News, June 18th

A New Road to Citizenship in Detroit

Federal judges in the Motor City are embracing a novel approach to welcoming people eager to take their citizenship oaths in the age of coronavirus: Drive-through naturalization ceremonies.

This month in Detroit, federal district and magistrate judges began swearing in new citizens in drive-through ceremonies in a parking structure at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) field office.

Citizens-to-be drive into the parking structure, are checked in by USCIS employees clad in protective gear, and then roll up to a podium where a federal judge swears them in – all without ever leaving their vehicles. The new process eliminates the need for people to gather for indoor ceremonies at the Theodore Levin U.S. Courthouse in downtown Detroit, in the Eastern District of Michigan.

“It is always a pleasure to swear in new citizens,” said U.S. Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Stafford, who swore in the first group of immigrants in a June 4 drive-through ceremony. “They are so grateful to become Americans and eager to contribute to the community. I found the drive-through citizenship ceremony to be especially meaningful because I witnessed the dedication of the USCIS professionals to innovate so that they could continue to serve immigrants during the pandemic. During this challenging time, seeing such humanity from both the new citizens and the professionals who serve them was nothing short of inspiring.”

USCIS and federal court officials met several times by teleconference to plan the drive-through ceremony, which they modeled after COVID-19 testing stations in Detroit.

The drive-through process is designed to accommodate six groups of 10 to 15 new citizens per hour – 60 to 90 per day. When they drive into the parking structure, they are asked by USCIS employees whether they are sick, have a fever, or have been out of the country within the previous 30 days. They are required to wear face masks.

If they answer no to every question, they are directed to two more checkpoints to verify their eligibility and receive a packet containing information about applying for a passport, their Oath of Allegiance to the United States, a congratulatory brochure, and a miniature American flag.

At the fourth stop, they roll down their car window and are greeted by a judge at a podium, which is flanked by American and Department of Homeland Security flags and socially distanced USCIS employees. The judge spends the next five minutes administering the Oath of Allegiance.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Patricia Morris, who got up at 5 a.m. on June 17 for the two-and-a-half-hour drive from her home north of Bay City, Michigan, to swear in the new citizens, said she was thrilled to be there.

“This is fun for me because it is a happy day,” Morris said. “We don’t have many happy days in court. This is good for me and it is good for my soul. It reminds me of how great it is to be an American.”

Among those Morris swore in were Bob Karwal, 49, and his wife, Sonia, 50, who immigrated to the United States from Toronto, Canada, in 1999. He is an automotive engineer and she is a certified public accountant. Their two American-born children, Rhea, 15, and Sophia, 7, sat in the back seat of their SUV while their parents took the oath.

“We love this country,” Bob Karwal said afterward. “We are here, our children are here, our roots are here. This is a land of great opportunity.”

Ex-officer charged over fatal shooting of African American as Washington pushes for legislation on policing

U.S. Georgia State’s Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard on Wednesday announced 11 charges, including felony murder, against Garrett Rolfe, the former Atlanta police officer who fatally shot Rayshard Brooks last week.

Rolfe, if found guilty of felony murder, could face life in prison without parole or the death penalty, Howard said at a press conference.

Rolfe was fired after footage showed him shooting at Brooks multiple times from the back as the 27-year-old African American man fled during an encounter outside a fast-food restaurant in Atlanta Friday night.

Arrest warrants have been issued for Rolfe and Devin Brosnan, the other officer on the scene.

Brosnan has been placed on administrative duty and charged with three criminal counts, including aggravated assault.

Howard also said that Rolfe kicked Brooks “while he laid on ground, while he was there fighting for his life” after he was shot.

Brosnan stood on Brooks’ shoulders “while he struggled for his life,” the district attorney revealed.

“Once Mr. Brooks was shot, there is an Atlanta policy that requires that the officers have to provide timely medical attention to Mr. Brooks or to anyone who is injured,” he added. “But after Mr. Brooks was shot, for some period of two minutes and 12 seconds, there was no medical attention applied to Mr. Brooks.”

That night, the pair of officers were dispatched to respond to complaints that Brooks was asleep in the drive-thru of the restaurant.

Police said they tried to take Brooks into custody after he failed a sobriety test, which led to a struggle between Brooks and the officers. Police claimed that Brooks, while allegedly resisting, grabbed an officer’s taser and ran off with it.

Footage capturing the scene from the restaurant’s parking lot showed that Brooks turned around and appeared to point the stun gun at Rolfe before being shot.

An ambulance transferred Brooks to a local hospital, where he died after undergoing surgery.

Brooks was shot twice in the back and died from organ damage and blood loss from the wounds, the Fulton County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled earlier this week.

“The city of Atlanta SOP (Standard Operating Procedure), in fact, prohibit officers from firing tasers at someone who is running away. So, the city of Atlanta says you could not even fire a taser at someone who is running away. So, you certainly cannot fire a gun, a handgun at someone who is running away,” Howard said on Wednesday.

L. Chris Stewart, an attorney for the family of Rayshard Brooks, said that the incident is “heartbreaking.”

“It’s not a day of joy watching the charges and what’s going to happened to this officer because it shouldn’t happen,” Stewart said.

U.S. President Donald Trump weighed in on the case Wednesday night.

“I thought it was a terrible situation, but you can’t resist a police officer,” he said in an interview with Fox News. “They ended up in a very terrible disagreement and look at the way it ended. Very bad.”

Earlier Wednesday, Senate Republicans unveiled a bill on police reform amid calls for action against police brutality and racism after the death of George Floyd in police custody.

The proposal, spearheaded by Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, seeks to ban the use of chokeholds, and includes new accountability and reporting requirements.

Chuck Schumer, the Senate minority leader, said on Wednesday that the Republican proposal “is missing meaningful accountability for individual officers’ misconduct.”

“Without accountability measures, we’re merely exhorting police departments to be better, crossing our fingers, and hoping for the best,” the New York Democrat added.

House Democrats introduced their bill last week that aims to ensure officers can be held accountable for misconduct and increase transparency. The House Judiciary Committee sent the package to the full House for consideration next week after a partisan 24-14 vote following a marathon 11-hour markup on Wednesday.

Floyd, a 46-year-old African American man, died during an arrest in Minneapolis, Minnesota, late last month after a white police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

Protests in response to Floyd’s death, and more broadly to police violence, spread across the United States and took place in some other countries.

Iran navy test-fires new cruise missiles

Iran test-fired a “new generation” of cruise missiles Thursday, the navy said, in the first such military exercises since 19 sailors were killed last month in a friendly fire incident.

The armed forces’ website published pictures of the drill in the Gulf of Oman showing missiles being fired from a warship and the back of a truck, and a vessel exploding out at sea.

A statement said both short- and long-range missiles were test-fired.

They “destroyed the designated targets 280 kilometers (174 miles) away, and their range can be increased even further,” said the statement.

The missiles were designed and produced by the defense ministry and the navy, it said, without giving any further details.

A video released by state television on its website said some of the missiles were based on “older platforms that have been updated.”

They were “missiles with deadly precision and power for Iran’s enemies,” said an IRIB reporter at a beach where they were fired from a truck.

The naval exercises come after an “accident” during a similar drill on May 10, involving a warship being hit by a missile in the same waters.

Nineteen crewmen were killed and 15 injured in the incident, the army said at the time.

Tasnim news agency said the missile was fired by another Iranian warship, in a “friendly fire” incident.

King County Labor Council votes to expel Seattle Police Officers Guild

On June 17, the Martin Luther King County Labor Council in Seattle voted 55 percent in favor to expel the Seattle Police Officers Guild. The labor coalition met in a four hour long Zoom meeting to decide on the motion. Delegates and guests from many locals made statements for and against it.

The meeting was intense. Those opposed to the motion to expel SPOG pulled out every trick in Robert’s Rules of Order and made the organizers jump through every tech hurdle they could think of. The call was even disrupted at one point by a “Zoom bomb” – someone crashing the meeting and streaming inappropriate media content.

Tensions were high as votes were cast. Finally, the motion passed with a majority of the delegates concluding that the police union should be removed from the council.

The vote came after weeks of local and national protests against racist police brutality. Pressure was put on the council from leaders of local organizations- including ones that serve communities of color such as El Centro de la Raza and the Asian Counseling and Referral Service–who called for the police union to be removed from the council.

A petition from members of the Highline Education Association calling for the police union’s expulsion gathered hundreds of signatures from union members of color, and advocates participating in local protests also called on the labor council to expel SPOG.

The labor council collectively represents more than 100,000 workers in King County, and now the SPOG (which represents roughly 1,300 officers) will not have the support of the council in any negotiations moving forward. Just two years ago the council lobbied to ratify the police union’s new contract and “allow workers to have their raise,” So this represents a big turnaround in the greater local Seattle labor movement.

This is a step in solidifying the message that police are not a part of labor and do not belong among the ranks of exploited workers. This is a historic moment in worker solidarity against the police who act as violent agents of the state and aid in maintaining white supremacy and protection of the private property of the ruling class. Workers are standing together against police violence and white supremacy.

A statement from the council posted on Twitter reads,

Tonight, MLK Labor delegates voted to expel the Seattle Police Officers Guild from our labor council.

As unions, it is our responsibility to fight for all forms of justice, and there can be no justice without racial justice.

Any union that is part of our labor council needs to be actively working to dismantle racism in their institution and society at large. Unfortunately, the Seattle Police Officer’s Guild has failed to do that work and are no longer part of our council.

Since the killing of George Floyd, communities of color in Seattle and around the United States have spoken loud and clear that the status quo will no longer be tolerated. We have listened to our community and responded by doing the right thing. BlackLivesMatter

OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria has reacted to exchanges regarding the ongoing negotiations to address the tax challenges of the digitalization of the economy

“Addressing the tax challenges arising from the digitalization of the economy is long overdue,” said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría. “All members of the Inclusive Framework should remain engaged in the negotiation towards the goal of reaching a global solution by year end, drawing on all the technical work that has been done during the last three years, including throughout the COVID-19 crisis. Absent a multilateral solution, more countries will take unilateral measures and those that have them already may no longer continue to hold them back. This, in turn, would trigger tax disputes and, inevitably, heightened trade tensions. A trade war, especially at this point in time, where the world economy is going through a historical downturn, would hurt the economy, jobs, and confidence even further. A multilateral solution based on the work of the 137 members of the Inclusive Framework at the OECD is clearly the best way forward,” Mr. Gurría said.

Mandated in 2018 by the G20 to deliver a consensus based solution by the end of 2020, the OECD has gathered 137 countries on an equal footing for the negotiations and has developed a two pillar approach, to be discussed in the following weeks leading up to a meeting of the Inclusive Framework in October 2020.

The OECD will maintain its schedule of meetings to offer all members of the Inclusive Framework a place in the design of a multilateral approach.

Russia begins clinical trials of COVID-19 vaccine

Russia has allowed clinical trials of two forms of a potential COVID-19 vaccine developed by the Gamaleya National Research Center for Epidemiology and Microbiology.

The Russian Ministry of Health said that it had issued permission on Tuesday and the clinical study of the COVID-19 vaccine began on Wednesday.

Studies of the two forms of vaccine — liquid and lyophilized — will be carried out in two medical institutions in Moscow.

The vaccine in the form of a solution for intramuscular administration will be carried out at the Burdenko Military Hospital. Another, in the form of a powder for the preparation of a solution for intramuscular administration, will be carried out at Sechenov First Moscow State Medical University.

The research will be attended by two groups of volunteers of 38 people each, the Russian Ministry of Health said, adding that the first volunteers will be vaccinated on June 18-19.

After vaccination, all volunteers are expected to remain in isolation in a hospital for 28 days.

Doctors will monitor their health status, the absence of adverse reactions and take blood tests — including to assess the immunogenicity of the vaccine.

According to various parameters, they will monitor the formation of the immune response.

Research doctors will monitor the health status of volunteers for six months after discharge from the hospital, the ministry said.

UK’s recession ‘less bad’ than thought, Bank of England

The Bank of England unveiled another big stimulus for the U.K. economy as it tries to limit the scale of the coronavirus recession, which it now thinks will be “less severe” than it thought it last month.

In a statement Thursday, the bank’s policy making panel said it was increasing its government bond-buying program by a further 100 billion pounds ($125 billion) despite signs of a recent economic improvement.

The bank had warned in May that the U.K. economy could shrink by around 25% in the second quarter alone and end the first half of the year around 27% smaller than where it ended 2019.

Ben Broadbent, the bank’s deputy governor for monetary policy, said Thursday that the first-half contraction would more likely be in the 20% range following signs of an improving consumer backdrop and a pick-up in the housing market.

Although some of the country’s lockdown restrictions are easing, notably the reopening of shops selling nonessential items such as books, sneakers and toys, the U.K. is careening toward one of its deepest recessions ever.

The meeting comes after figures showed the U.K. economy shrank by 20.4% in April alone, the first full month that the country was in lockdown. In March, as the coronavirus restrictions rolled out, it had contracted 5.8%.

There are two motivations behind the bank’s fresh round of purchases of government bonds from investors, such as pension funds — to keep a lid on interest rates for such things as home mortgages and loans, and to keep money flowing through the financial system in a time of acute stress.

The bank’s monetary policy committee opted Thursday against cutting its main interest rate into negative territory — its main interest rate was left at 0.1%, the lowest in the bank’s 326-year history.

Andrew Bailey, the bank’s new governor, said the merits of negative interest rates — whereby financial institutions basically pay for the right to park their cash at the central bank, in the process encouraging them to lend — are being assessed. He said there was no discussion about them at the meeting.

“We haven’t ruled anything in, and we haven’t ruled anything out,” he said.

Though noting some modest improvements since April, Bailey warned that unemployment is likely to rise sharply in coming months as government-funded support programs come to an end.

While not speculating about how many jobs may be lost, he said the rise in unemployment would likely be the “steepest trajectory” ever seen.

Unemployment in the U.K. has not spiked anywhere as high as levels seen elsewhere, notably in the United States, largely because of the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, which has basically insulated the jobs market. The U.K. has been paying up to 80% of the salaries of workers retained, up to 2,500 pounds ($3,125) a month.

Many companies have not cut jobs, with 1.1 million employers so far taking advantage of the scheme to furlough 9.1 million people at a cost to the government of 20.8 billion pounds. With the scheme set to end this autumn, there are worries that firms will start cutting jobs at an accelerating rate through the summer, sending the jobless rate spiking from around 4% currently, to well over 10%.

The committee also said the unprecedented situation means the outlook for the U.K. and global economies is “unusually uncertain” and will depend “critically on the evolution of the pandemic, measures taken to protect public health, and how governments, households and businesses respond to these factors.”

In addition to the bank’s stimulus, the British government is readying a fiscal package for this summer, potentially involving a sales tax cut and funding big transport and green projects.

Britain has the highest coronavirus death toll in Europe, at over 42,000, and the Conservative government has been sharply criticized for what many see as its slow, muddled response to fighting the pandemic.

Britain also faces economic risks from its historic decision to leave the European Union, which it did in January. It is in a transition period now with the 27-nation bloc until the end of the year, when it could face trade challenges if no deal about the future relationship is agreed in time.

Published by jim

Curator of things...

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