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By Dareh Gregorian and Hallie Jackson

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam apologized Friday for appearing in a racially offensive photo on his medical school yearbook page that featured men in blackface and Ku Klux Klan robes.

“Earlier today, a website published a photograph of me from my 1984 medical school yearbook in a costume that is clearly racist and offensive,” Northam, a Democrat, said in a statement. “I am deeply sorry for the decision I made to appear as I did in this photo and for the hurt that decision caused then and now.”

He added, “This behavior is not in keeping with who I am today and the values I have fought for throughout my career in the military, in medicine and in public service. But I want to be clear, I understand how this decision shakes Virginians’ faith in that commitment.

“I recognize that it will take time and serious effort to heal the damage this conduct has caused. I am ready to do that important work. The first step is to offer my sincerest apology and to state my absolute commitment to living up to the expectations Virginians set for me when they elected me to be their Governor.”

The photo from the 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook ran alongside pictures of and personal information about Northam.

NBC verified the yearbook pictures with the school. NBC is not aware of the identities of both of the men in the picture in blackface or the Klan robes — although the governor’s statement confirms he is one or the other — but all the other photos on the page are clearly of Northam: one in a suit jacket, one in a cowboy hat where he is holding a beer, one sitting next to a Corvette.

Vincent Rhodes, chief communications officer for the school, said the production of the yearbook was a student activity, adding, “We don’t know when or where the picture was taken and we don’t know anything about its content.”

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, center, speaks about the Virginians for Reconciliation and Civility proclamation during a press conference inside the Pocahontas Building in Richmond, Virginia on Jan. 16, 2019.Bob Brown / Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP

“Racism has no place in Virginia,” said Republican Party of Virginia chairman Jack Wilson in a statement before Northam apologized. “These pictures are wholly inappropriate. If Governor Northam appeared in blackface or dressed in a KKK robe, he should resign immediately.”

Republican state Sen. Bryce Reeves said in a statement to the Associated Press that Northam should resign if the reports of the photos are accurate.

“I hope that this picture is inaccurate and that the Governor brings clarity to this issue. This has no place in Virginia,” Reeves said before Northam apologized.

Democratic presidential candidate Julián Castro called on Northam to step down after his apology.

“It doesn’t matter if he is a Republican or a Democrat. This behavior was racist and unconscionable. Governor Northam should resign,” he tweeted.

And the executive director of MoveOn.org, a progressive group, tweeted Friday night that Northam’s got to go.



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Judges tell Trump admin to clean up its act: Migrant children need soap

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SAN FRANCISCO — A panel of judges on Thursday dismissed an appeal by the U.S. government that contended detained immigrant children might not require soap during shorter stints in custody under a longstanding settlement agreement.

A three-judge panel for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco dismissed a challenge to a lower court decision that authorities had failed to provide safe and sanitary conditions for the children under the 1997 settlement.

The U.S. government had argued that authorities weren’t required to provide specific accommodations, such as soap, under the agreement’s requirement that facilities be “safe and sanitary” and asked the panel to weigh in. The appellate judges disagreed and dismissed the government’s case.

“Assuring that children eat enough edible food, drink clean water, are housed in hygienic facilities with sanitary bathrooms, have soap and toothpaste, and are not sleep-deprived are without doubt essential to the children’s safety,” the panel wrote.

The ruling followed a June hearing where a U.S. government lawyer said the agreement was vague and didn’t necessarily require that a toothbrush and soap be provided to children during brief stays in custody.

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Federal judge bars Georgia from using electronic-only voting system in 2020

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A federal judge in Georgia ruled Thursday that the state must do more to protect the security of its elections and ordered that it no longer use its electronic-only system after 2019.

“This case arises in a technology context where Georgia’s current voting equipment, software, election and voter databases are antiquated, seriously flawed and vulnerable to failure, breach, contamination and attack,” wrote U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg, who is based in Atlanta.

If Georgia cannot implement a recently approved voting system in time, the judge further ordered that the state must be prepared to return to an all-paper system, a move that she declined to mandate last year.

The lawsuit, known as Curling v. Raffensberger, was brought in 2017 by a voting-rights group, along with a handful of Georgia voters.“This is a big win for all Georgia voters and those working across the country to secure elections and protect the right to vote,” David Cross, the plaintiffs’ attorney, said in a statement. “The court ordered Georgia to finally take critical steps it has long refused to take to protect elections against interference and voters against disenfranchisement.”

Georgia is one of the few states that has electronic voting but does not produce paper receipts. According to a study released this week by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, South Carolina and Pennsylvania have committed to replacing their paperless systems by 2020.

In late July, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger said in a statement that the new system would be in place in time for the March 24, 2020, presidential primary.

“Elections security is my top priority,” Raffensperger said. “We look forward to working with national and local elections security experts to institute best practices and continue to safeguard all aspects of physical and cybersecurity in an ever-changing threat environment.”

The case’s origins date to August 2016 when a cybersecurity researcher was able to quickly download a vast trove of Georgia’s election management data and materials.

In her Thursday ruling, Totenberg expressed her clear dissatisfaction with Georgia’s slow-moving pace.

“The imminent threats of contamination, dysfunction and attacks on State and county voting systems, disparaged by the Secretary of State’s representatives at the 2018 hearing virtually as a fantasy and still minimized as speculative at the 2019 hearing, have been identified in the most credible major national and state cybersecurity studies and official government reports,” she added.



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Netanyahu takes a big loss for Trump’s little win against ‘the squad’

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WASHINGTON — A real friend doesn’t ask for too much.

President Donald Trump may have done just that by pressuring Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to deny Reps. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., and Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., entry into his country because of their support for the BDS movement, which advocates for boycotting Israel, divesting from it and sanctioning it.

For Trump, it was a minor moment of triumph — a signal of contempt to half of “the squad” lawmakers, all women of color, who fought back when he harassed them with racist invective several weeks ago. But it required real sacrifice from Netanyahu: He had to make Israel look bad to make Trump happy. In doing so, he handed his critics around the world pallets full of rhetorical ammunition.

Netanyahu showed in stark relief that speech is limited in Israel. He risked further deterioration of support for his country within a Democratic Party that lays claim to the vast majority of Jewish voters. And he allowed the Jewish people, survivors of some of the world’s worst tyrants since the advent of monotheism, to be portrayed as frightened, either of the two congresswomen or of Trump.

That was the cost of Trump’s friendship Thursday.

Omar lined up to whack Israel with an extra special measure of red-white-and-blue self-righteous indignation.

“The irony of the ‘only democracy’ in the Middle East making such a decision is that it is both an insult to democratic values and a chilling response to a visit by government officials from an allied nation,” she said on Twitter, noting that, as a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, it’s her job to conduct oversight of U.S. policy toward Israel.

The move was deemed bad enough for Israel — harmful enough to that country — that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which is usually as close to Netanyahu as his suit, softly but publicly disagreed with it.

“We disagree with Reps. Omar and Tlaib’s support for the anti-Israel and anti-peace BDS movement, along with Rep. Tlaib’s calls for a one-state solution,” AIPAC wrote in a tweet. “We also believe every member of Congress should be able to visit and experience our democratic ally Israel firsthand.”

A relatively new Israeli law gives the government flexibility to approve or deny access to public figures who promote the BDS movement. While the pair do back that effort, they are outliers in Congress. The House passed an anti-BDS resolution last month with only 17 dissenting votes, including Omar and Tlaib. It had 351 co-sponsors, accounting for more than 80 percent of the House.

But as Omar and Tlaib made plans to visit Israel and Palestinian territory this month, the Israeli ambassador to the U.S., Ron Dermer, said that they should not have a problem gaining entry.

Trump didn’t agree.

“It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep. Tlaib to visit,” Trump tweeted Thursday morning, after news of the decision had broken but before the Israeli government had confirmed it. “They hate Israel & all Jewish people, & there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds.”

Netanyahu offered an explanation in a statement released shortly thereafter.

“As a vibrant and free democracy, Israel is open to any critic and criticism, with one exception: Israel’s law prohibits the entry of people who call and operate to boycott Israel, as is the case with other democracies that prevent the entry of people whose perception harms the country,” he said. He added that the congresswomen were deemed troublemakers because their itinerary didn’t include meetings with government officials.

“Their intent is to hurt Israel and increase its unrest,” he said.

The odds that the congresswomen would have any real effect on unrest in the Middle East are, of course, slim to none. But by refusing to allow them into the country, Israel didn’t just allow them to decry its policies. It gave them a higher platform from which to do so — and, in the eyes of some, the higher ground.

As Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida put it, “being blocked is what they really hoped for” in the first place.

“I disagree 100% with Reps. Tlaib & Omar on #Israel & am the author of the #AntiBDS bill we passed in the Senate,” he wrote on Twitter. “But denying them into #Israel is a mistake.”

Trump has long worked to use Israel as a wedge to divide Jewish voters from the Democratic Party, and Omar and Tlaib are part and parcel of that strategy.

The congresswomen “are the face of the Democrat Party, and they HATE Israel!” Trump tweeted later in the day.

Whatever their feelings toward Israel, neither Tlaib nor Omar asked Netanyahu for anything more than the courtesy that has been extended to members of Congress from both parties for decades as a means of bolstering the relationship between the two countries: the right to visit.

What Trump sought — and got — was more than any friend had a right to expect.

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