UK government keeps poker face as British politics holds breath on unclear US election – POLITICO



LONDON — U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab refused to be drawn on Donald Trump’s premature claim to have won the U.S. election, or his allegation that the Democrats had committed “fraud” on the American people.

Speaking to broadcasters on Wednesday morning with the result still uncertain, Raab insisted Boris Johnson’s government had “full faith in the U.S. institutions, the checks and balances in the U.S. system” and that a “definitive result” would be produced in the coming hours or days.

Johnson himself is taking MPs’ questions in the House of Commons later on Wednesday, where he is likely to be pressed on Trump’s claims, which the Labour opposition said proved that he was a president “that doesn’t play by the rules.”

Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy told ITV’s Good Morning Britain that Trump’s statement, in the early hours of Wednesday, has “proven why questions of democracy, people’s right to be heard, free and fair elections are absolutely at stake in this election.”

Some senior members of Johnson’s own party also raised concerns over the uncertain outcome of the race and the prospect — raised by Trump — of any eventual result being challenged at the U.S. Supreme Court. Former Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt told POLITICO: “We need to make sure protracted legal arguments don’t turn into a catastrophe for the worldwide reputation of democracy.”

Tom Tugendhat, Conservative chair of the House of Commons foreign affairs committee said: “Democracy relies on trust that the election is fair. President Trump’s comments undermine that trust even as the counting continues.”

“This is still too close to call but we can already see that the early predictions of a whitewash are way off. It’s clear that President Trump has strong support.”

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, a frequent critic of the Trump administration, also went further than the U.K. government line. After Trump’s statement, she tweeted that there were “crucial hours and days ahead for the integrity of U.S. democracy.”

“Let’s hope we start to hear the voices of Republicans who understand the importance of that.”

Johnson’s response to the unfolding situation will be watched closely at home and abroad. His government has the closest relations to the Trump White House of any leading European power and while the U.K. would be more aligned with the foreign policy goals of a Joe Biden administration, the Democratic challenger’s opposition to Brexit has led to concerns that the U.S.-U.K. relationship could suffer should he win the White House.

Meanwhile, the Labour opposition has seized on predictions of a fractious Johnson-Biden relationship, claiming that Downing Street’s courting of the Trump administration has alienated Democrats.

“What we’ve seen in Britain over the last few years is an approach to President Trump … that has not really taken account of the fact that this is president that doesn’t play by the rules,” Nandy said.

Speaking to Sky News on Wednesday morning with results still coming in, Raab dismissed such concerns saying that, while the “contours of the relationship” might “shift a little bit” depending on who wins, the “bedrock of economic ties, security cooperation and shared values” between the two governments would remain.

Meanwhile Brexit Party leader and Trump ally Nigel Farage claimed that the president’s comments came from “frustration” that there was no clear result yet. “What he was talking about is the potential for voter fraud,” Farage told the BBC, but when pressed conceded: “There is no evidence of fraud at this stage.”





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Dan Murphy’s Darwin store still unclear but NT Government could step in again to help out


Chief Minister Michael Gunner has flagged further potential intervention in the long-running bid to open a large-scale Dan Murphy’s outlet in Darwin, as the liquor giant looks set to stretch its licence battle into a fifth year.

A second appeal against the refusal of the licence by the Northern Territory Liquor Commission, which was set up by Labor, now looks likely to be pushed out from the date set for December.

Woolworths’ Endeavour Drinks Group (EDG) sought the postponement and has blamed the delay on staff illness and difficulties preparing evidence caused by COVID-related restrictions.

The parties will meet later this month to set a new hearing date in the NT Civil and Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

But a spokesperson for Mr Gunner said the Government wants the matter resolved as quickly as possible and will now consider “if any further action is required” over coming weeks.

Mr Gunner previously described the independent commission’s rejection of the licence as “a kick in the guts” for responsible drinkers.

Further action from the Government would come on top of amendments rushed through Parliament’s emergency coronavirus sitting in March, which Labor said addressed “technicalities” that killed the company’s first appeal against the decision.

At the time, the Government resisted lobbying from EDG for the creation of an overriding ministerial power to approve licence applications.

At a press conference on Monday, Mr Gunner refused to be drawn on what type of action the Government would take.

“It’s under consideration,” he said.

“I’ll be able to advise you of the action once we’ve finished considering it.”

Uncertain future for controversial bid

EDG has been fighting to use an existing licence for a now-closed BWS store to open what would be one of the company’s largest Australian outlets and the anchor tenant of a multi-million-dollar commercial precinct near Darwin airport.

The proposed development was rejected by the Liquor Commission last September.(Supplied: NT Airports)

The plan has the backing of business groups but is opposed by health and social services and some local Aboriginal groups, as well as the Australian Hotels Association NT.

The company’s licence application was rejected by the Liquor Commission in September last year largely because of the risks posed to nearby Aboriginal communities and pedestrians if the outlet was built at the proposed location.

An appeal was then knocked back in December when the tribunal found NT law did not allow for licence substitution to premises that were yet to be built — this was the law the Government then changed.

The amendments earlier this year also explicitly allowed substitutions that are not “like-for-like”, removing doubt about the legality of using a small store licence for an outlet found by the Liquor Commission to be 48 times the size of the original based on sales volume.

Labor has come under fire more than once for its handling of the Dan Murphy’s saga, starting when it introduced and then scrapped a bottle shop floor-size limit that stalled the licence application after it was first lodged in December 2016.

Health groups expressed alarm at the amendments rushed through Parliament earlier this year and urged the Government to stay the course with its alcohol reforms.

EDG previously expressed doubt the Government’s March amendments would resolve the authorities’ issues with its application.

The company declined a request for comment on the type of action it would want to see from the Government.



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AFL 2020: Essendon problems, culture, Brendon Goddard, coaching, unclear gameplan, trade news, players leaving


Former Essendon captain Brendon Goddard believes his old club still doesn’t have a clear gameplan and has failed to build a “successful culture” over many years.

The Bombers are likely to lose a number of key players this off-season including Joe Daniher, Adam Saad and Orazio Fantasia, all of whom are requesting trades, after a year where they finished 13th but with the AFL’s third-worst percentage.

While legendary coach Kevin Sheedy has been appointed a member of the club board, that decision has also drawn criticism, while a Bombers life member took to social media last week to declare the club’s culture has been “completely destroyed”.

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Tropical Storm Beta makes landfall in Texas, but amount of rain to come still unclear – National


Tropical Storm Beta made landfall on the upper Texas coast on Monday evening.

The storm made landfall about 5 miles (8 kilometres) north of Port OConnor, Texas, with maximum winds of 45 mph (72 kph), the U.S. National Hurricane Center said. Its winds weakened as it made its way to shore over several days.

Read more:
Tropical Storm Beta expected to hit Texas, Louisiana late Monday

Beta was the ninth named storm that made landfall in the continental U.S. this year. That tied a record set in 1916, according to Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach. This was the first time a Greek letter named storm made landfall in the continental U.S. Forecasters ran out of traditional storm names on Friday, forcing the use of the Greek alphabet for only the second time since the 1950s.

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The biggest unknown from Beta was how much rainfall it could produce in areas that have already seen their share of damaging weather during a busy hurricane season.

“This still is probably the most uncertain part of the forecast,” Dan Reilly, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in the Houston-Galveston office, said about rainfall from Beta.






Hurricane Sally: Florida residents clean up after severe damage from storm


Hurricane Sally: Florida residents clean up after severe damage from storm

Earlier predictions of up to 20 inches (51 centimetres) in some areas were downgraded Monday to up to 15 inches (38 centimetres). Texas coastal counties were most likely to see 4 to 6 inches (10 to 15 centimetres) with 2 to 4 inches (5 to 10 centimetres) farther inland, Reilly said. Rain had already fell in Houston and other areas down the Texas coast on Monday before Beta came ashore.

Forecasters and officials reassured residents Beta was not expected to be another Hurricane Harvey or Tropical Storm Imelda. Harvey in 2017 dumped more than 50 inches (127 centimetres) of rain on Houston, causing $125 billion in damage in Texas. Imelda, which hit Southeast Texas last year, was one of the wettest cyclones on record.

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Storm surge up to 4 feet (1.2 metres) was forecast from Port Aransas to Sabine Pass in Texas.

Read more:
Tropical Storm Beta continues slow crawl toward Texas, Louisiana

Beta was expected to move northeast along the Texas coast over the next couple of days, weakening into a depression by the time it gets to the Houston-Galveston area on Wednesday before heading into Louisiana sometime mid-week, forecasters said. Flash flooding was possible in Arkansas and Mississippi as the system moves farther inland.

In Galveston, an island city southeast of Houston, there was already some street flooding from rising tides and part of a popular fishing pier collapsed due to strong waves.

Farther south on the Texas coast, Maria Serrano Culpepper along with her two daughters and dogs left their home in Magnolia Beach near Matagorda Bay on Sunday night.

Culpepper said she didn’t want to be trapped in her home, three blocks from the beach, with wind, rain and possibly no electricity. She and her family evacuated to a friend’s home in nearby Victoria.






Hurricane Sally’s storm rain causes flooding in Florida Panhandle


Hurricane Sally’s storm rain causes flooding in Florida Panhandle

Culpepper said her home should be fine as it’s on stilts 13 feet (4 metres) off the ground and was built to withstand strong storms.

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“I’m feeling OK now. I had two nights without sleeping because I was worried about (Beta) being a Category 1 hurricane. I calmed down when the storm lost power,” said Culpepper, who works as an engineer at a nearby chemical plant.

On Monday, Gov. Greg Abbott issued a disaster declaration for 29 Texas counties ahead of Beta’s arrival.

Beta is forecast to dump heavy rain on the southwestern corner of Louisiana three weeks after the same area got pounded by Hurricane Laura. The rainfall and storm surge prompted Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards to declare a state of emergency.

In Lake Charles, Mayor Nic Hunter worried about Beta’s rainfall could set back efforts in his Louisiana community to recover after Laura, which damaged about 95% of the city’s 30,000 structures. Hunter said the worry of another storm was “an emotional and mental toll for a lot of our citizens.”






Hurricane Sally: People begin to survey damage after storm


Hurricane Sally: People begin to survey damage after storm

Beta would be the ninth named storm to make landfall in the continental U.S. this year. That would tie a record set in 1916, according to Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach.

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Parts of the Alabama coast and Florida Panhandle were still reeling from Hurricane Sally, which roared ashore Wednesday, causing at least two deaths. Two Boston-based disaster modeling firms figured Sally caused about $2 billion in privately insured losses from wind and storm surge. Karen Clark & Company estimated losses at $2 billion, while AIR Worldwide said they were between $1 and $3 billion. The estimates don’t include uninsured losses, the National Flood Insurance Program claims or damage to offshore property, like oil rigs.

Hurricane Teddy was about 295 miles (475 kilometres) northeast of Bermuda Monday night as it heads toward Nova Scotia. It had maximum sustained winds of 100 mph (160 kph) while moving north at 25 mph (40 kph) and away from the wealthy British territory, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami. It was expected to weaken and become a strong post-tropical cyclone before reaching Nova Scotia on Wednesday.

The government closed all air and sea ports, schools and government offices for the second time in a week. Hurricane Paulette made landfall in Bermuda on Sept. 14, knocking down trees and leaving thousands without power.

Associated Press reporters Seth Borenstein in Kensington, Maryland, and Janet McConnaughey and Rebecca Santana in New Orleans contributed to this report.




© 2020 The Canadian Press





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As Hong Kong’s academic year begins under security law, it’s unclear what can legally be said in a classroom


A monument to freedom, the “Goddess of Democracy” has long been a symbol of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement, and a testament to the freedoms the semi-autonomous city has enjoyed compared to the rest of China.

They had been expected to protest again this year. But with coronavirus halting the opportunity for public assembly, Beijing imposed a new national security law on the city in June, before the unrest could resume. The law, which bypassed Hong Kong’s semi-democratic legislature, bans subversion, secession and collusion with foreign forces, with severe prison terms for anyone found in contravention.

From when the legislation was first mooted, the government has always insisted it will only target a handful of individuals and not have a widespread impact on Hong Kong’s political freedoms.

However, since it came into force on June 30, some 24 arrests have been made, including four student activists over social media posts. It has been used to bar multiple candidates from standing for election, political parties have disbanded and once ubiquitous protest signs were pulled down across the city. Books deemed to be in contravention of the law have also been removed from stores and libraries.

Hong Kong has some of the best universities in Asia. But in a growing climate of fear and self censorship, it is now unclear what can legally be said and taught in a classroom — and whether student activism, both on campus and off, may become a thing of the past.

Academic freedom

As university lecturers in the social sciences across Hong Kong prepared for the fall term, writing lesson plans, sending out book lists, and testing Zoom setups, they also engaged in a furtive attempt to understand if their teaching might be deemed illegal.

Since it was proposed by Beijing, observers have warned that the vague language and sweeping nature of the security law gives the authorities broad scope to crack down on a variety of behaviors, while offering little guidance to those affected on how to stay the right side of it.

Schools have already been ordered by the government to remove books that contain content “which is outdated or involves the four crimes under the law,” and works by several prominent pro-democracy activists, including former student activist Joshua Wong, have been removed from public libraries.

One lecturer at CUHK described how faculty members pressed university administrators in emails, encrypted messages and in hastily convened staff meetings for reassurances or guidance, with little success.

“The general consensus is we know too little and the wording of the legislation is too vague for us to prepare for it,” said the lecturer, who spoke anonymously as they had not received permission from the school to do so. “So, it is essentially up to individuals to decide whether they want to be brave and ignore the whole thing, or self-censor.”

This creates a nerve-wracking situation for staff, who are unsure not only what might get them in trouble, but also whether the university will stand by them in future. In June, Hong Kong University (HKU) fired Benny Tai, a respected law professor who was instrumental in organizing what became the 2014 Umbrella Movement pro-democracy protests.

Tai’s sacking was a “clear breach of procedure, since a committee overwhelmingly made up of political appointees reversed a recommendation made by an academic body (the University Senate) not to terminate Tai’s appointment,” said Sebastian Veg, a China specialist at the School of Advanced Studies in Social Sciences in Paris, who was previously based in Hong Kong for several years.

“There is a new red line for academics who are also active in local politics or social movements,” he added. “But it’s too early to say whether that red line will further expand into teaching and research itself.”

The Beijing-appointed chief executive of Hong Kong, Carrie Lam, oversees all public universities in the city, and most institutions have strong links with China, relying on the mainland for students and funding. CUHK, for example, operates the Shenzhen Research Institute, across the border in China, and Chinese students make up the largest non-local cohort in the school’s 20,000-strong student body.

CUHK did not respond to a request for comment about the law or any action taken because of it. The government has denied that the law threatens academic freedom.

In 2017, mainland Chinese students clashed with some local students over a series of pro-Hong Kong independence posters erected on the CUHK campus, which were eventually removed by the school. Following the incident, the heads of 10 universities in Hong Kong published a joint statement condemning “abuses” of free speech and calling Hong Kong independence “unconstitutional.”
Law professor and activist Benny Tai seen in August 2019. Tai was controversially fired from Hong Kong University this year.

Independent thought

Long before it was officially criminalized by the new security law, independence advocacy has been a contentious issue on campuses.

In 2015, then Hong Kong chief executive CY Leung used his annual address to attack a student magazine, Undergrad, for writing about independence, bringing the topic, then still fairly marginal, to wider public attention.
The CUHK lecturer said there was concern about the effect of the security law on the school’s journalism department. Many student reporters covered the protests last year — how to even report on separatism or other newly illegal activities in the wake of the new law is something that far more experienced journalists are still trying to work out.
It is unclear, for example, where the line is between reporting on the independence movement and “promoting” it, either by giving activists airtime or even by simply quoting separatist slogans. Discussing such subjects in lessons could also be risky. In a statement on books that could potentially contravene the security law, the Education Bureau said that teaching materials discussing the new crimes should not be used “unless they are being used to positively teach pupils about their national security awareness or sense of safeguarding national security.”
Keith Richburg, director of Hong Kong University’s Journalism and Media Studies Center (JMSC), said in a note to students last month that “the specifics of the new law are vague, and that vagueness is deliberate.”

“By not spelling out precisely what actions or words count as secession or subversion — by not clearly delineating Beijing’s ‘red lines’ — it gives the authorities the power and leeway to apply the law as they see fit, while forcing everyone into a defensive mode of timidity and self-censorship to avoid possible transgressions.

“That includes journalists, academics and others in the public space,” Richburg wrote, adding that “we do not intend to do anything differently at JMSC, as we adhere to our mission of training the next generation of reporters and imbuing them with journalism’s international best practices.”

Student politics

The oldest tertiary education institution in the city, HKU is one of the top-ranked schools in Asia according to the Times Higher Education World University Rankings and international students make up over 40% of enrollments. The top two schools in Asia, however, are both in China, suggesting that academic freedom may not ultimately shape what counts toward such rankings.

But it could drastically alter the nature of the institution.

Sun Yat-sen, the politician and philosopher considered the father of modern China, called the school his “intellectual birthplace,” and HKU has a strong tradition of turning out independent thinkers and activists.
Responding to a request for comment about the new security law, an HKU spokeswoman said that “we will continue to uphold academic freedom and the freedom of thought and speech,” and linked to the school’s policy on academic freedom.

Some HKU students are less than reassured.

Protesters sit next to a Goddess of Democracy statue at the CUHK campus in Hong Kong on November 12, 2019.
Tracy Cheng, vice president of the Hong Kong University Students’ Union (HKUSU), said that many people were alarmed by the firing of Tai and angered that during anti-government unrest last year HKU vice chancellor Xiang Zhang appeared to downplay allegations of police brutality and focus instead on violence by protesters.

“This upset and disappointed a lot of students, as we thought that HKU would stand alongside students,” she said. “The union and other associations has organized forums to express our concerns over academic freedom and freedom of speech to the university. We will look closely when the academic year starts, to see if there is any censorship in classrooms, especially for socio-political courses.”

HKUSU was one of the founding members of the Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS), an umbrella organization which included unions from the city’s largest universities. In 2014, HKFS was one of the main groups leading the Umbrella protests, and members even debated city officials on live television.

“The involvement of students (in the protests) was important,” said Lester Shum, onetime deputy secretary-general of HKFS and now an elected lawmaker. “At that time, not so many people were getting involved in politics, but when the students came out and said we are fighting for our freedom and our future, many people felt touched and were inspired to join.”

Shum said that while last year’s protests were not as dependent on student groups for their organization as the 2014 Umbrella Movement, for example, they were still largely led by young people.

“This generated (great attention) on both the local and international level because when some protesters are so young, maybe 15 to 18, and go to the front lines to face the threat of tear gas and rubber bullets, that is an important moral force,” he said.

Coronavirus concerns

The uncertainty created by the new law, across a host of fields and industries, has been described as a “feature not a bug” by some critics, who argue that by not clearly demarcating red lines, the government encourages greater self-censorship in academia, media and politics.

The extraterritorial nature of the security law, which purports to apply to anyone in the world, regardless of whether alleged offenses are committed in Hong Kong, has sparked alarm far beyond the city itself. Earlier this month, the Wall Street Journal reported that a number of US universities are adding warnings to courses that “may cover material considered politically sensitive by China.”

Some schools will adopt code names for participants in certain classes, the WSJ said, so that Chinese and Hong Kong students, thousands of whom study at US institutions, can take part without concern that they might face repercussions at home.

For some students, at universities in both Hong Kong and the United States, the coronavirus pandemic adds another wrinkle to this issue: many are taking part in their courses via video link from their homes in China. This puts them at greater risk of surveillance, and students may be less willing to participate in politically sensitive discussions while under Chinese jurisdiction.

The CUHK professor said their “number one concern” was how to cater to Chinese students who have been unable to return to the city due to the pandemic.

“We will have to start our semester online,” they said. “How are we going to discuss sensitive topics with them?”

High school students join hands to form a protest chain in the Kwun Tong area of Kowloon in Hong Kong on September 24, 2019.

Next generation

Many students already enrolled in Hong Kong universities have passed through the crucible of last year’s protests, and are likely so politicized that the law will struggle to censor them completely.

“The recent protests awakened a lot of students, resulting in an increased level of political awareness generally,” said Cheng, the HKUSU vice president. “There may be some kind of self-censorship after (the law) has been implemented, but Hong Kongers are resilient and creative.”

The real battle for hearts and minds is in the city’s high schools, which the government has long blamed for fostering anti-Beijing sentiment. During last year’s unrest, a top adviser to Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam told CNN that “we lost two generations, we lost them through the schools.”

“The fundamental problem is that you have a whole generation of young people who are not just dead against, but actually hate China,” the aide said, on the condition on anonymity. “How are you going to have ‘one country, two systems’ work if you have a whole generation hating that country?”

The solution seen by many on the government side is to introduce something akin to the patriotic education curriculum followed in China, where inculcating a love of country is a key task for schools.

A previous attempt to introduce this in Hong Kong was defeated in 2012 by mass protests led by student groups including HKFS and Scholarism, a group founded by activist Joshua Wong, then 15 years old.

The security law calls for the government to exercise “supervision and guidance” over schools, and it’s not the only recent legislation that could change how they operate. Under new laws mandating respect for the Chinese flag and national anthem, Hong Kong schools will soon be looking and sounding a lot more like their counterparts across the border.

Shum said he was concerned that “in the near future, maybe three to five years’ time, there may be very serious consequences and effects” from the security law and changes to education, resulting in a far less political body of students.

One high school teacher, who requested anonymity to talk about a sensitive issue, said their school had told teachers the national anthem would be played at key times during the day, and students will participate in regular flag-raising ceremonies.

“The school has always acknowledged the mainland (but) this will certainly be amped up with seeing the flag around the school and singing the anthem,” they said. “We do not sing any songs to celebrate Hong Kong at the moment, so this will be a new concept to celebrate country.”

Responding to a series of questions about the security law, Hong Kong’s Education Bureau said the new legislation only targets a small minority of lawbreakers, and “protects the life and property, basic rights and freedoms of the overwhelming majority of citizens as well as maintains prosperity and stability of (Hong Kong).”

“Hong Kong is a free and pluralistic society which will continue to thrive on the rule of law, free flow of information and capital, and freedom of speech and expression, etc. These fundamental values are upheld under the Law to ensure the continuous prosperity and stability of Hong Kong,” a spokeswoman said, adding that existing safeguards for “academic freedom and institutional autonomy” contained within the city’s de facto constitution remain in force.

Shum was less than convinced, predicting a revamp of how schools in Hong Kong teach, and the abandonment of topics such as liberal studies, which aims to foster critical thinking.

“(The government) thinks training students to be critical is the same as training them to be radical,” he said.



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