US Democrats Say Key to 2018 Election Wins Is Grass-roots Action

Yasmin Radjy finished graduate studies at one of the country’s top schools, Harvard University, and began mobilizing local efforts in Virginia to elect Democratic, progressive candidates.

Radjy said she soon learned that bookwork often doesn’t equate to real life. 

“They [Harvard professors] taught me a lot of things that didn’t work in [the election of] 2016,” she said. She said a simple strategy would win the midterm elections for the opposition Democratic Party in 2018: talking to voters and listening to their concerns.

That type of grass-roots campaigning is taking place across the country, and Democratic organizers say recent local elections have shown that it works.

A transgender woman, Danica Roem, will serve in the Virginia House of Delegates after defeating a Republican incumbent. Another woman, Jennifer Carroll Foy, gave birth to premature twins during her campaign and was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates with both babies still in the hospital.

Radjy said that grass-roots volunteers need to be trained to customize their pitches for non-typical candidates. “You can’t take them off the shelf and expect them to act the right way,” she said.

WATCH: Yasmin Radjy on Returning to Campaign Basics

Republican activism

President Donald Trump’s Republican Party also understands the importance of grass-roots activism, owing its current grip on power in part to the enthusiasm of tea party supporters who have advocated vigorously for conservative causes since 2009.

The movement took root as a reaction to measures introduced by then-President Barack Obama to help homeowners wiped out by the 2008 recession, and it gained strength in opposition to Democratic-sponsored legislation that gave government a larger role in the health care industry.

Tea party activists helped carry the Republicans to their unexpected success in the 2016 elections, when Trump’s earthy, populist rhetoric helped the party win not only the White House but also both chambers of Congress.

But that same rhetoric infuriated many left-leaning voters, especially women who vented their anger the day after Trump’s inauguration by staging the Women’s March of 2017, one of the largest protests in the history of the nation.

Now the energy seems to be more with the Democrats and especially women, who are running for office in unprecedented numbers. Almost 400 female candidates are running in the 2018 congressional elections.

Organizers say much of that anger has been channeled to the local level, where large numbers of liberals and especially women are running for mayoral offices, city councils and state legislatures.

The winner of any contest is “determined by the number of activists on the respective side,” acknowledged Republican Morton Blackwell, who is in his eighth four-year term as a Republican National Committee member from Virginia. 

Blackwell admitted that the Republicans have fallen behind Democrats of late and need more and better on-the-ground volunteers.

On the Democratic side, local groups like the DC Grassroots Coordinating Committee, supported by the Woman’s National Democratic Club, are holding regular meetings to teach organizers how to train grass-roots volunteers leading up to the November elections. The test for organizers is maintaining that vigor over the next 10 months.

Democratic momentum

Jean Gearon founded the Maryland-based Women’s Alliance for Democracy & Justice, a group that strives to empower women politically. Gearon said volunteers need to feel they are being effective, so her group keeps things simple.

When training her volunteers, she drafts simple scripts and gives them phone numbers, explaining everything. “Here’s what you want to say about fracking,” she gives as an example. “Here’s where you sign your name.”

Democrats still face tough odds in trying to break the Republican hold on power. After Congress passed a sweeping tax plan and Trump reached the first anniversary of his presidency, Republicans gave him an 87 percent approval rating in a Gallup Poll.

For 25 years, Guy Short, who lives in Erie, Colorado, and is vice president of fundraising with Campaign Solutions, has advised and managed Republican political campaigns and groups at all levels of government. He predicted that 2018 would be an election won with those staunch Republicans.

“We need to motivate and turn out the base,” he said. “This year, significant amounts of money are needed in order to compete in what’s a very big playing field.”

Short said Republicans were significantly ahead of Democrats in fundraising, but Blackwell said he thought Republicans would need more than money to win the midterm elections. If money were the key factor, he said, “Jeb Bush would have been the Republican nominee for president in 2016 and Hillary Clinton would have crushed Donald Trump for president.”

​Economy’s impact

Blackwell said the economy, which he predicted will improve throughout the year, would give his party a boost. “In just a few days, the paychecks of employees across the country are going to show a significant benefit [from the federal tax cut]. Ninety percent of the people are going to get more income, so that is going to have an impact.”

WATCH: Morton Blackwell on the Political Effects of the US Economy

In a January CBS News Nation Tracker survey, 67 percent said the U.S. economy was the same or doing well. Yet, 54 percent did not credit Trump with the improvement, while 46 percent said he had contributed to the economy doing well.

In the Gallup Poll, only 5 percent of Democratic voters approved of Trump’s performance. “Democrats are motivated by one thing and one thing only,” Short said, “and that is they hate Trump. That’s not enough.”

But Democrats said that’s exactly what has catapulted new candidates, new volunteers, and new voters into the spotlight.

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Trump Warns Rivals About Trade Practices in Davos Speech

President Donald Trump has warned that the United States will no longer tolerate unfair trade practices and will always put America first in future trade deals. Giving the closing speech at the World Economic Forum in the Swiss resort of Davos on Friday, Trump lauded the performance of the U.S. economy under his leadership. The speech, however, was overshadowed by further controversy over alleged links between the president’s campaign team and Russia. Henry Ridgwell reports.

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Trump: US Won’t Turn Blind Eye to Unfair Trade

U.S. President Donald Trump warned trading partners on Friday that Washington would no longer tolerate unfair trade, saying predatory practices were

distorting markets.

“The United States will no longer turn a blind eye to unfair trade practices,” Trump told chief executives, bankers and political leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos. “We cannot have free and open trade if some countries

exploit the system at the expense of others,” he added.

 

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Trump Proves That in Diplomacy, Body Language as Revealing as Words

Last year it was tight-gripped hand-wrestling between Donald Trump and France’s Emmanuel Macron that attracted media attention. Neither male leader seemed to want to be the first to let go during their first face-to-face meeting in July, resulting in what was dubbed the “never-ending handshake.”

On Thursday, it was the U.S. leader’s prolonged Davos handshake with Britain’s Theresa May that excited fevered media speculation with the British press seeing it as an expression of how the recently troubled ‘special relationship’ between Britain and the United States is back on track.

The Trump-May handshake was analyzed by the European media almost as much as the grab-and-pull power pump between Trump and Macron that lasted 30-seconds and came across to some as a tussle between Alpha males. The warm handshake between the U.S. and British leaders, according to commentators, reinforced the friendly words between the two, who talked about how the two countries are joined at the hip and even the shoulder.

Tabloid newspapers in London plastered photographs of the handshake on their front-pages.

The Daily Express blazoned the question: “Has May ‘tamed’ Trump?” And the newspaper quoted a body-language expert who commented that Trump arrived for the World Economic Summit in Davos, Switzerland, “like a posturing prizefighter entering the ring but during his press conference with May he stopped showboating and looked truly respectful.”

She added that “he used direct eye contact” when he remarked at the news conference to May “rather romantically that ‘I will always be there for you – you know that’ and he produced the most normal handshake of his presidency so far.”

Britain’s Sky News also turned to a body-language expert to interpret the first meeting between the two leaders since their public clash over the president’s re-tweeting in November of a British far-right anti-Muslim campaigner, which earned a rebuke from May.

“A love-in,” pronounced the broadcaster’s satisfied Cordelia Lynch.

Handshake analysis

Why is a handshake so important? Transatlantic ties have taken on even greater importance for Britain as it struggles to shape a post-Brexit future. A trade deal with the United States could help offset the costs of leaving the European Union, Britain’s biggest trading partner, and May’s aides say a stronger alliance with America is critical to making a success of Brexit.

Hence the relief of both British officials and the country’s media at the public displays of affection between May and Trump in Davos only weeks after the U.S. leader canceled a planned trip to London next month for the official opening of a new U.S. embassy building in the British capital.

That cancellation followed a series of clashes between the pair including over Iran and intelligence leaks. The handshake was seized by the British as a public prize — an affirmation of sincerity.

But should a handshake be laden with so much importance?

Body-language has long been seen as an important element in diplomacy. “Communication is to diplomacy as blood is to the human body,” academics Christer Jönsson and Martin Hall noted in a study emphasizing that non-verbal language is as important as what is spoken during diplomatic encounters.

Body language

In 2014, USA Today revealed that the Pentagon had established a research team to study the body movements of Russian President Vladimir Putin and other world leaders in order to better understand them, assess their sincerity and to predict their possible future actions.

According to an official with the Office of Net Assessment (ONA), “the goal is to learn about the physical movements of national leaders and determine if these can be used to gain insight about a leaders’ attitudes, mindset, etc. ONA does not make policy recommendations, so we cannot assert with any certainty how the studies have been used by policy-makers.”

France’s Macron certainly vested a lot in his handshake with Trump, admitting on French television that he viewed it as a “moment of truth.”

European officials and the continent’s media appear obsessed by Trump’s body language — more than with any other recent U.S. leader.

Some commentators say that’s because Trump’s body language appears to be more distinct and unpredictable than his predecessors.’ Others suggest it is because they are still trying to take the measure of a politician, who has upended U.S. politics and foreign policy and defied expectations and norms since he entered the race for the White House and pulled off an upset win. His governing style has been as unusual as his campaigning tactics.

A former Trump aide, Sam Nunberg, argued last year that in fact Trump invites the speculation and knows what he’s doing with body language. “I just think the president is very cognizant of the optics of what it looks like at these multi-lateral meetings with world leaders,” he told the Huffington Post website. “There is nobody who is a better showman,” he added.

 

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Sessions Takes Credit for Reversing Crime Wave; Criminologists Disagree

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is claiming credit for beginning the end of what President Donald Trump has termed “American Carnage,” a spike in violent crime during 2015 and 2016, the final two years of the Obama administration.

In an opinion piece published Tuesday in USA Today, Sessions pointed to preliminary FBI data showing that violent crime in the United States decreased by 0.9 percent during the first half of last year and that the increase in the murder rate had slowed.

“When President Trump was inaugurated, he made the American people a promise: ‘This American carnage stops right here and stops right now,’” Sessions wrote. “It is a promise that he has kept.”

​Too soon to know

But criminologists say it’s too early to read anything into the reported six-month decline in crime and that there is little evidence to support Sessions’ claim that Trump administration policies contributed to it.

“It’s obviously positive if violent crime goes down, but I think drawing conclusions about annual trends or a ‘leveling out’ based on six months of data is premature,” said New Orleans-based crime analyst Jeff Asher. “I’m not sure the data shows anything has changed.”

The attorney general attributed the decline in part to increased federal prosecution of all manner of violent criminals: gang members, human traffickers and firearms violators.

Behind decline

But Thomas Abt, a former federal prosecutor now a senior fellow at Harvard Law School and Kennedy School of Government, noted that the decline came before Trump announced his first wave of U.S. attorneys in June.

“It’s simply not honest to say that aggressive federal prosecution was responsible for the crime decline when the federal prosecutors that Trump nominated weren’t even in office at the time,” Abt said.

What is more, he said, about 90 percent of criminal prosecutions in the United States are handled by local and state courts, not federal ones.

“The argument that Sessions seems to be making, which is that what we do with our 10 percent is having a big impact on the 90 percent, is a little hard to believe,” Abt said.

​Slowdown in ‘murder rate’

According to the FBI data, the number of murders rose by 1.5 percent during the first six months of last year, compared with an increase of 5.2 percent during the same period in 2016, a slowdown Sessions highlighted as an achievement.

Jeff Asher, a Louisiana-based criminologist, dismissed the change as insignificant.

“I’m not sure the data shows anything has changed,” Asher said. He added that the figures still leave the country’s murder rate about 20 percent higher than it was in 2014.

The Justice Department did not respond to a request for comment.

Through much of the past year, Sessions has frequently cited FBI data on increases in violent crime in 2015 and 2016 to warn about a festering crime epidemic and to push his tough-on-crime agenda.

In February, he set up a task force on violent crime reduction and public safety. In March, he directed federal prosecutors to prioritize targeting violent criminals. And in May, he ordered U.S. attorneys to “pursue the most serious, readily provable offense” with the lengthiest sentences in all criminal cases.”

Citing an 11 percent increase in the murder rate in 2015, Sessions told a group of law enforcement officers in August that “violent crime is back with a vengeance.”

Fluctuation in data

But crime data fluctuate from year to year, and Abt said it is more helpful to look at three- to five-year increments of data for evidence of a trend.

“It’s premature to celebrate,” Abt said. “What happens month to month or year to year can change.”

Despite the upticks in 2015 and 2016, crime in the United States remains well below its peak in the early 1990s.

In 1991, about 5,850 crimes were committed per 100,000 Americans. In 2015, the overall crime rate stood at 2,857 per 100,000 residents.

Criminologists attribute the decline to a variety of factors, from improved policing to community engagement to increased incarceration.

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Rosy US Economic Report Expected Friday

The U.S. economy likely maintained a brisk pace of growth in the fourth quarter, driven by an acceleration in consumer and business spending, which could set it on course to attain the Trump administration’s 3 percent annual growth target this year.

Gross domestic product probably increased at a 3.0 percent annual rate also boosted by a rebound in homebuilding investment and a pickup in government outlays, according to a Reuters poll of economists. The strong growth pace would come despite anticipated drags from trade and inventory investment.

It would follow a 3.2 percent pace of expansion in the third quarter and mark the first time since 2004 that the economy enjoyed growth of 3 percent or more for three straight quarters.

The Commerce Department will publish its advance fourth-quarter GDP estimate Friday morning.

​Global rebound

The economy’s growth spurt is part of a synchronized global rebound that includes the euro zone and Asia.

It has also benefited from President Donald Trump’s promise of hefty tax cuts, which was fulfilled in December when the Republican-controlled U.S. Congress approved the largest overhaul of the tax code in 30 years.

Despite the economy’ strong performance in the last three quarters of 2017, overall growth for the year is expected to come in around 2.3 percent, because of a weak first quarter.

That would still be an acceleration from the 1.5 percent logged in 2016. Economists expect annual GDP growth will hit the government’s 3 percent target this year, spurred in part by a weak dollar, rising oil prices and strengthening global economy.

Modest boost from tax cuts

While the corporate income tax rate has been slashed to 21 percent from 35 percent and taxes for households have also been lowered, economists see only a modest boost to GDP growth as the fiscal stimulus is coming at a time when the economy is almost at full employment.

“We are encouraged by the current breadth of economic strength and … we expect the pace of U.S. real GDP to accelerate from the expansion average, increasing 3.0 percent in 2018,” said Sam Bullard, a senior economist at Wells Fargo Securities in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Fed hawks

Robust economic growth has been accompanied by record gains on the stock market and a strong labor market, with the unemployment rate falling seven-tenths of a percentage point last year to a 17-year low of 4.1 percent. Economists said this could put the Federal Reserve on a more aggressive path of interest rate increases than is being anticipated.

“I think that gives the hawks at the Fed more ammunition to say we should contemplate a more aggressive path on rates going forward,” said Scott Anderson, chief economist at Bank of the West Economics in San Francisco.

The U.S. central bank has forecast three rate hikes this year, the same number as in 2017.

Consumer spending

Consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity, is expected to have increased by as much as a 3.9 percent rate in the fourth quarter. That would be the quickest pace in three years and would follow a 2.2 percent rate of growth in the July-September quarter.

Consumer spending is likely to remain supported by rising household wealth, thanks to the stock market rally and higher house prices, tax cuts and firming wage growth as companies compete for workers and some states raise the minimum wage.

“Since the election the consumer has been exuding confidence, which is the willingness to spend money, and we see he has got even the ability to spend money too because personal income is creeping up,” said Dan North, chief economist at Euler Hermes North America in Baltimore.

“So, you have the willingness and ability to spend. We think consumption is going to pick up and drive the economy.”

Business investment in equipment is expected to have picked up from the third-quarter’s 10.8 percent growth pace. Spending on equipment is likely to be underpinned this year by the corporate income tax cuts and recent increase in crude oil prices.

Investment in homebuilding is expected to have rebounded after contracting for two straight quarters. An acceleration is expected in government spending from the July-September period’s pedestrian 0.7 percent growth pace.

Trade a drag

But trade was likely a drag on GDP growth as the burst in consumer spending was probably satiated with imports, offsetting a rise in exports, which is being driven by dollar weakness.

Economists at JPMorgan estimate that trade cut one percentage point from fourth-quarter GDP growth after adding 0.36 percentage point in the third quarter.

Inventory investment also probably subtracted from GDP growth last quarter after adding 0.79 percentage point to output in the prior period.

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A Cheap Test for Potable Water

According to the World Health Organization, 2.1 billion people do not have access to safe drinking water. Many of them rely on wells and streams, making testing the water for bacterial contamination of crucial importance. However, cheap and reliable testing equipment is often not available or not affordable. Scientists in Britain and elsewhere are working on a simple, paper-based test that can confirm that water is safe in a matter of seconds. VOA’s George Putic reports.

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Melinda Gates Launches Initiative to Reduce Poverty With New Technology

Melinda Gates has launched a high-level international commission to spark new thinking on how developing countries can best harness new technologies to reduce poverty. The wife of Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates spoke at the launch of the commission in Nairobi on Thursday.

The 11-member commission aims to promote use of technology to fight poverty across Africa and provide opportunities for the poor.

 

Melinda Gates, co-founder of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, said the newly launched commission would create opportunities for everyone.

 

“Let us unleash the opportunity here of all the amazing entrepreneurs, because they are the ones. The markets then will scale these great ideas and so we want to make sure that part of this world we are thinking about everybody, not just the people in the capital cities,” she said.

 

The commission will be co-chaired by Mrs. Gates, former Indonesian finance minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati and Zimbabwean philanthropist Strive Masiywa.

 

The team with the help of researchers will deliberate new ideas like robotics, 3D printing, nanotechnology and blockchain to reduce poverty. They will also push for policy recommendations to help government navigate the ever changing technology.

 

According to the United Nations, half of the world poorest people live in Africa, and by 2030 about 400 million people in Africa will be poor.

 

The United Nations estimates 10 million people in Africa every year enter the job market. Experts note the continent needs more economic growth and employment to bring poverty down.

 

Strive Masiyiwa, who is founder of Econet Group, a telecommunications company, says Africa will have to create a better environment to benefit from the opportunities presented by technology.

 

“If we create the right incentives, we can begin to create African venture capitalists who support entrepreneurs on the ground, but they will require incentives, the entrepreneurs themselves need support we need to open our markets constantly deregulate. Deregulation must be a continuous process,” says Masiyiwa.

 

The everyday use of technology has spread in Africa, marked by an increase in mobile money marking and greater use of the internet.

 

But some experts question whether this progress has enhanced economic growth and improved people’s lives.

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At Davos Forum, Trump Threatens to Cut Aid to Palestinians

U.S. President Donald Trump has questioned whether peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians will ever resume.

He made the remarks in a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netenyahu at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where he accused the Palestinians of disrespecting the United States by refusing to meet with Vice-President Mike Pence during his recent visit to the region.

Trump threatened to cut aid money to the Palestinian territories.

“That money is on the table and that money is not going to them unless they sit down and negotiate peace.  Because I can tell you that Israel does want to make peace, and they’re going to have to want to make peace too or we’re going to have nothing to do with it any longer,” he told reporters.

WATCH: Trump on Palestinians

Atlantic ties

Earlier, Trump rejected what he called ‘false rumors’ of differences with British Prime Minister Theresa May and promised to boost trade after Britain’s EU exit.

“I look forward to the discussions that will be taking place are going to lead to tremendous increases in trade between our two countries which is great for both in terms of jobs,” he said, adding that Britain and the United States are “joined at the hip when it comes to the military”.

There is nervousness that Trump’s “America First” diplomacy is about to shake-up the global system that underpins the Davos summit.  Denmark’s Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen said many Europeans are hoping for a positive message.

“I hope he will send a message, of course it will be ‘America First’, but if he could add on ‘But not alone’, or ‘But America First and we need cooperation with the rest of the world’ or whatever, that could be nice, because I think everybody needs to realize, whether you are a leader from a small or medium-sized or big countries that you can’t achieve what you want on your own.  The world is faced with a lot of challenges, which can only be solved with close international cooperation,” Rasmussen said Thursday.

Wealth distribution questioned

The general mood in Davos is upbeat, with the IMF forecasting synchronized global growth across 2018.  But behind the many closed doors, there is talk of danger ahead.  The background report to the WEF summit is titled “Fractures, Fears and Failures”, a reflection of growing global tension, says Inderjeet Parmar, professor of international politics at City University London.

“Even though international wealth and the wealth of states and the levels of economic growth and the GDPs of states have grown, the inequality of the distribution is having large scale political effects.”

The fortunes of the world’s wealthiest 500 billionaires rose by a quarter last year, while the poorest 50 percent of the world’s population did not increase their income.  Oxfam Executive Director Winnie Byanyima, in Davos for the summit, says it’s time for action.

“I’m here to tell big business and politicians that this is not natural, that it’s their actions and their policies that have caused it, and they can reverse it.”

Donald Trump is due to give the closing speech to the conference Friday.

“President Trump will be speaking to two audiences, the ones assembled in front of him, and his voter base at home.  And I have a strong feeling that he is going to give some strong words in order to show people back home that he has gone to the belly of the beast itself, of globalization, and told them that he stands for America and the American people,” says analyst Parmar.

Davos is braced for what could be a dramatic finale Friday.

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