this happen to a great American City, Minneapolis. A total lack of leadership. Either the very weak Radical Left Mayor, Jacob Frey, get his act together and bring the City under control, or I will send in the National Guard & get the job done right…..
….These THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd, and I won’t let that happen. Just spoke to Governor Tim Walz and told him that the Military is with him all the way. Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts. Thank you!
Separately, one man wasfatally shot one Wednesday near the protests and authorities said some protesters set fires and looted stores amid the chaos, which began to spread to nearby St. Paul, according to local media.
Officers arrived on the scene in the area of Bloomington Avenue and Lake Street in Minneapolis to find the man “lying on the sidewalk” and “not breathing.” The victim was transported to Hennepin County Medical Center where he died. Police said they are still investigating the exact circumstances of the shooting.
At least five people were struck by gunfire, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported. Demonstrations continued on Thursday, as at least 50 people looted aTarget store in St. Paul and caused property damage to other businesses in the area in the afternoon, police told the Star Tribune.
Walz addressed the violence in a series of tweets Thursday afternoon: “It is time to rebuild. Rebuild the city, rebuild our justice system, and rebuild the relationship between law enforcement and those they’re charged to protect. George Floyd’s death should lead to justice and systemic change, not more death and destruction.”
It is time to rebuild. Rebuild the city, rebuild our justice system, and rebuild the relationship between law enforcement and those they’re charged to protect. George Floyd’s death should lead to justice and systemic change, not more death and destruction.
It is how we express pain, process tragedy, and create change. That is why I am answering our local leaders’ request for Minnesota National Guard assistance to protect peaceful demonstrators, neighbors, and small businesses in Minnesota.
Frey also declared a local emergency Thursday for up to 72 hours, according to the Star Tribune. The mayor's office said Frey had requested the governorsend the Minnesota National Guard to Minneapolis, according to FOX 9. A spokesperson with the governor's office told the news station the state had already deployed between 50 and 60 state troopers to help Minneapolis police.
On Thursday, federal authorities announced that they would launch“a robust criminal investigation” into the circumstances surrounding Floyd's death. U.S. Attorney Erica MacDonald and Special Agent Rainer Drolshagen said in a joint statement that the “investigation is a top priority” with “experienced prosecutors and FBI criminal investigators” looking into the case.
Later Thursday, officials held a press conference to discuss the investigation. After saying she had hoped there would be a new development to reveal, MacDonald told reporters that she did not have an announcement. When asked why no charges have been filed yet, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said he would “not rush.”
“That video is graphic and horrific but there is other evidence that does not support a criminal charge,” he said. “I will not rush.”
Freeman brought up the death of Freddie Gray, who died in 2015 while in police custody in Baltimore. While the six officers involved in Gray's death, which sparked days of riots in Baltimore, faced criminal charges, no one was convicted.
“There was a rush to charge, there was a rush to justice and all of those people were found not guilty,” Freeman said. “I will not rush to justice. I'm going to do this right.”
Officials urged protestors to be peaceful, as demonstrations continued in neighboring St. Paul.
“It breaks my heart to see what is going on on our streets,” MacDonald said. “I am pleading with individuals to remain calm and to let us conduct this investigation.”
Videos online showed fires ablaze and shattered windows, tense standoffs between demonstrators and police—who reportedly resorted to firing tear gas—and looting in a Target.
One man told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that it didn't matter to protesters whether others considered their methods acceptable. “We have to get their attention somehow,” he said. The damaged buildings include an affordable housing complex under construction and an AutoZone, according to the Star Tribune. A Cub Foods and a Dollar Tree also suffered damage, the Associated Press reported.
By Thursday afternoon, protests had moved into St. Paul's Midway neighborhood, as people crowded at a Target in the area. St. Paul police said people were throwing rocks at officers.
Squad cars have been damaged by rocks, bricks, bottles and other items being thrown at officers.
The incident—yet another instance of a black man's death during an encounter with police—was captured on video by bystanders. The visuals have outraged and traumatized not just Floyd's family but also many across the country.
Minneapolis police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters on Wednesday night. Images from the first night of protests led some to comment on what seemed to be a stark disparity in the intensity of police response between demonstrations over a black man's death as compared to mostly white protesters, some of whom were armed, demanding coronavirus lockdown restrictions be loosened earlier this month.
Note the difference in police response to the George Floyd protests vs. the armed anti-lockdown protests. pic.twitter.com/bRlXImiIeT
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz also weighed in on the tensions Wednesday, saying that the protest area had “evolved into an extremely dangerous situation.”
The situation near Lake Street and Hiawatha in Minneapolis has evolved into an extremely dangerous situation. For everyone's safety, please leave the area and allow firefighters and paramedics to get to the scene.
Minneapolis City Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins said on Wednesday that she understands her community's frustration “but I’m really disappointed that people feel like the only way to express anger is through destroying our own community,” The Star Tribune reported.
George Floyd's brother, Philonise Floyd, said Thursday morning on CNN that he wants “everybody to be peaceful right now,” but that he understands the protesters' pain from “seeing black men die constantly over and over again.”
“I don't want them to lash out like that but I can't stop people right now because they have pain. They have the same pain that I feel,” Floyd said. “I want everything to be peaceful but I can't make everybody be peaceful. It's hard.”
Floyd said justice for him entails the arrest, conviction and a death penalty sentence for the police involved in his brother's death. “Those four officers, they executed my brother,” he said.
Ben Crump, a civil rights lawyer representing Floyd’s family, said on CNN that he has been in contact with the mayor and prosecutor's office.
“What is it—is it two justice systems? One for black America and one for white America,” Crump said. “We can't have that. We have to have equal justice for the United States of America and that's what I think the protestors are crying out for.”
Protests over Floyd's death also took place in cities around the country on Wednesday, including in California and Tennessee.
In Los Angeles, a cop car drove through a crowd of protesters on the freeway with at least one demonstrator on the hood of the vehicle as it moved forward.
Lindsay Perry was 30 weeks pregnant and on bedrest when her husband Justin was accused of unemployment fraud and fined $10,000 after losing his job as a chef in 2014. The couple, who disputed the charges, tried calling the state unemployment agency, sending messages online, and even repeatedly showing up in person, but nothing worked. “There was the panic of, ‘oh my gosh, the government’s coming after us, what did we do wrong?’” says Lindsay Perry, now 39.
It didn’t take long for the couple’s financial life to collapse. Their tax returns were seized for three years in a row, their van was repossessed, and in 2017, they filed for bankruptcy. Michigan reversed the charges in 2017 and reimbursed the couple $6,000, but the damage was already done. That money went to pay for bankruptcy lawyers, and three years later, Lindsay Perry says that, because of their bankruptcy, they can’t get a mortgage, lease a car, or rent an apartment on their own for themselves and their three children. “I’m almost 40 years old and they want a co-signer,” she says. “It just makes you feel like a lesser person.”
Perry’s husband was one of around 40,000 people across Michigan who were wronglyaccused of unemployment insurance fraud between 2013 and 2015 as a result of a privately-built, error-prone software system operated by the state with minimal government oversight. The state has since been working to clean up the program's mess, in part by refunding those who were falsely accused. Yet for Michiganders like the Perry family, the nightmare of trying to rebuild their lives goes on. And as cash-strapped states and cities around the country turn to similar systems to save money and streamline operations, more Americans could get wrapped up in a similar bureaucratic nightmare.
Michigan’s unemployment system has since been reined in,but years later, advocates are still working to get restitution for those the computer program falsely charged. “I view it as personal,” says Tony Paris, lead attorney at Sugar Law Center, a Detroit-based non-profit that has fought about 500 fraud cases related to system, winning nine in 10. At the group’s headquarters, housed on the second floor of a Unitarian church, his desk is piled with documents concerning dozens of cases. It’s 8 p.m., and he’s drinking black coffee. “It really changed Sugar Law,” he says of the state’s unemployment scandal. “It really changed my life.”
The story of that debacle goes back decades. Even before the Great Recession, Michigan was in financial trouble. Unemployment was hovering over six percent in the years leading up to 2008, while incomes were stagnating compared to the rest of the country. When the recession struck, government revenues fell sharply, leading the state to cut more than $3 billion in spending between 2009 and 2011. The Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA) was in particularly bad shape. By late 2010, it owed $3.8 billion to the federal government, and in 2011, Michigan’s auditor general found that the agency may have failed to rectify tens of millions of dollars in overpayments and recover hundreds of millions in fraud penalties between 2007 and 2010.
In an effort to modernize the UIA, Michigan contracted with a group of private tech vendors to create and operate a $47 million system, known collectively as the Michigan Integrated Data Automated System, or MiDAS. Intent on improving efficiency, MiDAS’ designers programmed it to determine unemployment eligibility, track case files and even intercept income tax refunds for those “automatically selected by the system,” according to a 2013 Michigan Licensing and Regulatory Affairs Department memo.
If MiDAS’ sole purpose was to generate new fraud cases, it worked beautifully. In 2014, with the help of the new system, the UIA opened an unprecedented 26,882 such cases, more than five times the typical number. Many of those accused had their appeals repeatedly denied, and some turned to legal assistance groups for help. Lawyers working on these cases soon discovered a disturbing trend: the state was frequently unable to provide evidence to support MiDAS’ fraud accusations. Through administrative hearings, advocates soon came to believe that MiDAS was behind the swell of unfounded cases. Yet the state kept the system in placethrough 2015. Over the course of nearly two years, MiDAS sent accusations to tens of thousands of Michigan residents and seized millions of dollars in their wages and tax returns.
Michigan civil rights lawyers like Paris have since gone beyond fighting MiDAS cases one-by-one. Before speaking to TIME, Paris had just returned from a downtown Detroit courthouse, where he was arguing in Cahoo v. SAS Analytics, afederal lawsuit over MiDAS. The defendants include technology vendors Fast Enterprises and SAS Institute, management consultant CSG Government Solutions, and several Michigan officials, all of whom were involved building or operating MiDAS or one of its components, or were in UIA leadership. Among the plaintiffs’ claims is that those contractors had been entrusted with government duties, and are therefore responsible for constitutional violations brought on by MiDAS’ wrongful allegations.
Michigan’s state government declined to comment on the suit, citing pending litigation. In 2017, the state legislature passed a law requiring the agency to make fraud determinations manually, while a federal court settlement that year required the state’s unemployment agency to review MiDAS fraud determinations made between October 2013 and August 2015. To date, Michiganders affected by MiDAS have received more than $20 million in refunds, though some advocates say that’s well below what the state actually owes its citizens.
CSG Government Solutions did not respond to multiple requests for comment. An SAS Institute spokesperson says there is “no basis” for the lawsuit against the company, and that its own software, implemented in 2015, was separate from MiDAS and only provided leads rather than carrying out the functions of the agency. (Paris alleges SAS software contributed to improper fraud findings “well into 2016.”) James Harrison, a partner at Fast Enterprises, says its software was working the way the state intended, and that it’s not an IT vendor’s responsibility to interpret the law. “Had [the system] been wrong it would have been fixed right away,” says Harrison. “I think that’s pretty good evidence it was never wrong, because it was well known what was happening and it was still decided to keep doing it. It was only when it got to be a big enough issue in the papers that people came to us and said, ‘I guess maybe you should turn it off now.’”
For those affected by MiDAS, battling for legal redress has been a years-long slog. A related case currently seeking class-action status, Bauserman v. Unemployment Insurance Agency, has been making its way through Michigan state courts since 2015. Following years of pre-trial legal wrangling, a state court of appeals permitted the case to proceed in December 2019. But state attorneys appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court in January. The clients “are frustrated and they’re discouraged, and they can’t fathom why this is taking so long,” says Jennifer Lord, a civil rights and employment attorney working on Bauserman. “A lot of times these people do feel forgotten.”
Automated systems like MiDAS are being deployed around the country, as states, cities and towns under budget pressure look to cut costs — a trend that’s likely to continue as the coronavirus outbreak batters local economies. Among other imperatives, governments need to find ways to cut spending and benefits to balance the budget sheet, says Rashida Richardson, director of policy research at tech accountability non-profit AI Now. “Those different needs necessitate the use of these types of technologies, even if they're flawed in application,” she says. Such software has been common for years; one might be hard pressed to find a state government that has not automated a significant amount of its bureaucracy. In just the last two years, FAST Enterprises, which worked on the MiDAS system, has completed new projects in South Carolina, New Mexico, Illinois and Tennessee. Other algorithmic systems have been deployed across a range of government programs, from matching homeless people with housing in Los Angeles, to disciplining teachers in Houston, to monitoring child welfare in Illinois. But while many such systems function as intended, a number are rife with problems, inviting public outcry and years-long lawsuits over issues like discrimination, civil liberties violations, and even endangering people’s lives.
After Rhode Island deployed a $364 million automated system intended to streamline federal and state benefits programs in 2014, residents dependent on state aid reported their benefits went missing. The state was left with a backlog of 15,000 applicants, two federal class action lawsuits, and eventually a public apology from Deloitte, which built the system. (The state says the benefits system has been stable since late 2018, with incidents now at an all-time low and payments meeting industry timeliness standards.) In Arkansas, advocates filed a lawsuit in 2016 over an algorithmic tool that cut benefits for around 4,000 elderly or disabled people who receive in-home services through a Medicaid waiver program. The suit alleged that residents were not properly notified about the new system, and weren’t able to contest its findings. Through the case, it was revealed that cerebral palsy conditions were incorrectly coded in the system, and the software employed an algorithm that didn’t account for diabetes conditions. (The state says it has “made adjustments where appropriate, including changes related to cerebral palsy and diabetes,” and subsequently began using a different method to determine care hours in 2019.) Idaho’s branch of the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit in 2012 after the state instituted a new algorithm to determine Medicaid care budgets for developmentally disabled people, which subsequently cut funding for thousands of recipients. Legal proceedings showed the state’s formula relied on unverified information, and advocates say that when humans reviewed the algorithmically-generated budgets, they often found the tool had set amounts too low. While a 2017 settlement mandated the state implement a new system this year, Idaho in April asked the court for an extension until 2024. In a statement provided to TIME, Matt Wimmer, division of medicaid administrator at the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, said that the program is working collaboratively with adults with developmental disabilities and their families to develop a new resource allocation model, and is pursuing an outreach effort in the meantime. “Those efforts are sincere and ongoing but require intensive effort and time to build a program that will meet the needs of our beneficiaries with disabilities in the best way possible,” Wimmer wrote.
The Idaho case in particular shows that, even when bureaucratic software is known to be malfunctioning, it can be nearly impossible for those affected to fight its decisions. In part, that’s because these systems are often a “black box” protected by trade secrecy laws, meaning the public isn’t informed about how they work in the first place. “Not only was the automated decision-making tool a problem, but then the department was refusing to tell people how it came up with their [Medicaid] budgets,” says attorney Molly Kafka, who worked on the Idaho case. “How could you challenge something if you don’t know how it’s being decided?”
Yet Americans live and die by the output of such systems. Christie Mathwig, a 61-year-old plaintiff on the ongoing Idaho case who suffers from muscular dystrophy and other issues, had her care budget nearly halved by the algorithm before her determination was reversed by a statewide injunction. Mathwig, who needs help in all aspects of caring for herself — including using the bathroom or rolling over in bed — says that if the software had reduced her payments, she would be “absolutely dead by now.”
Some technology advocates say that, when implemented responsibly, algorithmic tools hold tremendous potential to help governments do more for their citizens. “You want to use the value that technology brings to the table to take the burden off people,” says Jennifer Pahlka, founder and former executive director of Code for America, which helps policymakers better understand civic technology.And governments around the world are working to find ways to hold their algorithms more accountable for their decisions. In 2019, Canada required that new automated systems that make determinations about people be subject to an “algorithmic impact assessment.” The same year, a New York City task force recommended the creation of formal channels to report on algorithmic systems. And in January, the University of Pittsburgh convened a task force to examine government algorithms in Allegheny County for potential bias.
But problems still plague bureaucratic software. For one, there’s the “move fast and break things” mentality of software design, which may work well when you’re building a social media network, but can lead to disaster when designing systems entrusted with state powers. “We're seeing software that throws people in jail and takes all their money away, so maybe it should have a development culture that's more of a fit with the consequences,” says Christian Sandvig, a professor of digital media at the University of Michigan. Governments should also do more to vet software before issuing a contract, says Richardson. “We only find out about the consequences or even potential problems of these technologies after they’re already in use,” she says. Some go so far as to argue that automation eats away at a government’s legitimacy. “Throwing away expertise and nimbleness … in favor of software and automation, at some point it begins to undermine the very justification of the administrative state,” says Ryan Calo, a professor at the University of Washington Law School.
When problems with bureaucratic software arise, as they did in Michigan, officials have tended to blame the unknowable nature of the algorithms themselves, rather than take responsibility for their output. That creates what some legal scholars call an “accountability gap,” in which neither the designer nor the state takes responsibility for an algorithm’s decisions. “If everything becomes computerized in these ways without thinking through accountability and transparency, what you end up with is a society where nothing is explainable,” says Sandvig.
That appears to be happening in Michigan. Even those whose lives were derailed by the system say they found it difficult to connect elected officials with the system they ostensibly were meant to oversee. “As sad as it sounds, I didn’t put much of the blame of what happened on [the governor] or the administration,” says Brian Russell, who declared bankruptcy after MiDAS wrongly accused him of fraud in 2015. “I saw this more as a machine issue.”
People like Russell and the thousands of other Michiganders who say they were wrongly accused by MiDAS do not know when or even if they’ll receive restitution for the toll the claims have taken on their lives. Two lawsuits involving MiDAS are ongoing. Barring a settlement, results are still expected to be months or years away.
For the Perry family, there's little faith that a system that let them down once will ever make up for what they went through. “Yes, a computer may have finally made the decision, but people should have been paying attention to what the computer was doing,” says Justin. “There were just so many people that could have helped that didn’t even bother to raise a finger.”