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Biden, Democrats hit gas on push for $15 minimum wage

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By — Kevin Freking, Associated Press

— The Democratic push to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour has emerged as an early flashpoint in the fight for a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package, testing President Joe Biden’s ability to bridge Washington’s partisan divides as he pursues his first major legislative victory.

Biden called for a $15 hourly minimum wage during his campaign and has followed through by hitching it to a measure that, among other things, calls for $1,400 stimulus checks and $130 billion to help schools reopen. Biden argues that anyone who holds a full-time job shouldn’t live in poverty, echoing progressives in the Democratic Party who are fully on board with the effort.

“With the economic divide, I mean, I want to see a $15 minimum wage. It should actually be $20,” said Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich.

Some Republicans support exploring an increase but are uneasy with $15 an hour. They warn that such an increase could lead to job losses in an economy that has nearly 10 million fewer jobs than it did before the pandemic began. Moderates such as Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Rep. Tom Reed of New York are urging Biden to split off the minimum wage hike from COVID-19 talks and deal with it separately.

“The more you throw into this bucket of COVID relief that’s not really related to the crisis, the more you risk the credibility with the American people that you’re really sincere about the crisis,” Reed said. Including the wage increase, Murkowski said, “complicates politically an initiative that we should all be working together to address.”

The resistance from moderates has left Democrats with a stark choice: Wait and build bipartisan support for an increase or move ahead with little to no GOP backing, potentially as part of a package that can pass the Senate with Vice President Kamala Harris’ tiebreaking vote. Democratic leaders appear to be moving toward the latter option, with no guarantee of success. Even if raising the wage can get past procedural challenges, passage will require the support from every Democrat in the 50-50 Senate, which could be a tall order.

Leading the charge is Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who unveiled $15 wage legislation this week with the backing of 37 Senate Democrats. His bill would gradually raise the wage to $15 over a period of five years. The federal minimum is $7.25 and has not been raised since 2009.

Sanders, the incoming chair of the Senate Budget Committee, said it was fine with him if Republicans were not prepared to “come on board.” He said the government needed to pump money into the economy to make sure “people are not working on starvation wages.”

Democrats are moving toward using a tool that allows certain budget-related items to bypass the Senate filibuster — a hurdle requiring 60 votes — and pass with a simple majority. Sanders is confident that a minimum wage increase fits within the allowed criteria for what is referred to in Washington lingo as budget reconciliation, though the Senate parliamentarian has final say on what qualifies.

“As you will recall, my Republican colleagues used reconciliation to give almost $2 trillion in tax breaks to the rich and large corporations in the midst of massive income inequality. They used reconciliation to try to repeal the Affordable Care Act and throw 32 million people off the health care they had. They used reconciliation to allow for drilling in the Arctic wilderness,” Sanders said. “You know what? I think we can use reconciliation to protect the needs of working families.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said the Senate as early as next week will begin taking the first steps toward getting the COVID-19 relief bill passed through the budget reconciliation process. The goal would be passage by March.

The latest sign that a $15 minimum wage is popular with voters came in November, when more than 60% of voters in conservative-leaning Florida approved an amendment to the state’s Constitution that will raise the minimum wage there from $8.56 an hour to $15 an hour by 2026.

The House passed legislation to gradually increase the minimum wage in the last Congress, but it went nowhere in the GOP-controlled Senate. Opponents argue that a large increase in the minimum wage would lead many employers to cut the number of workers they have on their payrolls.

A 2019 study from the Congressional Budget Office projected that an increase to $15 an hour would boost the wages of 17 million Americans. An additional 10 million workers making more than $15 an hour would see a boost as well. However, about 1.3 million workers would lose their jobs.

“There’s no question that raising the minimum wage, especially to $15, will put some small businesses out of business and will cost a lot of low-wage workers their jobs,” said Neil Bradley, the chief policy officer at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Bradley said there should be a separate debate on the minimum wage, and while the U.S. Chamber of Commerce opposes $15 an hour, “we’re open to a reasonable increase in the minimum wage and that ought to be a topic of discussion. But, you know, including that in the COVID package just imperils the whole thing.”

Mary Kay Henry, international president of the Service Employees International Union, said that increasing the minimum wage would benefit many of the people who have been working on the front lines of the pandemic. That’s why she supports including it in the COVID-19 relief package.

“They’ve been called essential, but they all believe they’ve been treated as expendable or sacrificial because they don’t earn enough to be able to put food on the table and keep themselves and their families safe and healthy,” Henry said.

Henry says nursing home workers, janitors, security guards and home health workers are among the union’s 2 million members.

“The real way to appreciate this work is to raise the minimum wage to $15,” she said.

Most states also have minimum wage laws. Employees generally are entitled to the higher of the two minimum wages. Currently, 29 states and Washington, D.C., have minimum wages above the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.

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Zambia’s Hakainde Hichilema sworn in as President in rare victory for an African opposition leader

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Zambia’s newly-elected president, Hakainde Hichilema, has been sworn into office after pulling off a stunning rare victory for an African opposition leader.

Hichilema was inaugurated Tuesday morning at a ceremony attended by leaders such as Tanzania President Samia Suluhu Hassan and Malawi leader Lazarus Chakwera.

Zambia’s second female Vice President Mutale Nalumango was also sworn in during the ceremony.

Hichilema defeated outgoing President Edgar Lungu in a landslide by almost one million votes in his sixth attempt at becoming ruler of Zambia.

It was a stunning turnaround for the politician known as HH — Hichilema spent several months in prison in 2017 for what were widely seen as politically motivated treason charges. The charges were dropped under intense international pressure.

After initially indicating he may challenge the result, Lungu addressed the nation following the elections, saying: “Based on the revelations issued at final results, I will comply with the constitutional provisions for a peaceful transition of power.

Despite conceding defeat early, Lungu was booed by some of the crowd as he made his way to the stage at the packed Heroes stadium in the capital Lusaka to hand over power.

Hichilema called Tuesday “a new dawn in Zambia,” in a tweet ahead of the ceremony. “As I sit here in our vehicle being driven to Heroes Stadium, I see the love, the joy and the jubilation as people line the streets on our way. I’m overwhelmed with gratitude. I love you all so much,” he added.

An example for Africa

Opposition leaders from other African countries were also invited to the event.

Nelson Chamisa, opposition leader in Zimbabwe, told CNN: “This is a significant and fantastic for what is possible for the future of Africa. Zambia is an inspiration to stubborn laggards in democracy. Strong institutions are key for effective power transfer and smooth transitions,” he said in a statement when asked about the significance of today’s inauguration.

Chamisa added that Zambia is an excellent example to be emulated on the continent.

“Africa in general and Zimbabwe in particular needs leaders not rulers, strong institutions – not strong men. Leaders must lead and leave, serve and go. Zimbabwe must be free and Democratic. Freedom can be delayed but never denied,” he said when asked what the message for Zimbabwe is.

It is the third time that power has shifted peacefully from a ruling party to the opposition since the southern African country’s independence from Britain in 1964.

There was a huge turnout of mostly young people, some who came dressed in their academic robes to protest lack of employment post graduation.

Joseph Kalimbwe, a youth representative of Hichilema’s UPND party told CNN

Young people gave us the vote. Four million young people between the ages of 18 to 24 registered to vote. It was a huge turnout and it was very personal to them. They want to ensure the mistakes of their parents were corrected. They have voted for our leader on basis he has better policies and ideas and can strengthen our state institutions.”

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Zambia’s Opposition Leader Hichilema Wins Presidential Election At 6th Attempt

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Business tycoon and opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema was declared winner of Zambia’s hotly contested presidential election, defeating incumbent Edgar Lungu.

With 155 of 156 constituencies reporting, official results on Monday showed Hichilema had secured 2,810,757 votes against Lungu’s 1,814,201.

“I therefore declare the said Hakainde Hichilema to be president-elect of the Republic of Zambia,” electoral commission chairman Justice Esau Chulu said in a televised address.

The significant win sparked celebrations on the streets after an election marred by sporadic violence.

Hichilema, a former chief executive officer at an accounting firm before he entered politics, faces a daunting task turning around the economic fortunes of one of the world’s poorest countries.

Al Jazeera’s Haru Mutasa, reporting from the capital Lusaka, said many of the voters were young people.

“They say this was a protest vote, a protest for hope and a protest for change,” she said.

The election marked the sixth time Hichilema had run for the top job and the third time he had challenged 64-year-old incumbent Lungu.

In 2016, he narrowly lost to Lungu by about 100,000 votes.

Lungu, who has been in office for six years, faced the electorate amid growing resentment about the rising cost of living and crackdowns on dissent in the southern African country.

Hichilema enjoyed the backing of 10 opposition parties at Thursday’s vote under the banner of his United Party for National Development (UPND), the largest opposition in Zambia.

Lungu began crying foul before a winner was declared, claiming the election was neither free nor fair due to incidents of violence reported in what are traditionally Hichilema’s stronghold.

In a statement issued through the president’s office, he alleged that his party’s polling agents were attacked and chased from voting stations.

Officials from Hichilema’s UPND party dismissed Lungu’s statement as emanating from people “trying to throw out the entire election just to cling on to their jobs”.

In terms of the law, if Lungu wants to settle a dispute or nullify elections, he must approach the Constitutional Court within seven days to lodge a complaint after a winner is announced.

International election observers have commended the transparent and peaceful organisation of the polls, but condemned the restrictions on freedom of assembly and movement during the election campaign.

Security forces blocked Hichilema from campaigning in several areas citing breaches of coronavirus measures and a public order act.

Turnout at the polls was estimated at just more than 70 percent.

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IPOB Leader’s Arrest: UK Asks for Clarification, May Provide Support for Kanu

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Kanu
• Respect Kanu’s rights, Abaribe tells FG
• HURIWA asks court to impose gag order against govt officials
The British Government has said it would provide consular assistance for the arrested leader of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu. This was disclosed yesterday by the Head of Communications, British High Commission in Nigeria, Dean Hurlock.As controversies and speculations raged over where and how Kanu was arrested and extradited to the country on Sunday, the British High Commission had earlier dispelled rumours he was arrested in the United Kingdom (UK), where he was based before his arrest in 2015.

Hurlock had said: “We are aware of reports that Nnamdi Kanu has been detained in Nigeria by the Federal Government. We can confirm that Kanu was not arrested in the UK for extradition purposes.”

Kanu, who was born on September 25, 1967, is a holder of Nigerian and British passports. Upon his arrest and extradition from a foreign country, he was arraigned before Justice Binta Nyako of the Federal High Court in Abuja on Tuesday for terrorism-related charges and has since been remanded in the custody of the Department of State Services (DSS).

Hurlock continued: “The British High Commission in Abuja is currently in the process of seeking clarification from the Nigerian government about the circumstances of the arrest.

With regard to any questions about whether the British High Commission are providing assistance in this case, we can confirm that the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office stands ready to provide consular assistance,” the British official said, adding that the British Government “expects any trial or legal proceedings to follow due process.”

When prodded on the “consular assistance”, the British official made reference to the UK manual on ‘Support for British nationals abroad: A guide’.

The document reads in part: “We can offer you information about the local prison or remand system, including visiting arrangements, mail and censorship, privileges, work possibilities, and social and welfare services. We can also explain where there are different regulations for remand prisoners and sentenced prisoners. For example, in some countries, prisoners are allowed to send more mail when they are on remand.

“We cannot get you out of prison or detention, nor can we get special treatment for you because you are British. If however you are not treated in line with internationally accepted standards, we will consider approaching local authorities. This may include if your trial does not follow internationally recognised standards for a fair trial or is unreasonably delayed compared to local cases. With your permission, we can consider taking up a complaint about ill treatment, personal safety, or discrimination with the police or prison authorities.

“If you are a dual British national in the country of your other nationality (for example, a dual Nigerian-British national in Nigeria), we would not normally offer you support or get involved in dealings between you and the authorities of that state. We may make an exception to this rule if, having looked at the circumstances of the case, we consider that you are vulnerable and we have humanitarian concerns. We would not normally attend a court case involving a British national, and we cannot influence the outcome of any trial,” it added.

The Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami, on Tuesday said that the IPOB leader was “intercepted through the collaborative efforts of Nigerian intelligence and security services.”

Though he did not state where the separatist leader was arrested, but there had been reports that Kanu was lured to an African country with a promise of cash donations and was then picked up.
Security sources said he was tracked through some IPOB members who were recently arrested following a massive military operation in the Southeast.

However, Kingsley Kanu, brother of Nnamdi Kanu, yesterday said the separatist leader was arrested in Kenya. In a statement, Kingsley said his brother was detained while visiting Kenya and “handed over to the Nigerian authorities who then flew him to Nigeria.”

Kingsley said Kanu has been “subjected to the most serious violations of international law because of his quest for self-determination. My brother has been subject to extraordinary rendition by Kenya and Nigeria. They have violated the most basic principles of the rule of law. Extraordinary rendition is one of the most serious crimes states can commit. Both Nigeria and Kenya must be held to account. I demand justice for my brother,” he said.

Also, IPOB yesterday stated that its leader was “abducted” by the Federal Government, insisting that it would hold the government responsible should anything untoward happen to him. It reaffirmed its commitment to the restoration of Biafra republic, stressing that the arrest and prosecution of Kanu would not end the struggle, even as the group said its members would be mobilised across the globe to attend the next court hearing date on July 26.

Admitting for the first time to the arrest of Kanu in a statement signed by its Media and Publicity Secretary, Emma Powerful, IPOB promised to provide details of the said “abduction” of its leader by the Nigerian government and her security agencies.

THE Minority Leader of the Senate, Enyinnaya Abaribe, has advised the Federal Government to apply caution and strict adherence to the rule of law in handling the issue of Kanu. The Senator, who stood surety for Kanu when he was first arraigned in 2015, said this in a statement by his Media Adviser, Uchenna Awom, on Wednesday.

The Senator also advised the Federal Government to be guided by the provisions of Section 31 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended. He added that the government should also consider Article 4 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights as it detains and re-arraign Kanu in court for the continuation of his trial.

Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) has also urged President Muhammadu Buhari to urgently call his aides and officials to order to avoid causing social upheavals over the re-arrest of the IPOB leader.

According to HURIWA’s convener, Emmanuel Onwubiko, right thinking members of the global community see Kanu as a prisoner of conscience. The rights group warned security forces not to put the life of Kanu in danger in the same way that the then political prisoner, MKO Abiola was poisoned.

(The Guardian)

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