Georgia Governor Appoints Financial Executive Over Trump Ally to Fill Senate Seat

Georgia’s governor choose a wealthy businesswoman over a key Trump ally to fill an upcoming vacancy in the U.S. Senate.

Republican Governor Brian Kemp announced his selection of businesswoman Kelly Loeffler on Wednesday. Trump allies in the state wanted the governor to appoint Representative Doug Collins, one of U.S. President Donald Trump’s staunchest defenders in the House Judiciary Committee that is overseeing the impeachment inquiry.

House Judiciary Committee ranking member Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., talks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Dec. 4, 2019.

The selection is believed to be an appeal to moderate suburban voters in the state of Georgia. Loeffler’s supporters believe she can appeal to women and suburban Atlanta voters, who have drifted from the party since Trump’s election.

Some Republican leaders pushed for the appointment of Collins instead due to his strong support for Trump, gun rights and anti-abortion efforts.

The businesswoman attempted to bring in support from the president during her remarks after the announcement. “I make no apologies for my conservative values,” she said, “and will proudly support President Trump’s conservative judges.”

Loeffler will succeed three-term Senator Johnny Isakson, who is stepping down at the end of the month because of his health. Isakson was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2015 and recently underwent surgery to remove a cancerous growth from one of his kidneys.

Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., walks to the Senate floor to give his farewell speech Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019 in Washington, on…
FILE – Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., walks to the Senate floor to give his farewell speech on Capitol Hill in Washington, Dec. 3, 2019.

The financial executive will serve for the final two years of Isakson’s term until the November 2020 special election. Also on next year’s ballot will be Republican Senator David Perdue, who is running for a second full term.

Loeffler’s appointment has been strongly supported by Senate GOP leadership. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said she was a “terrific appointment.”

Loeffler’s background

Loeffler is the co-owner of the Atlanta Dream professional women’s basketball franchise and CEO of financial services company Bakkt, which offers a regulated market for the cryptocurrency Bitcoin.

She was previously an executive at Atlanta-based financial trading platform Intercontinental Exchange, which was founded by her husband, Jeff Sprecher.

Intercontinental Exchange owns the New York Stock Exchange. Her company Bakkt is a subsidiary of Intercontinental Exchange.

Democrats hope to break the GOP’s hold on the Deep South in 2020 when both senate seats are up for grabs during a presidential election year.

Georgia is undergoing demographic changes making the state less rural and more diverse, which could make the state more competitive for Democrats than it has in the past.
 

Iran President: Tehran Hasn’t Closed Window on Talks With US

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani says Tehran hasn’t closed the window on talks with the U.S. but reiterated his government’s standing condition that the Trump administration lift sanctions imposed on Iran before any negotiations can take place.

Rouhani’s statement was posted on the Iranian presidency’s website Wednesday. It quoted him as saying there’s no barrier from the Iranian side for meeting with the heads of 5+1 nations.

That’s a reference to the U.N. Security Council’s five permanent members, including the U.S.

Rouhani says that “whenever the U.S. lifts the unfair sanctions, the heads of 5+1 nations can immediately meet and we have no problem” with that.

He said Iran has no other option but to defy those who imposed sanctions on Tehran, “but we have not closed the window on talks.”
 

Report: US Life Expectancy Declines

A new study is sounding the alarm on the decline in life expectancy in the United States. Based on the data analysis report, life expectancy had increased by almost 10 years over the course of nearly six decades — from close to 70 years old to just shy of 79 years — but it has dropped for 3 consecutive years since 2014. VOA Correspondent Mariama Diallo spoke to the co-author of the study and has this report.

Rosa Parks Statue to be Unveiled Sunday

A new statue of civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks will stand in downtown Montgomery.

The city said the statue will be unveiled Sunday at 1 p.m. at Montgomery Plaza at the Court Street Fountain.

The unveiling coincides with the anniversary of Parks’ historic Dec. 1, 1955 arrest for refusing to give up her seat on a public bus to a white man. Her arrest sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott, a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement.

FILE - The statue of African-American civil rights activist Rosa Parks is seen in Statuary Hall on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., Dec. 1, 2014,
FILE – The statue of African-American civil rights activist Rosa Parks is seen in Statuary Hall on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., Dec. 1, 2014,

There will also be four granite markers to honor the plaintiffs in Browder v. Gayle – the landmark case that ruled segregation on Montgomery buses unconstitutional.

The civil rights memorials are a partnership among the city and county, the Alabama tourism department and the Montgomery Area Business Committee for the Arts.

Senate Puts Money, Muscle Behind Savanna’s Act

A bill originally meant to help law enforcement investigate cold cases of murdered and missing indigenous women that has floundered in Congress for two years may have the missing ingredients to become law — money and muscle.

The money comes from an appropriations subcommittee chaired by Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who told The Associated Press that for the first time funds are being directed specifically to murdered and missing indigenous people. The muscle comes from the White House and specifically the Department of Justice, which last week unveiled a plan that would investigate issues raised in the bill like data collection practices and federal databases.

It adds up to a strong outlook for Savanna’s Act, which was originally introduced in 2017 by Murkowski, Democratic Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Mastro and former North Dakota Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp. Murkowski and Heitkamp, longtime allies on issues affecting indigenous people, also created the Commission on Native Children, which recently held its first meeting.

“The great thing about Lisa’s work has been her willingness to not just pass this law but make sure there’s an appropriation for it,” Heitkamp said Friday.

Savanna Greywind

The bill is named for Savanna Greywind, a Native American North Dakota woman who was killed in 2017 when her baby was cut from her womb. The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, chaired by North Dakota Republican John Hoeven, earlier this month advanced another version of bill to the full Senate for consideration.

Gloria Allred, an attorney for Greywind’s family, said they are “encouraged by what appears to be the strong efforts of U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s commitment to gather support for this bill in order for it to be signed into law one day.”

Savanna’s Act passed the Senate in 2018 but was blocked in the House by former Virginia Rep. Bob Goodlatte because he said it would hurt some agencies that have no link to tribal communities. Heitkamp said a new companion piece to the bill, the Not Invisible Act, has helped broaden the scope of the initiative and address concerns raised by Goodlatte.

“We are making some headway,” Murkowski said. “Not fast enough, but I think we’re making the efforts that are going to make a difference in the long haul. The legislative initiatives that we have used have successfully raised the issue of awareness.”

Savanna’s Act was introduced in the House earlier this year. Three of its co-sponsors are Native American — Sharice Davids of Wisconsin and Tom Cole and Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma.

Elite US Climber Gobright Dies Rappelling Down Rock Face

California rock climber Brad Gobright reportedly reached the top of a highly challenging rock face in northern Mexico and was rappelling down with a companion when he fell to his death.

Climber Aidan Jacobson of Phoenix, Arizona, told Outside magazine he was with Gobright, and said they had just performed an ascent of the Sendero Luminoso route in the El Potrero Chico area near the northern city of Monterrey. Jacobson also fell, but a shorter distance, after something went wrong in the “simul-rappelling” descent, the magazine said.

The technique involves two climbers balancing each other’s weight off an anchor point. In online forums, many climbers described the technique as difficult and potentially dangerous.

Civil defense officials in Nuevo Leon state said Gobright, 31, fell about 300 meters (328 yards) to his death on Wednesday. The magazine account described the fall as 600 feet (about 200 meters). Jacobson suffered minor injuries, officials said.

Gobright’s body was recovered Thursday. The publication Rock and Ice described Gobright as “one of the most accomplished free solo climbers in the world.”

Friends on Friday described him as a dedicated climber who would travel the West Coast, living out of his Honda Civic, following the weather on a diet of gas station food.

“In some ways, I think he was such a fixture of the climbing community and such a big character on the scene, I feel like I’ve always known him,” said his friend Alex Honnold, who was the first person to ascend Yosemite National Park’s granite wall known as El Capitan without ropes or safety gear.

“He spent almost every day of his life doing exactly what he wanted to be doing.”

Jacobson said the pair might not have evened out the length of the 80-meter (88-yard) rope between them, to ensure each had the same amount, because Gobright’s end was apparently tangled in some bushes near a ledge below them.

That might have caused Gobright to essentially run out of rope; without the balancing weight of the other climber, both would fall. Jacobson fell through some vegetation and onto a ledge they were aiming for, injuring his ankle.

The duo did not tie knots at the end of the rope that would have prevented Gobright from rappelling off the end of it, Jacobson told Outside magazine.

Honnold said he’d often climb with Gobright as they discussed weighty topics such as the rise of China and would trade books about the evolution of humankind.

“He was just interested in the world,” Honnold said.

Samuel Crossley, a climber and photographer, said he first met Gobright about three years ago while filming “Safety Third,” a film chronicling Gobright’s life as a free solo climber.

Crossley said Gobright took the photographer’s needs and perspective into his climbs, taking direction well so they could make good photographs during sunrise or sunset that would become some of Crossley’s favorites.

Despite being an elite climber, Crossley said Gobright enjoyed living out of his sedan, noting other elite climbers lived out of vans.

“Brad was Brad, that was the beauty of it,” Crossley said. When you’re hanging out with Brad, you’re typically climbing and having a good time.”

PG&E Says Blackouts Limited Fires Despite 1 Likely Failure

The nation’s largest utility said Friday that its distribution lines have sparked no damaging wildfires since it began repeatedly shutting off power to hundreds of thousands of Northern California customers this fall.

But Pacific Gas & Electric is not ruling out that failed transmission equipment may have started a fire in wine country north of San Francisco that damaged or destroyed more than 400 structures.

Authorities have not determined what sparked the wildfire in Sonoma County last month, but the utility says it had a problem at a transmission tower near where the fire ignited.

It had shut off power to distribution lines to prevent its equipment from igniting wildfires, but left electricity flowing through what it believed were less vulnerable transmission lines. PG&E said in a court filing Friday that it is not aware of similar vulnerable equipment elsewhere.

“In 2019, there have been no fatalities and no structures destroyed in any wildfire that may have been caused by PG&E distribution lines,” the company said.

That’s in sharp contrast to recent years, despite the potential blame it faces for sparking last month’s damaging wildfire.

PG&E acknowledges its equipment caused last year’s Camp Fire that ravaged the Sierra Nevada foothills community of Paradise, destroying nearly 19,000 buildings and killing 85 people.

For 2017, PG&E said it could be held potentially liable for 21 wildfires that combined to destroy 8,900 buildings and killed 44 people.

The utility has faced scathing criticism for shutting off power to millions of people for days at a time to avoid a repeat of those tragedies.

The company declared bankruptcy in January as it faced up to $30 billion in damages from wildfires in 2017 and 2018 that were started by the company’s electrical equipment. Lawyers for wildfire victims and PG&E now are considering whether new claims related to the most recent fire will be included in the bankruptcy case.

U.S. District Judge William Alsup, who is overseeing the utility’s felony probation for a deadly natural gas explosion in 2010, required officials to provide more details Friday about the jumper cable that broke moments before last month’s fire was reported.

The company said the tower with the detached cable, which is a metal connector between an incoming and outgoing electrical line, was last routinely visually inspected from the ground in July, with a drone in May, and by a contractor crew that climbed the tower in February as part of the utility’s wildfire safety inspection program. They spotted no problems with the jumper cables, the company reported.

The judge asked whether the public must now fear that other cables that passed inspection could also still fail.

PG&E said is investigating whether similar issues exist elsewhere but is not currently aware of any other jumper cables that are vulnerable.

The company said it had inspected about 750,000 distribution and transmission structures in high-risk areas and “repaired or made safe all of the highest-priority conditions” by September, before last month’s fire.

That included repairing two “Priority Code ‘A’ conditions relating to jumper cables on transmission structures.” It said it is incorporating lessons learned from the wildfire safety inspection program into its regularly scheduled inspection and maintenance program.

Ex-Con Beautifies Chicago Neighborhood

Home foreclosures hit low-income neighborhoods in the United States particularly hard during the 2008 financial crisis, which triggered a severe economic recession.  Local groups, government funding, and people determined to bring change now work to rebuild those communities.  As VOA’s Arash Arabasadi reports, a convicted killer is a big part of that effort in Chicago’s famed South Side