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Democrats hold on to Louisiana governor’s seat despite Trump

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Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards has stunned Republicans again, narrowly winning a second term Saturday as the Deep South’s only Democratic governor and handing Donald Trump another gubernatorial loss this year.

In the heart of Trump country, the moderate Edwards cobbled together enough cross-party support with his focus on bipartisan, state-specific issues to defeat Republican businessman Eddie Rispone, getting about 51% of the vote.

Coming after a defeat in the Kentucky governor’s race and sizable losses in Virginia’s legislative races, the Louisiana result seems certain to rattle Republicans as they head into the 2020 presidential election. Trump fought to return the seat to the GOP, making three trips to Louisiana to rally against Edwards.

In a victory rally of his own late Saturday, Edwards thanked supporters who danced, sang and cheered in celebration, while he declared, “How sweet it is!”

He added, “And as for the president, God bless his heart” — a phrase often used by genteel Southerners to politely deprecate someone.

“Tonight the people of Louisiana have chosen to chart their own path,” Edwards said.

Trump had made the runoff election between Edwards and Rispone a test of his own popularity and political prowess heading into the 2020 presidential race. On Saturday, Trump went on Twitter in a vigorous plug for Rispone.

The president’s intense attention motivated not only conservative Republicans, but also powered a surge in anti-Trump and black voter turnout that helped Edwards.

As he conceded the race, Rispone called on supporters to give a round of applause for Trump, saying: “That man loves America and he loves Louisiana.”

Democrats who argue that nominating a moderate presidential candidate is the best approach to beat Trump are certain to say Louisiana’s race bolsters their case. Edwards, a West Point graduate, opposes gun restrictions, signed one of the nation’s strictest abortion bans and dismissed the impeachment effort as a distraction.

Still, while Rispone’s loss raises questions about the strength of Trump’s coattails, its relevance to his reelection chances are less clear. Louisiana is expected to easily back Trump next year, and Edwards’ views in many ways are out of step with his own party.

In the final days as polls showed Edwards with momentum, national Republicans beefed up assistance for Rispone. That wasn’t enough to boost the GOP contender, who wasn’t among the top-tier candidates Republican leaders hoped would challenge Edwards as they sought to prove that the Democrat’s longshot victory in 2015 was a fluke.

He had ties to unpopular former Gov. Bobby Jindal and offered few details about his agenda. Edwards also proved to be a formidable candidate, with a record of achievements.

Working with the majority-Republican Legislature, Edwards stabilized state finances with a package of tax increases, ending the deficit-riddled years of Jindal. New money paid for investments in public colleges and the first statewide teacher raise in a decade.

Edwards expanded Louisiana’s Medicaid program, lowering the state’s uninsured rate below the national average. A bipartisan criminal sentencing law rewrite he championed ended Louisiana’s tenure as the nation’s top jailer.

Rispone, the 70-year-old owner of a Baton Rouge industrial contracting company, hitched his entire candidacy to Trump, introducing himself to voters in ads that focused on support for the president in a state Trump won by 20 percentage points.

But the 53-year-old Edwards, a former state lawmaker and former Army Ranger from rural Tangipahoa Parish, reminded voters that he’s a Louisiana Democrat, with political views that sometimes don’t match his party’s leaders.

“They talk about I’m some sort of a radical liberal. The people of Louisiana know better than that. I am squarely in the middle of the political spectrum,” Edwards said. “That hasn’t changed, and that’s the way we’ve been governing.”

Rispone said he was like Trump, describing himself as a “conservative outsider” whose business acumen would help solve the state’s problems.

“We want Louisiana to be No. 1 in the South when it comes to jobs and opportunity. We have to do something different,” Rispone said. “We can do for Louisiana what President Trump has done for the nation.”

The president’s repeated visits appeared to drive turnout for both candidates.

Tour guide Andrea Hartman, 40, cast her ballot for Edwards in New Orleans.

“I do not agree with what Rispone advocates,” she said. “I also don’t want Trump coming here and telling me who to vote for.”

Rispone poured more than $12 million of his own money into the race. But he had trouble drawing some of the primary vote that went to Republican U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, after harshly attacking Abraham in ads as he sought to reach the runoff.

“We have nothing to be ashamed of. We had over 700,000 people in Louisiana who really want something better, something different,” Rispone said.

Rispone also avoided many traditional public events attended by Louisiana gubernatorial candidates and sidestepped questions about his plans. He promised tax cuts, without saying where he’d shrink spending, and he pledged a constitutional convention, without detailing what he wanted to rewrite.

Both parties spent millions on attack ads and get-out-the-vote work, on top of at least $36 million spent by candidates.

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German prosecutors probe Wirecard for money laundering

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The lettering of the payment service provider Wirecard can be seen on a laptop screen

Silas Stein | picture alliance | Getty Images

German state prosecutors are investigating Wirecard for suspected money laundering, a spokeswoman for the Munich prosecutor’s office said on Thursday.

“We are investigating suspected money laundering,” the spokeswoman told Reuters, saying the inquiry was directed at individuals from Wirecard. She said it followed a number of criminal complaints this year and last.

Wirecard declined to comment.

The implosion of what was seen as a German success story once worth $28 billion has caused major embarrassment with experts and politicians criticising what they see as a hands-off approach on the part of the authorities.

Wirecard filed for insolvency last month owing creditors almost $4 billion after disclosing a 1.9 billion euro ($2.1 billion) hole in its accounts that its auditor EY said was the result of a sophisticated global fraud.

Wirecard started out handling payments for gambling and adult websites and now processes payments for companies including Visa and Mastercard.

Some of the world’s biggest investors held its shares before a whistleblower said it owed its success to a web of sham transactions.

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Airborne transmission of coronavirus in restaurants, gyms and other closed spaces can’t be ruled out, WHO says

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A member of Driving Force Crossfit Gym lifts a dumbbell during a socially distanced workout class on July 08, 2020 in Pembroke Pines, Florida.

Johnny Louis | Getty Images

The World Health Organization published new guidance Thursday, saying it can’t rule out the possibility that the coronavirus can be transmitted through air particles in closed spaces indoors, including in gyms and restaurants.

The WHO previously acknowledged that the virus may become airborne in certain environments, such as during “medical procedures that generate aerosols.” The new guidance recognizes some research that suggests the virus may be able to spread through particles in the air in “indoor crowded spaces.” It cited “choir practice, in restaurants or in fitness classes” as possible areas of airborne transmission.

“In these events, short-range aerosol transmission, particularly in specific indoor locations, such as crowded and inadequately ventilated spaces over a prolonged period of time with infected persons cannot be ruled out,” the United Nations health agency’s new guidance says. 

The WHO said in its guidance that while early evidence suggests the possibility of airborne transmission in such environments, spread by droplets and surfaces could also explain transmission in those cases.

“However, the detailed investigations of these clusters suggest that droplet and fomite transmission could also explain human-to-human transmission within these clusters,” the guidance says.

The WHO added that more research is needed to further investigate preliminary findings. The agency says the main mode of transmission is still believed to be through respiratory droplets.

The new guidance comes after 239 scientists from 32 different countries published an open letter earlier this week calling for the WHO and other health authorities to update their information on the coronavirus.

In an article entitled “It is Time to Address Airborne Transmission of COVID-19,” the group of scientists contend that the WHO needs to give more weight to the role of the airborne spread of Covid-19. 

On Tuesday, top WHO officials told reporters they were reviewing the latest evidence and collaborating with the broader scientific community to issue new guidance on what is currently known about whether and how easily the virus spreads by air. 

“The body of evidence continues to grow and we adapt,” Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, the WHO’s chief scientist, said Tuesday. “We take this very seriously. We are of course focused on public health guidance.”

Some scientists have criticized the WHO for being slow to issue guidance on the latest research into the coronavirus, which emerged in Wuhan, China, a little over six months ago. The WHO has defended its guidance, saying that it’s transparent about its review process and applies healthy skepticism to research that has not been peer-reviewed.

On some days, the WHO reviews up to 1,000 publications, Swaminathan said Tuesday. A typical day might mean WHO researchers are combing through about 500 new studies on topics ranging from how the virus spreads to drugs to treat Covid-19.

If airborne transmission proves to be a major factor in the spread of the outbreak, it could have wide-ranging policy consequences. Masks may prove to be even more important in reducing infections, especially in indoor environments and even in areas where physical distancing is possible. Specially outfitted ventilation units could become the norm in indoor spaces, public health experts have said.

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iPhone changes coming in fall 2020

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Apple iOS 14: iPhone changes coming in fall 2020