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US sanctions Chinese officials over Hong Kong democracy crackdown

The United States has imposed sanctions on seven Chinese officials over Beijing’s crackdown on democracy in Hong Kong. This is Washington’s latest effort to hold China accountable for what it calls an erosion of rule of law in the former British colony.

The sanctions, posted by the US Treasury Department on Friday, are aimed at individuals from China’s Hong Kong liaison office, used by Beijing to orchestrate its policies in the Chinese territory.

The seven people added to Treasury’s “specially designated nationals” list were Chen Dong, He Jing, Lu Xinning, Qiu Hong, Tan Tienui, Yang Jianping, and Yin Zonghua, all deputy directors at the liaison office, according to online data.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that Chinese officials over the past year had “systematically undermined” Hong Kong’s democratic institutions, delayed elections, disqualified elected legislators from office, and arrested thousands for disagreeing with government policies.

“In the face of Beijing’s decisions over the past year that have stifled the democratic aspirations of people in Hong Kong, we are taking action. Today we send a clear message that the United States resolutely stands with Hong Kongers,” Blinken said in a statement.

The Treasury Department referred to a separate updated business advisory issued jointly with the departments of State, Commerce, and Homeland Security that highlighted US government concerns about the effect on international companies of Hong Kong’s national security law.

Critics say Beijing implemented that law last year to facilitate a crackdown on pro-democracy activists and a free press.

The advisory said companies face risks associated with electronic surveillance without warrants and the surrender of corporate and customer data to authorities, adding that individuals and businesses should be aware of the potential consequences of engaging with sanctioned individuals or entities.

The actions were announced just over a year after former President Donald Trump ordered an end to Hong Kong’s special status under US law to punish China for what he called “oppressive actions” against the territory.

The United States has already imposed sanctions on other senior officials, including Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam and senior police officers, for their roles in curtailing political freedoms in the territory.

Hong Kong officials previously called those US sanctions “hostile acts of hegemony”.

Earlier on Friday, Xia Baolong, the director of China’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, was quoted by Hong Kong Free Press as saying that sanctions will “only evoke our anger”.

“You would only lift a rock and drop it heavily on your own feet. The long river of history has proven countless times that victory must belong to the indomitable Chinese people!” Xia said in a speech.

Also on Friday, Hong Kong’s national security police searched the University of Hong Kong’s student union, after the government and university officials denounced students for allegedly sympathising with a man who stabbed a police officer in early July.

Broken commitment

President Joe Biden said at a news conference on Thursday that the Chinese government had broken its commitment on how it would deal with Hong Kong since it returned to Chinese control in 1997.

China had promised universal suffrage as an ultimate goal for Hong Kong in its mini-constitution, the Basic Law, which also states the city has wide-ranging autonomy from Beijing.

Since China imposed the national security law to criminalise what it considers subversion, secessionism, terrorism or collusion with foreign forces, most pro-democracy activists and politicians have found themselves ensnared by it or arrested for other reasons.

Apple Daily, Hong Kong’s most vocal pro-democracy newspaper, was forced to end a 26-year run in June amid the crackdown that froze the company’s funds.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a news conference in Beijing before the actions were formally announced that the US should stop interfering in Hong Kong and that China would make a “resolute, strong response”.

The US has already imposed sanctions on other senior officials, including Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam and senior police officers, for their roles in curtailing political freedoms in the territory [Isaac Lawrence/AFP]

A source told the Reuters news agency on Thursday that the White House was also reviewing a possible executive order to facilitate immigration from Hong Kong but that it was still not certain to be implemented.

US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman is preparing a visit to Japan, South Korea and Mongolia next week. The State Department’s announcement of her trip made no mention of any stop in China, which had been anticipated in foreign policy circles and reported in some media.

A senior State Department official told reporters on Friday that Washington was still in talks with Beijing over whether Sherman would visit China.

The US government on Tuesday also strengthened warnings to businesses about the growing risks of having supply-chain and investment-links to China’s Xinjiang region, citing forced labour and human rights abuses there, which Beijing has denied.

“We hope that any additional US actions related to Hong Kong will remain targeted, and that Washington will avoid policy choices detrimental to Hong Kong’s people,” Anna Ashton, the vice president of government affairs at the US-China Business Council, said about the advisory issued on Friday.

The South China Morning Post newspaper also said that the latest decision was greeted with a “collective shrug” from analysts.

The Hong Kong-based news publication quoted former US Consul General in Hong Kong Richard Boucher as saying: “Every time there’s some news of China putting more pressure on Hong Kong, there’s commensurate pressure on the US side to do something. But they’re running out of things to do.”

Other analysts were also reported as saying that the move is more symbolic, as the US is “caught between pressure to respond to Beijing’s clampdown and a business community still seeking market access.”

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This post originally posted here Al Jazeera – Breaking News, World News and Video from Al Jazeera

Opinion: Moïse’s assassination is a tragic reminder of Haiti’s unraveling democracy

A history of political upheaval, dictatorship and weak institutions, as well as endemic corruption have wracked Haiti for decades and stymied the consolidation of democratic rule and good governance. The country was already on edge following a protracted political crisis centered around the constitutionality of Moïse’s presidential term and a controversial proposal to overhaul the country’s constitution.
While Moïse won the first round of Haiti’s presidential election in November 2015, the runoff was postponed in the wake of fraud allegations. The country eventually scrapped the results and scheduled new elections for November 2016; Moise won outright with a clear majority of 56%.
Meanwhile, an interim president, Jocelerme Privert, served from February 2016 to February 2017.
In Haiti’s polarized political climate, the political opposition has claimed that Moïse’s presidential term started in February 2016, rather than February 2017 — when he actually took the oath of office following do-over elections — and that his five-year mandate thus ended in February of this year. The United States, the United Nations and the Organization of American States supported Moïse’s interpretation, but public anger and social unrest continued to destabilize the country. Moïse did not do much to appease the population, ruling by decree since January 2020 after the mandate of the old parliament expired without an election to replace its members.
Now, the dispute over the constitutionality of Moïse’s term has taken a criminal turn and the question of succession could engender another constitutional crisis. Prime Minister Claude Joseph is currently exercising executive power until new presidential elections can be organized. However, last week Moïse appointed a new prime minister, Ariel Henry, who has yet to be sworn in. Another potential contender for the job, according to the Haitian constitution, would be the head of the Supreme Court of Justice, but that person, René Sylvestre, died of Covid-19 last month and has yet to be replaced.
The lack of a functional parliament makes it unclear who has the authority to approve replacements and confirm officials in the line of succession. For now, the Haitian Armed Forces and National Police have deployed to the streets to maintain control after declaring a state of siege.
Meanwhile, grinding poverty characterizes quotidian life in Haiti. In essence, the country is still recovering from a spate of natural disasters, including the scars of a catastrophic 7.0 magnitude earthquake in 2010 estimated to have killed between 220,000-300,000 people. With more than 60% of the population living on less than $ 2 per day, Haiti often ranks as the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. According to the World Health Organization, Haiti — which has experienced difficulties getting vaccine supplies — is one of a handful of nations that has not begun vaccination yet even as Covid-19 cases increase.
Recent years have also witnessed an epidemic of kidnappings and the explosion of gang violence, with many neighborhoods in the capital, Port-au-Prince, controlled by criminal organizations. Thousands of displaced people have sought refuge from the growing insecurity in a stadium on the southern edge of the capital.
The Haiti assassination is yet another incident in a series of political, social and economic crises that have festered throughout the Western Hemisphere. The situation is emblematic of a larger democratic regression afflicting many countries — including Nicaragua, Peru, and Venezuela — where, in lieu of negotiations and political compromise, taking political prisoners and even conducting political assassinations have become worryingly commonplace.
Haiti’s constitutional crisis has failed to register with many Washington policymakers as well as those in the international community for far too long — in part, thanks to the plethora of challenges already present in the Western Hemisphere. Notwithstanding the Biden administration’s claims to the contrary, the inattention of US policymakers in recent years has contributed to the country’s rapid unraveling.
While four people suspected of assassinating Moïse were shot dead by police and two others arrested Wednesday night, this may well be only the first phase in another one of Haiti’s seemingly interminable crises. The short-term emphasis for the US and the rest of the world should be on supporting Haiti’s political leadership, untangling the constitutional questions likely to arise and maintaining order while ensuring that the Haitian armed forces remain confined to their proper constitutional role.
The international community, and in particular the US, should push for an investigation into the assassination and make resources available for bringing the perpetrators to justice — lest they benefit from the impunity that is all too common in Haiti. In the long-term, the international community has a key role to play in encouraging political and institutional reforms that will advance a national dialogue, generate economic opportunities for all and bring greater stability to Haiti’s turbulent domestic politics.
Moïse’s assassination is a tragic reminder of the country’s unraveling democracy and the need to forge a solution to the escalating turmoil that puts Haiti’s constitutional order and the well-being of its people at its center.

In Congress, Republicans Shrug at Warnings of Democracy in Peril

WASHINGTON — Senator Christopher S. Murphy concedes that political rhetoric in the nation’s capital can sometimes stray into hysteria, but when it comes to the precarious state of American democracy, he insisted he was not exaggerating the nation’s tilt toward authoritarianism.

“Democrats are always at risk of being hyperbolic,” said Mr. Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut. “I don’t think there’s a risk when it comes to the current state of democratic norms.”

After the norm-shattering presidency of Donald J. Trump, the violence-inducing bombast over a stolen election, the pressuring of state vote counters, the Capitol riot and the flood of voter curtailment laws rapidly being enacted in Republican-run states, Washington has found itself in an anguished state.

Almost daily, Democrats warn that Republicans are pursuing racist, Jim Crow-inspired voter suppression efforts to disenfranchise tens of millions of citizens, mainly people of color, in a cynical effort to grab power. Metal detectors sit outside the House chamber to prevent lawmakers — particularly Republicans who have boasted of their intention to carry guns everywhere — from bringing weaponry to the floor. Democrats regard their Republican colleagues with suspicion, believing that some of them collaborated with the rioters on Jan. 6.

Republican lawmakers have systematically downplayed or dismissed the dangers, with some breezing over the attack on the Capitol as a largely peaceful protest, and many saying the state voting law changes are to restore “integrity” to the process, even as they give credence to Mr. Trump’s false claims of rampant fraud in the 2020 election.

They shrug off Democrats’ warnings of grave danger as the overheated language of politics as usual.

“I haven’t understood for four or five years why we are so quick to spin into a place where part of the country is sure that we no longer have the strength to move forward, as we always have in the past,” said Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, a member of Republican leadership, noting that the passions of Republican voters today match those of Democratic voters after Mr. Trump’s triumph. “Four years ago, there were people in the so-called resistance showing up in all of my offices every week, some of whom were chaining themselves to the door.”

For Democrats, the evidence of looming catastrophe mounts daily. Fourteen states, including politically competitive ones like Florida and Georgia, have enacted 22 laws to curtail early and mail-in ballots, limit polling places and empower partisans to police polling, then oversee the vote tally. Others are likely to follow, including Texas, with its huge share of House seats and electoral votes.

Because Republicans control the legislatures of many states where the 2020 census will force redistricting, the party is already in a strong position to erase the Democrats’ razor-thin majority in the House. Even moderate voting-law changes could bolster Republicans’ chances for the net gain of one vote they need to take back the Senate.

And in the nightmare outcome promulgated by some academics, Republicans have put themselves in a position to dictate the outcome of the 2024 presidential election if the voting is close in swing states.

“Statutory changes in large key electoral battleground states are dangerously politicizing the process of electoral administration, with Republican-controlled legislatures giving themselves the power to override electoral outcomes on unproven allegations,” 188 scholars said in a statement expressing concern about the erosion of democracy.

Senator Angus King, an independent from Maine who lectured on American politics at Bowdoin College before going to the Senate, put the moment in historical context. He called American democracy “a 240-year experiment that runs against the tide of human history,” and that tide usually leads from and back to authoritarianism.

He said he feared the empowerment of state legislatures to decide election results more than the troubling curtailments of the franchise.

“This is an incredibly dangerous moment, and I don’t think it’s being sufficiently realized as such,” he said.

Republicans contend that much of this is overblown, though some concede the charges sting. Senator Patrick J. Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania, said Democrats were playing a hateful race card to promote voting-rights legislation that is so extreme it would cement Democratic control of Congress for decades.

“I hope that damage isn’t being done,” he added, “but it is always very dangerous to falsely play the race card and let’s face it, that’s what’s being done here.”

Mr. Toomey, who voted to convict Mr. Trump at his second impeachment trial, said he understood why, in the middle of a deadly pandemic, states sharply liberalized voting rules in 2020, extending mail-in voting, allowing mailed ballots to be counted days after Election Day and setting up ballot drop boxes, curbside polls and weeks of early voting.

But he added that Democrats should understand why state election officials wanted to course correct now that the coronavirus was ebbing.

“Every state needs to strike a balance between two competing values: making it as easy as possible to cast legitimate votes, but also the other, which is equally important: having everybody confident about the authenticity of the votes,” Mr. Toomey said.

Mr. Trump’s lies about a stolen election, he added, “were more likely to resonate because you had this system that went so far the other way.”

Some other Republicans embrace the notion that they are trying to use their prerogatives as a minority party to safeguard their own power. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky said the endeavor was the essence of America’s system of representative democracy, distinguishing it from direct democracy, where the majority rules and is free to trample the rights of the minority unimpeded.

“The idea of democracy and majority rule really is what goes against our history and what the country stands for,” Mr. Paul said. “The Jim Crow laws came out of democracy. That’s what you get when a majority ignores the rights of others.”

Democrats and their allies push back hard on those arguments. Mr. King said the only reason voters lacked confidence in the voting system was that Republicans — especially Mr. Trump — told them for months that it was rigged, despite all evidence to the contrary, and now continued to insist that there were abuses in the process that must be fixed.

“That’s like pleading for mercy as an orphan after you killed both your parents,” he said.

Senator Tim Kaine, Democrat of Virginia, said in no way could some of the new state voting laws be seen as a necessary course correction. “Not being able to serve somebody water who’s waiting in line? I mean, come on,” he said. “There are elements that are in most of these proposals where you look at it and you say, ‘That violates the common-sense test.’”

Missteps by Democrats have fortified Republicans’ attempts to downplay the dangers. Some of them, including President Biden, have mischaracterized Georgia’s voting law, handing Republicans ammunition to say that Democrats were willfully distorting what was happening at the state level.

The state’s 98-page voting law, passed after the narrow victories for Mr. Biden and two Democratic candidates for Senate, would make absentee voting harder and create restrictions and complications for millions of voters, many of them people of color.

But Mr. Biden falsely claimed that the law — which he labeled “un-American” and “sick” — had slapped new restrictions on early voting to bar people from voting after 5 p.m. Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, said the Georgia law had ended early voting on Sunday. It didn’t.

And the sweep — critics say overreach — of the Democrats’ answer to Republican voter laws, the For the People Act, has undermined Democratic claims that the fate of the republic relies on its passage. Even some Democrats are uncomfortable with the act’s breadth, including an advancement of statehood for the District of Columbia with its assurance of two more senators, almost certainly Democratic; its public financing of elections; its nullification of most voter identification laws; and its mandatory prescriptions for early and mail-in voting.

“They want to put a thumb on the scale of future elections,” Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, said on Wednesday. “They want to take power away from the voters and the states, and give themselves every partisan advantage that they can.”

Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah, who could conceivably be a partner in Democratic efforts to expand voting rights, called the legislation a “fundamentally unserious” bill.

Republican leaders have sought to take the current argument from the lofty heights of history to the nitty-gritty of legislation. Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, pointed to the success of bipartisan efforts such as passage of a bill to combat hate crimes against Asian Americans, approval of a broad China competition measure and current talks to forge compromises on infrastructure and criminal justice as proof that Democratic catastrophizing over the state of American governance was overblown.

But Democrats are not assuaged.

“Not to diminish the importance of the work we’ve done here, but democracy itself is what we’re talking about,” said Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii. “And to point at other bills that don’t have to do with the fair administration of elections is just an attempt to distract while all these state legislatures move systematically toward disenfranchising voters who have historically leaned Democrat.”

Mr. King said he had had serious conversations with Republican colleagues about the precarious state of American democracy. Authoritarian leaders like Vladimir V. Putin, Viktor Orban and Adolf Hitler have come to power by election, and stayed in power by warping or obliterating democratic norms.

But, he acknowledged, he has yet to get serious engagement, largely because his colleagues fear the wrath of Mr. Trump and his supporters.

“I get the feeling they hope this whole thing will go away,” he said. “They make arguments, but you have the feeling their hearts aren’t in it.”

Author: Jonathan Weisman
This post originally appeared on NYT > U.S. News

Arizona 2020 Election Review: Risks for Republicans and Democracy

“The problem is that Americans have a real lack of trust in institutions these days,” said William Mishler, a longtime expert on democratic institutions at the University of Arizona. And even many who regard the Arizona election review as a discredited, amateur exercise “fear the mischief that’s likely to come out of this in the form of some further undermining of confidence in the election outcome.”

Thomas E. Mann, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a longtime student of the American political system, said the Arizona election review highlighted a seismic shift in the rules of American democracy. In years past, political parties were forces for moderation, trying to appeal to as many voters as possible. Now, he said, one of the two major parties was taking precisely the opposite tack.

“We’ve had crazies in public life before,” he said. “We’ve had demagogues speaking out and sometimes winning high office. The difference this time is that they’re being encouraged rather than constrained by party and election officials.” Without some check on radicalism, he said, “our whole system breaks down.”

Mr. Mishler concurred. “What worries me is not that there’s a minority of crazies in the party,” he said of the Republicans. “It’s that there’s a majority of the crazies.”

That said, election inquiries count only votes. Mr. Mishler, Mr. Mann and Mr. Kolbe, the former representative, all said that a more imminent threat to democracy was what they called an effort by some Republicans to disregard votes entirely. They cited changes in state laws that could make challenging or nullifying election results easier, and a burst of candidacies by stolen-election advocates for crucial election posts such as secretary of state offices.

Arizona is among the latter. The race to replace Katie Hobbs, the Democratic secretary of state who said last week that she was running for governor, already has attracted one Republican Legislator who is an election conspiracy theorist and another who is perhaps the legislature’s leading supporter of restrictions on the right to vote.

“These are perilous times,” Mr. Mann said. “Arizona is just demonstrating it.”

Sheelagh McNeill contributed research.

Author: Michael Wines
This post originally appeared on NYT > U.S. News

Bidens declaration: America’s democracy ‘is rising anew’

Biden's declaration

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden declared Wednesday night that “America is rising anew” as he called for an expansion of federal programs to drive the economy past the pandemic and broadly extend the social safety net on a scale not seen in decades.

In his first address to Congress, he pointed optimistically to the nation’s emergence from the coronavirus scourge as a moment for America to prove that its democracy can still work and maintain primacy in the world.

Speaking in highly personal terms while demanding massive structural changes, the president marked his first 100 days in office by proposing a $ 1.8 trillion investment in children, families and education to help rebuild an economy devastated by the virus and compete with rising global competitors.

His speech represented both an audacious vision and a considerable gamble. He is governing with the most slender of majorities in Congress, and even some in his own party have blanched at the price tag of his proposals.

At the same time, the speech highlighted Biden’s fundamental belief in the power of government as a force for good, even at a time when it is so often the object of scorn.

“I can report to the nation: America is on the move again,” he said. “Turning peril into possibility. Crisis into opportunity. Setback into strength.”

While the ceremonial setting of the Capitol was the same as usual, the visual images were unlike any previous presidential address. Members of Congress wore masks and were seated apart because of pandemic restrictions. Outside the grounds were still surrounded by fencing after insurrectionists in January protesting Biden’s election stormed to the doors of the House chamber where he gave his address.

The nationally televised ritual raised the stakes for his ability to sell his plans to voters of both parties, even if Republican lawmakers prove resistant. The president is following the speech by hitting the road to push his plans, beginning in Georgia on Thursday and then on to Pennsylvania and Virginia in the days ahead.

“America is ready for takeoff. We are working again. Dreaming again. Discovering again. Leading the world again. We have shown each other and the world: There is no quit in America,” Biden said.

This year’s scene at the front of the House chamber also had a historic look: For the first time, a female vice president, Kamala Harris, was seated behind the chief executive. And she was next to another woman, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The first ovation came as Biden greeted “Madam Vice President.” He added, “No president has ever said those words from this podium, and it’s about time.”

The chamber was so sparsely populated that individual claps could be heard echoing off the walls.

Yet Biden said, “I have never been more confident or more optimistic about America. We have stared into an abyss of insurrection and autocracy – of pandemic and pain – and ‘We the People’ did not flinch.”

At times, the president plainly made his case for democracy itself.

Biden demanded that the government take care of its own as a powerful symbol to the world of an America willing to forcefully follow its ideals and people. He confronted an issue rarely faced by an American president, namely that in order to compete with autocracies like China, the nation needs “to prove that democracy still works” after his predecessor’s baseless claims of election fraud and the ensuing attack on the U.S. Capitol.

“Can our democracy overcome the lies, anger, hate and fears that have pulled us apart?” he asked. “America’s adversaries – the autocrats of the world – are betting it can’t. They believe we are too full of anger and division and rage. They look at the images of the mob that assaulted this Capitol as proof that the sun is setting on American democracy. They are wrong. And we have to prove them wrong.”

Biden repeatedly hammered home that his plans would put Americans back to work, restoring the millions of jobs lost to the virus. He laid out an extensive proposal for universal preschool, two years of free community college, $ 225 billion for child care and monthly payments of at least $ 250 to parents. His ideas target frailties that were uncovered by the pandemic, and he argues that economic growth will best come from taxing the rich to help the middle class and the poor.

Biden’s speech also provided an update on combating the COVID-19 crisis he was elected to tame, showcasing hundreds of millions of vaccinations and relief checks delivered to help offset the devastation wrought by a virus that has killed more than 573,000 people in the United States. He also championed his $ 2.3 trillion infrastructure plan, a staggering figure to be financed by higher taxes on corporations.

His appeals were often emotive and personal, talking about Americans needing food and rental assistance. He also spoke to members of Congress as a peer as much as a president, singling out Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republicans’ leader, to praise him and speaking as one at a professional homecoming.

The GOP members in the chamber largely stayed silent, even refusing to clap for seemingly universal goals like reducing childhood poverty. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina said, in the Republicans’ designated response, that Biden was more rhetoric than action.

“Our president seems like a good man,” Scott said. “But our nation is starving for more than empty platitudes.”

The president spoke against a backdrop of the weakening but still lethal pandemic, staggering unemployment and a roiling debate about police violence against Blacks. He also used his address to touch on the broader national reckoning over race in America, urging legislation be passed by the anniversary of George Floyd’s death next month, and to call on Congress to act on the thorny issues of prescription drug pricing, gun control and modernizing the nation’s immigration system.

In his first three months in office, Biden has signed a $ 1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill – passed without a single GOP vote – and has shepherded direct payments of $ 1,400 per person to more than 160 million households. Hundreds of billions of dollars in aid will soon arrive for state and local governments, enough money that overall U.S. growth this year could eclipse 6% – a level not seen since 1984. Administration officials are betting that it will be enough to bring back all 8.4 million jobs lost to the pandemic by next year.

A significant amount proposed just Wednesday would ensure that eligible families receive at least $ 250 monthly per child through 2025, extending the enhanced tax credit that was part of Biden’s COVID-19 aid. There would be more than $ 400 billion for subsidized child care and free preschool for all 3- and 4-year-olds.

Another combined $ 425 billion would go to permanently reduce health insurance premiums for people who receive coverage through the Affordable Care Act, as well a national paid family and medical leave program. Further spending would be directed toward Pell Grants, historically Black and tribal institutions and to allow people to attend community college tuition-free for two years.

Funding all of this would be a series of tax increases on the wealthy that would raise about $ 1.5 trillion over a decade. Republican lawmakers in Congress so far have balked at the price tags of Biden’s plans, complicating the chances of passage in a deeply divided Washington.


Lemire reported from New York. Associated Press writer Darlene Superville contributed.

Copyright © 2021 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

Author: AP

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