Commuters in U.S. South face tough trek after deadly storm

Snow cover in the U.S. 1-18-18 - National Weather Service

By Rich McKay

ATLANTA (Reuters) – Commuters in the U.S. South faced frigid temperatures and dangerously slick roads on Thursday after a winter storm, responsible for at least eight deaths, thrashed the region with heavy snow and winds that snapped power lines.

Schools in New Orleans, Charlotte and Atlanta and across the region canceled classes on Thursday as winter weather advisories from the National Weather Service (NWS) remained in effect from eastern Texas to Florida and north into southeast Virginia.

“Motorists are urged to use extreme caution, or avoid travel if possible,” the NWS said in an advisory, warning that freezing temperatures would keep roads icy.

Wind chill advisories were in effect as temperatures will feel like they have fallen below zero Fahrenheit (-18 degrees Celsius) in parts of the Carolinas, Alabama and Virginia.

More than 14,000 households and businesses in North Carolina and Louisiana and in various parts of the South were without power early on Thursday, utility companies said online.

The governors of Georgia, North Carolina and Louisiana declared states of emergency because of severe conditions that made traveling treacherous.

“We cannot stress it enough for everyone to stay off the roads unless you have no choice,” North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said in a statement, adding the storm had caused 1,600 traffic accidents.

More than 9 inches (23 cm) of snow have fallen in Durham, North Carolina since Monday, with 7 inches (18 cm) or more measured at various locations across southern Virginia, the NWS said.

The storm has caused at least eight deaths.

In Austin, Texas, a vehicle plunged more than 30 feet (9 meters) off a frozen overpass on Tuesday, killing a man in his 40s, Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Service said on its Twitter feed.

An 82-year-old woman who suffered from dementia was found dead on Wednesday behind her Houston-area home, likely due to exposure to cold, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office said. Another woman died from cold exposure in Memphis, police said on Twitter.

In Georgia, two people were fatally struck by a car that slid on an ice patch near Macon, local media reports said.

A man was killed when he was knocked off an elevated portion of Interstate 10 in New Orleans and an 8-month-old baby died in a car crash in suburban New Orleans, local news reports said.

A woman died in West Virginia in a car crash, local reports said.

(Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Edmund Blair and Bernadette Baum)

Democrats win bitter Virginia governor’s race in setback for Trump

Democrats win bitter Virginia governor's race in setback for Trump

By John Whitesides

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democrat Ralph Northam won a bitter race for Virginia governor on Tuesday, dealing a setback to President Donald Trump with a decisive victory over a Republican who had adopted some of the president’s combative tactics and issues.

Northam, the state’s lieutenant governor, overcame a barrage of attack ads by Republican Ed Gillespie that hit the soft-spoken Democrat on divisive issues such as immigration, gang crime and Confederate statues.

Trump, who endorsed Gillespie but did not campaign with him, had taken a break from his Asia trip to send tweets and record messages on Tuesday supporting the former chairman of the Republican National Committee.

But after the outcome, Trump quickly distanced himself from Gillespie.

“Ed Gillespie worked hard but did not embrace me or what I stand for,” Trump tweeted. “With the economy doing record numbers, we will continue to win, even bigger than before!”

At his victory party, Northam told supporters the sweeping Democratic win in Virginia sent a message to the country.

“Virginia has told us to end the divisiveness, that we will not condone hatred and bigotry, and to end the politics that have torn this country apart,” Northam said.

The Virginia race highlighted a slate of state and local elections that also included a governor’s race in New Jersey, where Democrat Phil Murphy, a former investment banker and ambassador to Germany, defeated Republican Kim Guadagno for the right to succeed Republican Chris Christie.

Murphy had promised to be a check on Trump in Democratic-leaning New Jersey. Guadagno, the lieutenant governor, was hampered by her association with the unpopular Christie.

BOOST FOR DEMOCRATS

Murphy’s win and the Northam victory in Virginia, a state Democrat Hillary Clinton won by 5 percentage points in the 2016 presidential election, provided a much-needed boost for national Democrats who were desperate to turn grassroots resistance to Trump into election victories.

Democrats had already lost four special congressional elections earlier this year.

But a strong turnout in the Democratic-leaning northern Virginia suburbs of Washington helped propel Northam, who in the end won relatively easily. With nearly all precincts reporting, he led by a 53 percent to 45 percent margin.

Exit polls in Virginia showed that one-third of the voters went to the polls to oppose Trump, and only 17 percent went to support him.

Democrats also swept the other top statewide Virginia races, winning the offices of lieutenant governor and attorney general, and gained seats in the Virginia House of Delegates. Democrat Danica Roem beat a long-time Republican incumbent to become the first transgender person to win a state legislative race.

“This is a comprehensive political victory from statehouse to courthouse. Thank you Donald Trump!” Democratic U.S. Representative Gerald Connolly of Virginia told Northam’s supporters at a victory party in northern Virginia.

In Virginia, Democrats had worried that if Gillespie won, Republicans would see it as a green light to emphasize divisive cultural issues in their campaigns for next year’s elections, when all 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and 33 of the U.S. Senate’s 100 seats come up for election. Republicans now control both chambers.

Gillespie, speaking to crestfallen supporters in Richmond, Virginia, said he had run a “very policy-focused campaign.”

But voters in Arlington County – a suburban Democratic stronghold bordering Washington – said national politics were important to their votes.

“Trump talks about draining the swamp, but Gillespie kind of is the swamp,” said Nick Peacemaker, who works in marketing and considered himself a Republican until Trump won the party’s presidential nomination.

Peacemaker said Gillespie seemed to shift closer to Trump’s policies after securing the Republican gubernatorial nomination.

In local races across the country, Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio in New York and Marty Walsh in Boston both easily won re-election. Voters were also picking mayors in Detroit, Atlanta, Seattle and Charlotte, North Carolina.

(Additional reporting by Ginger Gibson and Gary Robertson; Writing by John Whitesides; Editing by Peter Cooney and Himani Sarkar)

Awaiting Trump’s coal comeback, miners reject career retraining

Loaded coal cars sit on the rail road tracks leading to the Emerald Coal mine facility in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, U.S., October 11, 2017.

By Valerie Volcovici

WAYNESBURG, Pa. (Reuters) – When Mike Sylvester entered a career training center earlier this year in southwestern Pennsylvania, he found more than one hundred federally funded courses covering everything from computer programming to nursing.

He settled instead on something familiar: a coal mining course.

“I think there is a coal comeback,” said the 33-year-old son of a miner.

Despite broad consensus about coal’s bleak future, a years-long effort to diversify the economy of this hard-hit region away from mining is stumbling, with Obama-era jobs retraining classes undersubscribed and future programs at risk under President Donald Trump’s proposed 2018 budget.

Trump has promised to revive coal by rolling back environmental regulations and moved to repeal Obama-era curbs on carbon emissions from power plants.

“I have a lot of faith in President Trump,” Sylvester said.

But hundreds of coal-fired plants have closed in recent years, and cheap natural gas continues to erode domestic demand. The Appalachian region has lost about 33,500 mining jobs since 2011, according to the Appalachian Regional Commission.

Although there have been small gains in coal output and hiring this year, driven by foreign demand, production levels remain near lows hit in 1978.

A White House official did not respond to requests for comment on coal policy and retraining for coal workers.

What many experts call false hopes for a coal resurgence have mired economic development efforts here in a catch-22: Coal miners are resisting retraining without ready jobs from new industries, but new companies are unlikely to move here without a trained workforce. The stalled diversification push leaves some of the nation’s poorest areas with no clear path to prosperity.

Federal retraining programs have fared better, with some approaching full participation, in the parts of Appalachia where mining has been crushed in a way that leaves little hope for a comeback, according to county officials and recruiters. They include West Virginia and Kentucky, where coal resources have been depleted.

But in southern Pennsylvania, where the industry still has ample reserves and is showing flickers of life, federal jobs retraining programs see sign-up rates below 20 percent, the officials and recruiters said. In southern Virginia’s coal country, participation rates run about 50 percent, they said.

“Part of our problem is we still have coal,” said Robbie Matesic, executive director of Greene County’s economic development department.

Out-of-work miners cite many reasons beyond faith in Trump policy for their reluctance to train for new industries, according to Reuters interviews with more than a dozen former and prospective coal workers, career counselors and local economic development officials. They say mining pays well; other industries are unfamiliar; and there’s no income during training and no guarantee of a job afterward.

In Pennsylvania, Corsa Coal opened a mine in Somerset in June which will create about 70 jobs – one of the first mines to open here in years. And Consol Energy recently expanded its Bailey mine complex in Greene County.

But Consol also announced in January that it plans to sell its coal holdings to focus on natural gas. And it has commissioned a recruitment agency, GMS Mines and Repair, to find contract laborers for its coal expansion who will be paid about $13 an hour – half the hourly wage of a starting unionized coal worker. The program Sylvester signed up for was set up by GMS.

The new hiring in Pennsylvania is related mainly to an uptick in foreign demand for metallurgical coal, used in producing steel, rather than domestic demand for thermal coal from power plants, the industry’s main business. Some market analysts describe the foreign demand as a temporary blip driven by production problems in the coal hub of Australia.

Officials for U.S. coal companies operating in the region, including Consol and Corsa, declined requests for comment.

“The coal industry has stabilized, but it’s not going to come back,” said Blair Zimmerman, a 40-year veteran of the mines who is now the commissioner for Greene County, one of Pennsylvania’s oldest coal regions. “We need to look at the future.”

Career center representative Alison Hall works on the computer looking to place out of work coal miners at the Mining Technology and Training Center just outside of Waynesburg, Pennsylvania.

Career center representative Alison Hall works on the computer looking to place out of work coal miners at the Mining Technology and Training Center just outside of Waynesburg, Pennsylvania. REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk

EMPTY SEATS

The Pennsylvania Department of Labor has received about $2 million since 2015 from the federal POWER program, an initiative of former President Barack Obama to help retrain workers in coal-dependent areas. But the state is having trouble putting even that modest amount of money to good use.

In Greene and Washington counties, 120 people have signed up for jobs retraining outside the mines, far short of the target of 700, said Ami Gatts, director of the Washington-Greene County Job Training Agency. In Westmoreland and Fayette counties, participation in federal job retraining programs has been about 15 percent of capacity, officials said.

“I can’t even get them to show up for free food I set up in the office,” said Dave Serock, an ex-miner who recruits in Fayette County for Southwest Training Services.

Programs administered by the Appalachian Regional Commission, a federal and state partnership to strengthen the region’s economy, have had similar struggles. One $1.4 million ARC project to teach laid-off miners in Greene County and in West Virginia computer coding has signed up only 20 people for 95 slots. Not a single worker has enrolled in another program launched this summer to prepare ex-miners to work in the natural gas sector, officials said.

Greene County Commissioner Zimmerman said he’d like to see a big company like Amazon or Toyota come to southwestern Pennsylvania to build a distribution or manufacturing plant that could employ thousands.

But he knows first the region needs a ready workforce.

Amazon spokeswoman Ashley Robinson said the company the company typically works with local organizations to evaluate whether locations have an appropriate workforce and has no current plans for distribution operations in Western Pennsylvania. Toyota spokesman Edward Lewis said the company considers local workforce training an “important consideration” when deciding where to locate facilities.

Students sit in a training class at the Pennsylvania Career Link office located in Waynesburg.

Students sit in a training class at the Pennsylvania Career Link office located in Waynesburg. REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk

SIGNS OF LIFE

For Sean Moodie and his brother Steve spent the last two years working in the natural gas industry, but see coal as a good bet in the current political climate.

“I am optimistic that you can make a good career out of coal for the next 50 years,” said Sean Moodie.

Coal jobs are preferable to those in natural gas, they said, because the mines are close to home, while pipeline work requires travel. Like Sylvester, the Moodie brothers are taking mining courses offered by Consol’s recruiter, GMS.

Bob Levo, who runs a GMS training program, offered a measure of realism: The point of the training is to provide low-cost and potentially short-term labor to a struggling industry, he said.

“That’s a major part of the reason that coal mines have been able to survive,” he said. “They rely on us to provide labor at lower cost.”

Clemmy Allen, 63, a veteran miner and head of the United Mineworkers of America’s Career Centers, said miners are taking a big risk in holding out for a coal recovery.

He’s placing his hopes for the region’s future on retraining. UMWA’s 64-acre campus in Prosperity, Pennsylvania – which once trained coal miners – will use nearly $3 million in federal and state grants to retrofit classrooms to teach cybersecurity, truck driving and mechanical engineering.

“Unlike when I worked in the mines,” he said, “if you get laid off now, you are pretty much laid off.”

 

Follow Trump’s impact on energy, environment, healthcare, immigration and the economy at The Trump Effect – https://www.reuters.com/trump-effect

 

 

(Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Brian Thevenot)

 

Charlottesville OKs removal of second Confederate statue

Police officers stand around a statue of Confederate general Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson during a Black Lives Matter rally in Charleston, West Virginia, U.S., August 20, 2017. REUTERS/Marcus Constantino

By Peter Szekely

(Reuters) – Charlottesville, Virginia, has decided to remove another Confederate general’s statue from a park, a city spokeswoman said on Wednesday, just weeks after a woman died during protests over a decision to remove a statue of General Robert E. Lee.

Council members on Tuesday night unanimously ordered a statue of General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson to be removed from a park in the city’s historic downtown district “as soon as possible,” spokeswoman Miriam Dickler said by phone.

The vote will have no immediate effect. A court has blocked the removal of the Lee statue from another park pending the outcome of a legal challenge that will likely now include the Jackson statue, Dickler said.

An August rally organized by white nationalists to protest the planned removal of the Lee statue turned deadly, when counter-protester Heather Heyer, 32, was killed by a car driven into a crowd.

The violence stemmed from a heated national debate about whether Confederate symbols of the U.S. Civil War represent heritage or hate. In the wake of the rally, other cities have acted to taken down monuments to the Confederacy.

The Dallas City Council voted on Wednesday to remove a statute of Lee from a city park. In Washington, D.C., the National Cathedral’s governing body said it had decided to immediately remove two stained glass windows honoring Lee and Jackson.

Those defending Charlottesville’s Lee statue in court argue that only the state can authorize its removal because it is covered by a Virginia war memorial statute. The city says it is city property and “not actually a war memorial as spelled out in code,” Dickler said.

The resolution passed by the city council on Tuesday calls for the Jackson statue to be removed “in a manner that preserves the integrity of the sculpture” and to be sold or transferred to an entity that preferably would display it in an educational, historic or artistic context.

Both Confederate statues are shrouded in black fabric following a council vote to reflect the city’s mourning after the death of the counter-protester last month.

Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer has urged the Virginia legislature to go into special session to let localities decide the fate of the statues.

But Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe said that would be redundant because the statue’s fate is already subject to litigation, though he added he hoped the court will rule in the city’s favor.

(Reporting by Peter Szekely in New York; Additional reporting by Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and David Gregorio)

Charlottesville to cover Confederate statues after chaotic meeting

Charlottesville to cover Confederate statues after chaotic meeting

By Gina Cherelus

(Reuters) – City councilors in Charlottesville, Virginia, voted unanimously on Tuesday to cover two statues of Confederate war heroes in black fabric after ejecting spectators from a chaotic council meeting as residents demanded answers over how a recent white nationalist rally turned deadly.

Many activists and local residents crowded into the meeting, which began late Monday and spilled into the wee hours of Tuesday. It was the first council meeting since the Aug. 12 rally, when a car plowed into a group of counter-protesters and killed a 32-year-old woman.

Many at the meeting shouted at the councilors and Mayor Mike Signer, forcing them at one point to leave the chamber.

Videos posted on social media showed some in the crowd yelling “shame” and “shut it down” and calling for Signer’s resignation. A photo online showed two people holding a sign that read “Blood On Your Hands” behind the council seats.

When council members returned to the chamber after spectators were removed, they voted to cover the statues of General Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, said a city spokeswoman, Paige Rice.

“Council voted unanimously at their meeting to shroud the statues to reflect the city’s mourning,” Rice said.

The planned removal of a statue of Lee in a downtown Charlottesville park had galvanized white nationalists to rally there on Aug. 12 in protest. Charlottesville is home to the University of Virginia.

The rally highlights a persistent debate in the U.S. South over the display of the Confederate battle flag and other symbols of the rebel side in the Civil War, which was fought over the issue of slavery.

In the wake of the Charlottesville rally, other cities have acted to remove monuments to the Confederacy.

On Tuesday night, nearly 1,000 people rallied at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill for the removal of “Silent Sam,” a Confederate soldier statue on the campus.

“Hey, hey! Ho, ho! These racist statues got to go!” chanted a crowd that was kept away from the statue by two rings of barricades and police in riot gear.

The protest was largely peaceful, but two people were arrested, said the university’s communications department. No information on the charges levied, or details of the people arrested, were given.

There was no sign of professed white nationalists at the Chapel Hill rally.

In Charlottesville, the council voted to cover the Lee and Jackson statues with black fabric for now because of a pending lawsuit challenging the city’s authority to remove the statue of Lee.

During the council meeting, activists and residents questioned the police response to the Aug. 12 unrest and criticized city leaders for not heeding warnings in advance of the rally, Rice said. She said that three people were removed from the room.

Charlottesville police did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The New York Times reported that the three people ejected from the meeting were issued citations for disorderly conduct.

Signer called last week for a special session of Virginia’s legislature to let localities decide the fate of Confederate monuments such as the Lee statue.

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe said that would be redundant because the statue’s fate is already subject to litigation, though he said he hoped the court will rule in the city’s favor.

The night before the Aug. 12 rally, scores of white supremacists descended on Charlottesville and marched with tiki torches through the campus of the University of Virginia in a display that critics called reminiscent of a Ku Klux Klan rally.

In response to the Charlottesville violence, actor George Clooney and his humanitarian lawyer wife, Amal Clooney, have donated $1 million to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a U.S. non-profit that tracks extremist groups.

Police detain a demonstrator during a protest against a statue of a Confederate solider nicknamed Silent Sam on the campus of the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, U.S. August 22, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

Police detain a demonstrator during a protest against a statue of a Confederate solider nicknamed Silent Sam on the campus of the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, U.S. August 22, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

(Additional reporting by Corey Risinger in Chapel Hill, N.C., and Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Leslie Adler and Himani Sarkar)

Texas university removes ‘white supremacy’ statues overnight

Workers remove Confederate Postmaster General John Reagan statue from the south mall of the University of Texas in Austin, Texas, U.S., August 21, 2017.

By Alex Dobuzinskis

(Reuters) – The University of Texas at Austin removed the statues of three Confederate-era figures from a main area on campus on Monday, saying they had become symbols of white supremacy and that they were taken down overnight to avoid confrontations.

Violence broke out in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Aug. 12 when white nationalists protesting against the planned removal of a statue of Confederate military leader Robert E. Lee clashed with anti-racism demonstrators. One woman was killed when a suspected white nationalist drove his car into a crowd.

President Donald Trump’s reaction to the events has drawn widespread anger from across the political spectrum. Trump did not immediately condemn white nationalists and said there were “very fine people” on both sides, prompting several chief executives to quit his business councils in protest.

“Last week, the horrific displays of hatred at the University of Virginia and in Charlottesville shocked and saddened the nation,” University of Texas at Austin President Greg Fenves said in a statement.

“These events make it clear, now more than ever, that Confederate monuments have become symbols of modern white supremacy and neo-Nazism.”

Fenves announced the removal of the statues shortly before midnight on Sunday. By about 3 a.m. local time on Monday, they had all been taken down, said Cindy Posey, director of campus safety communications. It was done at night as a safety measure to avoid confrontations, she said.

A growing number of U.S. political leaders are calling for the removal of statues honoring the Confederacy, saying they promote racism. Supporters of keeping the statues in place contend they are a reminder of Southern heritage and the country’s history.

The statues of three Confederate figures and a former governor removed from the university’s main mall were “erected during the period of Jim Crow laws and segregation” and “represent the subjugation of African Americans,” the university president said.

The statues include depictions of Lee, who led the pro-slavery Confederacy’s army, of Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston and of Confederate Postmaster General John Reagan.

Those three will be moved to the school’s Briscoe Center for American History, where they will be accessible for scholarly study, Fenves said.

Onlookers watch as Confederate statues are removed from the south mall of the University of Texas in Austin, Texas, U.S., August 21, 2017.

Onlookers watch as Confederate statues are removed from the south mall of the University of Texas in Austin, Texas, U.S., August 21, 2017. REUTERS/Stephen Spillman

Workers also removed a statue of former Governor James Stephen Hogg, who led Texas from 1891 to 1895, years after the Civil War ended in 1865. It will be considered for re-installation at another university site, Fenves said.

Several cities have targeted Confederate symbols in response to the violence in Charlottesville. They include Baltimore, Maryland, which removed four monuments to the Confederacy in a pre-dawn operation last week, and Birmingham, Alabama, where the mayor vowed to seek the removal of a Confederate monument in his city.

On Saturday, Duke University removed a statue of Lee from the entrance of a chapel on the Durham, North Carolina, campus.

 

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

 

Backlash against Trump intensifies after his comments on Virginia violence

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks about the violence, injuries and deaths at the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville as he talks to the media with Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao (R) at his side in the lobby of Trump Tower in Manhattan, New York, U.S., August 15, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

By Susan Heavey and Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) – Several leading members of Donald Trump’s Republican Party and key ally Britain sharply rebuked the U.S. president on Wednesday after he insisted that white nationalists and protesters opposed to them were both to blame for deadly violence in the Virginia city of Charlottesville.

Trump’s remarks on Tuesday, a more vehement reprisal of what had been widely seen as his inadequate initial response to Saturday’s bloodshed around a white nationalist rally, reignited a storm of criticism and strained ties with his own party.

The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, issued a statement that did not mention Trump by name but said “messages of hate and bigotry” from white supremacists, the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazi groups should not be welcome anywhere in the United States.

“We can have no tolerance for an ideology of racial hatred. There are no good neo-Nazis, and those who espouse their views are not supporters of American ideals and freedoms. We all have a responsibility to stand against hate and violence, wherever it raises its evil head,” McConnell said.

Trump last week lambasted McConnell for the Senate’s failure to pass healthcare legislation backed by the president, and did not dismiss the idea of McConnell stepping down.

In his comments at a heated news conference in New York on Tuesday, Trump said “there is blame on both sides” of the violence in Charlottesville, and that there were “very fine people” on both sides.

Ohio Governor John Kasich said there was no moral equivalency between the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis and anybody else.

“This is terrible. The president of the United States needs to condemn these kind of hate groups,” Kasich said on NBC’s “Today” show. Failure to do so gave such organizations a sense of victory and license to hold more events elsewhere, said Kasich, one of Trump’s rivals for the Republican nomination in the 2016 presidential election.

A 20-year-old Ohio man said to have harbored Nazi sympathies was charged with murder after the car he was driving plowed into counter-protesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others. Heyer was being remembered on Wednesday at a memorial service in Charlottesville.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, long a critic of the president, took direct aim, saying in a statement aimed at Trump, “Your words are dividing Americans, not healing them.”

Other Republicans to criticize Trump’s remarks included former Massachusetts governor and 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, also a Trump rival in the 2016 campaign.

Republican former presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush said in a joint statement: “America must always reject racial bigotry, anti-Semitism, and hatred in all forms.”

CRITICISM FROM MAY

In London, British Prime Minister Theresa May offered a rare rebuke of Trump by one of the United States’ closest foreign allies.

“I see no equivalence between those who propound fascist views and those who oppose them and I think it is important for all those in positions of responsibility to condemn far-right views wherever we hear them,” May told reporters when asked to comment on Trump’s stance.

May has been widely criticized by political opponents in Britain for her efforts to cultivate close ties with Trump since he took office in January.

Senior U.S. military officers usually stay clear of politics, but two more of the U.S. military’s top officers weighed in on Wednesday, without mentioning Trump.

U.S. Army Chief of Staff General Mark Milley wrote on Twitter, “The Army doesn’t tolerate racism, extremism, or hatred in our ranks. It’s against our Values and everything we’ve stood for since 1775.”

Air Force Chief of Staff General Dave Goldfein‏ said on Twitter that “I stand with my fellow service chiefs in saying we’re always stronger together.”

Their comments followed similar ones from the top officers of the Navy and Marine Corps.

White nationalists called the rally in Charlottesville to protest the planned removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee, commander of the pro-slavery Confederate army during the U.S. Civil War. Many protesters were seen carrying firearms, sticks, shields, and lit torches. Some wore helmets. Counter-protesters came equipped with sticks, helmets and shields.

Trump’s comments on Tuesday followed a statement on Monday in which he had bowed to political pressure over his initial response that talked of “many sides” being involved, and had explicitly denounced the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis and white supremacists.

Ronna Romney McDaniel, head of the Republican National Committee, said on Wednesday that Trump had simply acknowledged there had been violent individuals on both sides of the clashes in Charlottesville. But she assigned the blame to the white nationalists who mounted the rally, saying, “We have no place in our party for KKK, anti-Semitism … racism, bigotry.”

Amid the fraying ties with his party, Trump planned a rally next Tuesday in Arizona, home state of two Republican U.S. senators, John McCain and Jeff Flake, who have been particularly critical of him.

In a staff decision on Wednesday, Hope Hicks, a close aide to Trump, has been named as interim White House director of communications, temporarily taking the post left vacant after Anthony Scaramucci was fired last month, a senior White House official said.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason and Susan Heavey; Additional reporting by Steve Holland, Makini Brice and Mohammad Zargham in Washington; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Frances Kerry)

U.N. experts condemn racist violence in U.S., urge investigations

Women sit by an impromptu memorial of flowers commemorating the victims at the scene of the car attack on a group of counter-protesters during the "Unite the Right" rally as people continue to react to the weekend violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. REUTERS/Justin Ide

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – United Nations human rights experts called on U.S. political leaders “at all levels” on Wednesday to combat rising racist violence and xenophobia and urged prosecution of perpetrators of hate crimes.

U.S. President Donald Trump insisted on Tuesday that both left- and right-wing extremists had become violent during a weekend rally by white nationalists in Virginia, reigniting a political firestorm over race relations in the United States and his own leadership of a national crisis.

After clashes between the two sides at Saturday’s rally, a car ploughed into opponents of the gathering, killing one woman and injuring 19 others. A 20-year-old Ohio man, James Fields, said to have harbored Nazi sympathies, was charged with murder.

“We are outraged by the violence in Charlottesville and the racial hatred displayed by right-wing extremists, white supremacists and neo-Nazi groups,” the independent U.N. experts said in a joint statement issued in Geneva.

“We call for the prosecution and adequate punishment of all perpetrators and the prompt establishment of an independent investigation into the events,” they said.

The legacy of slavery in America has left two “invidious” aspects, the “ongoing racial discrimination” and the notion of white supremacy, said Anastasia Crickley, chair of the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, who is one of the three experts who issued the statement.

“This notion of white supremacy as far as many of us can see is being re-articulated from top to bottom in the USA at the moment,” she told Reuters.

“In looking to addressing racial discrimination, we have got to look to very clear, unequivocal statements from political leaders at all levels,” she added.

Crickley, asked whether Trump was providing leadership on the issue and whether she had concerns on his public statements, replied: “Already leaders across the political spectrum are calling for more political leadership from the White House and from the leadership spectrum. I think yes we do need that.”

The events in Virginia were the “latest examples” of increasing racism, racial discrimination, Afrophobia, racist violence and xenophobia “observed in demonstrations across the USA”, the U.N. experts said.

Recent incidents in California, Oregon, New Orleans and Kentucky had demonstrated “the geographical spread of the problem”, they added.

The statement was also issued by Sabelo Gumedze, chair of the U.N. working group of experts on people of African descent, and Mutuma Ruteere, U.N. special rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Gareth Jones and Alister Doyle)

Undeterred, U.S. cities ramp up removal of Confederate statues

A Sheriff's deputy stands near the toppled statue of a Confederate soldier in front of the old Durham County Courthouse in Durham, North Carolina, U.S. August 14, 2017. REUTERS/Kate Medley

By Chris Kenning

(Reuters) – Undeterred by the violence over the planned removal of a Confederate statue in Charlottesville, Virginia, municipal leaders in cities across the United States said they would step up efforts to pull such monuments from public spaces.

The mayors of Baltimore and Lexington, Kentucky, said they would push ahead with plans to remove statues caught up in a renewed national debate over whether monuments to the U.S. Civil War’s pro-slavery Confederacy are symbols of heritage or hate.

Officials in Memphis, Tennessee, and Jacksonville, Florida, announced new initiatives on Monday aimed at taking down Confederate monuments. And Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam, a Republican, urged lawmakers to rid the state’s Capitol of a bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate general and early member of the Ku Klux Klan.

“This is a time to stand up and speak out,” Lexington Mayor Jim Gray said in an interview on Monday. He had moved up the announcement of his city’s efforts after the Charlottesville violence.

The clashes between white supremacists and counter protesters that left three dead in Charlottesville on Saturday, including two police officers whose helicopter crashed, appeared to have accelerated the push to remove memorials, flags and other reminders of the Confederate cause.

Some opponents appeared to take matters into their own hands. A crowd of demonstrators stormed the site of a Confederate monument outside a courthouse in Durham, North Carolina, on Monday and toppled the bronze statue from its base.

Local television news footage showed numerous protesters taking turns stomping and kicking the fallen statue as dozens of others stood cheering and yelling.

In Baltimore, a Confederate monument of a dying Confederate soldier embraced by a winged angel-like figure was found defaced by red paint, apparently an act of vandalism carried out over the weekend, the Baltimore Sun reported.

The drive by civil rights groups and others to do away with Confederate monuments gained momentum after an avowed white supremacist murdered nine African-Americans at a Charleston, South Carolina, church in 2015. The deadly shooting rampage ultimately led to the removal of a Confederate flag from the statehouse in Columbia.

In all, as of April, at least 60 symbols of the Confederacy had been removed or renamed across the United States since 2015, according to the latest tally by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

But such efforts also have made Confederate flags and memorials a rallying point for white supremacists and other groups of the extreme right, according to Ryan Lenz, a spokesman for the law center, which tracks hate groups.

While opponents of Confederate memorials view them as an affront to African-Americans and ideals of racial diversity and equality, supporters of such symbols argue they represent an important part of history, honoring those who fought and died for the rebellious Southern states in the Civil War.

New Orleans’ efforts to dismantle four Confederate statues sparked protests and litigation that became so contentious that crews waited until the middle of the night to remove a 14-foot-tall bronze likeness of Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard on horseback in May.

The violence in Charlottesville is unlikely to bolster the argument about the value of maintaining the monuments for historical value, Carl Jones, chief of heritage operations for the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said in a telephone interview. But he said he would continue to make that case.

“Where does it stop?” he said. “The Egyptian pyramids were built by slaves. Do we tear those down?”

Across the country, 718 Confederate monuments and statues remain, with nearly 300 of them in Georgia, Virginia or North Carolina, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

There are also 109 public schools named for Robert E. Lee, Confederate President Jefferson Davis or other icons of the Civil War-era South, the group said.

On Monday, Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh said in a statement she intended to move forward in removing several city statutes, including those of Lee and Stonewall Jackson. She stopped short of endorsing some city council members’ calls for the monuments to be destroyed.

Memphis officials said the city would take legal action to get state approval to remove a Confederate statue there. The city council voted to remove it in 2015, but the effort was blocked by the state historical commission, according to a WREG-TV.

In Kentucky, Gray said he had heard opposition to his plans but also had received offers to pay for the statutes to be relocated as early as this fall.

“We expected criticism,” he said. “It’s a challenging and polarizing time – and issue.”

(Story corrects South Carolina capital to Columbia from Charleston in ninth paragraph.)

(Reporting by Chris Kenning; Additing reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Richard Chang)

GoDaddy removes white supremacist website after offensive post

The logo for internet company GoDaddy inc is shown on a computer screen

(Reuters) – The web hosting company GoDaddy said on Sunday it had given The Daily Stormer 24 hours to move its domain to another provider after the extremist web site posted an article denigrating the woman who was killed at a white nationalist rally in Virginia.

“We informed The Daily Stormer that they have 24 hours to move the domain to another provider, as they have violated our terms of service,” GoDaddy Inc said on its official Twitter page.

The Daily Stormer is a neo-Nazi, white supremacist website associated with the alt-right movement, which was spear-heading the rally on Saturday in Charlottesville, Virginia which resulted in violence, including the death of Heather Heyer, who was fatally struck by a car allegedly driven by a man with white nationalist views.

The hosting company’s rules of conduct ban using its services in a manner that “promotes, encourages or engages in terrorism, violence against people, animals or property.” Company representatives could not immediately be reached for comment.

The post on Heyer denigrated her physical appearance and what it said were anti-white male views.

On Monday, a note appeared on the Daily Stormer’s home page, which claimed that the site had been taken over by Anonymous, a loose-knit collective of hacker activists that intended to permanently take it offline in 24 hours.

Other original content remained on the Daily Stormer site, including appeals for financial support and the article attacking Heyer.

YourAnonNews, a Twitter feed that promotes attacks conducted by hackers who identify with Anonymous, said it had no confirmation that members of the group were involved.

It said it suspected the notice was posted as a “stunt.”

Daily Storm publisher Andrew Anglin could not immediately be reached for comment.

Scottsdale, Arizona-based GoDaddy, is one of the largest U.S. web hosting providers with some 6,000 employees.

 

(Reporting by Chris Michaud and Jim Finkle; Editing by Michael Perry and Nick Zieminski)