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International Headlines

Afghanistan withdrawal draws concerns over abducted American

WASHINGTON (AP) — As the U.S. moves to withdraw its military from Afghanistan over the next five months, concerns are growing about one American who risks being left behind.
Mark Frerichs, a contractor from Lombard, Illinois, believed held for more than a year by the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network, was not mentioned in President Joe Biden’s address on Afghanistan last week. Nor was the troop withdrawal, scheduled to be complete by Sept. 11, conditioned on his release from custody, fueling concerns that the U.S. could lose bargaining power to get Frerichs home once its military presence is removed from the country.
“Any leverage that we had, we’ve just now announced to the world and to the Taliban and the Haqqanis that we’re going to pull out. Not only is it our leverage, it’s our military capability to rescue him,” Rep. Michael Waltz, a Florida Republican and Green Beret who served in Afghanistan, said in an interview with The Associated Press. “So it’s just utterly disheartening.”
The Biden administration has said it regards the return of hostages to be a top priority. Despite this, the fate of a single captive is unlikely to sway the broader policy interest in ending a 20-year war that began in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. It’s not uncommon for detainee issues to be eclipsed by other foreign policy matters, as appeared to happen last week when the administration didn’t mention Russia’s detention of two Americans, even as it announced reasons for taking punitive action against Moscow.
Even so, for Frerichs’ family, the failure to make his return a factor in the withdrawal is a source of frustration, as is the fact that the Trump administration signed a peace deal in February 2020, just weeks after Frerichs vanished in Afghanistan while working on engineering projects in the country.
His sister, Charlene Cakora, said in a statement that the military withdrawal “puts a time stamp on Mark. We have 150 days to get him home or our leverage is gone.”
Frerichs’ home-state senators, Democrats Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin, had raised similar concerns in a letter earlier this year to Biden.
In an interview Monday, Duckworth said she’s been reassured by the administration that Frerichs has been part of the discussions and that officials are aware of his case. She said she spoke privately with Biden himself last Thursday, handing him a note with information about the case.
“He said he was very well aware and he asked me to also let the family know that he was aware and was on top of it,” Duckworth said.
The U.S. has not disclosed much about Frerichs’ fate or status but confirmed Monday that it was in active negotiations with the Taliban.
State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement that U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, working closely with Roger Carstens, the special presidential envoy for hostage affairs, “has continued to press the Taliban for Mr. Frerichs’ release, and continues to raise his status in senior level engagements in Doha and Islamabad. We place a high priority on Mark Frerichs’ safety and will not stop working until he is safely returned to his family.”
The AP reported in January that the Taliban during the Trump administration had sought the release of a combatant imprisoned on drug charges in the U.S. as part of a broader effort to resolve issues with Afghanistan. The request prompted dialogue between the State Department and the Justice Department about whether such a release could happen, though it ultimately did not.
Duckworth, who has spoken about the case with Khalilzad, said the Taliban remained “insistent” on that release and not moved off that condition.
The announced withdrawal from Afghanistan was one of two significant foreign policy moves announced by Biden last week. The other involved sanctions on Russia for election interference and for the hack of federal government agencies.
The White House did not use that opportunity to call out Moscow for what U.S. officials say is the unjust detention of at least two Americans: Paul Whelan, a corporate security executive from Michigan sentenced to 16 years in prison on espionage charges, and Trevor Reed, a Marine veteran who was convicted in an altercation with police in Russia and sentenced to nine years.
Whelan’s brother, David, said in a statement that he was hopeful for rapprochement between Moscow and Washington but also concerned that the tit-for-tat actions — Russia responded to the U.S. sanctions with its own diplomatic sanctions — may have made that more challenging.
“First, the sanctions continue to make it difficult for the two nations to create the relationship and dialogue necessary to create conditions that might lead to Paul’s release,” Whelan wrote. “Second, the winnowing of US Embassy staff in Russia will make the difficult work of consular support even harder.”

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National News

GOP targets ballot drop boxes in Georgia, Florida, elsewhere

ATLANTA (AP) — Atlanta-area voters looking to return their ballots using a drop box in next year’s gubernatorial election will have to do some searching.
Just eight boxes will be spread across Fulton County’s nearly 529 square miles — or about one for every 100,000 registered voters. That’s down from the 38 drop boxes that were available to voters last fall. It’s the result of a broad new law pushed by Georgia Republicans in response to former President Donald Trump’s false claims of a stolen election.
Georgia is one of several states controlled politically by Republicans that are seeking additional restrictions on voting, citing security concerns. A favorite target is ballot drop boxes, which have been used for years in states with expansive mail voting and which millions of voters used last year as a way to avoid polling places during the pandemic.
Democrats say the boxes are more secure than regular mailboxes, and their use was largely trouble-free last fall. Even Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican who signed the restrictive bill into law, posted a video on his Twitter account that showed him using a drop box to cast his ballot last year, flashing a thumbs up sign afterward.
“They loved ballot drop boxes until Trump and the Republicans started losing,” said state Rep. Erica Thomas, a Democrat from metro Atlanta.
For election officials and voters across the country, drop boxes seemed like an ideal solution to two major problems in 2020: a coronavirus pandemic that raised fears about crowded polling places and reports of mail delays that threatened on-time delivery of ballots.
The boxes were targeted a few times by vandals, but few other problems were reported across the country. Even so, Republicans say they want to ensure the boxes will be a secure way to cast a ballot.
“It’s a continued narrative where you try to pit security against accessibility, and you have to choose one or the other,” said Hillary Hall, a former county elections clerk in Colorado who now works with election officials across the country through the National Vote at Home Institute. “It’s a false choice.”
Drop boxes have been used for years in states such as Colorado, Oregon and Washington, where ballots are mailed to all registered voters ahead of every election.
Placement can vary widely. In some places, they’re located inside public buildings, available only during office hours. Elsewhere, they are outside and accessible at any hour, typically with video surveillance or someone monitoring in-person.
“I’m just so glad we had that option,” said Cynthia Vaughn, a retired financial manager from Atlanta who used a drop box at her local library in November and again for the state’s January Senate runoff.
She said slashing access to them will be especially hard on those who don’t have ready access to a vehicle or public transit: “Driving extra miles to get somewhere to drop off a ballot doesn’t adhere to the whole point that it should be easy and accommodating for everyone to vote.”
They were so popular in Florida last year that nearly 1.5 million voters used them, according to Florida Supervisors of Elections, a statewide group of local election officials. Even so, a bill pending in the Florida Senate would limit their use to hours when in-person early voting is offered. An earlier version would have eliminated them entirely, but that was revised after election supervisors opposed it.
The bill’s sponsor, Republican Sen. Dennis Baxley, acknowledged during a legislative hearing that he was not aware of any problems with drop boxes in Florida last year. Nevertheless, he said they introduced security gaps into the state’s mail voting process that must be closed.
“I don’t think we should sit on our laurels or congratulate ourselves on a successful election,” Baxley said. “Our time is better spent learning lessons from problems in other states to make sure we are prepared for 2022 and beyond.”
No state reported any significant problems with drop boxes last year.
Democrats complained the bill would preclude voters from dropping off ballots in the days just before an election, when early voting is no longer available and voters are worried about relying on the U.S. Postal Service to deliver their ballots on time.
Republican lawmakers in other states, including Michigan and Wisconsin, also have proposed new limits, though the chances of many of them becoming law are slim because Democrats control the governor’s offices.
As part of a broad GOP-led election overhaul in Iowa this year, lawmakers approved legislation to limit drop boxes in future elections to just one per county. Previously, state law did not say how many drop boxes counties could operate. Lawmakers in Texas, where the GOP is in full control, also are debating how voters can return ballots.
Election experts say outdoor drop boxes are arguably more secure than a regular U.S. Postal Service mailbox sitting on a sidewalk, especially when video surveillance is used. They are typically large, heavy and anchored to the ground.
Democrats in Congress, as part of their proposal to establish national election standards, want to require states to offer drop boxes. Their goal is one for every 20,000 registered voters in most counties by the 2022 midterm elections. For counties with fewer than 20,000 registered voters, a minimum of one drop box would be required.
In Georgia, drop boxes were permitted last year under an emergency rule prompted by the coronavirus pandemic. State Republicans have defended the new law as making drop boxes a permanent option for voters and requiring all counties to have at least one. But critics say the new limits mean there will be fewer drop boxes available in the state’s most populous communities.
“There weren’t any issues with the drop boxes, and that’s the point,” said Georgia Sen. Jen Jordan, a Democrat whose district includes parts of Fulton County. “It’s definitely going to impact voters and their ability to access the ballot and cast their vote.”
In fast-growing Cobb County north of Atlanta, officials had 16 drop boxes available in November but will be permitted about five under the new law. Janine Eveler, the county’s elections director, said 60% of all returned absentee ballots last fall came through a drop box.
For the entire metro Atlanta area, Democrats estimate the number of drop boxes will fall from 94 last year to no more than 23 for future elections based on the new formula of one drop box per 100,000 registered voters.
Republican Sen. Brian Strickland, whose district sits south of Atlanta, said lawmakers were focused on making sure drop boxes were written into the law, available for future elections with strong security measures in place.
“If the provision we have is not workable — this is the first time we have tried this — I’m sure you will see us go back and amend that to allow additional drop boxes if more are needed,” he said.

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National News

New York AG investigating Cuomo’s use of aides on book

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York’s attorney general is investigating whether Gov. Andrew Cuomo broke the law by having members of his staff help write and promote his pandemic leadership book.
In a letter dated April 13, made public Monday, state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli authorized Attorney General Letitia James to investigate the work state employees did on drafting and editing the book, “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic,” which was released last fall.
James’ office confirmed it received the referral letter but declined further comment, citing an “ongoing investigation.”
Cuomo and his spokespeople have acknowledged that senior members of his staff helped with the book, but they’ve insisted the work was done on a voluntary basis on their private time.
DiNapoli, an independently elected fiscal officer, asked James to investigate the “alleged commission of any indictable offense or offenses in violation of” laws barring public officials from using state resources for private purposes.
DiNapoli authorized the attorney general to convene a grand jury, if she chose to do so, and prosecute anyone believed to have violated those laws.
A spokesperson for Cuomo, Rich Azzopardi, dismissed the idea of an investigation as a political stunt.
“We have officially jumped the shark,” he said in a statement. “The idea there was criminality involved here is patently absurd on its face and is just the furthering of a political pile-on. Any state official who volunteered to assist on this project did so on his or her own time and without the use of state resources.”
“This is Albany politics at its worst,” he added. “Both the Comptroller and the Attorney General have spoken to people about running for Governor and it is unethical to wield criminal referral authority to further political self-interest‎.”
The inquiry adds to a pile of trouble facing Cuomo, who like DiNapoli and James is a Democrat.
The attorney general is separately investigating allegations that Cuomo sexually harassed women, including one who accused him of groping her breasts. The state Assembly is investigating whether to impeach Cuomo over the sexual harassment claims, and other matters, including his administration’s decision to conceal data related to COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes.
Federal prosecutors are also probing Cuomo’s handling of COVID-19 data.
Cuomo has denied touching anyone inappropriately and defended his administration’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis in nursing homes as having saved lives.
Cuomo received permission from state ethics commissioners last year to write his book — with conditions.
He had to write the book on “his own time and not on state time,” according to state ethics rules. And, “no state property, personnel or other resources” could be used.
Yet, several people who work for the state did work on the book, including Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa and the Director of Governor’s Offices Stephanie Benton, according to reports in The New York Times, The Times-Union, of Albany, and the USA TODAY State News Network.
Cuomo’s office hasn’t provided direct responses to a list of questions from The Associated Press about which aides were involved with the book, or the type of work they did.
Azzopardi has said Cuomo’s office made every effort to ensure no state resources were used.
The governor said Monday that he asked some people who he mentioned in the book to “review” it.
“On the book, some people volunteered to review the book,” Cuomo said in a teleconference call with reporters. “You look at the people who are mentioned in the book. I wanted to make sure they were okay with the mention.”
Azzopardi denied that any lower-level aides transcribed parts of the book. “To the extent an aide printed out a document, it appears incidental,” he said.
Azzopardi has also disputed criticism about Cuomo discussing the book in news conferences and media appearances: “An offhand mention about writing a book, or answering questions from the media about it in no way is an advertisement of endorsement of it.”
Cuomo has repeatedly declined to reveal how much he was paid to write the book.
The governor, who allows reporters to view personal income tax filings each year, said Monday that he would disclose financial details in those tax documents: “You will see everything you want to see in the personal income taxes.”

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International Headlines

Amid US strains, China’s Xi warns against ‘unilateralism’

BEIJING (AP) — Chinese President Xi Jinping on Tuesday called for more equitable management of global affairs and, in an implicit rejection of U.S. dominance, said governments shouldn’t impose rules on others.
Xi’s speech at an economic forum comes amid rising tension with China’s neighbors and Washington over its strategic ambitions and demands for a bigger role in making trade and other rules.
Without mentioning the United States, Xi criticized “unilateralism of individual countries” and warned against decoupling, a reference to fears U.S.-Chinese tension over technology and security will split industries and markets into separate, less productive spheres with incompatible standards.
“International affairs should be handled by everyone through consultation,” Xi said by video link to the Boao Forum for Asia on the southern island of Hainan. “Rules made by one or more countries should not be forced upon others.”
Xi called for stronger cooperation in research on coronavirus vaccines and steps to make them available to developing countries.
Xi’s comments reflected the ruling Communist Party’s desire for global influence to match China’s status as the second-largest economy and frustration at what party leaders see as U.S. efforts to block its ambitions.
Those sentiments have been fueled by sanctions imposed by former President Donald Trump that block access to U.S. processor chips and other technology for Chinese tech giant Huawei and some other companies.
Some of Xi’s comments clashed with Beijing’s stepped-up military activity in the South China Sea and other areas where its territorial claims conflict with those of Japan, the Philippines, India and other countries.
“No matter how far it develops, China will never seek hegemony, expand, seek spheres of influence or engage in an arms race,” Xi said.
China’s military spending is the second-highest after the United States. Beijing is developing nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, submarines, stealth fighters and other weapons to extend its military reach.
The annual Boao forum, founded in 2001, is modeled on the Davos gathering of business leaders in Switzerland.
Xi warned against decoupling, a stance that clashes with Beijing’s promotion of its own standards for telecoms, high-speed rail and other fields and pressure on companies to use Chinese suppliers instead of global sources, even if that increases costs.
Speeding up a two-decade-old campaign to make China self-reliant in technology has been declared this year’s top economic priority by the ruling party.
“Building walls and decoupling violate economic and market rules, harming others,” Xi said.

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National News

Biden’s virtual climate summit: Diplomacy sans human touch

WASHINGTON (AP) — There will be no hands to shake or backs to slap, no way to look a foreign leader in the eye. The small human moments that define statecraft will be reduced to images on a screen.
President Joe Biden, a most hands-on politician, this week will host a major climate summit with dozens of world leaders — all of them stuck on Zoom.
Biden has made clear that he wants to reassert U.S. leadership on the world stage, including on climate change, after four tumultuous, often inward-looking years of President Donald Trump. But as much as the White House staff has tried to dress up the remote meetings he has held so far, while eyeing the climate summit Thursday and Friday as an important moment, the president has made no secret of how much he misses diplomacy with a more personal touch.
“There’s no substitute for face-to-face discussions,” Biden said Friday as he welcomed Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to the White House for his first in-person world leader meeting.
“I greatly appreciate the chance to spend time with you in person and to exchange our ideas face to face,” he added.
Biden has expressed to aides and advisers how much he misses the in-person interactions and friendly asides that typically happen on the sidelines of international meetings, moments that can often lead to foreign policy breakthroughs, according to three White House officials not authorized to speak publicly about private discussions. He was disappointed, at times, with the stilted nature of his first remote bilateral meeting, held with Canada’s Justin Trudeau in February.
The White House has announced that South Korea’s Moon Jae-in will travel to Washington in May for Biden’s second in-person foreign leader meeting. And there are hopes the president will make his own overseas trip in June. But until then, expectations for major diplomatic developments have been reined in — and the climate summit is no exception.
Streamed 100% live with no backroom give-and-take, the summit will be more geared to sending a message about America’s return to the climate fight and nudging the world toward a greener planet than about specific deals or action.
The world is still trying to figure out what the climate gathering will be, but experts know what it’s not: Don’t expect negotiations akin to those that produced the historic 2015 Paris climate accord.
In Paris, “every comma, every period and every sentence was negotiated 100 times,” said Christiana Figueres, the former U.N. climate chief who was one of the chief architects behind the 6-year-old pact. By contrast, this week’s summit, she says, “is a public confirmation of intent for every country to come forward with its current best effort.”
Climate activists may hope for dramatic moments when countries like Japan, South Korea or even China are suddenly inspired by Biden and announce they will stop funding other nations’ coal power plants. But Henry “Jake” Jacoby, who cofounded the MIT Center for Global Change Science, just laughs at the idea: “On a Zoom call with 40 nations of the world watching? Yeah, not a chance.”
The summit instead is about planting seeds for a November climate meeting in Scotland, where expectations and stakes are higher. But because of in-person restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic and the short time period since Biden took office, this week’s meeting is more of a show-and-tell among leaders, all streamed to whomever wants to watch it. The real action comes later.
The bulk of the diplomacy over the next seven months will be done not by presidents, but behind the scenes by diplomats, such as the recent travels by special U.S. climate envoy John Kerry, said Nigel Purvis, a former State Department climate negotiator in the administrations of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
The in-person meetings in Scotland are meant to pull everything together, which still could work, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Monday.
Biden has made clear he understands the necessity of doing meetings remotely: first, to safeguard the health of the leaders as well as the large traveling party that comes with a visit from a head of state. Moreover, keeping things remote helps set an example that his administration is still discouraging travel amid a rise in virus variants and COVID-19 cases.
But he has not always enjoyed the virtual substitutes. He struggled with the mute button at a remote fundraiser and watched as German Chancellor Angela Merkel forgot to silence her own feed and interrupted British Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a virtual Group of Seven leaders’ meeting in February.
Biden’s foreign policy outreach to this point has lacked the small moments amid summits and state visits meant to flatter and make memories for foreign dignitaries.
President Barack Obama took Dmitry Medvedev to a burger joint in 2010 when the Russian president visited Washington. Obama’s younger daughter, Sasha, who was studying Chinese at her private D.C. school at the time, had a memorable moment trying out some simple phrases with China’s Hu Jintao during his 2011 state visit.
Vladimir Putin’s 2001 visit to George W. Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas, included a barbecue dinner, a lesson on how to dance the Cotton-Eye Joe and a ride in the Republican president’s pickup truck.
Such moments are difficult to create in the pandemic era, but that hasn’t stopped Biden and his team from trying to bring some small flourishes to virtual statecraft. For example, Biden opened his recent virtual meeting with the leaders of Australia, India and Japan with a video of George W. Bush talking about the coalition’s beginnings after the 2004 earthquake and tsunami in the Indian Ocean. It was part of an effort to stress bipartisanship and continuity in the alliance.

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National News

Out of sight but center stage, jurors weigh Chauvin’s fate

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The jurors who sat quietly off-camera through three weeks of draining testimony in Derek Chauvin’s murder trial in George Floyd’s death moved into the spotlight Tuesday, still out of sight but now in control of verdicts awaited by a skittish city.
The jury of six white people and six people who are Black or multiracial was set for its first full day of deliberations. The jury, anonymous by order of the judge and sequestered now until they reach a verdict, spent just a few hours on their task Monday after the day was mostly consumed by closing arguments in which prosecutors argued that Chauvin squeezed the life out of Floyd last May in a way that even a child knew was wrong.
The defense contended that the now-fired white officer acted reasonably and that the 46-year-old Floyd died of a heart condition and illegal drug use.
Chauvin, 45, is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, all of which require the jury to conclude that his actions were a “substantial causal factor” in Floyd’s death and that his use of force was unreasonable.
The most serious charge carries up to 40 years in prison.
“Use your common sense. Believe your eyes. What you saw, you saw,” prosecutor Steve Schleicher said in closing arguments, referring to the bystander video of Floyd pinned to the pavement with Chauvin’s knee on or close to his neck for up to 9 minutes, 29 seconds, as onlookers yelled at the officer to get off.
Chauvin attorney Eric Nelson countered by arguing that Chauvin did what any reasonable police officer would have done after finding himself in a “dynamic” and “fluid” situation involving a large man struggling with three officers.
As Nelson began speaking, the now-fired Chauvin removed his COVID-19 mask in front of the jury for one of the very few times during the trial.
With the case drawing to a close, some stores were boarded up in Minneapolis. The courthouse was ringed with concrete barriers and razor wire, and National Guard troops were on patrol. Floyd’s death set off protests last spring in the city and across the U.S. that sometimes turned violent.
The city has also been on edge in recent days over the deadly police shooting of a 20-year-old Black man, Daunte Wright, in a nearby suburb on April 11.
About 300 protesters marched in the streets outside the courthouse shortly after the jury got the case, lining up behind a banner reading, “Justice 4 George Floyd & all stolen lives. The world is watching.”
Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell had the final word Monday, offering the state’s rebuttal argument. The prosecutor, who is Black, said the questions about the use of force and cause of death are “so simple that a child can understand it.”
“In fact, a child did understand it, when the 9-year-old girl said, ‘Get off of him,'” Blackwell said, referring to a young witness who objected to what she saw. “That’s how simple it was. `Get off of him.’ Common sense.”
Under the law, police have certain latitude to use force, and their actions are supposed to be judged according to what a “reasonable officer” in the same situation would have done.
Nelson noted that officers who first went to the corner store where Floyd allegedly passed a counterfeit $20 bill were struggling with Floyd when Chauvin arrived as backup. The defense attorney also pointed out that the first two officers on the scene were rookies and that police had been told that Floyd might be on drugs.
“A reasonable police officer understands the intensity of the struggle,” Nelson said, noting that Chauvin’s body camera and badge were knocked off his chest.
Nelson also showed the jury pictures of pills found in Floyd’s SUV and pill remnants discovered in the squad car. Fentanyl and methamphetamine were found in Floyd’s system.
The defense attorney said the failure of the prosecution to acknowledge that medical problems or drugs played a role “defies medical science and it defies common sense and reason.”
During the prosecution’s argument, Schleicher replayed portions of the bystander video and other footage as he dismissed certain defense theories about Floyd’s death as “nonsense.” He said Chauvin killed Floyd by constricting his breathing.
Schleicher rejected the drug overdose argument, as well as the contention that police were distracted by hostile onlookers, that Floyd had “superhuman” strength from a state of agitation known as excited delirium, and that he suffered possible carbon monoxide poisoning from auto exhaust.
The prosecutor sarcastically referred to the idea that it was heart disease that killed Floyd as an “amazing coincidence.”
“Is that common sense or is that nonsense?” Schleicher asked the jury.
Blackwell, his fellow prosecutor, likewise rejected the defense theory that Floyd died because of an enlarged heart: “The truth of the matter is that the reason George Floyd is dead is because Mr. Chauvin’s heart was too small.”
Earlier, Schleicher described how Chauvin ignored Floyd’s cries and continued to kneel on him well after he stopped breathing and had no pulse. Chauvin was “on top of him for 9 minutes and 29 seconds and he had to know,” Schleicher said. “He had to know.”
He said Chauvin heard Floyd, “but he just didn’t listen.”
The prosecutor said Floyd was “not a threat to anyone” and was not trying to escape when he struggled with officers but instead was terrified of being put into the tiny backseat of the squad car.
He said a reasonable officer with Chauvin’s training and experience — he was a 19-year Minneapolis police veteran — should have sized up the situation accurately.
Chauvin showed little expression as he watched himself and the other officers pinning Floyd to the ground on bodycam video played by his attorney. He cocked his head to the side and occasionally leaned forward to write on a notepad.
An unidentified woman occupied the single seat set aside in the pandemic-spaced courtroom for a Chauvin supporter.
Floyd’s brother Philonise represented the family in court in the morning, followed later by a nephew, Brandon Williams.
Schleicher also noted that Chauvin was required to use his training to provide medical care to Floyd but ignored bystanders, rebuffed help from an off-duty paramedic and rejected a suggestion from another officer to roll Floyd onto his side.
“He could have listened to the bystanders. He could have listened to fellow officers. He could have listened to his own training,” Schleicher said. “He knew better. He just didn’t do better.”
After closing arguments were done, Judge Peter Cahill rejected a defense request for a mistrial based in part on comments from California Rep. Maxine Waters, who said “we’ve got to get more confrontational” if Chauvin isn’t convicted of murder.
The judge told Chauvin’s attorney: “Congresswoman Waters may have given you something on appeal that may result in this whole trial being overturned.” He called her comments “abhorrent” and “disrespectful to the rule of law and to the judicial branch.”

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National News

Walter Mondale, Carter’s vice president, dies at 93

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Former Vice President Walter F. Mondale, a liberal icon who lost one of the most lopsided presidential elections after bluntly telling voters to expect a tax increase if he won, died Monday. He was 93.
The death of the former senator, ambassador and Minnesota attorney general was announced in a statement from his family. No cause was cited.
Mondale followed the trail blazed by his political mentor, Hubert H. Humphrey, from Minnesota politics to the U.S. Senate and the vice presidency, serving under Jimmy Carter from 1977 to 1981.
In a statement Monday night, Carter said he considered Mondale “the best vice president in our country’s history.” He added: “Fritz Mondale provided us all with a model for public service and private behavior.”
President Joe Biden said of Mondale: “There have been few senators, before or since, who commanded such universal respect. … It was Walter Mondale who defined the vice presidency as a full partnership, and helped provide a model for my service.”
Mondale’s own try for the White House, in 1984, came at the zenith of Ronald Reagan’s popularity. His selection of Rep. Geraldine Ferraro of New York as his running mate made him the first major-party presidential nominee to put a woman on the ticket, but his declaration that he would raise taxes helped define the race.
On Election Day, he carried only his home state and the District of Columbia. The electoral vote was 525-13 for Reagan — the biggest landslide in the Electoral College since Franklin Roosevelt defeated Alf Landon in 1936. (Sen. George McGovern got 17 electoral votes in his 1972 defeat, winning Massachusetts and Washington, D.C.)
“I did my best,” Mondale said the day after the election, and blamed no one but himself.
“I think you know I’ve never really warmed up to television,” he said. “In fairness to television, it never really warmed up to me.”
Years later, Mondale said his campaign message had proven to be the right one.
“History has vindicated me that we would have to raise taxes,” he said. “It was very unpopular, but it was undeniably correct.”
In 2002, state and national Democrats looked to Mondale when Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., was killed in a plane crash less than two weeks before Election Day. Mondale agreed to stand in for Wellstone, and early polls showed him with a lead over the Republican candidate, Norm Coleman.
But the 53-year-old Coleman, emphasizing his youth and vigor, out-hustled the then-74-year-old Mondale in an intense six-day campaign. Mondale was also hurt by a partisan memorial service for Wellstone, in which thousands of Democrats booed Republican politicians in attendance. One speaker pleaded: “We are begging you to help us win this election for Paul Wellstone.”
Polls showed the service put off independents and cost Mondale votes. Coleman won by 3 percentage points.
“The eulogizers were the ones hurt the most,” Mondale said after the election. “It doesn’t justify it, but we all make mistakes. Can’t we now find it in our hearts to forgive them and go on?”
It was a particularly bitter defeat for Mondale, who even after his loss to Reagan had taken solace in his perfect record in Minnesota.
“One of the things I’m most proud of,” he said in 1987, “is that not once in my public career did I ever lose an election in Minnesota.”
Years after the 2002 defeat, Mondale returned to the Senate to stand beside Democrat Al Franken in 2009 when he was sworn in to replace Coleman after a drawn-out recount and court battle.
Mondale started his career in Washington in 1964, when he was appointed to the Senate to replace Humphrey, who had resigned to become vice president. Mondale was elected to a full six-year term with about 54% of the vote in 1966, although Democrats lost the governorship and suffered other election setbacks. In 1972, Mondale won another Senate term with nearly 57% of the vote.
His Senate career was marked by advocacy of social issues such as education, housing, migrant workers and child nutrition. Like Humphrey, he was an outspoken supporter of civil rights.
Mondale tested the waters for a presidential bid in 1974 but ultimately decided against it. “Basically I found I did not have the overwhelming desire to be president, which is essential for the kind of campaign that is required,” he said in November 1974.
In 1976, Carter chose Mondale as No. 2 on his ticket and went on to unseat Gerald Ford.
As vice president, Mondale had a close relationship with Carter. He was the first vice president to occupy an office in the White House, rather than in a building across the street. Mondale traveled extensively on Carter’s behalf, and advised him on domestic and foreign affairs.
While he lacked Humphrey’s charisma, Mondale had a droll sense of humor.
When he dropped out of the 1976 presidential sweepstakes, he said, “I don’t want to spend the next two years in Holiday Inns.”
Reminded of that shortly before he was picked as Carter’s running mate, Mondale said, “I’ve checked and found that they’re all redecorated, and they’re marvelous places to stay.”
Mondale never backed away from his liberal principles.
“I think that the country more than ever needs progressive values,” Mondale said in 1989.
That year, Democrats tried to persuade him to challenge Minnesota GOP Sen. Rudy Boschwitz, but he decided against making the race, saying it was time to make way for a new generation.
“One of the requirements of a healthy party is that it renews itself,” he said at the time. “You can’t keep running Walter Mondale for everything.”
That paved the way for Wellstone to win the Democratic nomination, and go on to upset Boschwitz. Wellstone had been preparing to take on Mondale in a primary but would have been a heavy underdog.
The son of a Methodist minister and a music teacher, Walter Frederick Mondale was born Jan. 5, 1928, in tiny Ceylon, Minnesota, and grew up in several small southern Minnesota towns.
He was only 20 when he served as a congressional district manager for Humphrey’s successful Senate campaign in 1948. His education, interrupted by a two-year stint in the Army, culminated with a law degree from the University of Minnesota in 1956.
Mondale began a law practice in Minneapolis and ran the successful 1958 gubernatorial campaign of Democrat Orville Freeman, who appointed Mondale state attorney general in 1960. Mondale was elected attorney general in the fall of 1960 and was reelected in 1962.
As attorney general, Mondale moved quickly into civil rights, antitrust and consumer protection cases. He was the first Minnesota attorney general to make consumer protection a campaign issue.
After his White House years, Mondale served from 1993-96 as President Bill Clinton’s ambassador to Japan, fighting for U.S. access to markets ranging from cars to cellular phones.
He helped avert a trade war in June 1995 over autos and auto parts, persuading Japanese officials to give American automakers more access to Japanese dealers and pushing Japanese carmakers to buy U.S. parts.
Mondale kept his ties to the Clintons. In 2008, he endorsed Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton for president, switching his allegiance only after Barack Obama sealed the nomination.
When Democrats came to him after Wellstone’s death, Mondale was working at the Minneapolis law firm of Dorsey & Whitney and serving on corporate and nonprofit boards. He returned to the firm after the brief campaign.
Mondale and his wife, Joan Adams Mondale, were married in 1955. During his vice presidency, she pushed for more government support of the arts and gained the nickname “Joan of Art.” She had minored in art in college and worked at museums in Boston and Minneapolis.
The couple had two sons, Ted and William, and a daughter, Eleanor. Ted Mondale served six years in the Minnesota Senate and made an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination for governor in 1998. William Mondale served for a time as an assistant attorney general. Eleanor Mondale, who became a broadcast journalist and TV host, died of brain cancer in 2011.
Joan Mondale died in 2014 at age 83 after an extended illness.

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New year, new you: how to be a better learner

The dawning of a new year is always a great time to take stock of your life and retool. As we look forward into the future, reflect on experiences and lessons learned from the previous year, and think about what we want out of life moving forward, we can take this opportunity to set new goals, welcome new challenges, and work towards enacting positive change.

Chief among the goals we often set for ourselves for the new year is to learn something new. Whether the idea is to advance in our careers, build a new personal skill, or dive into a new hobby or area of interest, many of us include learning as part of our plans to steer ourselves toward self-improvement.

That said, some of us are more successful than others at actually following through on the learning goals we set for ourselves. Sometimes, motivation and apathy are key driving factors that determine success; for others, life simply takes on other unanticipated challenges and priorities as the new year unfolds that force us to shelve our grand plans. However, there may be another key factor at play that can contribute significantly towards your learning success, or lack thereof—your learning skills. That’s right, the ability to learn itself is a skill, and if you’re under the impression that some people are just naturally wired to learn better than others and there’s nothing much you can do about it, then think again.

The truth is, there’s a growing body of research-based evidence that points to the fact that your ability to learn is not some innate and immutable trait you’re born with, but rather is a skill that can be strengthened or weakened depending on the amount of attention you give to it. Simply put, you can become a better learner if you devote the effort. If you’re looking to become a better learner this year, consider deploying the following strategies to help you achieve this laudable goal.

Discover your learning style

Long gone are the days when “one size fits all” was a suitable approach to learning. It’s now widely recognized that there are a variety of learning styles, and people do their best when given the opportunity to learn in their preferred style. The VARK model comprises the most commonly accepted styles:

  • Visual learners do best when given tools to discover new concepts through seeing.
  • Auditory learners do best when given tools to discover new concepts through hearing.
  • Reading/writing learners do best when given tools to discover new concepts through reading and writing.
  • Kinesthetic learners do best when given tools to learn new concepts by moving and doing.

Perhaps you already know which style suits you best. If not, it’s worth the time and effort to discover what type of learner you are—and once you do figure it out you can use that knowledge to incorporate helpful targeted aids whenever you try to learn something new.

Decrease distractions

Let’s face it, the world is chock full of things designed to grab your attention and distract you from staying on task, especially when you’re trying to learn something new. Simply put, distractions are the enemies of focus, which is an essential element of learning. Doing everything within your power to minimize distractions when you’re trying to learn something will help safeguard your attention and focus, allow you to stay on task, and ultimately help you learn more effectively. Everyone has different tolerances when it comes to confronting and resisting distractions—the key is to learn your own strengths and weaknesses and react accordingly, which means avoiding those things that always threaten to derail you from achieving your learning goals.

Learn from trial and error

You likely have some preconceived ideas regarding what conditions are most conducive for you to learn effectively—and you may be completely on point, but you also may have it wrong. We also tend to change over time, so things that work well for you at one point in your life might not hold true as time goes by. Trial and error is a great way to continually hone and refine your learning approach—everything from your chosen environment and the study tools and aids you deploy, to the time of day you embark upon your learning tasks, all which may significantly impact your results. Analyze your successes and setbacks, and you’ll be well on your way to becoming a better learner.

As the new year unfolds, seize the opportunity to make some key improvements in your life. Use the strategies and advice presented here to help you become a better learner and achieve whatever goals you have on your horizon.

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Thinking about grad school? Consider this before applying.

There’s no denying the fact that we’re currently living through extremely uncertain times—with everything from a persistent global pandemic and its resulting economic and social impact to waves of technological innovation forcing an evolution across nearly every facet of our lives. As we try to navigate through these unprecedented times, all of these volatile forces have led many of us to powerful inflection points in our lives. In such an unpredictable environment, it can be a challenge to figure out what strategies for personal fulfillment and career advancement make sense, as we wonder what work and life will look like in a post-COVID world and what skills we’ll need to master to succeed in the future.

Although this current era will most likely be remembered as a time of considerable disruption, even in the most volatile of times opportunities exist—especially for those who are brave enough to consider reinventing themselves and allow for growth and change. Chief among the options to consider at moments like these is continuing education. Whether or not to go to grad school is a common decision many of you might be currently thinking about. It’s long been said that those who embrace the notion of lifelong learning are best poised to steer through uncertainty and grab success from the mouth of uncertainty.

Going to grad school is a big move and one you should carefully think through before deciding whether or not to race full steam ahead. Is investing the time, money, and effort to go to grad school a worthwhile investment for you? Consider the following before making your final decision.

What are your goals?

Everyone likely has a different set of reasons for considering grad school, based on your individual life goals. Are you looking to advance your career or embark on a new professional path? Build new skills for personal advancement or just dive into a new hobby or area of interest? Make sure to have a clear understanding of your reasons for wanting to go to grad school so you can get started on the path to making an informed and careful decision regarding whether it is wise or even necessary to achieve your goals.

What will it cost?

In years past, grad school was considered a rock-solid investment in your personal and professional future. But times change, and it’s forcing folks to reevaluate the value of pursuing an advanced degree in this brave new world of rapidly evolving opportunities. A big factor that’s upsetting the old way of thinking is cost—simply put, the cost of earning a graduate degree has skyrocketed in recent years, and finding the funds to finance grad school has become more challenging. On top of this, the notion of borrowing your way through grad school has become increasingly less desirable as the stigma against burying yourself in student loan debt continues to grow and gain attention. When thinking about grad school, be sure to have a clear sense of all costs involved when determining if it’s a good decision for you.

Do you have alternatives?

When weighing the decision to go to grad school, ask yourself if the return on investment makes sense for you based on your specific goals or if there are viable alternative options worth considering. If your goals are centered around professional advancement, ask yourself if grad school is a requirement to move up the ladder in your field or if are there other avenues for growth. If your goals are more aligned with the pursuit for self-improvement, ask yourself if there are other ways to achieve these goals that may make more sense for you. When weighing any significant life decision, you should always consider the alternatives—and deciding whether or not to go to grad school is no exception.

In this era of uncertainty and change, it can be a great time to take stock of your life and retool. As we look forward into the future, reflect on experiences and lessons learned, and think about what we want out of life moving forward, it can be a prime opportunity to set new goals, take on new challenges, and work towards enacting positive change. If deciding whether or not to go to grad school is on your horizon, consider the point mentioned here to help you make the right decision.

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Inclusive leadership: how to become a leader for all

Inclusivity isn’t just a goal for recruiting or for your specific team. It’s a goal for anyone in leadership in an organization. The responsibility doesn’t start with HR, or a board—it starts with you. And me. And anyone with aspirations of moving up to a senior role. The best leaders don’t just say they’re inclusive; they show it in every aspect of their professional lives.

Inclusive leaders aren’t just team builders, they have the talent to find people who bring diverse backgrounds and perspectives. A truly inclusive leader makes sure everyone feels heard, engaged, and supported. This translates very directly into results: a Harvard Business Review study found that teams with inclusive leaders were 17% more likely to report high performance. Respondents also reported being significantly more likely to make high-quality decisions and act collaboratively. Inclusive leadership also gets people through the door: the HBR review found that for every 10% increase in perceived inclusivity, work attendance improved almost one day per year per employee.

One of the great things about leadership is that as a skill, it’s always growing and developing—you always have room to improve. And if you’re interested in becoming a more diverse leader in your organization, there are ways you can build those skills.

Commit to inclusivity

This should be a personal goal, one that should be clear in all of the work that you do. That includes voicing open support for diversity and inclusion. It also includes doing so when it’s not so easy or when you might experience pushback from others. Agreeing that there are imbalances in power isn’t enough—by speaking out about the status quo and expressing specific ways you can work on changing it to be more inclusive, you’re showing your commitment.

Understand how biases work

Very few of us would say outright that we’re biased. In reality, bias is often an inherent part of human nature and perception. The trick to overcoming it is to understand what’s going on. You may feel a certain way about someone, but do you understand why? And once you consider why you perceive things as you do, are you willing to do everything you can to minimize those personal predispositions that might have more to do with you than the other person?

Bias can take many forms in an organization, from straight-up discrimination to assumptions. For example, assumptions like “this system works well for me. It must work well for everyone here.” Or “as long as someone works hard, they’ll naturally get promoted.” Others may be facing challenges that you can’t see. These blind spots can prevent you from being a naturally inclusive leader.

Don’t be afraid to admit your challenges

Good leaders are modest and willing to admit when they’re facing challenges or making mistakes. This can be just as important as sharing “inspirational” successes. By sharing the bad with the good with members of your team, it helps create a space where people can succeed—and even fail—together, in a productive way.

Be curious about others

One of the most important aspects of inclusive leadership is being open to learning more about people: people’s experiences, perspectives, and ideas. Being openly curious about others (in an entirely professional way, of course) involves listening without judgment, offering constructive criticism, and asking open-ended questions that give team members a chance to show what they bring to the table.

This kind of curiosity also helps build cultural intelligence. The more you learn about your employees and their points of view, the more you’re likely to learn about different cultures, socioeconomic experiences, religious perspectives, etc. The goal isn’t to build a happy, seamless team that avoids those differences, but rather a team of individuals that demonstrates how those perspectives can come together and provide results for the company.

Emphasize collaboration

Leaders who turn their teams into competitive machines may get short-term results, but they also get high rates of burnout and turnover. Instead, make sure you’re doing everything you can to enhance collaboration and cooperation to achieve goals. When considering specific tasks or projects, think about how you can get team members to work effectively toward shared goals.

Being an inclusive manager certainly means prioritizing diverse hiring and team assignments. But if you’re looking to take your leadership skills to the next level, put the thought and effort into making sure that you’re truly embracing all of your team and finding ways for them to shine.

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