Nation and world news briefs

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Half of all COVID tests are positive in Mexico, highest in world

As nations around the world try to get their economies humming again, the number of coronavirus tests coming back positive has turned into the metric to watch. Five percent is the threshold to reopen safely. Ten percent is troubling, 20% outrageous.

In Mexico, it stands at 50%.

The sky-high results are easy to explain — though not so easy to fix. The Latin American nation has stubbornly shunned widescale testing and instead runs exams only on the sickest of patients. Deputy Health Minister Hugo Lopez Gatell in late May said anything more would be “a waste of time, effort and resources.”

Throughout the pandemic, Mexico and parts of Latin America have reported positivity rates that dwarf anything seen from China to the U.S., including new trouble spots like Arizona and Texas. With half of all tests coming back positive, Mexico ties only Bolivia for title of the world’s highest rate. In Argentina and Chile, almost 3 out of every 10 exams lead to a COVID-19 diagnosis. And in Brazil, where 1.4 million people have been infected, no one knows for sure because the government doesn’t release that data.

“You don’t want it to be that easy to find cases,” said Amesh A. Adalja, an infectious disease specialist at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “They’re not trying hard enough.”

Officially, Mexico reported more than 226,000 cases as of Tuesday and 27,769 deaths. All tolled, Latin America has more than 2.5 million cases and accounts for about half of all new daily deaths globally.

— Bloomberg News

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Republicans push back on Democrats’ DC statehood bill

WASHINGTON — Republican senators came out swinging Wednesday against a bill passed in the House last week that would make the District of Columbia the 51st state.

“From a South Carolina point of view, this is a very bad deal,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told reporters.

Republicans and Democrats held dueling news events Wednesday on the bill, which would give the district two senators and one House representative with full voting rights, along with other authorities.

Republicans accused Democrats of trying to grow their influence in the Senate, while Democrats said giving the District’s population of more than 700,000 their own voting members in Congress is their right as Americans.

Graham said he hoped Majority Leader Mitch McConnell calls up the bill for a vote, saying he wants senators “to be on the record” on the issue, calling the move unconstitutional.

McConnell has shown no interest in bringing up the bill, and President Donald Trump vowed to veto it if it were to reach his desk.

Critics say the bill goes against the Founding Fathers’ vision and violates the 23rd Amendment, which granted the district residents the right to vote in presidential elections. Advocates point out that Washington’s population is greater than that of Wyoming and Vermont, and its residents pay federal taxes, unlike other U.S. territories.

Graham was joined by Sens. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and Steve Daines, R-Mont., who noted a Gallup poll that found a majority of Americans believed Washington should not be a state.

Daines suggested outside the Washington area — “where the real people are,” he said — they don’t believe it should be granted statehood.

— CQ-Roll Call

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‘A no-brainer:’ Robert Lee IV says take down the statues of Robert E. Lee

Another Robert Lee says it’s time for Confederates to surrender to the Union again.

The Rev. Robert E. Lee IV, the great-great-great grand-nephew of Civil War general Robert E. Lee, told ABC News that statues of rebel leader like his late uncle are worshiped like “idols of white supremacy and racism” and they need to go.

“This is a no-brainer,” Lee said.

The Methodist reverend admits that he grew up with a Confederate flag on his bedroom wall and celebrated his namesake’s place in history. Now, Lee says, the stars and bars that represent the Confederacy — which Mississippi’s governor committed to remove from his state’s flag Tuesday — simply represent racist ideology.

“White supremacy and racism have been the basis of the celebration of that flag for a long time,” Lee said.

NASCAR also banned the Confederate flag from its events on June 10.

“I didn’t see this happening in my lifetime,” Lee said. “This is an incredible opportunity to seek justice, to try to right the wrongs of the past by seeking redemption and atonement for all of these things that have been wrong.”

Though he grew up proud of his family name, Lee said he came to realize that at the end of the day, his great-great-great grand-uncle was fighting for the preservation of slavery and chose to side with the Confederacy against the Union.

— New York Daily News

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Putin wins referendum on extending rule to 2036 in landslide victory

MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin won a referendum Wednesday that will enable him to stay in office until 2036, with some 78% of the votes in favor after 90% of the ballots had been counted, according to the federal electoral authority.

Putin, 67, has been in power as president or prime minister for two decades and is currently the longest-serving Russian or Soviet leader since Joseph Stalin.

The referendum had sought to enact a package of amendments that would enable Putin to run for reelection twice more and potentially remain in power until he is 83. His current term ends in four years.

Putin has cultivated a reputation as a guarantor of the state’s stability, in contrast with the economic and political turbulence of the post-Soviet 1990s that preceded his coming to power. This was seen as a deciding factor in approval for the referendum.

“People are voting, rather apathetically, for stability,” Russian political expert Anna Arutunyan, author of the biography “The Putin Mystique,” told dpa.

Putin maintains broad support among Russians, with an approval rating measured at 60% last week by the country’s largest independent pollster, Levada Centre.

Putin, the chosen successor of modern Russia’s first president, Boris Yeltsin, has won all four of his presidential elections — in 2000, 2004, 2012 and 2018 — by wide margins.

He won his most recent election with three-quarters of the votes, about the same percentage as of those in favor of the referendum.

— dpa

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