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US political crackdown spurs fears of Chinese brain-drain – Nature.com

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US President Donald Trump walks through a row of white pillars into the Rose Garden at the White House

The Trump administration has accused China of stealing US intellectual property.Credit: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty

US scientists are concerned that their government’s crackdown on foreign interference at universities is driving away scientists of Chinese descent. Their exodus would be a loss for US innovation, according to extensive interviews Nature carried out with scientists and research leaders.

“There are certainly people leaving,” says Steven Chu, a Nobel-prizewinning physicist at Stanford University in California, who was secretary of energy under former US president Barack Obama.

The research community has been increasingly feeling the effects of political tensions between the United States and China. US politicians — including President Donald Trump — have accused the Chinese government of using students and researchers to illicitly acquire US knowledge and intellectual property, allegations that the Chinese government has repeatedly denied. Since 2018, US government agencies have unveiled increasingly strict visa restrictions for Chinese nationals, and controls on what research can be shared with China.

US researchers with ties to China who are funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) or National Science Foundation (NSF) have also been investigated for potentially violating funding rules. The NIH said in June that it had investigated 189 researchers who might have violated grant or institutional rules on research integrity. Of these researchers, 93% had ties to China and 82% were of Asian extraction. And in the past two months, four researchers from China working in the United States have been charged with visa fraud for allegedly failing to declare links to China’s military, marking a new chapter in US-China science relations.

The latest arrests are another example of the US government cracking down on Chinese scholars, part of a pattern of actions that have created a fearful atmosphere and made researchers think about leaving, says Jessica Chen, an immigration lawyer in Houston, Texas, who has been contacted by researchers for immigration issues. People cannot focus on their work when they are concerned that they might be investigated or accused of spying, says Chen. “This creates a truly oppressive environment in which to try to perform research.”

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Several scientists who spoke to Nature say they know of researchers with Chinese backgrounds who have left the US because they felt nervous or unsafe. Alice Huang, a biologist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena and vice-president of the 80-20 Educational Foundation, an advocacy group for Asian American equality, says she knows of about four researchers of Chinese descent who were US citizens and have left the country in the past two years. Some left because they felt they were being targeted by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) or NIH, or feared being investigated by them. But she thinks the numbers of researchers leaving the US are far greater than the cases she’s heard about. “We are damaging our own scientific enterprise,” says Huang.

Chu knows of a Chinese national who earned a PhD in the United States but has accepted a faculty position in China because of a perceived unfriendly environment in the US. And he says he’s heard from researchers who feel unwelcome, or who worry about losing out on jobs or competitive funding because of their country of origin. “I’m trying to convince these people not to go back [to China],” he says. “If it wasn’t for immigrant scientists, we would be a second-tier STEM country.” Although Chu notes that some researchers are leaving for good opportunities in China.

Researchers of Chinese descent in the US are also increasingly seeking legal advice because they’re concerned they’ll be investigated by the government or their institution, says Frank Wu, president of Queen’s College in New York, who helps researchers find suitable lawyers to represent them. He says that in the past two years, he’s gone from receiving no calls from researchers seeking lawyers to receiving dozens of calls. “They’re worried their lives will be ruined for no good reason,” he says.

It’s difficult to measure whether a significant number of ethnic Chinese scientists have been leaving the United States in response to the government crackdown. That kind of data isn’t routinely collected, says Brad Farnsworth, vice president for global engagement at the American Council on Education in Washington DC.

But Farnsworth says ethnic Chinese researchers in the US have become even more worried about being under scrutiny or investigated since Charles Lieber, a chemist at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, was arrested in January for allegedly making false statements about his ties to China. “The level of anxiety has definitely gone up,” Farnsworth says.

Concerns about racial profiling

Some scientists and US lawmakers have raised concerns that the government crackdown is verging on racial profiling, the practice of targeting people because of their racial or ethnic background.

The concerns sparked a formal investigation by Congress’s House of Representatives. In February, representatives Jamie Raskin and Judy Chu, both Democrats, sent letters to the FBI and NIH requesting information on practices that they thought to be suggestive of racial profiling, such as reportedly encouraging universities to scrutinize Chinese Americans or researchers with connections to China. The letter to the FBI also mentions a 2018 study that found that 52% of individuals charged by the US Department of Justice with economic espionage since 2009 have been of Chinese heritage1. But those people were more than twice as likely to be acquitted or have charges against them dropped compared with non-Asian defendants.

Raskin told Nature by e-mail that he has received responses from the agencies, and had a briefing with the NIH. “While I get the serious national security implications of Chinese government espionage, none of that justifies dragnet-style ethnic profiling of U.S. citizens who are Chinese -American,” he says. “What distinguishes us from authoritarian governments is our Bill of Rights and commitment to the civil liberties and equal rights of all citizens.”

Agency responses

The agencies have denied that racial profiling is happening. An FBI spokesperson told Nature in a statement that it does not conduct investigations based solely on race, ethnicity or national origin into unlawful activity or threats to national security. “It would not be appropriate for the FBI to ask any university, company, or other entity to profile individuals based on their ethnicity,” they wrote. The FBI also stated that it does not comment on engagements with Congress.

When asked to comment on the House investigation and the letter from Raskin and Chu, an NIH spokesperson also told Nature that it does not comment on ongoing investigations.

The spokesperson noted that most researchers are honest contributors to the advancement of scientific knowledge. But over the past few years, the agency has been made aware of subversive efforts by foreign entities to target US scientists to intentionally violate the terms and conditions of grant awards for personal gain. When the agency identifies threats, it notifies grant institutions and asks them to investigate, which they sometimes do with the assistance of the FBI, they said.

The Department of Justice does not target researchers for prosecution based on their ethnicity, says Adam Hickey, a deputy assistant attorney general of its national security division.

However, Hickey agrees that a large proportion of people prosecuted under the department’s ‘China Initiative’, a programme to counter intellectual-property theft or economic espionage involving China, among other things, have been people of Chinese heritage. The initiative has led to several prosecutions of academics — mostly involving tax evasion, grant fraud or making false statements about overseas affiliations.

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How RBG's death could radicalize American politics – POLITICO

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“It means that we are going to war,” one influential Washington Democrat texted tonight when asked what the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg means. “They do this in the lame duck and I think Americans will rebel.”

The passion is understandable. Ginsburg was the most important and iconic Supreme Court Justice to liberals since Thurgood Marshall, the first African American on the court. She was the Left’s Antonin Scalia. Replacing her with an ideological conservative — creating a 6-3 majority on the Court for the right — would have enormous policy consequences, and not just on abortion, but on civil rights, gun laws, regulation and many other issues.

Just a few years ago, when the situation was reversed and Scalia died during the 2016 presidential campaign, Mitch McConnell denied a Senate vote to Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland. Ginsburg has been ill for years and Democrats have been dreading the prospect of losing her before the 2020 election is settled.

Within hours of Ginsburg’s death, Mitch McConnell made it clear Democrats fears were warranted. As McConnell had previously signaled publicly, he released a statement declaring, “President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate.”

There’s some uncertainty about whether McConnell can cobble a majority of his 53 Republicans together to confirm a Ginsburg replacement. But his swift decision Friday night to reverse his 2016 position is likely to be met with two major reactions from Democrats, one short- and one long-term.

In the short term, the loss of the beloved Ginsburg, combined with McConnell’s hypocrisy, and the likelihood of the court shifting to the right, will enrage Democrats, both in the Senate and out in the country. In the Senate, Democratic leader Chuck Schumer will be under enormous pressure to respond to McConnell’s reversal with aggressive tactics.

“The question will be Chuck’s fortitude,” a Democratic strategist said. “He could shut down the Senate. A government spending bill is due in a couple weeks.”

There is a fierce debate about whether a Supreme Court battle motivates liberals or conservatives more. One conservative who supports Biden argued that dynamic favors the Democrats.

“When I heard that Scalia died I was fit to be tied because at that point we were looking at a conservative icon being replaced by Hillary Clinton,” he said. “It was like seeing your life flash before your eyes. It was terrifying. Now the Democrats are experiencing that. It is going to light the liberals on fire.”

Other Republicans argued that Trump already has the support of all the conservatives who back the president because of his court appointments. A fight over the Ginsburg replacement does little to add new supporters. Additionally, Trump’s political weakness this year is among college educated suburban voters, a constituency that is turned off by the idea of the Supreme Court overturning Roe vs. Wade.

But in the long-term, McConnell’s decision could have more far-ranging consequences.

“The winner of the election should nominate someone in January,” said John Podesta, the chair of Clinton’s 2016 campaign. “Anything else is a gross abuse of the Constitution and democratic principles.”

Since the Garland imbroglio there has been a bubbling debate on the left over how much to tinker with the Senate and the Supreme Court to redress what Democrats see as anti-majoritarian moves by McConnell and Republicans. The debate has pitted institutionalists against procedural radicals. McConnell will embolden the procedural radicals. Democrats are likely to become more united around several reforms that have divided them: ending the legislative filibuster, pushing through statehood for Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, and modifying the Supreme Court to include more justices.

Not everything in politics hyped by the media is as big a deal as it seems. But RBG’s death is one of those cases where it may be even more consequential than reported. It will certainly alter the makeup of the Supreme Court, but it could also alter the course of a presidential election, transform the Senate, and turbocharge the politics of procedural radicalism.

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Ginsburg’s death could ignite a political firestorm – The Globe and Mail

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In this July 31, 2014, file photo, Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is seen in her chambers in at the Supreme Court in Washington.

The Canadian Press

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who became a folk hero to the left for her staunch defence of gender equality and civil liberties, died Friday evening. Her death threatens to ignite a political firestorm if President Donald Trump tries to replace her with a conservative jurist less than seven weeks before an election whose outcome might be determined by the court. Such a move would solidify right wing control with a six to three majority.

Ms. Ginsburg, 87, died of metastatic pancreatic cancer surrounded by family at her Washington home, the Supreme Court said.

The President reacted with surprise when informed of her death shortly after finishing a rally in Minnesota. He did not respond to questions on whether he will seek to fill her seat before the Nov. 3 vote.

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Analysis: The loss of Ruth Bader Ginsburg adds a new element of bitterness to the political season

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dies of cancer at 87

“She just died? Wow. I didn’t know that. You’re telling me now for the first time. She led an amazing life. What else can you say?” Mr. Trump told reporters. “She was an amazing woman.”

Mitch McConnell, the Senate’s Republican majority leader, signalled that an appointment is coming. “President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate,” he said in a statement. Under the process for appointing Supreme Court justices, the Senate, currently under Republican control, must confirm or reject the President’s choice. The Democratic-run House of Representatives does not get a say.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) listens to a question as he speaks to reporters after the Senate Republican luncheon on Capitol Hill, in Washington, U.S., September 15, 2020.

ALEXANDER DRAGO/Reuters

Mr. McConnell’s position is an about-face from 2016, when he refused to allow a confirmation vote on Merrick Garland, then-president Barack Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court. This held open an empty seat until after Mr. Trump took office and appointed conservative Neil Gorsuch to fill it. Mr. Trump later appointed Brett Kavanaugh, giving the political right control of the court for the first time since the 1930s.

In a statement dictated this week to her granddaughter Clara Spera, National Public Radio reported, Ms. Ginsburg called for Mr. Trump not to appoint another justice before his term expires. “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed,” Ms. Ginsburg’s statement read.

If Mr. Trump makes an appointment, he will almost certainly face a Democratic revolt in Congress and protests from liberal voters in an already deeply divided country. The President has released a list of people he would consider appointing to the Supreme Court, including senators Ted Cruz and Tom Cotton.

The court faces a series of crucial cases in the coming months, including an attempt by Texas and other Republican states to overturn the Affordable Care Act, Mr. Obama’s signature health care law, and several efforts by conservative states to impose more restrictions on abortion.

In this file photo taken on February 24, 2009 Associate Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg arrives for President Barack Obama address to a joint session of Congress in the House Chamber of the Capitol in Washington.

PABLO MARTINEZ MONSIVAIS/AFP/Getty Images

The country is currently riven with legal battles over the rules for conducting the election amid the COVID-19 pandemic. There are more than 50 election-related lawsuits across the country, mostly concerning the scope of mail-in voting, with Democrats favouring easier access to the ballot and Republicans seeking to restrict it.

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This raises the possibility that, in the event of a close result, the Supreme Court could have to decide which ballots would be counted in crucial swing states, determining the winner of the White House.

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden called on Mr. McConnell to follow his own precedent.

Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden speaks to reporters about the passing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg upon arrival at New Castle County Airport after a trip to Duluth, Minnesota on September 18, 2020 in New Castle, Delaware.

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

“There is no doubt, let me be clear, that the voters should pick the president and the president should pick the justice for the Senate to consider,” he told reporters in Delaware. “This was the position the Republican Senate took in 2016 when there were almost 10 months to go before the election. That’s the position the U.S. Senate must take today. The election is only 46 days off.”

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer on Friday repeated, word for word, Mr. McConnell’s 2016 statement. “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president,” he tweeted.

In this file photo taken on August 09, 1993 Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court William Rehnquist (R) administers the oath of office to newly-appointed U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (L) as U.S. President Bill Clinton looks on.

KORT DUCE/AFP/Getty Images

Born in Brooklyn in 1933, Ms. Ginsburg worked as a law professor and advocate for the American Civil Liberties Union before president Jimmy Carter made her a federal judge in 1980. President Bill Clinton elevated her to the Supreme Court in 1993.

She authored important decisions in United States v. Virginia, which struck down the Virginia Military Institute’s policy of refusing to admit women; Friends of the Earth, Inc. v. Laidlaw Environmental Services, which expanded the ability of citizens to sue industrial polluters; and Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, which allowed states to appoint non-partisan commissions to draw electoral maps in a bid to end gerrymandering.

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Ms. Ginsburg, however, was just as well known for her dissents. These included Bush v. Gore, as well as cases on gender pay discrimination, abortion access and the Voting Rights Act.

She fought four previous bouts with cancer, but repeatedly insisted on remaining on the bench.

Her ardent liberalism and strong writing style gave her an unusually high profile for a jurist. Supporters nicknamed her “the Notorious RBG,” murals of her adorn walls around Washington and one public-service campaign implored the city’s residents to wear masks to protect Ms. Ginsburg from catching the novel coronavirus. At the news of her death, hundreds of mourners gathered on the steps of the Supreme Court Friday night.

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Clark warns of divisive politics, slate candidates during campaign launch – CKOM News Talk Sports

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Saskatoon incumbent mayor Charlie Clark is getting a late start on the fall election campaign trail, and he doesn’t like what he’s hearing so far.

Clark warned of division and mistrust creeping its way into Saskatoon’s municipal politics during his campaign launch in downtown Saskatoon Friday.

He said the American-style “politics of fear” have already appeared in the campaign, something he hasn’t seen during his five elections on the ballot dating back to 2006.

“I’ve seen name-calling, I’ve seen attempts to use crises in our community to attract attention on Facebook,” Clark said, offering two examples of negativity he’s seen from other candidates so far.

“When people are driven by fear or the us versus them mentality, it’s much more difficult to pull the community together and find solutions together, and it can create political gridlock if that’s what’s happening within a council or within a community.”

While Clark did agree that a council known for its 6-5 votes under his leadership may not be synonymous with unity, there were no personal attacks, no decisions made to pin councillors against one another or undermine each other.

Clark said he has concerns about fellow candidate Rob Norris’ attempts at organizing a slate of candidates for council.

“As a mayor, you don’t get to decide who you end up with on council,” Clark said before mentioning Norris has actively participated in other council candidates’ campaigns.

“You can make whatever promises you want, but good luck getting (councillors) to vote for your proposals if you make it on the other side.”

Clark said Norris has been door-knocking with other candidates and that “it has the clear indication that there are some allegiances.”

With a collage of his 80 volunteer campaign workers behind Clark’s podium as a backdrop, he drew on his four years of experience and his unfinished business in the future to move away from undermining other candidates and avoiding division to bring people together and last another term at city hall.

Clark spoke of being a champion of Saskatoon’s tech and agriculture, leading an economic growth strategy and a downtown safety strategy as just some of the ways he’s improved life in Saskatoon.

Clark’s mantra for his campaign is to keep people working, keep people safe and to keep strengthening quality of life.

Moving forward, Clark intends to improve infrastructure, keep taxes low while maintaining activities and services and to keep reconciliation, inclusion and sustainability a major focus.

With other candidates looking to axe the new downtown library project, get out of two-year budget cycles and limit or eliminate property tax increases, Clark said undoing years of progress can be dangerous.

“If a mayor or a future council wanted to spend their time, in the middle of a pandemic, revisiting a decision that’s already been there, it will create huge political challenges, potentially financial risk to the city and it’s very unclear if that could legally be undone,” Clark said, pointing to candidates attacking plans for a new library.

The new $134-million New Central Library is controlled by the library’s board of directors, not the City of Saskatoon.

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