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California county questions security deal for men-only club
By SAMANTHA MALDONADO | Mon, June 10, 2019 07:56 EDT
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — An annual retreat in California put on by an elite club whose ranks include former Presidents Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon and powerful business leaders is facing scrutiny for excluding women after female county supervisors questioned whether they should continue allowing sheriff’s deputies to provide security for the event.
When the previously routine issue came up in a meeting last week, Sonoma County Supervisor Shirlee Zane scribbled a note then read it out loud: “How can we contract tax-funded services with a club that openly discriminates against women?”
After 11 years on the board and in the third year of its female majority, Zane was finally inspired to speak up, though she said she has long questioned the exclusivity of the Bohemian Grove campouts that have been held at the private Sonoma County site for nearly all of the club’s 147-year history.
“Women’s rights are being shredded throughout the country and we are kept out of decision-making,” Zane said. “This is another way it’s happening in our own backyard.”
The event from July 10-28 is for members of the Bohemian Club, headquartered in San Francisco. It maintains a confidential membership list and has long had a reputation for secrecy.
Founded by journalists and artists in 1872, the club grew to include presidents as well as various FBI and CIA directors and titans of business.
Women can enter the club’s headquarters, but they are barred from the annual July encampment where men reportedly relax, perform skits and take part in a ceremony called Cremation of Care , where they burn an effigy.
“You get up there in the redwoods … you talk and you drink and you tell dirty stories,” club member and former California Gov. Edmund G. Brown Sr. told The Associated Press in 1987.
The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors has approved the security contract for the retreat without fanfare for the past 14 years.
But last week, after Zane spoke up, Supervisor Lynda Hopkins also jumped on board in questioning the arrangement.
Hopkins is the first woman to represent her district, which includes Bohemian Grove, making her the first supervisor she knows about who has not attended the retreat.
“Bohemian Grove has always been a strange anachronism in my district,” she said. “It’s 2,700 acres of mystery I haven’t been allowed to set foot on.”
Supervisors asked county attorneys to study whether the event is discriminatory and postponed a decision on security until Tuesday.
“Just because we provide a law enforcement service for them is not an endorsement of what they do,” Sheriff Mark Essick said. “To put this on hold at the last second is really going to hamper my ability to deliver services.”
The contract for about $151,000 includes having the sheriff staff the entrance with two to six deputies to deal with protesters or trespassers and respond if needed to emergencies.
Protesters have gathered outside Bohemian Grove for years to rail against what they see as world-controlling elites and conspiracy theories. Less focus has been paid to the gender exclusivity of the event.
Without a county security contract, the Bohemian Club could pay a less expensive private company for the service, and the county would be obligated to provide emergency services if needed.
County Supervisor David Rabbitt said it doesn’t make sense to bypass potential revenue.
“I understand the controversy,” he said. However, the board has little leverage when it comes to changing membership rules or other aspects of the club, he added.
For Hopkins and Zane, it’s about the principle. They fear contracting with the club sends a message that Sonoma County, which takes pride in its progressive stances, condones keeping women out of positions of power.
“The dominant white male power structure is very much alive and well in Sonoma County, and Bohemian Grove is very emblematic of that,” Hopkins said. “They are continuing to dominate that powerful sphere and exclude women, developing relationships with powerful people that women don’t have access to.”
Representatives from Singer Associates, a public relations firm that represents the Bohemian Club, did not respond to calls seeking comment.
Most major American cities are home to at least one exclusive social group similar to the Bohemian Club, but many traditionally male-only organizations such as golf clubs and service clubs have opened their ranks to women in recent years.
Zane said she hopes there’s some movement to open the Bohemian Club as well.
But such changes might not be the highest priority for groups that advocate for women, said Kelly Armstrong, a San Francisco-based employment lawyer focused on workplace discrimination and sexual harassment.
“In the era of #MeToo and Time’s Up, people are focused on bigger fish — that women are treated equally in the workplace or schools or housing,” she said. “Whether men’s-only clubs are not allowing women to partake in their activities is of lower priority.”
EarthLink – News
Timeline: A growing unease in Hong Kong about the future
Tue, June 11, 2019 08:56 EDT
HONG KONG (AP) — A series of steps by the Chinese and Hong Kong governments in recent years have prompted a growing uneasiness among Hong Kong residents about their future, a concern that burst out in a protest by hundreds of thousands of people last weekend.
Many in the semiautonomous Chinese territory worry the freedoms they enjoy under a “one-country, two-systems” framework are being chipped away at, as both governments use carrots and sticks to draw Hong Kong closer to China’s orbit.
The former British colony was returned to China in 1997 under the framework, which guarantees it the right to retain its own social, legal and political systems for 50 years. A look at recent events:
September-December 2014: Protesters seeking direct elections for Hong Kong’s leader lay siege to government headquarters for 79 days but fail to win any concessions. The movement inspires a new generation of political activists but also builds cynicism about the power of popular movements to effect political change.
October 2015: Four people connected with a Hong Kong publisher and bookshop that published books banned in China go missing. A fifth person disappears in December. Chinese authorities later say they were detained for investigations into criminal activity. The case raises questions about freedom of expression in Hong Kong.
July 2017: Carrie Lam becomes Hong Kong’s chief executive, or leader.
January 2018: Gui Minhai, one of the booksellers who disappeared in 2015, is arrested on a train in China while traveling with two Swedish diplomats. Gui, a Swedish citizen, had been released in October 2017.
September 2018: A high-speed rail link opens between Hong Kong and mainland China. Passengers clear Chinese immigration inside the station in Hong Kong, prompting protests from some opposition lawmakers that Chinese law would apply in the immigration area.
September 2018: Hong Kong bans the Hong Kong National Party, which advocates independence for the territory, on national security grounds. The ban is seen as an unprecedented step to quash separatist voices.
October 2018: Hong Kong-based Financial Times editor Victor Mallet has his application to renew his work visa rejected. Authorities won’t say why, but it comes after Mallet introduced the leader of the Hong Kong National Party at a Foreign Correspondents’ Club event in August.
October 2018: China opens a 55-kilometer (34-mile) -long bridge linking Hong Kong and Macau to the mainland. Xi presides over a ceremony to open the link.
February 2019: China announces plans to create a Greater Bay Area encompassing Hong Kong, Macau and neighboring Guandong province in the mainland to foster economic development. The move is seen as an effort to deepen ties among Hong Kong, Macau and the mainland.
April 2019: Lam’s government introduces amendments to Hong Kong’s extradition laws that would allow criminal suspects to be extradited to China. Opponents say the changes would damage the territory’s legal independence and suspects would not be guaranteed fair trials.
April 2019: A Hong Kong court convicts nine leaders of the 2014 pro-democracy demonstrations known as the “Umbrella Movement.” Hong Kong judges were reportedly under pressure from China to hand down heavy sentences to deter future protests.
June 2019: Hundreds of thousands march through central Hong Kong to protest the proposed changes to the extradition laws.
EarthLink – News
Extradition bill pushes Hong Kong to a political crisis
By CHRISTOPHER BODEEN and YANAN WANG 11:44 EDT
HONG KONG (AP) — A highly controversial legislative measure in Hong Kong that would allow criminal suspects to be extradited to mainland China has pushed the former British colony to its biggest political crisis in years.
A march to protest the measure drew hundreds of thousands of people to the streets Sunday and stretched into Monday, with critics of the bill viewing the changes as part of a steady erosion of their civil liberties.
While Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam says the legislation will help the semi-autonomous Chinese territory protect human rights, opponents say the changes would significantly compromise its legal independence, long viewed as one of its key distinctions from mainland China.
“We still feel very different from China,” said retired public servant Ronny Chan, who was watching a soccer game in a park in the Wanchai district. “The politicians in Beijing have no idea about us, and I don’t think they really care.”
In what was likely Hong Kong’s largest protest in more than a decade, hundreds of thousands of people shut down the heart of the skyscraper-studded city on Sunday, three days before the Legislative Council is slated to take up the bill.
Critics believe the legislation would put Hong Kong residents at risk of becoming entrapped in China’s murky judicial system, in which political opponents have been charged with economic crimes or ill-defined national security transgressions. Opponents say that once charged, suspects may face unfair proceedings in a system where the vast majority of criminal trials end in conviction.
“It’s the culmination of about six weeks of mounting concern,” Hong Kong Bar Association Chair Philip Dykes said in an interview. “There is a dissatisfaction with it all.”
Opponents of the amendments are largely drawn from Hong Kong’s middle class, who boast high education levels but have had to contend with skyrocketing housing prices and stalemated incomes.
The demonstrations refocused attention on Hong Kong, whose residents have long bristled at what many see as efforts by Beijing to tighten control. The protests dominated newspaper front pages in a city that allows far more freedom of expression than other parts of China.
Hong Kong was guaranteed the right to retain its own social, legal and political systems for 50 years under an agreement reached before its 1997 return to China from British rule. But China’s ruling Communist Party has been seen as increasingly reneging on that agreement by pushing through unpopular legal changes.
Lam told reporters Monday that the legislation will help Hong Kong uphold justice and fulfill its international obligations. Safeguards added in May will ensure that the legislation protects human rights, she said.
She said the bill seeks to prevent Hong Kong from becoming a haven for fugitives and is not focused on mainland China, adding that Western democracies have accused Hong Kong of failing to address issues such as money laundering and terrorist financing.
The extradition law amendments would allow Hong Kong to send people to mainland China to face charges, spurring criticism that defendants in the Chinese judicial system won’t have the same rights as they would in Hong Kong.
Lam said Sunday’s protest shows Hong Kong’s enduring commitment to its people’s freedoms. She denied that she is taking orders from the central government in China’s capital.
“I have not received any instruction or mandate from Beijing to do this bill,” she said. “We were doing it — and we are still doing it — out of our clear conscience, and our commitment to Hong Kong.”
People of all ages took part in the march. Some pushed strollers while others walked with canes, and chanted slogans in favor of greater transparency in government. The protest was largely peaceful, though there were a few scuffles with police as demonstrators broke through barriers at government headquarters and briefly pushed their way into the lobby. Police in riot gear used batons and tear gas to push the protesters outside.
Three officers and one journalist were injured, according to Hong Kong media reports.
There was a heavy police presence on downtown streets deep into the night. Authorities said 19 people were arrested in connection with the clashes.
Hong Kong currently limits extraditions to jurisdictions with which it has existing agreements or to others on an individual basis under a law passed before 1997. China was excluded because of concerns over its poor record on legal independence and human rights.
In Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said China firmly backs the proposed amendments and opposes “the wrong words and deeds of any external forces” that interfere in Hong Kong’s affairs.
“Certain countries have made some irresponsible remarks” about the legislation, Geng said, without elaborating.
Lam was elected in 2017 by a committee of mostly pro-Beijing Hong Kong elites. Critics have accused her of ignoring widespread opposition to the extradition law amendments.
Agnes Chow, a prominent Hong Kong activist who opposes the bill, said Lam “ignored the anger of more than a million Hong Kong citizens.”
“Not only me, but I believe most Hong Kong people have felt really angry with Carrie Lam’s response to our rally,” Chow told reporters in Tokyo, where she arrived Monday to appeal to Japanese media and politicians.
Wang reported from Beijing. AP video journalist Kaori Hitomi in Tokyo contributed.
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AP Explains: Catalan trial that gripped Spain draws to close
By ARITZ PARRA | Wed, June 12, 2019 04:07 EDT
MADRID (AP) — A dozen politicians and activists on trial for their failed bid in 2017 to carve out an independent Catalan republic in northeastern Spain will deliver their final statements Wednesday as four months of hearings draw to an end.
A verdict isn’t expected for months but, whichever way it goes, it could set the course for the Catalan secession movement and the tone of Spain’s national politics for years to come.
WHAT’S THE TRIAL ABOUT?
Since mid-February, the trial at Spain’s Supreme Court in Madrid has heard testimony from more than 500 witnesses and seen hours of videos from protests that included a police crackdown. It all played out before a live television audience as prosecutors accused the defendants of attempting a coup.
The case covers the months leading up to a banned secession referendum on Oct. 1, 2017, and its aftermath, when separatist lawmakers declared victory and independence, but received no international recognition. The Spanish government dissolved Catalonia’s parliament, removed the region’s Cabinet from office and transferred their duties to Madrid.
The separatists on trial include ex-Catalan vice president Oriol Junqueras; activist-turned-politician Jordi Sánchez, activist Jordi Cuixart and the former speaker of Catalonia’s regional parliament, Carme Forcadell.
The other six men and two women were members of the ousted Cabinet in the wealthy northeastern region.
WHAT ARE THEY FACING?
The defendants have become a powerful symbol for separatists, who see their pre-trial jailing for more than 18 months as unfair. The court says they represent a flight risk because former Catalan regional president Carles Puigdemont and others fled from Spain and have successfully fought extradition.
After more than 50 hearings, state prosecutors in the case are upholding their proposed 25-year sentence for Junqueras if he is convicted of rebellion, which under Spanish law requires proving that violence was used to disrupt the country’s constitutional order. Cuixart, Sánchez and Forcadell face 17 years in prison if they are found guilty.
“We have to call things by their proper name,” Supreme Court prosecutor Javier Zaragoza said last week delivering his final statement. “What the accused were aiming for was a coup d’etat.”
DIVISIONS OVER SEVERITY OF PUNISHMENT
While a far-right party that has played a key role as one of the prosecuting parties has called for harsher sentences, state attorneys who represent the government against the defendants dropped the more serious rebellion charge when a new center-left administration seeking dialogue with Catalan separatists replaced the conservatives last year.
In direct contrast with the public prosecutors, who represent the public interest, state attorneys are calling for a conviction on sedition charges, which could lower prison terms.
On Tuesday, during their final statements, most defense lawyers said their clients should be instead found guilty of disobedience, if anything, which could mean fines and a possible ban from holding public office.
The defendants are also accused of misusing public funds to hold the referendum.
WHY HAS THE TRIAL GRIPPED THE NATION?
People across Spain, and even more earnestly in Catalonia, have followed proceedings for the past few months like a soap opera or a soccer tournament. Analysis of hearings in the media has been amplified with all sorts of comments on social networks.
The publicity has played to both the Catalan separatists, who had wanted to use the trial to present their leaders as political scapegoats in a malfunctioning democracy, as well as a platform to advocate for Catalan self-determination.
The Spanish judiciary has said since the hearings are being broadcast live, it’s allowing the public to scrutinize due process and that transparency will eventually pay off by showing that its decisions are independent from the executive branch.
A STAR JUDGE IS BORN
The magistrate presiding over the panel of seven judges in the case has become a divisive figure, vilified by many separatists while at the same time popular for skillfully carrying the weight of a trial that is testing the judicial system as a whole.
In proceedings, Manuel Marchena has performed a difficult balancing act between courtesy and firmness, flexibility and leniency, while reprimanding all sides at one time or another — sometimes doing it full of irony.
When defense lawyers proposed Puigdemont as a witness, the 59-year-old responded that one “can’t be a witness in the morning and a defendant in the afternoon.”
At the same time, Marchena has also kept the far-right Vox party on a short leash during the prosecution, while telling off prosecutors for not knowing the exact date and locations of videos presented as evidence.
On the political front, tensions between the regional Catalan administration and Spain’s government have receded, but haven’t fully gone away.
No verdict is expected until at least September and the sentences could trigger a new election in Catalonia.
The defendants are already anticipating a lengthy appeals process and warned that they will take the case all the way to the European Court of Human Rights if they exhaust all options in Spain.
In addition, both Junqueras and Puigdemont —who isn’t being tried in the case but remains a fugitive in Spain— have won seats in the European Parliament, although they face legal hurdles to be sworn in as lawmakers.
EarthLink – News
Mom of slain children asks mercy for ex-husband in his trial
By JEFFREY COLLINS 04:15 EDT
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The mother of five children who were killed by their father stunned a South Carolina courtroom Tuesday by asking the jury to spare her ex-husband’s life.
“He did not show my children any mercy by any means. But my kids loved him and if I’m speaking on behalf of my kids and not myself, that’s what I have to say,” Amber Kyzer said on the witness stand.
Under cross-examination by prosecutor Suzanne Mayes she added, “I’ll respect whatever the jury decides.”
Kyzer had been subpoenaed by the defense.
A jury convicted Timothy Jones Jr. of five counts of murder last week for the killings in his Lexington home in August 2014.The same jurors are deciding if he will get the death penalty or life in prison without parole.
Kyzer said while she prays for Jones and personally opposes the death penalty, there have been many moments watching the trial when she wanted to “fry him.”
“I hear what my kids went through and what they endured. And as a mother, if I could personally rip his face off I would. That’s the mom in me. That’s the mama bear,” Kyzer said.
Kyzer first testified last month about a brief phone call just before her children were killed and dissolved into heaving sobs as she read a letter she wrote to her children apologizing for not being there for them after the couple divorced.
On Tuesday, she wept again when recalling her children. But she also sounded adamant and aggravated as she described again how Jones hit her, spit in her face in front of their young daughter and threatened to chop her up and feed her to pigs during their marriage.
And Kyzer, wearing a black dress similar to the one she wore when she first testified, responded to testimony about her over the four weeks of testimony, including that she rarely came to visit her children and she shouldn’t have let them live with Jones.
Kyzer said Jones was a good father throughout their marriage and had an $80,000 a year job as a computer engineer. She said although Jones intentionally made it tough for her to visit her kids by not accommodating her work schedule, she only missed two planned visitations and got her high school diploma and a job because she wanted to show she could support her kids.
Kyzer testified she didn’t want Jones’ family to deal with the pain of losing a son because she lost three of her own in 2014. She said she still has the shirt her 6-year-old son was wearing the last time he saw her and hasn’t washed it in almost five years because it still smells like him.
“If they died thinking I didn’t want them or I didn’t love them, it would kill me,” Kyzer said.
Kyzer’s testimony came after defense lawyers called a social worker to testify about Jones’ chaotic upbringing.
Deborah Grey said Jones’ grandmother was raped by her stepfather and gave birth at age 12 to Jones’ father.
Jones’ mother had schizophrenia and went into a mental institution when Jones was 3. She spent decades there, Grey said.
Her psychiatric records showed she told doctors her father molested her and locked her in a closet with a dead chicken dripping blood on her as part of a voodoo ritual, Grey said.
The social worker detailed three generations of rapes, molestation by family members, gunshots, stabbings, drug deals, voodoo rituals, prostitution, frequent screaming fights and cursing at children and how Jones’ mother dipped him in ice water baths and gave him laxatives to try to make him behave.
Jones’ lawyers are trying to show he struggled from undiagnosed mental illness and cracked after his marriage failed.
Jones said in a confession he felt his 6-year-old Nahtahn was trying to attack him by conspiring with his ex-wife, and he exercised the boy until he collapsed and died after he broke an electrical outlet.
Several hours later, Jones said he decided to kill the other children, strangling 8-year-old Merah and 7-year-old Elias with his hands and using a belt to choke 2-year-old Gabriel and 1-year-old Abigail because his hands were too big.
Prosecutors said Jones was an evil, selfish father who killed Nahtahn in a rage and then the rest of his children because he didn’t want his ex-wife to have them.
Both sides have blamed alcohol and drug use for the killings. Prosecutors said Jones used synthetic marijuana instead of caring for his kids. Defense lawyers said Jones used drugs to try and treat his undiagnosed schizophrenia , but it made the mental condition worse.
Jones was only doing what he saw his father and grandmother and their families do all their lives — self-medicate to deal with what seemed like an endless barrage of sadness and anger, Grey testified.
“They have been through a lot. But there’s a lot of love and a lot of caring between these folks,” Grey said.
The trial is being livestreamed from the Lexington County courthouse.
Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP .