Gather Hundreds

Hundreds gather in Portland for far-right Proud Boys rally – Al Jazeera English

The US city has for months been the site of protests that have at times devolved into clashes and deadly violence.

Hundreds of supporters of the far-right Proud Boys group have begun to descend on Portland, Oregon on Saturday, as police prepare for clashes in a city that has become the epicentre of continuing racial justice protests that have at times devolved into deadly violence.

The state’s governor, Kate Brown, declared a weekend state of emergency for the city, saying Friday that “white supremacist groups” were travelling from out of state to attend an event the Proud Boys say was organised to “end domestic terrorism”.

Under the emergency declaration, a state and local law enforcement task force is authorised to use “proportional force”, including tear gas, to keep the peace. The city’s mayor had previously banned the use of tear gas by Portland police.

As of noon, several hundred members of the loosely affiliated far-right group had gathered in Delta Park, with many carrying guns, knives, batons, baseball bats, and magazine clips, according to the Oregonian news website. Many wore clothes supportive of US President Donald Trump.

Two small counter demonstrations had formed nearby, but organisers of those gatherings told the Oregonian that they had no plans to interact with the Proud Boys rally.

While video on social media showed members of the Proud Boys confronting people accused of being associated with Antifa, an anti-fascist movement, no clashes were immediately reported.

Local and state leaders had decried the planned rally on Saturday, saying in a letter to the community that many participants aligned with the Proud Boys have openly discussed tactical operations and military-style formations and planned to cause chaos and violence.

“The event poses a physical danger to Portland residents, as clearly shown by the organisers’ long track record of assaults, confrontations, and threats against elected officials and the citizenry of Portland,” the letter said.

“We clearly state, once again, that law enforcement do not want or need any help from paramilitaries or vigilante groups.”

Hate group

Portland has become a magnet for right-wing counter-protesters following four months of anti-fascist and Black Lives Matter demonstrations against police violence and racism, initially sparked by the police-involved death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, in Minnesota in May.

The pro-Trump, pro-gun rights Proud Boys publicly denounce violence, but members wearing trademark black-and-yellow polo shirts often brawl with left-wing opponents at rallies.

Clashes between left- and right-wing groups have escalated across the United States since mid-August.

The most recent incident involved a self-declared anti-fascist fatally shooting a right-wing Patriot Prayer member in Portland on August 29. Four days earlier, a vigilante armed with a semiautomatic weapon killed two protesters and wounded another in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

Trump, who has made “law and order” a principal theme of his re-election bid, has singled out Portland as one of several Democratic-led cities he says are “anarchist jurisdictions” that should have their federal funding cut.

His Democratic challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden, said Trump’s rhetoric has further stoked the violence.

The men-only Proud Boys group describes itself as a fraternal organisation that is “anti-racism” and “anti-political correctness”.

Civil rights group Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) classifies the Proud Boys as a hate group, citing its members’ anti-Muslim and misogynist rhetoric.



Al Jazeera, News Agencies

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Hundreds South

Hundreds of South Carolina college students busted at massive pool party – New York Post

August 30, 2020 | 10:49pm | Updated August 31, 2020 | 8:48am

Hundreds of raucous party-goers crammed into a pool area near the University of South Carolina over the weekend in violation of coronavirus rules, authorities said.

The Columbia Fire Department said it broke up the massive bash around 6 p.m. Saturday after receiving calls from concerned neighbors, The State reported.

“It was almost like Mardi Gras,” Fire Chief Aubrey Jenkins told the newspaper.

The pool at The Apartments at Palmetto Compress was packed with revelers, who also crowded the side of the swimming area and even stood on top of the pool house, the fire chief said.

No one was practicing social distancing or wearing a mask, Jenkins said, “but there was lots of drinking going on.”

Even without the raging pandemic, “there still would have been too many people in the pool,” Jenkins said.

When officials ordered the party-goers to scram, the chief said, he was shocked that one person told him, “I can’t catch COVID. I’m immune to the stuff.”

The pool area at the apartment complex — which advertises as being “just steps from the University of South Carolina” — was shuttered until fire officials can verify its capacity.

Jenkins said he would recommend keeping the pool shut for the foreseeable future as a safety precaution during the virus outbreak.

The revelers were let off with a warning, and no fines were issued. Not wearing a mask is a civil infraction punishable by a fine of up to $25 in the city of Columbia.

USC said it was glad that authorities had busted the pool party.

“We’ve done a lot of outreach to try and get the students to do the right thing,” spokesman Jeff Stensland told the newspaper. “Just because a pool is there, you don’t have to swim in it.”

In the week since USC’s fall semester started on Aug. 20, at least 620 students have tested positive for COVID-19, the university said.

Six sorority houses in the school’s Greek Village were quarantined after several people in each house were infected with the virus, according to The State.

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Hundreds Protesters

Hundreds of protesters gather against new flu vaccine mandate in Massachusetts – ABC News

Demonstrators argued that getting the flu vaccine should be a choice.

August 31, 2020, 12:35 AM

6 min read

Hundreds of people gathered Sunday to protest a new flu vaccine mandate for Massachusetts students, enacted as school districts prepare to reopen during the coronavirus pandemic.

At the demonstration in front of the Massachusetts State House in Boston, protesters — some of them children — held signs that read “Unavoidably unsafe,” “My child, my choice,” “Parents call the shots” and “I am not a threat.” “No forced shots” was written in chalk in front of the statehouse. Many demonstrators were not wearing masks or social distancing, according to photos and videos taken of the event.

The protest follows an Aug. 19 announcement from state officials that influenza immunization will be required for all children ages 6 months or older who are attending Massachusetts child care, pre-school, kindergarten, and K-12. Full-time undergraduate and graduate students under 30 and all full and part-time health science students attending school in the state must also get the vaccine.

Several protesters said that the flu shot should be a choice — an argument frequently used against mask mandates, including in schools — due to the pandemic.

“The flu vaccine should not be a mandate. It should be a choice,” Jessica Marchant told ABC Boston affiliate WCVB.

Other protesters told the station they believe state officials are “taking advantage” of the fear caused by the virus.

“I think parents are vulnerable right now. They need their kids to go to school and they backed us into a corner,” Taryn Proulx told WCVB. “We feel like we have to just comply or rearrange our whole lives and homeschool our children.”

The mandate comes as experts are bracing for what some have called a “twindemic” of COVID-19 and the flu. Children are more vulnerable to the seasonal flu than COVID-19, medical experts told ABC News. Those under 5 years old are at the highest risk of developing serious flu-related complications, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“It is more important now than ever to get a flu vaccine because flu symptoms are very similar to those of COVID-19 and preventing the flu will save lives and preserve health care resources,” Dr. Larry Madoff, medical director of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s Bureau of Infectious Disease and Laboratory Sciences, said in a statement announcing the flu requirement.

Under the mandate, students must now receive the vaccine annually by Dec. 31. Medical or religious exemptions are allowed. Home-schooled or off-campus college students are also exempt. Elementary and secondary students who are remote are not exempt.

A majority of school districts in the state, including Boston, plan to reopen in the coming weeks with hybrid learning, according to an analysis by WCVB.

Massachusetts has some of the highest vaccination rates in the country. During the 2018-2019 flu season, 81% of children ages 6 months to 17 years and 53.5% of adults got the vaccine, according to the CDC.

Massachusetts is the first state to mandate the flu vaccine for all children and joins a handful of states that already require it for child care and/or preschool enrollees, according to research by the Immunization Action Coalition.

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    ABC News

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    Hundreds Thousands

    Hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops usually cast ballots by mail. This year could be more complicated, Pentagon office says. – The Washington Post

    As the partisan fight over mail-in voting intensifies ahead of the November presidential election, hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops and their families are preparing, as they have for decades, to cast absentee ballots by mail.

    Defense Department officials say the delivery of ballots cast by troops at military installations across the United States and far-flung locations around the globe should not be significantly affected by recent U.S. Postal Service changes and an expected crush of mail-in voting because of the coronavirus pandemic.

    According to Peter Graeve, chief of plans and policy for the Military Postal Service Agency (MPSA), ballots completed by service members, their family members and military contractors overseas between Sept. 1 and Dec. 8 will receive a USPS express mail label for expedited handling.

    The average transit time to voting centers in the United States — whether ballots are sent from giant citylike bases in Germany or tiny outposts in the Syrian desert — should be six days, Graeve said.

    But a Pentagon office dedicated to facilitating voting for troops and other Americans overseas has cautioned that remote voting could be more complicated this year.

    “Communication with the voter is more important now than ever,” the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) said in a recent covid-19 update on its website, urging election officials to communicate potential options to voters to ensure that ballots arrive in time. “Due to international airport interruptions, many military and overseas voters will face greater-than-normal challenges with returning mail back to the United States in a timely fashion,” it said.

    Lisa Lawrence, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said mail, including ballots, had “continued to move to overseas military personnel regardless of international postal disruptions.”

    But, she added, “slight delays have occurred and the Military Postal Service Agency continues to monitor conditions globally with specific attention given to balloting materials.”

    The military’s ability to ensure that service members can successfully vote is under heightened scrutiny as the U.S. Postal Service warns that some of the ballots Americans cast by mail may not arrive in time to be counted.

    Military personnel, including those who are located within the United States but outside their state of residence, have been taking part in U.S. elections on an absentee basis since as early as the War of 1812 and, in greater numbers, the Civil War, according to the National Postal Museum.

    In the 2016 election, service members and their families sent more than 633,000 ballots to their home jurisdictions. About 20,000 of those were rejected, half because they weren’t received in time. The number of absentee ballots sent to service members and their families increased by nearly a quarter between the 2012 and 2016 elections.

    The successful delivery of those ballots to voting centers relies on a vast logistical operation overseen largely by the MPSA, which is run by the Army but provides service for all troops and their families overseas.

    According to an overview provided by MPSA, mail processed at the service’s network of overseas post offices is taken by commercial or military aircraft to military mail terminals, then flown by commercial or military aircraft to airports or bases in the United States.

    A defense official said service members stationed in Afghanistan, for example, would take their ballot to the base post office, where they would not be charged for express mail handling. The ballot, along with other mail, would then be taken to Bagram air base, the main air hub for foreign forces in the country, where it would be loaded on the next commercially contracted flight. After a likely layover in Bahrain, the mail would arrive in New York, where it would be handed over to the Postal Service, the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.

    The Postal Service picks up military mail flown to U.S. bases, but commercial air carriers transport the military mail they handle to Postal Service processing facilities. In both cases, the mail — including service members’ ballots — is then moved onward as part of the Postal Service’s mail chain.

    Service members voting in some states and jurisdictions can sidestep that process and submit their absentee ballot by fax or email, if permitted by their state or jurisdiction.

    Before any of that can happen, they must ensure they are registered to vote and request an absentee ballot, which can be done by different means according to their state or territory.

    Lawrence said service members are briefed on voting before being deployed overseas.

    “This affords an opportunity for personnel to complete a Federal Post Card Application prior to deployment,” she said, or submit a write-in ballot depending on the length of their deployment.

    Officials said service members have the option of filling out a write-in “backup” ballot if their requested ballot does not arrive in time, which can be submitted according to rules of their voting jurisdiction.

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