South Africans Vote As Mandela’s Ruling Party Strives To Retain Power

Hundreds of South African voters wait in long lines outside of a Durban polling station on Wednesday.

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Votes are being counted with results expected in the coming days after South Africans voted Wednesday in what’s being seen as a referendum on the party that’s governed the country for 25 years, since apartheid ended.

Local outlets report that turnout in townships appeared low on the public holiday, especially compared to the first nonracial elections in 1994. That year, Nelson Mandela was sworn in as South Africa’s first democratically elected, and first black, president to lead a hopeful nation.

His party, the African National Congress, is expected to retain a majority but its margin for victory and sway on South Africa’s provinces remain to be seen.

Despite the ANC’s storied past as the liberation movement that brought freedom and an end to apartheid, its reputation has suffered in recent years from rampant corruption, influence-peddling scandals and accusations that it failed to deliver on a promise to end inequality for black South Africans who suffered in the times of institutionalized segregation.

Former President Jacob Zuma resigned in 2018 amid widespread allegations of graft. He was succeeded by his deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa, Mandela’s original chosen successor. President Ramaphosa promised to “continue to improve the lives of our people.”

At the ANC’s final campaign rally on Sunday, he also apologized for his party’s mistakes.

“We admit that we have made mistakes and we put ourselves before our people and say yes — we have made mistakes, but it is only those who are doing nothing who don’t make mistakes,” he said.

As part of his bid to be elected, which would secure him a five-year presidential term, Ramaphosa vowed to fight corruption, saying, “the era of impunity, comrades, is over.”

The party is reportedly banking on “Ramaphoria,” voters’ loyalty to Ramaphosa, despite senior leaders’ skepticism of what his reforms could mean in practice. Voters appear to be prepared to give Ramaphosa a chance.

He has faced off against Mmusi Maimane, who leads the country’s main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance. Maimane accused the ANC of endemic corruption and failing to fully deliver on housing, jobs, land distribution and other basic needs.

Another opposition candidate, Julius Malema, was ousted from the ANC in 2012 and founded the Economic Freedom Fighters the next year. His party is expected to gain support according to poll predictions.

Malema, once a protégé of Zuma, supports the expropriation of white-owned land without compensation for owners.

And with Ramaphosa’s tepid support, the ANC is now looking into amending the Constitution to allow such land seizures. Ramaphosa said the reform would happen “in a manner that takes the interests of all into account,” according to The New York Times.

Many young South Africans chose not to participate in Wednesday’s elections. “We have the lowest voter registration among young people than we have ever had,” South Africa-based social analyst Tessa Dooms told NPR. “So the uptake for young people aged 18, 19 and 20, which is definitely first-time voters, is below 20% of that cohort.”

Lerato Lekoale, a 31-year-old voter, says it’s a pity so many young South Africans decided not to register to vote, after Mandela and many other anti-apartheid stalwarts risked or gave their lives so that future generations could vote in a free South Africa.

“I’m standing there and thinking, does anyone else get emotional about voting anymore?” she said. “Young people don’t seem to understand what it took to afford us this privilege, this right,” she added.

Another voter, Nkosikhulule Nyembezi, told NPR that South Africa is a young democracy that needs to be given a chance. “The troubling thing is that the gap between the haves and the have-nots is widening,” he said.

Former South African President Frederik Willem “F.W.” de Klerk, who preceded Mandela, told news outlet eNCA, “If the ANC wins and President Ramaphosa keeps his promises, things will get better.”

Despite being Africa’s second largest economy, South Africa has an unemployment rate of about 27% and the growth in gross domestic product per capita has been “close to nil since 2014,” according to the World Bank. Inequality has persisted despite the end of apartheid, the financial institution added. In 2015, the richest 10% of South Africa’s population held about 71% of net wealth, while the bottom 60% of the population held 7%.

NPR’s Ofeibea Quist-Arcton contributed to this report.

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FBI Is Investigating 850 Cases Of Potential Domestic Terrorism

The Poway Chabad Synagogue in Poway, Ca., was attacked last month when a gunman fired at Passover worshippers. The FBI says it is currently investigating 850 cases of domestic terrorism.

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The FBI is investigating some 850 cases of domestic terrorism and considers it serious and persistent threat, the FBI’s Michael McGarrity told the House Committee on Homeland Security on Wednesday.

McGarrity and his fellow national security officials then went on to explain to committee members why the U.S. doesn’t have an explicit law allowing the federal government to criminally charge extremists with domestic terrorism.

The federal government, law enforcement and even civil rights groups like the ACLU all consistently say that free speech rights under the First Amendment would make it problematic to define U.S. groups as terrorist organizations.

In an exchange with Democratic Congresswoman Yvette Clarke of New York, McGarrity noted that law enforcement has expanded powers when dealing with suspects linked to international terrorist groups like the Islamic State and al-Qaida.

“How does it give you more latitude?” asked Clarke.

“Because they’re actually designated as a terrorist organization,” McGarrity responded.

“So we don’t designate white supremacist organizations as terrorist organizations?” she said.

“A white supremacist organization is an ideology, it’s a belief,” McGarrity added. “But they’re not designated as a terrorist organization.”

The U.S. has designated about 60 groups as terrorist organizations. Most are Islamist, all are based abroad.

The Patriot Act does define domestic terrorism, which gives law enforcement some additional authority to investigate, but this does not include an actual criminal charge of domestic terrorism.

Debate in Congress

High-profile attacks in recent years, including mass shootings at synagogues and churches, has led to increased discussion about whether Congress should establish a domestic terrorism law.

Committee members raised the issue Wednesday, and the national security officials were quick to point out their reservations.

“I was just curious on your thoughts about Congress enacting a domestic terrorism charge,” Michael McCall, a Texas Republican, said to Brad Wiegmann of the Justice Department:

“We would welcome a discussion,” Wiegmann said. But he added, “designating domestic groups as domestic terrorism organizations and picking out particular groups that you say you disagree with their views and so forth is going to be highly problematic.”

Law enforcement officials generally say they already have plenty of tools to prosecute extremists. The large number of FBI investigations points to both the extent of the challenge, and to the extensive resources the bureau has devoted to the issue, McGarrity said.

Last year, extremists carried out six lethal attacks that killed 17 people in this country. The year before, there were five lethal attacks that killed eight people, he noted.

Social media companies are also facing increased scrutiny for their role in providing a platform. Without naming companies, the law enforcement officials said they’ve seen changes that include increased reporting of potential threats, kicking people off their sites, and hiring former law enforcement officers to monitor for potential problems.

But the officials described the internet as an accelerant that speeds up radicalization. Lone wolves have online access on how to plot and carry out attacks while remaining invisible to law enforcement.

On the far right, small numbers of like-minded extremists now find it much easier to link up, the officials testified. And among Islamists, groups like ISIS may have lost the physical territory they once controlled, but their message still lives online.

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Senate Intelligence Committee Issues Subpoena For Donald Trump Jr. To Testify Again

Donald Trump Jr. greets supporters of President Trump before he speaks at a Make America Great Again rally last month in Green Bay, Wis. The Senate Intelligence Committee has issued a subpoena for him to testify.

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The Senate Intelligence Committee has issued a subpoena to Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son, to testify again before the panel, according to a source familiar with the subpoena.

He testified before the committee in 2017 about his participation in a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with Russians offering “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., declined to comment on the matter, but a spokeswoman for the committee told NPR, “We do not discuss the details of witness engagements with the Committee. Throughout the investigation, the Committee has reserved the right to recall witnesses for additional testimony as needed, as every witness and witness counsel has been made aware.”

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Will Displaying Drug List Prices In Ads Help Lower Costs?

Alex Azar, secretary of Health and Human Services, announced a new rule requiring drugmakers to publish drug list prices in TV ads.

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The Trump administration moved forward on Wednesday with its plan to lower prescription drug prices by requiring drugmakers to display the list price “in a legible textual statement at the end of the advertisement.”

Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar said today that when it comes to changing prescription drug prices, “putting prices in TV ads may be the most significant single step any administration has ever taken.” But patient advocates are not convinced it will have an immediate impact on drug pricing.

The rule would apply to prescriptions that cost more than $35 per month or courses of treatment, which are covered by Medicare. The rule is very specific, requiring that the price be displayed, “for sufficient duration and in a size and style of font that allows the information to be read easily.”

Industry groups have fought this move since it was announced in October. They adopted voluntary rules, that would have directed ad viewers to a website with more detailed cost information. Today, in a statement, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) wrote that the list price is confusing since that’s not what most people pay.

The rule addresses that by requiring an additional statement that reads, “If you have health insurance that covers drugs, your cost may be different.”

PhRMA also said that the rule raises “First Amendment and statutory concerns.”

Court challenges may be coming. The legal authority given by the White House is based on the laws that require Medicare and Medicaid to be run in a cost-effective manner, according to the rule.

Rachel Sachs, an associate professor of law at Washington University in St. Louis and an expert in drug-pricing regulation, told NPR and Kaiser Health News in October that could be a weak legal argument since most drugs are marketed to the broader public, not just Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries.

Consumer and patient advocates generally hailed the move as a step towards greater price transparency, but questioned whether it would do much to lower high prices.

“We don’t believe that disclosing list prices will shame drug corporations into lowering list prices,” says Ben Wakana, executive director of Patients for Affordable Drug Prices. “Drug companies have been shamed about their price increases for years. They appear to be completely comfortable with the shame as long as it is bringing them in the billions of dollars a year that they make from their outrageous prices.”

He gives the government credit for trying to do something on health prices, noting “taking action on this issue is hard.” But he thinks some of the administration’s other ideas to lower prices — announced in a plan released last May — might have a bigger impact.

Critics have pointed out the government’s plan for enforcing the rule is weak, as NPR reported last fall. The plan for enforcement involves competitors policing each other by bringing legal action against competitors who aren’t compliant, Azar said in Wednesday’s press briefing. He calls it “a quite effective mechanism of enforcement.”

Azar defended the government’s authority to issue the new rule. “This is not without precedent,” he told reporters. “We have for over 50 years required that car manufacturers and car dealers post the sticker price of cars on the windows of their cars and be transparent about — even though there are negotiations and everything else — because it’s a starting point that’s an important part of consumer fairness.”

The car-buying analogy doesn’t work very well for drugs, notes Adrienne Faerber, a lecturer at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice.

“When you go to the car dealer and you see that sticker price and you can negotiate a better price that can fit your budget directly with the car dealership,” she explains. But, she says, drug prices are negotiated through layers of middlemen: “So you don’t get to negotiate based on these prices like you would with a car.”

In other words, car shoppers have a lot more choices that sick patients do, and a lot more bargaining power.

Faerber says certainly displaying the list price won’t “magically flip a switch and cut a percentage or two off of the total drug costs.” But she says it will be interesting to see how patients react to high list prices on their TV screens.

“Consumers are going to start wondering what are people getting for that money,” she says.

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Sanders Campaign, Workers Ratify Union Contract

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks during a town hall at the Fort Museum on May 4 in Fort Dodge, Iowa. Workers on his campaign have reached a union contract with management.

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Workers on the Bernie Sanders 2020 presidential campaign have ratified a union contract with management, which claims it’s the first campaign union contract at the presidential level.

The campaign and the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400 — with whom the workers are affiliated — both announced the agreement on Wednesday.

“We are proud of our workers and proud to uphold Bernie’s commitment to collective bargaining rights and a strong labor movement,” said campaign manager Faiz Shakir in a statement. “When Bernie Sanders is in the White House, he will make it easier not harder to join a union and we look forward to running a campaign powered by union workers.”

The agreement has provisions ensuring that the campaign will pay the entire health insurance premiums of any worker paid under $36,000, according to Jonathan Williams, communications director at UFCW Local 400. There’s also a pay limit for top campaign officials — no one in campaign management can make more than three times the highest-paid worker in the bargaining unit. (However, outside consultants wouldn’t fall under this provision, Williams said.)

“One of the challenges of negotiating this contract was that you have traditionally very long hours on a campaign, but also very motivated employees who often choose to work long hours,” Williams said.

That means that instead of setting strict limits on hours worked, the contract sets out time off provisions, like giving employees four “blackout days” per month, when they’re not working.

There are forerunners at the congressional, state, and local levels. The Campaign Workers Guild, which formed in 2017 to organize campaign workers, counts 25 campaigns it has helped reach collective bargaining agreements since its launch. The guild is not representing Sanders campaign workers.

The campaign will have to adapt the intense operational needs of a national campaign to meet the working conditions set forth in the agreement, as well as the additional costs. Though, the Sanders campaign led the Democratic field in terms of cash on hand when the latest campaign finance figures were reported in April.

One other component Williams mentioned: provisions regarding discrimination and pay equity, as well as dealing with harassment. Aides from the Sanders 2016 presidential campaign have been accused of sexism and sexual harassment — accusations that hang over the senator’s 2020 run. The ratification of the contract also comes just a day after the campaign put out new guidelines around sexual misconduct.

While it’s only one presidential campaign, the new contract signals new energy in the union movement, according to one expert.

“I think it’s really new,” said Janice Fine, research and strategy director at the Center for Innovation in Worker Organization at Rutgers University. “I think it’s very much a sort of a sign of the times in terms of increased activism in general and increased union activism, increased interest in unionism, particularly on the part of millennials.”

Of course, no campaign does anything without considering what voters will think. And Sanders, already firmly established in the populist lane, may find himself further endeared to those voters because of his campaign’s unionization.

It’s not supported by everyone in the party. Former Democratic campaign official Steve Hildebrand, who served as deputy national campaign manager for Barack Obama in 2008, said to NPR last year, “Political campaigns are short-term gigs. They’re not long-term operations, so this idea of unionization for an eight-month job, it just doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

Fine says that the contract sends a message to the Democratic Party.

“It’s also in part kind of calling the Democratic Party out a little bit saying, ‘If you really support the labor movement, you’ve gotta take the next step and be able to tangibly support the labor movement,'” she said.

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Asia Bibi, Pakistani Christian Woman Acquitted Of Blasphemy, Arrives In Canada

Asia Bibi, pictured in 2010, traveled safely from Pakistan to Canada on Tuesday, according to her lawyer. She is reunited with her two daughters who have also been granted asylum there.

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The Pakistani Christian woman who spent years on death row after being convicted of blasphemy has left the country where she has been living in hiding as one of the nation’s most reviled figures.

Asia Bibi’s lawyer, Saif-ul Malook, told NPR the practicing Catholic and her husband arrived in Canada on Tuesday, where they have reunited with their children.

“I am happy that she has been allowed to leave the country,” Malook said.

Although he was unable to speak with Bibi before her departure, he said the Canadian embassy arranged the couple’s move. “She will be more secure in Canada,” he added.

“I think it is a wise decision by the government of Pakistan to let her go. After all they did not have any legal justification to bar her from traveling because she was a free citizen after the Supreme Court’s decision.”

Although she was exonerated in October 2018, a review petition against her release prevented her from leaving the country. That was rejected a few months ago.

Bibi, an illiterate farm worker, was convicted of blasphemy in 2010 after being accused of insulting the Prophet Muhammad by her fellow Muslim workers when they feared she might drink water from the same vessel. She was sentenced to death and spent more than eight years in solitary confinement before the country’s Supreme Court acquitted her in October 2018.

The reversal and the court’s subsequent decision to uphold the ruling, each sparked days of violent demonstrations and rioting that roiled the country. Religious radicals, who demanded her execution, levied death threats against Bibi as well as the judges who freed her. They also urged Pakistani military forces to revolt against the army chief of staffs and for the public to overthrow of the government.

For their own protection, Bibi and her husband had been living in an undisclosed location since her conviction was overturned. For months, she had been planning to join her two daughters, who had also faced threats of violence in Pakistan and fled to Canada where they received asylum.

Global Affairs Canada, the Canadian government’s diplomacy arm, said it had no comment on the matter.

“Asia Bibi is now free, and we wish her and her family all the best following their reunification,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement on Wednesday. “The United States uniformly opposes blasphemy laws anywhere in the world, as they jeopardize the exercise of fundamental freedoms.”

Responding to reports of Bibi’s successful departure to Canada, human rights organization Amnesty International said, “She should never have been imprisoned in the first place, let alone faced the death penalty. That she then had to endure the repeated threats to her life, even after being acquitted, only compounds the injustice. This case illustrates the dangers of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and the urgent need to repeal them.”

As NPR’s Philip Reeves reported, despite pressure from international organizations and governments, as well as more progressive pockets of the population, “open discussion of the blasphemy laws will remain extremely difficult in Pakistan because of the deadly response it can draw from religious extremists.”

On Tuesday, Wilson Chowdhry, chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association, which has been in contact with Bibi throughout the ordeal, said she and her husband “have remained resolute in their faith and have prayed daily for their release and today God has answered their prayers.”

The group reports 14 Christians, in addition to Bibi, have been accused of blasphemy in recent years and in remain in jail.

“Since 1990, at least 65 people have reportedly been killed in Pakistan over claims of blasphemy,” the BBC reported.

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Documentary Offers Eco-Conscious Farm Wisdom: ‘Biggest Little Farm’

Some Pig: A documentarian and his spouse decamp to rural California to live off the land, or try to, in the documentary Biggest Little Farm.

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Life is out of balance, as urgent documentaries have demonstrated since at least 1982’s Koyaanisqatsi. Now The Biggest Little Farm seeks to explain how to restore equilibrium between mankind and nature — with the proviso that, at any given moment, ecological harmony will include a few harsh notes.

This amiable and ultimately moving film could be a lot harsher. When John and Molly Chester decamp from L.A. to a rustic nearby area, the couple moves from a sanitized, shrink-wrapped existence to one that’s dirty, smelly, and violent. The film’s director, who happens to be John Chester, doesn’t actually show the most disturbing aspects of life at Apricot Lane Farms, but he does acknowledge them.

The Chesters and the farm meet cute, thanks to Todd, their rescue mutt. “This all started with a promise we made to a dog,” explains the movie’s narrator, who also happens to be John. He and Molly vowed to keep Todd for the rest of his life, so when they’re evicted from their Santa Monica apartment because of his frequent barking, they decide to head for the country.

The city folks are not prepared to become farmers, but they do have some relevant experience: Molly is a chef and food blogger, while John is a cinematographer for wildlife documentaries. They know how to tell the story, even if they don’t know what it’s going to be.

The movie chronicles about eight years in which the Chesters’ “dead” land, abandoned by a company that grew a single crop, becomes a fertile marvel. They credit the transformation to their agricultural guru, Alan York, who preaches “diversity, diversity, diversity.” That means 75 varieties of stone fruit in the orchard and animals that include cows, pigs, chickens, ducks, and bees. The animals’ excrement nourishes the revived dirt, which is maintained by ground-cover plants, which are kept well trimmed by hungry sheep.

John shows the abundance of fauna with a wealth of photographic techniques, using drones, slo-mo, macro lenses, and night-vision cameras. At Apricot Lane Farms, every lamb, piglet, snake, and raccoon is ready for its closeup.

The creatures complement, and sometimes befriend, each other. When York’s utopian vision is being fulfilled, the farm animals also interact usefully with the wild ones attracted by the lush new landscape. But “interact” can mean that they eat each other. That’s good when ducks snack on snails and owls consume gophers. It’s bad when coyotes massacre the chickens whose eggs are the farm’s first hit in the organic-food marketplace.

John himself kills, putting down hopelessly injured farm animals and training his shotgun on coyotes. But he cuts away from the slayings themselves, and never pictures animals on their way to slaughter. However it’s done, the butchering can’t be as gentle as most of what the film depicts.

The story opens with the threat of wildfire, a tease of the Chesters’ final on-screen crisis, and then rewinds to tell the farm’s backstory with an animated sequence. This cartoon prologue is a little too precious, as is Jeff Beals’ folkie-classical score. But the rest of the movie is clear-eyed and mostly candid, even if it does skimp on information about the farm’s finances and crew of idealistic young workers, both of which seem too good to be true. The Biggest Little Farm is not a guide to establishing a thriving organic farm. It’s unlikely that anyone who sees the movie will think, “I could do that.”

But the documentary does show that a eco-conscious farm is viable and sustainable, even in the dust bowl of drought-parched California. That the Chesters’ spread is exceptionally picturesque is just a bonus.

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