‘Not a Question of If But When’: Swedish Teachers Fear France-Like Beheadings



The brutal slaughter of French teacher Samuel Paty has shocked France and sent a ripple effect through Europe.

Following the killing of French teacher Samuel Paty, who was beheaded for showing controversial cartoons of Prophet Muhammad to his pupils, Swedish teachers have emphasised the importance of freedom of expression in teaching, but also voiced concern that similar attacks may occur in Sweden as well, national broadcaster SVT reported.
The assassination of Paty has been condemned across the world, and Swedish teachers are also mourning their deceased colleague.

According to Olof Linton, high school teacher at Östra Real in Stockholm, the killing was an attack on freedom of expression and democratic society, and could have happened anywhere in Europe, including Sweden.

“Unfortunately I think that this is something that we must see as an actual risk even in Swedish schools and contexts. Also, attacks could come from Islamist or right-wing extremists. And we must be prepared for that to happen. It is not a question of if, but when,” he told SVT.

Linton called for a clear signal of condemnation from the government, school and society at large. According to him, addressing controversial topics may include offensive material being shown.

“It’s very important for teachers to keep them in the process of teaching. We cannot bow to extremist and fundamentalist beliefs,” Linton said.

Charlotta Hemlin, a teacher at Westerlundska High School in Enköping, also stressed the importance of debating the freedom of expression.

“School is a part of society, and society is becoming increasingly polarised. Then it is even more important for us at school to take up this particular discussion and other difficult ones,” Hemlin told SVT.

Gothenburg high school teacher Mattias Axelsson said that the killing of a teacher for of his professional practice made him angry and sad at the same time.

“There is no end in itself to provoke and offend. If I feel that I reach a higher purpose, increased learning or better understanding, then I should definitely be able to show a Muhammad caricature or someone who burns a Swedish flag,” Axelsson stressed.

According to Christer Mattsson, a researcher at the University of Gothenburg, arranging theme days on controversial topics, such as sexuality, racism, the freedom of speech or the Holocaust, is a mistake, as it may be directly counterproductive by reinforcing negative opinions and biases. Students with, say, anti-Semitic views may become reinforced in their beliefs if put in a situation that is confrontational to them, he told SVT.

The Killing of Samuel Paty

47-year-old Samuel Paty, a teacher from Conflans-Sainte-Honorine school in the northwest of Paris, was beheaded on 16 October by a 18-year-old Muslim of Chechen origin Aboulakh Anzorov, whose family arrived in France amid an anti-terrorist operation in Russia’s North Caucasus in the 2000s, and had obtained refugee status.

The attack is believed to have been inspired by Paty’s freedom of speech class, where he had shown cartoons of the Islamic Prophet Mohammed. Online campaigns against the teacher were launched and one Islamist preacher reportedly issued a fatwa against him. A graphic photograph of the decapitated French teacher was published in the latest issue of an online magazine allegedly run by Daesh* supporters in India.

Prophet Muhammad controversy

Depictions of Prophet Muhammad can stir serious offence among Muslims because Islamic tradition explicitly forbids images of Muhammad and Allah. In recent years, this issue has become particularly sensitive following the “Cartoon Gate” involving the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten and the infamous publishing of cartoons of Prophet Muhammad by the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, which ended in brutal bloodshed by Islamist extremists.

In Scandinavia, which has a sizable Muslim community, altercations between proponents of free speech and adherents of hardline Islam are not uncommon either. For instance, Danish politician Rasmus Paludan has been repeatedly attacked for his practice of burning the Quran in celebration of free speech. Danish artist Kurt Westergaard and Swedish artist Lars Vilks have suffered several assassination attempts due to their respective cartoons of Prophet Muhammad.

A comprehensive 2012 study conducted by the Swedish Schools Inspectorate, shows that many teachers feel insecure in their professional life.

Daesh (ISIS, ISIL, “Islamic State”) is a terrorist organisation banned in Russia and others





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The fear that haunts Melbourne Storm prop Christian Welch


“I still have plenty of worries,” he said. “It is hard. I still work with a sports pysch. Every pre-game I still think I am going to reinjure my knee. Even coming back on with 15 minutes to go [against the Raiders] at the back of mind I was thinking, ‘Don’t get injured, don’t get injured’.

“I think that is natural with my injury past I have had. You have just got to take it on. I am lucky the position I play is pretty full-on. It is pretty chaotic in the middle so you don’t have much time to think about things.”

Christian Welch gets another chance to break his premiership curse.Credit:NRL Photos

Welch’s secret weapon has been Jacqui Louder, a Melbourne psychologist who consults with the Storm. Louder has equipped Welch with some tools to get past his injury paranoia and has also helped other players at the club ensure they step up to the plate in major games.

“Jacqui has worked with a lot of different sports – Olympians and tennis players – and worked a fair bit with us on the mental side of performing well,” Welch said. “I suppose the last couple of years we have had really strong seasons but just fallen short a couple of times. She has been really good for us in trying to channel our best performance for those big games.

“I was struggling a bit earlier in the year and she just basically said to just think about if you do [reinjure] it, what are you going to do … and to have a plan if it does happen again. Just don’t block it out completely but accept it as a possibility.”



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Thailand moves to quell pro-democracy protests with bans on gatherings and news that ‘could create fear’


Thailand’s government has banned gatherings of five or more people and the publication of news or online messages that could harm national security under an emergency decree to end Bangkok street protests.

Thai authorities have also arrested two leaders of anti-government protests, Arnon Nampa and Panupong Jadnok, the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights group said.

“Authorities arrested Arnon and Panupong at 5 a.m.,” the rights group said, adding that Mr Arnon was arrested over a speech he had given in the northern city of Chiang Mai. It said the reason for Mr Panupong’s arrest was not clear. 

Protests have escalated for three months and protesters set up camp outside Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha’s offices to demand his resignation late on Wednesday.

The government said it also acted after demonstrators obstructed a royal motorcade.

“It is extremely necessary to introduce an urgent measure to end this situation effectively and promptly to maintain peace and order,” state television announced.

It was accompanied by a document setting out measures that took effect from 4am local time to ban big gatherings and allowing authorities to ban people from entering any area they designation.

It also prohibits: “publication of news, other media, and electronic information that contains messages that could create fear or intentionally distort information, creating misunderstanding that will affect national security or peace and order.”

Tens of thousands of protesters marched in Bangkok on Wednesday.

Pro-democracy protesters march down the street during a demonstration in Bangkok, Thailand.

Getty Images AsiaPac

The protest movement aims to remove Mr Prayuth, who took power in a 2014 coup that was meant to end a decade of violence between supporters and opponents of the country’s establishment.

Those marching on the streets also want a new constitution and have called for a reduction in the powers of King Maha Vajiralongkorn – breaking a longstanding taboo on criticising the monarchy.

Protesters shouted at the king’s motorcade in Bangkok on Tuesday after the arrest of 21 protesters.

The king, who spends most of his time overseas but has returned from Germany for several weeks, travelled in a car alongside Queen Suthida through a crowd of peaceful protesters on Wednesday.

Thailand's Queen Suthida (C) and Prince Dipangkorn Rasmijoti (centre L)

Thailand’s Queen Suthida (C) and Prince Dipangkorn Rasmijoti (centre L) react inside a royal motorcade as it drives past a pro-democracy rally in Bangkok.

AFP

 

Some protesters gave the three-finger salute – a gesture of defiance the pro-democracy movement has borrowed from the popular “Hunger Games” films – and chanted “get out” at police protecting the vehicle.

Such overt challenges to the monarchy are unprecedented in Thailand, where the royal family’s influence permeates every aspect of society.

The youth-led movement’s calls for reforms to the monarchy have prompted a backlash from Thailand’s staunchly pro-royalist establishment. 

 

“The monarchy has been around more than 700 years,” said Sirilak Kasemsawat, one of thousands of royal supporters waiting “to show we love the king”. 

Government spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri announced late Wednesday the premier had ordered police to press charges against “the protesters who obstructed the royal motorcade”. 

Charges will also be pursued against “those who had acted in a way that defames the monarchy,” he said in a statement. 

“They must face legal procedures without exception.”

Several popular anti-government movements have arisen in the turbulent modern history of Thailand, which has endured long bouts of political unrest and more than a dozen successful military coups since 1932. 

Royalists during a counter demonstration in Bangkok, Thailand.

Royalists look on at anti-government protesters during a counter demonstration in Bangkok, Thailand.

Getty Images AsiaPac

The army has long positioned itself as the sole defender of the ultra-wealthy king, whose power stretches across every facet of Thai society.

Activists have repeatedly said they wish only for the monarchy to adapt to modern times. 

Their demands include the abolition of a strict royal defamation law – which shields the king from criticism – and for the monarch to stay out of politics.

“We’re just asking them to change with us,” protester Dear Thatcha told AFP. 

 



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ACT election candidates often fear their own party colleagues more than the opposition — and for good reason


Updated

October 12, 2020 09:31:09

You probably think the ACT election is a battle between the Canberra Liberals, and Labor and the Greens, as to who should form the next ACT Government.

You would, of course, be absolutely right.

But the unusual structure of an ACT election means there are a range of much smaller, and very tense battles playing out in all five electorates.

And more often than not, it is candidates on the same side of politics facing off against one another.

Even in seats that seem pretty safe (think Brindabella and Kurrajong in particular) candidates are pounding the pavement — desperately trying to pick up extra handfuls of votes.

The Hare-Clark electoral system that the ACT shares with Tasmania, with five five-member electorates, is in many ways a brutal one.

It places significant power in the hands of every voter, in every seat — far more than many voters realise.

It rewards name recognition above all else, and candidates absolutely cannot rest on the strength of their party vote to be elected.

They need people who plan on voting for their party to vote for them, above the four other party candidates.

But they cannot be seen to be visibly undermining one another.

More than likely, it keeps plenty of candidates, particularly those right on the cusp of winning or losing a seat, awake at night.

Fight to finish for last of the winners, top of the losers in Kurrajong

By all rights, the seat of Kurrajong should be the most predictable and most boring this election.

It will almost certainly give two seats to Labor, two to the Liberals, and one to the Greens, as it did last election.

Four of the most popular and highest-profile MLAs in the Assembly are running for Kurrajong, and all are just about guaranteed to be re-elected.

They are Labor’s Andrew Barr and Rachel Stephen-Smith, the Liberals’ Elizabeth Lee, and the Greens’ Shane Rattenbury.

But there are two quieter, and hotly-contested races going on within Kurrajong — and one of them is not for a seat at all.

Within the Liberals, Candice Burch (and her small army of Young Liberal volunteers) are working hard to lift her profile enough to hang on to the seat she currently holds.

Ms Burch fell short in 2016, and was only elected after the death of former Liberal MLA Steve Doszpot, so she is seeking election for the first time.

But there is no guarantee of win, as she battles to harvest votes in the conservative Inner South of Canberra — particularly against businessman Patrick Pentony.

Both are vying for the same, fifth seat. And both have to do it without looking like they are fighting at all.

Within Labor, the race is on to be the first loser.

Candidates Jacob Ingram, Maddy Northam and Judy Anderson have very little chance of picking up a seat in this election.

Yet Mr Ingram and Ms Northam in particular are campaigning extraordinarily hard, and seemingly spending significant money too.

Mr Ingram has sought to align his profile with the current Chief Minister as closely as possible, while Ms Northam is distributing leaflets prominently featuring an endorsement from federal Senator Katy Gallagher.

While both would of course like to be elected, realistically they are vying to come third among the Labor candidates.

That is because if Mr Barr retires during the next term — either because Labor has lost the election, or he simply tires of being Chief Minister — they would take his place in the ACT Legislative Assembly.

It is a runner-up prize that is worth winning.

Battling for Brindabella

If Kurrajong is predictable, Brindabella in the south would seem downright dull.

The Liberals are all but assured of the same three seats they have won for the past two elections, and Labor will take its two.

The Liberals’ Nicole Lawder, Andrew Wall and Mark Parton can probably afford to sleep easy on election eve.

For Labor, incumbent MLAs Mick Gentleman and Joy Burch have been in the Assembly for 16 years and 12 years respectively — making them some of the most senior and established candidates seeking election in the ACT.

Yet Labor candidate Taimus Werner-Gibbings is busting his gut down in Tuggeranong seeking a Labor seat.

His only hopes are that Labor can turn back the blue tide in the south, and win a third seat for Labor alongside Ms Burch and Mr Gentleman, which is a very big ask.

Or, he plans to pinch a seat from the senior MLAs.

It surprised some that both Ms Burch and Mr Gentleman sought pre-selection for Labor once more, given both are likely towards the twilight of their political careers.

Mr Gentleman is a senior government minister, but Ms Burch has not held a portfolio since she resigned from her portfolios in early 2016 after a string of scandals.

Mr Werner-Gibbings may be hoping voters call time on either of the MLAs’ careers for them.

Preferences matter, a lot

Most seats have a high-profile candidate running from each party, who is bound to collect most of the first-preference votes.

In Ginninderra, Yvette Berry will probably dominate the Labor vote. In Yerrabi, Alistair Coe will consume a huge slice of the Liberal vote.

The other candidates know that, and know they cannot do much about it (except hang around long enough in politics, and do a good enough job, to eventually become that person).

They will always tell voters they would really like a first-preference vote. But if not, just vote for the major candidate — and please, make me your number two.

The Hare-Clark system of distributing preferences is terrifyingly complex, and fully-known only to a handful of people with lots of time, patience and love for numbers.

But when the computer eventually spits out a result, the final order of candidates is determined by tiny slices of votes sent in all sorts of directions, determined by who voters number where on their ballot paper.

Voters of course spend most time thinking about who they will give their first preference vote to.

A lot of candidates would like them to spend just as much time deciding who they vote for after that — as it matters, a lot.

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Topics:

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First posted

October 12, 2020 06:35:25



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Foreign Observers Fear For US Democracy Over Trump



Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

President Donald J. Trump stands on the Truman Balcony at the White House after receiving treatments for the coronavirus at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Monday.

In recent years, international election observers have monitored tumultuous votes in countries like Afghanistan, Ukraine, and Russia. This year, they’re turning their attention back again to the US, a place not normally considered a democracy in danger but looking increasingly chaotic.

Members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) began flying into Washington, DC, last week to prepare for Election Day. But just hours after roughly a dozen OSCE experts officially began working on Sept. 29, the US witnessed one of the ugliest debates in its history — peppered with claims from the sitting president that the election results will be fraudulent unless he wins.

That was even before the president was rushed to hospital on Friday, having contracted a deadly virus, and details of his health were hidden from the public, further fueling the uncertainty heading into the contentious vote.

Over the course of 90 minutes during last week’s debate, President Donald Trump heckled and lied with abandon. He declined to denounce white supremacists. He mocked the drug addiction of the living son of opponent Joe Biden as the former vice president discussed his dead son. He framed the death of a suspected shooter in Portland, Oregon, as an extrajudicial killing, boasting he had sent in US Marshals who “took care of business.” And he once again sought to undermine public faith in the integrity of the election by falsely claiming there’s “going to be a fraud like you’ve never seen.”

“I’m urging my supporters to go into the polls and watch very carefully, because that’s what has to happen,” Trump said, declining once again to commit to a peaceful transfer of power.

Such language is “usually something that’s criticized by election observers around the world,” said Susan Hyde, a University of California, Berkeley, political science professor who studies election observers and who previously worked as one in seven countries. “I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that would have caught their attention.”

“That’s a dictator,” said one American who previously monitored elections across three continents but who asked not to be named because she didn’t want to be seen to be speaking for her current employer.

“That’s what we see in African countries consistently,” she said, going on to talk specifically about Zimbabwe.

“I’ve never thought in my eight years of working in this industry, that I would be worried about election violence in the US in this day and age,” she added, “but now I wouldn’t put it past us.”

Katya Andrusz, a spokesperson for the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, declined to comment on the current US election, stressing that the organization’s observers, who have been monitoring US elections for 20 years, always remain politically neutral.

Speaking about democracy more broadly, though, she underscored the importance of public confidence in the vote.

“In any country, trust in the process is absolutely vital and if there is anything that’s undermining trust, it’s not healthy for a democracy,” Andrusz said. “A big part of democratic elections is the trust in them, that the system works, that your vote counts.

“If people don’t believe that’s the case, it can weaken public confidence in the democratic process itself.”


Win Mcnamee / Getty Images

A member of the White House cleaning staff sanitizes the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room on Monday.

Of course, the events of the last few days surrounding the coronavirus outbreak inside the White House have thrown yet another spanner into a tumultuous election season. With doctors warning Trump may still experience severe symptoms of COVID-19 in the days to come, there remains speculation of what might happen if he should die or become too ill to continue in the election — chatter Trump sought to squash on Monday night with a publicized return to the White House from his hospital bed designed to show him as every bit the Strongman leader.

In a stunt that Atlantic writer and democracy historian Anne Applebaum compared to Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, Trump stood on the balcony of the White House while still infected, removed his mask, and saluted for the cameras. A White House video of the event, set to booming orchestral music befitting an action film, was released within the hour.

“Anyone hailing from an authoritarian country is horrified by that Trump video, as should be anyone who values democracy over demagoguery,” said Garry Kasparov — the Russian chess grandmaster, chairman of the Human Rights Foundation and Renew Democracy Initiative — on Twitter. “The staging, boasting, the disregard for people’s lives. He won’t change and he must go.”

Interest in the US election around the world remains feverish, with international broadcasters airing last week’s debate live (causing translators to struggle) and foreign news sites often leading with the latest political developments.

While international attention is high, global opinions of the US are falling to low levels. A September Pew Research Center survey of 13 nations found that in several countries, the number of people with a positive view of the US was lower than at any point in their almost two decades of polling. The decline is driven in part by perceptions of the Trump administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, but also by views of Trump himself. Fewer than 1 in 10 Belgians, for example, have confidence that the US president will do the right thing.

As the president continues to upend democratic norms and undermine public faith in the integrity of the election, experts told BuzzFeed News they fear not only for the US image abroad, but for the US itself.

“Especially from a country that has been promoting election observation, promoting democracy, been a beacon of democracy around the world and thought it was in a position to send observers to other countries to instruct them in the right ways to run elections, it’s discouraging,” said Judith Kelley, the dean of the Duke Sanford School of Public Policy, who has studied such observers extensively. “It’s very, very discouraging.”

Kelly said Trump’s comments at the debate would likely alarm election observers, who would see his attempts to undermine public confidence in the election as a form of voter suppression.

“I also think that Trump was indirectly urging his supporters to engage in voter intimidation and he was indirectly himself engaging in voter suppression by simply discouraging people from believing that this election would matter, that their ballot would be counted,” she said. “Why show up if you think your vote wouldn’t count?”

The president’s debate comments came less than a week after the Trump campaign released a video in which his son Donald Trump Jr. called for supporters to volunteer as partisan election observers, which are permitted under the law. Except Trump Jr. framed his callout in highly militaristic terms. “We need every able-bodied man and woman to join Army for Trump’s election security operation,” he said, calling for people to “defend” their ballots and “enlist.”

“President Trump is going to win. Don’t let them steal it,” Trump Jr. said.

A week before that, supporters of the president disrupted early voting at a site in Virginia, chanting slogans. Some voters and election workers felt intimidated by the group and had to be provided escorts, according to officials.

“You can have voter intimidation without guns,” said John Campbell, who lives in nearby Alexandria and who, as US ambassador to Nigeria, oversaw the team of American diplomats who monitored that country’s 2007 election.

Campbell noted that in Nigeria it is not uncommon for gangs of political supporters to try to intimidate one another. “It’s one of the reasons why elections are very often so violent,” he said, “particularly in the run-up.”

Eric Bjornlund— the board chair of the Election Reformers Network and president of Democracy International, which consults internationally on issues of governance and politics — told BuzzFeed News that “armed politically affiliated gangs” were a feature in some South Asian countries, such as Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan.

“There’s a huge tradition of these armed thugs that are affiliated with parties that go around and try to prevent people from voting,” he said. “They would say they’re providing security.”

Bjornlund said he now fears their emergence in the US political arena.

“It’s pretty likely that in another country, if people who are not official police or security forces or rather militia or self-appointed election monitors that are armed and going to polling places, it’s pretty clear we would have a problem with that as the international community and we would call it out,” he said.


Bryan Woolston / Reuters

A Trump supporter stands with far-right activists and self-described militia members during a rally on the day of the Kentucky Derby horse race in Louisville on Sept. 5.

Kelley, the Duke Sanford dean, said it is possible that some Trump supporters may see his comments as a call to arms, given the presence over the summer of armed, right-wing, self-described militias at political demonstrations. This included the Proud Boys group, whom Trump told at the debate to “stand by” and whose members have been charged with violent offenses at such protests.

Trump’s illness and hospitalization for COVID-19 was also seen by Trump supporters who believe in the QAnon mass delusion as a signal from Trump that he was being sequestered in a safe place so that masses of Democratic politicians, beginning with Hillary Clinton, could be arrested, and that they should prepare for a battle against his political opponents.

Amnesty International USA on Tuesday put out what they said was unprecedented advisory, warning of the threat of gun violence and armed voter intimidation at the polls. Georgetown Law School experts have even prepared 50 fact sheets — one for each state — “explaining the laws barring unauthorized private militia groups and what to do if groups of armed individuals are near a polling place or voter registration drive.”

Even if those self-described militias don’t actually materialize on Election Day, if many voters fear that they could, that is a form of voter suppression, Kelley said.

“You may have voters saying, ‘I don’t feel safe going to the polls. I don’t know who is going to be there.’ And that’s classic voter intimidation,” Kelley said. “And he’s indirectly urging his supporters to engage in that kind of conduct and that’s worrisome.”

Robert Lloyd, the dean of Palm Beach Atlantic University’s school of arts and sciences and who worked as an elections observer in Nigeria, Libera, and Mozambique in the 1990s and 2000s, urged caution. He said any individual incidents of intimidation at polling places should be taken seriously but also had to be put into perspective nationally.

“In terms of [supporters] yelling and screaming at people, that would not be considered appropriate. Can you stop it in a country of 330 million people? Probably not,” he said. “That’s not to dismiss it, but you have to look at the overall picture.”

Still, Lloyd said, his work monitoring heated elections in Africa had taught him leaders should be careful not to use inflammatory language, because ”others may interpret it in ways they don’t mean.”


Ty Wright / Getty Images

A person wearing a mask and a face shield stands in line waiting to register for early voting outside of the Franklin County Board of Elections Office on Tuesday in Columbus, Ohio.

In another sign of just how unprecedented this election is, the Carter Center, the nongovernmental organization founded by former president Jimmy Carter that monitors elections around the world, is for the first time in its 30-year history turning its attention to the US.

The nonpartisan group announced in August that they were preparing an initiative, which may yet include some election observation, because they feared US democracy was “backsliding.”

“We’ve often thought about this and knew the US could improve or benefit from observation,” Carter Center Director of Democracy David Carroll told BuzzFeed News, “but we never really thought seriously we’d be asked in a serious way to observe in the US as a country that would need observation.”

Carroll said the last five years have seen a marked increase in political polarization and doubts about the credibility of the electoral process in the US. “The sense that people think the election might be stolen, that’s not something that was a widespread concern 20 years ago in the US,” he said. “It’s much more like countries where we work internationally.”

The unnamed former elections observer who spoke with BuzzFeed News cited Trump’s refusal to commit to a peaceful transfer of power as a particularly worrying sign for US democracy and one that would tarnish America abroad.

“If America uses the same formula that we use overseas to see what countries are backsliding in their democracy,” she said, “then we are backsliding fast.”

In a report prepared ahead of their visit, the OSCE group mentioned their “concerns over potential use of intolerant rhetoric during the campaign, including inflammatory speech targeting ethnic and racial minorities coming from high level officials.”

It comes two years after the last crop of OSCE observers wrote a report on the 2018 US midterm elections, in which they found that rhetoric used in that campaign to be “often divisive, confrontational and intolerant, with much of it emanating from the national level.”

They recommended that all candidates and supporters refrain from language that incites hostility, discrimination, or violence.

On Wednesday last week, the morning after watching the debate, the president’s performance had done little to reassure Kelley, the Duke Sanford dean, that Trump’s confrontational rhetoric would diminish.

“We’re all getting tired of the word ‘unprecedented,’” she said. “You can only use it so many times before it’s no longer unprecedented.”





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White House staff, Secret Service eye virus with fear, anger


WASHINGTON — The West Wing is a ghost town. Staff members are scared of exposure. And the White House is now a treatment ward for not one — but two — COVID patients, including a president who has long taken the threat of the virus lightly.

President Donald Trump’s decision to return home from a military hospital despite his continued illness is putting new focus on the people around him who could be further exposed if he doesn’t abide by strict isolation protocols.

Throughout the pandemic, White House custodians, ushers, kitchen staff and members of the U.S. Secret Service have continued to show up for work in what is now a coronavirus hot spot, with more than a dozen known cases this week alone.

Trump, still contagious, has made clear that he has little intention of abiding by best containment practices.

As he arrived back at the White House on Monday evening, the president defiantly removed his face mask and stopped to pose on a balcony within feet of a White House photographer. He was seen inside moments later, surrounded by numerous people as he taped a video message urging Americans not to fear a virus that has killed more than 210,000 in the U.S. and 1 million worldwide.

White House spokesman Judd Deere said the White House was “taking every precaution necessary” to protect not just the first family but “every staff member working on the complex” consistent with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and best practices. He added that physical access to the president would be significantly limited and appropriate protective gear worn by those near him.

Nonetheless, the mood within the White House remains somber, with staff fearful they may have been exposed to the virus. As they confront a new reality — a worksite that once seemed like a bubble of safety is anything but — they also have been engaged in finger-pointing over conflicting reports released about the president’s health as well as a lack of information provided internally.

Many have learned about positive tests from media reports and several were exposed, without their knowledge, to people the White House already knew could be contagious.

Indeed, it took until late Sunday night, nearly three full days after Trump’s diagnosis, for the White House to send a staff-wide note in response. Even then, it did not acknowledge the outbreak.

“As a reminder,” read the letter from the White House Management Office, “if you are experiencing any symptoms … please stay home and do not come to work.” Staff who develop symptoms were advised to “go home immediately” and contact their doctors rather than the White House Medical Unit.

Even when Trump was at the hospital, his staff was not immune to risk.

Trump had aides there recording videos and taking photographs of him. On Sunday evening, he took a surprise drive around the hospital to wave to supporters from the window of an SUV. The Secret Service agents in the car with him were dressed in personal protective equipment.

“Appropriate precautions were taken in the execution of this movement to protect the president and all those supporting it, including PPE,” Deere said.

Trump campaign spokesman Hogan Gidley dismissed media concern about the agents’ safety as “absolutely stupid and foolish.”

“How do they think he’s going to leave? Is someone gonna toss him the keys to a Buick and let him drive home by himself? They’re always around him because that’s their job,” Gidley said on Fox News.

But agents told a very different story.

Several who spoke with The Associated Press expressed concern over the cavalier attitude the White House has taken when it comes to masks and distancing. Colleagues, they said, are angry, but feel there’s little they can do.

One, speaking after White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany tested positive on Monday, said it felt like he and some of his colleagues had been spared only by a measure of good luck.

Others noted the difference between facing outside threats they have trained for — a gun, a bomb or a biohazard — and being put at additional risk because of behavior they characterized as reckless at times. The agents spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid jeopardizing their jobs.

The Secret Service has refused to disclose how many of its employees have tested positive or have had to quarantine, citing privacy and security. But in the midst of the election, thousands of agents are on duty and anyone who tests positive can easily be subbed out, officials have said.

Secret Service spokeswoman Julia McMurray said the agency takes “every precaution to keep our protectees, employees and families, and the general public, safe and healthy.”

Trump has joined first lady Melania Trump, who also tested positive, in the residential area of the White House. It is typically served by a staff of roughly 100 people, including housekeepers, cooks, florists, groundskeepers and five or six butlers — who interact most closely with the president, said Kate Andersen Brower, who wrote the “The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House.”

During the pandemic, that staff has been reduced to a skeleton crew, with mask-wearing much more prevalent than in the West Wing, where few have worn them regularly.

Brower said she recently spoke with three former employees who expressed concern about the health of current workers, but were too afraid to speak publicly.

“The butlers always feel protective of the first family, but there’s just a concern about whether or not the staff would get sick,” Brower said. Most are older, she said, “because they work from one generation to the next. They are people who have been on the job for 20 to 30 years. They want to work to get their full pensions.”

Many of the White House residence staffers are Black or Latino, among the demographic groups showing higher rates of infection and death in the pandemic. Overall deaths among minorities have risen far higher than among white people, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show. Among the risk factors, some communities of color are likely to have lower incomes, less often have insurance to help fight sickness, and have jobs that are deemed essential and expose them to higher risk of infection.

For months now, cleaning staff have also privately voiced concerns about their safety, including lack of access to testing and inadequate protective gear.

Stephanie Grisham, the first lady’s spokeswoman, said that “all precautions are being taken to ensure the health and safety of the residence staff,” but she declined to be specific.

While the White House has refused to implement new safety procedures — such as making masks mandatory — the building was noticeably emptier Monday, with more staffers now staying home on days when they are not needed on site.

On Monday morning, there was just a single staff member in the ground floor press office, where two medical staff members administered COVID-19 tests, surrounded by empty desks.

It’s not the first time a White House has had to contend with a virus. During the flu pandemic of 1918, President Woodrow Wilson was infected as were members of his family and White House staff, including his secretary and several Secret Service members, according to the White House Historical Association.

So were two sheep who spent their days grazing on the South Lawn. They were hospitalized but recovered.

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Associated Press writers Aamer Madhani, Zeke Miller, Michael Balsamo and Lauran Neergaard contributed to this report.



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Binge gambling the next next fear when poker machines reboot after COVID-19 gaming shutdown


Victorian gamblers have saved $1.3 billion in poker machine losses since the machines were switched off due to COVID-19.

Club gaming rooms and TAB outlets in Victoria were closed on March 23, when coronavirus restrictions were introduced, and they are likely to remain closed until at least November.

Anti-gaming groups say the pandemic presents a unique opportunity to help problem gamblers stay off the poker machines when venues reopen.

“Although some people have appreciated being able to take the break, a lot of people are looking forward to getting back,” said Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation principal clinical advisor Tony Clarkson.

Tony Clarkson says there is likely to be an increase in player losses once pokies venues reopen.(ABC News)

He said in New South Wales there had been an 8 per cent increase in poker machine losses since venues reopened, and in Queensland, losses had increased by 32 per cent.

“People can certainly get some benefit from taking a break, stopping and thinking about their gambling behaviour, having a think about what role gambling plays in their life, and what benefits they might have achieved or accrued from the lockdown period when they weren’t able to gamble,” Mr Clarkson said.

Surge in online gaming

In Gippsland alone, gamblers have saved $64 million since coronavirus restrictions forced the closure of gaming venues.

At the Sale Greyhound Club, 80 poker machines sit idle.

The operators have rearranged the gaming room to put all poker machines 1.5 metres apart to meet social distancing rules, but general manager Peter Johnston fears it could be Christmas before they are allowed to reopen.

“There’s a lot of Chinese whispers within the industry at the moment that it will be a 10:00pm close for venues,” Mr Johnston said.

“We’re also hearing that even venues that have separated machines, that every second machine is going to have to be turned off.

“So in our case, 80 machines will turn into 31 machines, so that’s going to be an issue for us long term as well.

Poker machines shut down at Sale Greyhound Club
Poker machines have been closed in Victoria since March 23, due to coronavirus restrictions.(ABC Gippsland: Kellie Lazzaro)

He said there had been a significant surge in online gaming, including greyhound betting, as poker machine players turned to alternative forms of gambling.

“The poker machine industry is a really controlled environment with limits on what you can spend and how long you can spend in a venue,” Mr Johnston said.

A spokeswoman for the Victorian Government said venues in metro Melbourne and regional areas will potentially reopen with seated venues and patron caps when Victoria moves from the third step to the last step in the reopening plan — if there are no new cases for 14 days as directed by the Chief Health Officer.

“We’re working hard to minimise the risk of gambling harm with plans underway to ensure the reopening of gaming in Victoria can be achieved safely, both from a health and a gambling harm perspective,” the spokeswoman said.

Good time for reforms, say anti-gaming group

The Alliance for Gambling Reform has called on the Victorian Government to reduce the operating hours of poker machine venues and introduce a $1 maximum bet when COVID-19 restrictions are eased.

“We know we’re stuck with them, but at least cut down the hours so that we don’t go back to where we were before the pandemic,” alliance spokeswoman and reformed gambler Carolyn Crawford said.

In 2016, at the age of 64, Ms Crawford was sentenced to prison for stealing money from her employer to pay for her gambling addiction.

“I was lucky that I have a great counsellor who helped me through the feeling of wanting to go to the pokies again, even after 18 months in prison,” she said.

Ms Crawford said the shutdown may have helped some people realise they need help, but others would be eagerly awaiting venues to reopen.

Latrobe Community Health Service (LCHS) is offering free and confidential help and advice, including therapeutic counselling and financial counselling for people who have gambling debts.



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