Satellites Shed Light on Dictators’ Lies About Economic Growth

Several dictators are significantly overstating economic growth, according to research which looks at satellite images of countries at night. As Henry Ridgwell reports, economists have long questioned the reliability of data from autocratic regimes – including China.

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Poll Workers Train for Conflict: ‘A Little Nervous? I Am.’

Milwaukee’s top election official surveyed about 20 poll workers gathered in a classroom in a city building stuffed with election supplies, then spoke frankly about the tense environment they may face next week when the city expects more people watching their work than ever before.

“So who is worried about observer disruptions?” Claire Woodall-Vogg, head of the Milwaukee Election Commission, asked the group. “Who has read things or heard things on the news, and you’re a little nervous? I am. I’ll raise my hand,” she said, smiling.

A few of the workers raised their hands, too. They’re not alone in their concern: Election officials across the country are bracing for confrontational poll watchers fueled by lies about the legitimacy of the 2020 election spread by former President Donald Trump and others, even after Trump’s loss was upheld by repeated reviews, audits and recounts, and courts rejected legal challenges.

That tension is higher in the handful of battleground states like Wisconsin, where Trump and others were quick to cry fraud after late-arriving results from Democratic-dominated Milwaukee helped Joe Biden narrowly carry the state in 2020. Recounts demanded by Trump confirmed Biden’s victory.

Woodall-Vogg has already felt the pressure. In an interview, she described being harassed and threatened after that election via email, phone calls and letters to her home — threats serious enough that she has an assigned FBI agent to forward them to.

Still, Woodall-Vogg said she’d rather she be a target than her workers — some of whom have stepped down from managerial roles because of the pressure. “We’re not paying them millions of bucks to endure that stress by any means,” Woodall-Vogg said.

Election officials nationally are concerned about a flood of conspiracy theorists signing up to work as poll watchers, with some groups that have trafficked in lies about the 2020 election recruiting and training watchers, particularly in swing states like Wisconsin.

Wisconsin requires poll workers to be trained only every two years, but this year Milwaukee is offering much more frequent training than in elections past, including informational videos and one-hour sessions focused on specific topics, like voter registration. The content remains unchanged.

In the mid-October session observed by The Associated Press, Woodall-Vogg was presenting to an experienced group of poll managers — known as chief inspectors — who will be responsible for directing workers at individual polling places. The managers get a flat payment of $325 for Election Day duties that begin before 7 a.m. and can stretch into the wee hours of the next morning. Non-managers get $220.

When the training turned to how to handle potential problems, Woodall-Vogg was careful to note that observers play “a vital role in our democracy.” But she also said she didn’t want her workers to feel threatened by them.

She demonstrated how to tape off sections where observers can stand — between 3 and 8 feet from voter check-in and registration areas.

“Take your tape and make a line and say, ‘This is the observer area,’ or make a box and say, ‘Please don’t leave this area,'” she said.

Violators first get a warning; if they do it again, they’re ordered to leave. If someone refuses, police are called.

Woodall-Vogg also walked the workers through how to handle challenges to voter eligibility based on a voter’s race or the language they speak. Such challenges are unacceptable, Woodall-Vogg said, and should get a warning as frivolous. An observer who makes a second such challenge would be ordered to leave.

Some poll workers who spoke to AP said they expect to see conflict, but they’re ready for it.

“I have a calling to serve,” said 70-year-old Andrea Nembhard, who has worked elections for more than a decade. She added: “I’m not afraid.”

Melody Villanueva, 46, said the same.

“I’m a problem solver, so I will de-escalate if necessary, and I will have to call the proper authority if necessary,” she said. “I am not one to fear much.”

Some workers acknowledged their nerves.

Averil Fletcher recounted calling the police during the August primary when a voter — convinced he had been deliberately locked out of the polling place — threw chairs and threatened workers. She had to wait 35 minutes for officers who had been busy elsewhere handling a pair of shootings.

Woodall-Vogg assured the managers that Fletcher’s experience “will never happen again.”

“If there is an election disturbance, if someone’s refusing to leave the polling place and you’ve issued them an order to leave, we have a direct line and there will be officers that will respond to support you,” Woodall-Vogg told the chief inspectors.

Federal law enforcement will also be on standby. Four assistant U.S. attorneys are assigned to oversee Election Day in Wisconsin and deal with threats of violence to election staff and complaints of voting rights concerns, and the FBI has stationed agents throughout the country to address allegations of election fraud and other election abuses, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Thanks to increased interest, the city hit full election staffing levels with two weeks to spare, which Woodall-Vogg said has never happened before.

“Usually it’s more panicking, filling in gaps,” Woodall-Vogg said.

That included five times as many partisan nominees to be election workers than in previous elections, but Woodall-Vogg said she’s not worried about bad actors because the system is designed to prevent issues. Election inspectors always have multiple eyes over their shoulder as they work: a second inspector is required to sign off for each task, and chief inspectors are monitoring all workers.

“Anyone who might have bad intentions, we would immediately, I think, be able to identify,” she said.

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Ardern in a Flap as Wren Rocks N. Zealand’s Bird Beauty Contest

A tiny mountain-dwelling wren was the surprise winner Monday of New Zealand’s controversial bird of the year competition, which even had Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a flap.   

The piwauwau rock wren punched above its 20-gram weight, flying under the radar to win the annual contest ahead of popular fellow native contenders, the little penguin and the kea.   

Fans of the wren set up a Facebook page to help the outsider soar up the final rankings when the fortnight-long poll closed Monday.   

“It’s not the size, it’s the underbird you vote for that counts,” wrote one supporter.   

The annual competition ruffled voters’ feathers in years past after a native bat was allowed to enter, then won, the 2021 title.   

There was also outcry this year after the flightless kakapo — a twice previous winner dubbed the world’s fattest parrot — was barred from running to give others a chance.   

The annual avian beauty contest run by environmental group Forest and Bird is popular with New Zealanders, including the country’s top politicians.   

The leader of the opposition, Christopher Luxon, took to Twitter — where else? — over the weekend to endorse the wrybill, a river bird with a distinctive bent beak.   

On Monday, New Zealand’s prime minister was momentarily ruffled live on air when asked if she had voted for her favorite bird.   

“No I haven’t yet — you can’t just chuck a controversial question at me without a warning!,” Ardern said with a smile.   

New Zealand’s leader revealed she will “always and forever” be loyal to the black petrel, which only breeds on the North Island but can fly as far as Ecuador, and she hopes the 2023 competition “will be its year”.  

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‘Devastating:’ Afghan Father Speaks About Son Partially Paralyzed by Polio

In Jalalabad, Afghanistan, where health workers are trying to vaccinate children to eliminate endemic poliovirus, six-year-old Ismail is partially paralyzed on his left side, due to the disabling disease. His father says it is devastating news for the family. Abu Baker Alizai has the report, narrated by Roshan Noorzai.

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Immigrants Face Off in California Congressional District

A congressional race in California between two immigrants, one from Pakistan and the other from South Korea, reflects the changing demographics of the American electorate. Mike O’Sullivan reports that abortion and the economy are at the heart of rival messages in the November 8th midterm election.

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