Nation and World briefs for June 12

Supreme Court allows Ohio, other state voter purges

WASHINGTON — States can target people who haven’t cast ballots in a while in efforts to purge their voting rolls, the Supreme Court ruled Monday in a case that has drawn wide attention amid stark partisan divisions and the approach of the 2018 elections.

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By a 5-4 vote that split the conservative and liberal justices, the court rejected arguments in a case from Ohio that the practice violates a federal law intended to increase the ranks of registered voters. A handful of other states also use voters’ inactivity to trigger processes that could lead to their removal from the voting rolls.

Justice Samuel Alito said for the court that Ohio is complying with the 1993 National Voter Registration Act. He was joined by his four conservative colleagues in an opinion that drew praise from Republican officials and conservative scholars.

The four liberal justices dissented, and civil rights groups and some Democrats warned that more Republican-led states could enact voter purges similar to Ohio’s.

Ohio is of particular interest nationally because it is one of the larger swing states in the country with the potential to determine the outcome of presidential elections. But partisan fights over ballot access are playing out across the country. Democrats have accused Republicans of trying to suppress votes from minorities and poorer people who tend to vote for Democrats. Republicans have argued that they are trying to promote ballot integrity and prevent voter fraud.

Paris bistros seek UN status as ‘intangible cultural’ gems

PARIS — Owners of the bistros and terrace cafes that are integral to the Paris way of life want the “je ne sais quoi” of their establishments to be recognized as both of global value and endangered.

They have launched a campaign to be named by the United Nations’ cultural agency as an “Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding.” UNESCO has given that status to traditions as varied as a Mongolian camel-coaxing ritual, Iranian sailboat building and the sung prayers of indigenous Peruvians.

Members of a bistro owners association gathered Monday at Le Mesturet in central Paris. With its zinc counter, wooden tables and wine bottles for decoration, it is typical of the kind of establishment people were relaxing outside of when extremists shot at them on Nov. 13, 2015.

The chefs and business owners said the bistros of Paris play a key role in bringing people of all origins, religions, social classes and age together in a cheap and welcoming place to drink coffee or share a meal.

But the traditional bistro also is threatened by increasing rents and competition, and their number has dropped by half in the past 20 years, the owners argued.

“Our most beautiful love and friendship stories were often born in bistros and on terraces,” Le Mesturet owner Alain Fontaine, the association’s president, said.

A visiting tourist “will find a lively place, a place to share with the people of Paris – the people of Paris of today, not the people of the past,” Fontaine added. “A multi-ethnic, inter-faith, socially varied people. All of this disappears inside a bistro.”

The association hopes to see its candidacy examined by UNESCO next year. Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo supports the initiative.

US hits Russian firms with sanctions, citing cyberattacks

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration on Monday slapped sanctions on several Russian companies and businessmen for engaging in cyberattacks and assisting Russia’s military and intelligence services with other malicious activities.

The Treasury Department said it was imposing sanctions on five Russian firms and three executives from one of them under legislation passed last year and an executive order aimed at punishing efforts to hack into U.S. computer systems. The sanctions freeze any assets that they may have in U.S. jurisdictions and bar Americans from doing business with them.

“The United States is engaged in an ongoing effort to counter malicious actors working at the behest of the Russian Federation and its military and intelligence units to increase Russia’s offensive cyber capabilities,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement. He said the sanctions targeted entities that have “directly contributed to improving Russia’s cyber and underwater capabilities” that jeopardize “the safety and security of the United States and our allies.”

The department said the sanctions were a response to a number of cyberattacks, including last year’s NotPetya attack, as well as intrusions into the U.S. energy grid and global network infrastructure. It also said that Russia had been tracking undersea cables that carry the bulk of the world’s telecommunications data.

The companies affected are: Digital Security with offices in Moscow and St. Petersburg, and its subsidiaries ERPScan and Embedi, which have offices in Russia, Europe and Israel; St. Petersburg- and Moscow-based Kvant Scientific Research Institute; and Divetechnoservices of St. Petersburg. The three sanctioned men are Aleksandr Lvovich Tribun, Oleg Sergeyevich Chirikov, and Vladimir Yakovlevich Kaganskiy. They all work for Divetechnoservices.

US launches bid to find citizenship cheaters

LOS ANGELES — The U.S. government agency that oversees immigration applications is launching an office that will focus on identifying Americans who are suspected of cheating to get their citizenship and seek to strip them of it.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director L. Francis Cissna told The Associated Press in an interview that his agency is hiring several dozen lawyers and immigration officers to review cases of immigrants who were ordered deported and are suspected of using fake identities to later get green cards and citizenship through naturalization.

Cissna said the cases would be referred to the Department of Justice, whose attorneys could then seek to remove the immigrants’ citizenship in civil court proceedings. In some cases, government attorneys could bring criminal charges related to fraud.

Until now, the agency has pursued cases as they arose but not through a coordinated effort, Cissna said. He said he hopes the agency’s new office in Los Angeles will be running by next year but added that investigating and referring cases for prosecution will likely take longer.

“We finally have a process in place to get to the bottom of all these bad cases and start denaturalizing people who should not have been naturalized in the first place,” Cissna said. “What we’re looking at, when you boil it all down, is potentially a few thousand cases.”

Judge spars with Justice Dept lawyer on foreign favors suit

GREENBELT, Md. — Lawyers for Maryland and the District of Columbia accused President Donald Trump in federal court Monday of “profiting on an unprecedented scale” from foreign government interests using his Washington, D.C., hotel, but a Justice Department lawyer insisted Trump isn’t breaking the law because he provided no favors in return.

At issue is the Constitution’s “emoluments” clause, which bans federal officials from accepting benefits from foreign or state governments without congressional approval. The plaintiffs argue Trump’s D.C. hotel, which has become a magnet for foreign governments, harms area businesses because of the president’s financial ties to its operations. No previous case on the subject has made it this far.

“This is the first oral arguments focused on the meaning of the emoluments clause in American judicial history,” said Norman Eisen, chairman of the left-leaning Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington, which is co-counsel with the two jurisdictions.

U.S. District Judge Peter Messitte peppered lawyers for both sides over their arguments Monday, and had a particularly pointed exchange over Justice Department lawyer Brett Shumate’s view that emoluments required a clear, provable “quid pro quo” — an exchange for an official action.

“Wouldn’t that be bribery?” Messitte countered. “Another clause in the Constitution makes bribery a basis for impeachment. Are you saying that Congress could consent to bribery?”

Data obtained by AP shows social media alters gang life

CHICAGO — Lamanta Reese lived much of his gang life in virtual reality, posting videos on YouTube of him and others taunting rivals. He died at age 19 in the real world, bleeding from his head onto a porch on Chicago’s South Side after one of those gang rivals, prosecutors say, shot him 11 times. Another possible factor in his slaying: A smiley-face emoji Reese posted that the suspected gunman may have interpreted as a slight about his mom.

Gangs’ embrace of social media to goad foes or conceal drug dealing in emoji-laden text is the biggest change in how gangs operate compared with 10 years ago, according to new law enforcement data provided exclusively to The Associated Press ahead of its release Tuesday by the Chicago Crime Commission. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other sites have radically altered gang culture in Chicago. They are having a similar influence on gangs nationwide.

These days, there is nearly always a link between an outbreak of gang violence and something online, said Rodney Phillips, a gang-conflict mediator working in the low-income Englewood neighborhood where Reese lived and died. When he learns simmering tensions have spilled into violence, he no longer goes first to the streets.

“I Google it,” Phillips said. “I look on YouTube and Facebook. Today, that’s how you follow the trail of a conflict.”

Asked what led to his son’s death, Reese’s father, William Reese, answered promptly: “Something on the internet.” He said his son and Quinton “ManMan” Gates, later charged with first-degree murder in the killing, had been trading barbs on Facebook.

Democrats test liberal messages in midterm House elections

A single-payer health care advocate in South Texas. A gun restriction supporter in Dallas. Cheerleaders in Arkansas and Iowa for public option health care.

Weeks into the primary season, with five more states voting Tuesday, Democrats’ midterm class is shaping up to test what liberal messages the party can sell to the moderate and GOP-leaning voters who will help determine control of the House after the November election.

It’s not one size fits all, with every candidate checking every box wanted by the activists driving the opposition to President Donald Trump and the GOP Congress, and Democratic voters typically aren’t tapping the most liberal choices in targeted districts. But, taken together, the crop of nominees is trending more liberal than many of the “Blue Dog” Democrats swept away in Republicans’ 2010 midterm romp.

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That means voters now represented by a Republican will be asked to consider some or all of the mainstream Democratic priorities that may have been considered “too liberal” in the past: more government involvement in health insurance, tighter gun laws, a path to citizenship for people in the country illegally, reversing parts of the GOP tax law, support for LGBTQ rights.

“You have ballpark 60 districts as diverse as Kansas and Staten Island. One bumper-sticker message will be self-defeating,” said former congressman Steve Israel of New York, who led Democrats’ national House campaign in 2012.