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Hong Kong leader abandons policy speech after heckles from lawmakers

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Hong Kong’s embattled leader abandoned a State of the Union-style speech on Wednesday after she was heckled by rowdy opposition lawmakers during chaotic scenes inside the city’s legislature.

The speech by chief executive Carrie Lam was billed as an attempt to win hearts and minds after four months of seething pro-democracy protests.

Instead, it laid bare the intense polarisation coursing through the semi-autonomous financial hub after weeks of huge and increasingly violent rallies.

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And it was swiftly dismissed by protesters who called for a new rally on Sunday.

Lam, who has historic low approval ratings, tried twice to begin her policy address inside the Legislative Council which had opened for a new session some three months after it was trashed by masked protesters.

But pro-democracy lawmakers, a minority of the pro-Beijing stacked legislature, shouted her down and called for her resignation.

Lam instead released a pre-recorded video, the first time a Hong Kong leader has been unable to deliver the annual address in person since the tradition began in 1948.

In it, she announced plans to increase housing and land supply in a city that has one of the least affordable property markets in the world, as well as various subsidies.

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“I firmly believe that Hong Kong will be able to ride out this storm and move on,” she said.

But the announcement gave no concessions to protesters.

“So much has happened on Hong Kong’s streets over the past four months but Lam has been either hiding in her abyss or acting like a wax figure,” pro-democracy lawmaker Tanya Chan told reporters.

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“We urge Carrie Lam to stop destroying Hong Kong, respond to the five major demands, and step down,” added the Civil Human Right Front, a non-violent protest group behind a series of huge marches earlier in the summer.

The CHRF said it was applying for a police permit to hold a new march on Sunday. Recent requests by the group have been rejected with more hardcore activists instead holding wildcat protests and quickly clashing with police.

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– ‘Following Beijing’s instructions’ –

Willy Lam, a politics expert at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said Lam’s speech would do little to quell protests which are fuelled by years of anger over sliding freedoms and the inability of Hong Kongers to elect their own leaders.

“Carrie Lam is following instructions from Beijing,” he told AFP.

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“Even the economic handouts do not seem to be particularly impressive and they take will take a few years to actually materialise.”

Millions have taken to the streets of Hong Kong, initially against a now-dropped bid by its leaders to allow extraditions to the authoritarian Chinese mainland.

But after Beijing and Lam took a hard line, the movement snowballed into a broader push for democracy and police accountability.

Activists say freedoms are being eroded by Beijing, contrary to a deal that outlined Hong Kong’s 1997 return to China from British colonial rule.

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Protesters have said they will only end their huge rallies if core demands are met, including an independent inquiry into the police, an amnesty for the more than 2,500 people arrested and universal suffrage.

Both Lam and Beijing have repeatedly dismissed those demands and say Hong Kong’s freedoms are being protected.

Lam’s speech comes after the US House of Representatives passed a bill late Tuesday that aims to defend civil rights in Hong Kong and has drawn rare bipartisan support in a polarised Congress.

China, which has accused “external forces” of fuelling weeks of unrest in the city, expressed its “strong indignation” over the bill and told Washington to “stop meddling”.

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Lam accused US lawmakers of “wantonly intervening in Hong Kong’s affairs”.

The Hong Kong Rights and Democracy Act would link the city’s special trading status with the United States to an annual State Department certification that authorities are respecting human rights and the rule of law.

It would also require the US president to identify and sanction the people responsible for the erosion of autonomy and serious abuses of human rights in Hong Kong.

The House also approved a related bill to prohibit the export of certain non-lethal crowd control items such as tear gas to Hong Kong.


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2020 Election

Trump and the GOP have become the party of the dead

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There are few morbid topics subject to greater speculation than the religious loyalty of President Donald Trump's "base." Why an alarmingly large amount of Americans refuse even to entertain any criticism of Trump deserves scrutiny from political scientists, psychologists and perhaps horror novelists working in the school of Edgar Allan Poe.

This article first appeared in Salon.

What is abundantly clear is that no matter who votes for Trump, he and the Republican Party on the national level have no interest in governing on the behalf of living human beings — with the exception of ensuring that a tiny minority of billionaires and multimillionaires enlarge their investment portfolios. Trump evinces no concern for Americans dying of the coronavirus, racist violence or any other malady or injustice. He demonstrates no regard for health care professionals courageously trying to save their patients from dying, and appears cruelly indifferent to the struggles of millions of workers whose livelihoods have been destroyed by COVID-19. Needless to say, Trump also shows contempt for Black Lives Matter, immigrants and anyone who opposes his re-election, which at this moment (and throughout his presidency) is more than half of the American public.

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As coronavirus seizes the state, Florida hospitals are in panic mode

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As Florida experiences a surge in coronavirus cases, the residents of the state are facing obstacles like overwhelmed hospitals and a looming shortage in beds.

This article first appeared in Salon.

There are 47,663 hospital beds in the state right now with 11,782 available (meaning a remaining capacity of 19.82 percent) and a total staffed bed capacity of 59,445, according to the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration's Hospital Bed Capacity Dashboard. The state Department of Health also reported on Friday that, out of 95,300 individuals who received coronavirus test results over the course of the previous day, 11,433 tested positive for COVID-19 (all but 90 of whom were Florida residents), meaning that more than 12 percent of the new cases had positive test results. The state also reported 93 new deaths due to COVID-19. (Salon reached out to the Florida Department of Health for comment on this story.)

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2020 Election

The GOP is a suicide cult

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Welcome to another edition of What Fresh Hell?, Raw Story’s roundup of news items that might have become controversies under another regime, but got buried – or were at least under-appreciated – due to the daily firehose of political pratfalls, unhinged tweet storms and other sundry embarrassments coming out of the current White House.

Back in March, we argued that Donald Trump had become the charismatic leader of the dumbest suicide cult ever. There were fewer than 500 confirmed cases of Covid-19 at the time, but it wasn't difficult to see the trajectory we were on at even that early date. At the time, we were commenting on the President's* repeated claims that the whole thing was a big hoax and polls showing that Democrats were twice as likely as Republicans to say they were taking steps to avoid becoming infected.

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