China says accusations against alleged spy ‘out of thin air’
By CHRISTOPHER BODEEN
Thursday, October 11
BEIJING (AP) — China said Thursday that accusations against an alleged Chinese spy accused of attempting to steal trade secrets from American aviation and aerospace companies were “made out of thin air.”
Yanjun Xu, an operative of China’s Ministry of State Security, was charged Wednesday in Cincinnati, Ohio, after being extradited to the U.S. from Belgium.
Foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang dismissed the allegations and called on the U.S. to deal with the matter “fairly in accordance with law” and ensure Xu’s “legitimate rights and interests.”
“The U.S. accusation is something made out of thin air,” Lu told reporters at a daily news briefing.
The Justice Department has accused Xu of recruiting experts from major aerospace companies, including GE Aviation, and persuading them to travel to China under the guise that they would give a presentation at a university. The trips were actually attempts to obtain secrets, according to the allegations.
The indictment said Xu recruited a GE Aviation employee, who sent him a presentation in February that contained the company’s proprietary information. Xu later asked the employee for specific technical information and then asked him to meet in Europe, where he wanted the worker to provide additional information from GE, according to court papers.
Xu was arrested after traveling to Belgium in April. U.S. federal authorities said it is the first time that a Chinese Ministry of State Security intelligence officer has been extradited to the United States for trial.
John Demers, the assistant attorney general in charge of national security, said the case was a “significant economic espionage matter” and the latest proof China is trying to steal information from American companies.
Benjamin Glassman, U.S. attorney for Ohio’s southern district, said no military information was targeted, but any attempt by other countries to “grow companies at America’s expense” is considered a threat to national security.
The case comes amid a brewing trade war sparked largely by U.S. accusations China coerces foreign companies into handing over technology in return for access to the Chinese market.
The two have also feuded over U.S. support for Taiwan, Chinese weapons purchases from Russia and China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea — where the U.S. says a Chinese destroyer came aggressively close to a U.S. Navy ship late last month, forcing it to maneuver to prevent a collision.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence also charged last week in a strongly worded speech that China was seeking through covert and overt means to interfere in the U.S. midterm elections and counter President Donald Trump’s tough trade policies toward Beijing.
Trump has made similar accusations, although intelligence and homeland security experts said they didn’t know of any Chinese influence operations akin to Russian activities during the 2016 presidential election.
Early voting underway in swing state of Ohio
By DAN SEWELL
Wednesday, October 10
NORWOOD, Ohio (AP) — In-person voting began Wednesday in the swing state of Ohio, where a host of state and local offices are up for grabs.
Residents lined up at county voting centers across the state Wednesday morning.
Rod Sommer, 78, was first in line in Hamilton County. The Cincinnati resident said he was there an hour before doors opened at 8 a.m. EDT. He described himself as an Army veteran concerned about issues led by health care, jobs and education.
Phylllis Landrum-Hoskins, 57, of suburban Springdale, was there a half hour early. She sees this as a “very important” election for the nation.
“We don’t need to make America great again,” she said, referring to Republican President Donald Trump’s slogan. “It’s always been great. We need to get it on the correct course.”
Democratic U.S. House candidates Aftab Pureval and Jill Schiller, both trying to unseat Republican incumbents, helped lead a rally of county candidates and their supporters.
“The only way we can make our voices heard is by showing up and voting,” said Pureval, who faces Rep. Steve Chabot. Schiller opposes Rep. Brad Wenstrup.
Hamilton County Republicans have a series of rallies and other get-out-the-vote activities planned in the remaining days, and Trump will try to boost Republican candidates in a Friday evening rally in neighboring Warren County.
Voter registration closed on Tuesday.
The early voting can be done via mail-in absentee ballot or in person at a voter’s county elections board or early voting center designated by the county. Military and overseas absentee balloting began Sept. 22. For now, in-person voting is Monday-Friday, but weekend in-person voting will be possible closer to the Nov. 6 midterm election.
Besides state and federal offices and a statewide ballot issue, Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted said voters will decide 1,661 local issues as well as many local races. A virtual voter toolkit allows Ohio residents to check the status of their voter registration, find their polling location, view their sample ballot and track absentee ballots.
Associated Press writer Julie Carr Smyth contributed in Columbus.
Follow Dan Sewell at http://www.twitter.com/dansewell
Judge sides with Ohio again over voters purged from rolls
By JULIE CARR SMYTH
Wednesday, October 10
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A federal judge rejected a voting rights group’s latest arguments Wednesday that voters were illegally purged from Ohio’s voting rolls.
U.S. District Judge George C. Smith largely sided with the state’s arguments defending confirmation notices sent to voters that set off a removal process tied to failure to participate in the election process, in another blow to the A. Phillip Randolph Institute.
The institute’s broader argument that Ohio’s election administration process was unconstitutional lost in the U.S. Supreme Court in June, but the group continued to contest the legality of the notices.
Acknowledging the effort may have been “an end run around the Supreme Court’s decision and a final attempt to have the previously removed voters reinstated,” the court allowed arguments to go forward.
Smith ordered Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted to continue using the state’s current confirmation forms, which have been repeatedly revised in response to years of legal wrangling.
Wednesday’s decision effectively makes Husted’s voluntary changes permanent. The judge also ordered him to make one additional change to make them compliant with the National Voting Rights Act, which is adding information telling people who move out of state how to remain eligible to vote.
Stuart Naifeh, of Demos, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said the judge’s order was validation of plaintiffs’ claims that the forms were improperly vague in letting recipients know failure to reply could trigger removal proceedings.
“We are gratified that the court ruled that Ohio’s notice has for many years been out of compliance with the NVRA in one way, but unfortunately, the court failed to recognize the multiple other ways in which Ohio had violated federal law,” Naifeh said. “And it left Ohio voters who have been wrongfully purged or are set to be wrongfully purged after the November election with no relief or option to cast a ballot that will count this November.”
Naifeh said plaintiffs were deciding their next steps.
“This decision comes after the voter registration deadline has passed and just as early voting is beginning, when voters and our clients can no longer take matters into their own hands to correct the Secretary’s violation of federal law,” he said. “We are considering our options.”
Husted, a candidate for lieutenant governor, said Wednesday’s ruling was yet another win for Ohio’s voting procedures. He characterized the plaintiffs as “out-of-state activist litigators” who have “tried to undermine Ohio’s election system and compromise election officials’ ability to maintain accurate voter rolls” for three years.
“As multiple federal courts have stated, including in today’s winning decision, Ohio is a national leader in making voting accessible to its residents,” he said in a statement. “Ohio’s process for managing its voter rolls has been upheld by multiple courts — including the U.S. Supreme Court. It’s now time for the plaintiffs to move on and end their attempts to undermine Ohio’s elections.”
CCAO & CAAO RESPOND TO AOS FINANCIAL HEALTH INDICATORS REPORT
COLUMBUS, Ohio – In response to the Ohio Auditor of the State’s Financial Health Indicators report, which states that most county officials are successfully managing finances, the County Commissioners Association of Ohio (CCAO) and the County Auditors Association of Ohio (CAAO) recognize that the revenue losses and rising costs experienced by counties could be mitigated with a stronger state-county partnership.
“Counties are in the difficult position of balancing unprecedented revenue losses with escalating costs,” said CCAO President and Lake County Commissioner Daniel Troy. “This report shows that county officials have had to make tough decisions to stay financially healthy by reducing services, delaying overdue capital projects and even raising taxes as a last resort to continue vital service delivery to our citizens.”
“Tough challenges lie ahead for counties because of the loss of $351 million in annual revenue, causing mounting pressure due to delayed capital and infrastructure investments as well as increased expenses,” added Troy, citing the opioid epidemic, its impact on increased child protection demands and maintaining county jails as main drivers of those increased expenses.
“Federal and state policies enacted over the last decade have resulted in the dramatic loss of the Medicaid managed care organization sales tax, severe reductions in the Local Government Fund (LGF) and the phase out of the tangible personal property tax (TPP) which have eliminated $351 million per year in county revenue,” said Jon Slater, CAAO president and Fairfield County auditor.
“We are looking for a stronger state-county partnership which translates into addressing counties’ loss revenue, providing assistance in protecting children and families, supporting our public safety operations, funding state-mandated services and investing in our local infrastructure,” Slater said.
The County Commissioners Association of Ohio advances effective county government for Ohio through legislative advocacy, education and training, technical assistance and research, quality enterprise service programs, and greater citizen awareness and understanding of county government.
The County Auditors Association of Ohio was founded in 1867 for the express purpose of promoting and protecting the interests of taxpayers in the State of Ohio and improving the administration of county government.
PUCO encourages use of rail crossing upgrade programs
COLUMBUS, OHIO (Oct. 11, 2018) – The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) is encouraging local highway authorities to apply for available state-funding for rail grade crossing upgrades in their communities.
With over 5,700 public rail grade crossings in Ohio, the PUCO works with local highway authorities and rail companies to ensure that rail operations and infrastructure are safe and in compliance with federal and state regulations.
There are two state-funded programs that may be applicable for local communities: the state grade crossing upgrade program and the supplemental assistance program.
The state-funded Grade Crossing Upgrade Program allows local communities to share the cost of installing safety devices with the state and local railroad. Communities who utilize this program may be required to share in a small portion of the project costs but each case will be assessed on an individual basis.
To apply for this program, the local highway authority must simply submit this short application to the PUCO for approval.
The PUCO will conduct a field diagnostic review with local officials to determine if a financial proposal will be extended to upgrade the crossing. The financial proposal will apply objective criteria to determine the appropriate level of funding assistance. If the local highway authority agrees to the financial proposal, then a contract will be executed and the project will then be approved by the Commission for construction.
The PUCO also administers a supplemental assistance program to provide safety enhancements at crossings at which state or federal installation of active warning devices (gates and/or lights) is pending, as well as at crossings that have only crossbucks (the standard “X” signage). The PUCO provides up to $5,000 for physical improvements around the crossing such as rumble strips, illumination, improved signage, vegetation cut-back or other safety enhancements.
To apply for this program, the local highway authority must simply submit this one-page form to the PUCO for approval. Once the PUCO approves the project, construction is then completed and is reviewed by a PUCO inspector, the local highway authority submits the costs for reimbursement up to $5,000.
For further information regarding the programs listed above, please contact the PUCO Railroad Division at (614) 466-1150 or by accessing the rail industry section of the PUCO website at www.PUCO.ohio.gov.
The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) is the sole agency charged with regulating public utility service. The role of the PUCO is to assure all residential, business and industrial consumers have access to adequate, safe and reliable utility services at fair prices while facilitating an environment that provides competitive choices. Consumers with utility-related questions or concerns can call the PUCO Call Center at (800) 686-PUCO (7826) and speak with a representative.
Senate vote on health care likely fodder for both parties
By ALAN FRAM
Thursday, October 11
WASHINGTON (AP) — Days after ending a turbulent Supreme Court confirmation fight, the Senate turned back to health care — with a battle squarely aimed at coloring next month’s crucial elections for control of Congress.
In a return to its characteristically more unruffled mode of work, the Senate on Wednesday rejected a Democratic attempt to stop President Donald Trump from expanding access to short-term health care plans, which offer lower costs but skimpier coverage. It was clear Democrats would lose, and a real victory was never feasible since the measure would have died anyway in the Republican-run House.
But by pushing ahead, Democrats made Republicans cast a health care vote that Democrats could wield in campaign ads for next month’s midterm elections, in which they hope to topple the GOP’s 51-49 Senate majority. The vote was also aimed at refocusing people away from the Senate’s nasty battle over confirming Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, which both sides say has transformed indifferent conservative voters into motivated ones — for now.
Wednesday’s vote was about showing whether Congress will “allow insurance companies to scam Americans with cut-rate health insurance,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. “I wouldn’t want to be on the wrong side of that vote.”
Republican Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado insisted it was actually the Democrats who had done themselves no favors with the vote.
“Look, if they want to take away people’s health insurance and that’s what they’re campaigning on for the next several weeks, I think it’s a losing strategy,” said Gardner, who heads the Senate GOP’s campaign organization.
Using regulations, Trump has moved to let people buy short-term insurance that could last one year — and up to three years if renewed. President Barack Obama’s health care law, which Trump and Republicans have weakened but failed to repeal, created more limited versions of those plans, lasting up to just three months. The policies are for people who don’t get coverage at work.
The administration says premiums for the new short-term plans will be around one-third the cost of comprehensive coverage that Obama’s law requires. Republicans have promoted them as a low-cost option for strapped consumers after years of steadily rising premiums, which they blame on Obama’s law, and GOP candidates will be happy to use Wednesday’s vote to make that point.
“It’s not surprising that Senate Democrats are fighting to take away people’s choices on health care, to drive up premiums,” said Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who’s facing a surprisingly robust re-election challenge from Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke.
Unlike Obama’s statute, the new policies don’t require coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. The government has estimated those people number from 50 million to 130 million, making them a potent political talking point for Democrats. The short-term insurance also doesn’t have to cover a menu of services like prescription drugs and could cap beneficiaries’ benefits. Democrats call the plans “junk insurance” because, they say, the policies will leave unwary consumers purchasing dangerously meager packages.
“Anyone who supports coverage for people with pre-existing conditions should oppose Trump’s “expansion of these junk insurance plans,” said Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., who is running for re-election and introduced the Democratic measure.
On its face, Wednesday’s fight was over repealing Trump’s new rules. But practically speaking, it served to renew attention on the overall issue of health care, which polling shows ranks at the top of the public’s priorities and has been a major concern for voters for over a decade.
It also comes as campaign operatives assess whether the Kavanaugh battle will overshadow what has been shaping up as a voters’ referendum on Trump, colored by candidates’ views on health care and the economy.
Both sides’ consultants say initial polling shows newfound enthusiasm among conservatives, who until the court fight were far less excited about voting than their liberal, anti-Trump counterparts. The big question, they agree, is whether conservative enthusiasm will last until Nov. 6 or fade away, victim to the historic pattern of midterm congressional losses by the party holding the White House and the ever-changing parade of distracting controversies prevalent under Trump.
Lawmakers from both parties are putting the best face on voters’ mood.
“Whatever difference in enthusiasm Republican voters may have had going into the fall elections has been eliminated,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters.
“Kavanaugh’s in the rear-view mirror,” said Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., who spends weekends campaigning and is expected to be easily re-elected next month. “What people are asking me about is health care.”
The Democratic effort to block Trump’s short-term plans lost 50-50, with legislation needing a majority to pass. They forced the vote under a seldom-used procedure that makes it easier for lawmakers to try repealing recent federal regulations.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, the only lawmaker to join the other side in the vote, complained that the plans could deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, voted against the Democratic proposal, saying people in her high-cost state could benefit from the low-cost option.
Collins and Murkowski helped defeat Trump’s effort to repeal Obama’s law last year.
Associated Press writer Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar contributed to this report.
Opinion: Blame Abounds for the Kavanaugh Senate Fiasco
By James Huffman
It was never really about the alleged sexual assault. Or the beer drinking. Or the scribblings in a high school yearbook. Or the alleged lying. Or even judicial temperament.
For the vast majority in the Senate as well as the general public, at stake was political control of the Supreme Court. The framers of our constitution would understand, but they would also be disappointed. In perception, if not reality, their plan for an independent judiciary has failed.
To be sure, there are people who changed their minds on the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. Some early supporters of Kavanaugh found his emotional and combative testimony disqualifying, while others were persuaded that a credible allegation of sexual assault, even without corroboration, requires that we accept the accusation as true. There are also people who opposed Kavanaugh until they witnessed his treatment at the hands of Democrats and their presumption that he was guilty until proven innocent.
However, for all but a handful of those who would determine Kavanaugh’s fate, the die was cast before the allegations of sexual assault, excessive drinking, uncouth teenage behavior — and before the allegations of a lack of judicial temperament and lying to the Senate Judiciary Committee. At the end it came down to the same handful of senators whose votes were in question from the outset. And those few votes were thought to depend on politics, not the candidate’s merits.
Whatever the truth of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s accusation, she was made a pawn in a nasty political campaign to sway the votes of Republican senators Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins and Jeff Flake and Democratic senators Heidi Heitkamp and Joe Manchin.
The effort succeeded with Heitkamp and Murkowski, but failed with the other three. Among Republican senators, only Murkowski was persuaded by the case against Kavanaugh. Among Democrats, only Manchin found Kavanaugh qualified for a position on the Supreme Court. It is impossible to describe that outcome as anything but a highly partisan contest for political control of the high court.
Until Kavanaugh’s confirmation, the court was split evenly between liberals (appointed by Democratic presidents) and conservatives (appointed by Republican presidents). Republicans prevented Democrats from gaining a 5-4 advantage with their refusal to act on President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland, a clearly qualified nominee. Democrats were determined to return the favor, whether or not the nominee was qualified.
In the Garland nomination Republicans had the votes, so we cannot know whether they would have stooped to character assassination. The problem for the Democrats is that they do not have the votes, so to have any hope of defeating a clearly qualified conservative nominee they were forced to descend all the way to an alleged ice throwing incident of the distant past.
Everyone seems to agree that the process was an embarrassing disaster. But opinions about the nature and causes of the disaster are as divided as opinions on the Kavanaugh nomination itself. Each party blames the other, offering little hope for a return to near unanimous confirmations of clearly qualified nominees of presidents of either party.
If there is hope, it will require senators of both parties to take to heart the lecture delivered by Senator Ben Sasse during the Judiciary Committee hearings and the statement of Collins in announcing her intention to vote for Kavanaugh‘s confirmation.
Sasse explained to his colleagues a major reason judicial confirmations have become so partisan — Congress has abandoned the politically hazardous task of passing clear and precise laws that do not require the courts to fill in the blanks and thus effectively engage in policy making. In a tour de force Collins reminded her colleagues on both sides of the aisle what it means to advise and consent to a presidential nomination — giving a nominee a fair hearing focused on judicial qualifications and not declaring opposition before the hearings begin and even before a nominee’s name is revealed.
There seems little doubt that had the tables been reversed, Republicans would have been digging for dirt to besmirch an otherwise qualified nominee of a Democratic president. It is the way of most elections in this age of ultra partisanship. Neither party has clean hands in this now recurrent spectacle.
Nor are the voters free from blame. When a senator’s vote on a Supreme Court nominee turns largely on predictions of how confirmation might affect partisan interests without regard for the law, not to mention its anticipated effect on the senator’s prospects for re-election, we are doomed to relive the nightmare that was the Kavanaugh confirmation process.
ABOUT THE WRITER
James Huffman is dean emeritus at Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, Ore. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.
Opinion: Black Americans Ask — What Have You Done for Me Lately?
By Rochelle Ritchie
Polarizing rapper Kanye West is calling for the revision of the 13th Amendment, which effectively abolishes slavery except as a punishment for crime. West recently caused a Twitter storm while proudly wearing his “Make America Great Again” cap in support of President Donald Trump. The rapper may be familiar with stirring up controversy, but he is not as well-versed about how the Trump administration ensures black low-level and non-violent drug offenders stay in prison much longer, stripping them of their right to vote and demoting them to second-class citizens.
When it comes to the state of African-Americans, West and other conservative pundits preach that Democrats are to blame for issues like high crime, poor school performance, and persistent disparities in health, housing and employment. The solution they present is for African-Americans to leave the “blue plantation” to join the red one.
Republicans often argue that black people should join the “Party of Lincoln,” who freed them from bondage. News flash, President Lincoln was not as pro-black as many proclaim him to be. He did not believe black people should serve on juries, vote, hold public office or marry outside their race.
While there is some truth to Democrats having a hand in the downfall of the black community, from slavery to Jim Crow, or social services that have created a culture of dependency, Republicans have done their fair share of damage to the community too.
Republican President Richard Nixon’s “War on Drugs,” later escalated by President Ronald Reagan, targeted African-Americans and furthered the mass incarceration of black people. Nixon’s domestic policy chief, John Ehrlichman, acknowledged that the Nixon administration purposely pursued African-Americans for imprisonment. In an interview with Harper Magazine, Ehrlichman said: “We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin. And then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities.”
Ehrlichman continued: “We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course, we did.”
Fast forward 36 years and we see the same actions being taken by the Trump administration, an administration West believes is the solution to the difficulties plaguing the black community.
In 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions reversed a decision by the Obama administration that allowed judges to use discretion when sentencing for non-violent drug offenses, allowing the bench to go below the mandatory sentencing guidelines of a minimum five years. African-Americans make up only 13 percent of the U.S. population, but account for 38 percent of the prison inmates. Forty-six percent of people in prison are incarcerated for drug offenses, and black men are incarcerated at a rate five times higher than whites for those violations.
The practice of mass criminalization of black people has led to impoverished communities of color and absent fathers. Eighty percent of people in federal prison and 60 percent of people in state penitentiary are serving time for drug offenses.
West argues the 13th Amendment continues to fuel and fund the unjust and unfair practice of incarcerating African-Americans, true, but so does his buddy Trump. The refusal by the current administration to address the racial disparities in sentencing guidelines proves they are unlikely to correct an amendment in the Constitution that is more than 150 years old, which allows inmates to be used for monetary gain and free labor.
A quick look at political history and it’s easy to see that the Trump administration, through the GOP, is not alone in its efforts to put more black bodies behind bars. Democrats are far from blameless.
After the abolishment of slavery, southern Democrats allowed U.S. companies to “lease” black prisoners to build railroad lines throughout the United States. Seventy-five percent of railroads in the south were built by black inmates and 200,000 African-Americans paid for their crimes through forced labor. Many paid with their lives due to horrific conditions. The crimes of these black prisoners, like George Cottenham, could be as asinine as vagrancy, the crime of being unemployed.
Because these enslaved prisoners were the backbone of many U.S. companies, Democratic courts made certain that their sentences and the amount of their fines were dependent upon the length of construction projects, a practice that continues today.
Inmate labor is a cost-saving method used by billion-dollar U.S. companies, such as Dell, AT&T, Victoria’s Secret and Target. Shockingly, even politicians like the Clinton family, used Arkansas inmates to clean their home and complete other household chores.
In her book “It Takes a Village,” Hillary Clinton said their residence was staffed with “African-American men in their thirties,” and “using prison labor at the Governor’s Mansion was a longstanding tradition, which kept down costs.”
Had I known this I would have never voted for her. Her husband, Bill Clinton, would later implement a crime bill that has resulted in the incarceration of more African-Americans than any other sitting president.
West and black conservative pundits should recognize that politicians, Democrat or Republican, never truly intended to improve the lives of black Americans. Any policies implemented that appeared to provide us with equal treatment under the law were not necessarily done for our benefit alone.
Before West breaks the internet again with another stream-of-consciousness rant, touting the virtues of Team Trump, he should take the time to do some research. He and others will see the role that both parties have played in harming the black community. Behind seemingly good intentions, Republicans and Democrats have had political and monetary gain firmly in view.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Rochelle Ritchie is a political analyst and former press secretary for Congress. She wrote this for InsideSources.com.