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By Mitchell Prothero, McClatchy Foreign Staff

IRBIL, Iraq — Nearly half of Syria’s population has been displaced either internally or externally as refugees in the worst humanitarian crisis to strike the Middle East in at least a century, according to new data released by the International Rescue Committee.

The complex civil war, which has now morphed into a three-way free-for-all among rebels, the Syrian regime, and a caliphate of Islamic extremists attacking virtually everyone, has driven at least 3 million people from Syria into neighboring countries. The movement is stressing already fragile nations such as Jordan and Lebanon, who have born the brunt of the exodus even as both deal with their own unstable internal political situations.

Turkey also has received hundreds of thousands of refugees and continues to struggle to control its own border; thousands of foreign Jihadi fighters have used Turkey to access the Syrian battlefield. They offset the tens of thousands of Syrian fleeing the fighting, leaving southern Turkey awash in desperate refugees and militants of all stripes.

In terms of world history, the IRC, considered one of the world’s most effective aid organizations, says the situation has reached a level of disaster not seen worldwide since the Rwandan genocide more than 20 years ago that saw fewer people — about 1.5 million — displaced but nearly a million killed. The casualties in the Syrian conflict have been estimated by the United Nations conservatively at over 200,000 dead since it began in early 2011.

The lack of a coordinated international effort to address such an enormous catastrophe in the volatile region makes no sense in the modern era, according to an IRC official.

“This new milestone is as unacceptable as it is tragic. This level of human suffering, anguish, and misery does not belong in the 21st century — it is a devastating new hallmark of human failure,” said IRC President David Miliband. “It should not take these numbers for the crisis to hit the headlines — we are witnessing the biggest humanitarian catastrophe for a generation in one of the least stable and most dangerous parts of the world. This crisis needs more public attention, more international financing, and crucially more political endeavor to tackle the root of the crisis: political dysfunction that has led to violence, chaos, and death.”

The situation in Lebanon, which has absorbed at least 1.2 million refugees into an already unstable population of about 4 million people — and an additional estimated 300,000 Palestinian refugees that have been living in camps for decades — poses the greatest concern.
With a government widely considered the least effectual in an already unstable region, Lebanon has refused to formulate an official government plan to deal with crisis, leaving virtually all of the aid and organizational work to either outside aid groups or even to the refugees themselves, who instead of living in camps where the population can be easily accessed by aid groups — such as the enormous Zaatari Camp in northern Jordan — are scattered throughout Lebanon in small makeshift camps, private homes, or even living on the streets.

AFP Photo

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Eric Holder

The failure of major federal voting rights legislation in the Senate has left civil rights advocates saying they are determined to keep fighting—including by suing in battleground states. But the little bipartisan consensus that exists on election reform would, at best, lead to much narrower legislation that is unlikely to address state-level GOP efforts now targeting Democratic blocs.

“This is the loss of a battle, but it is not necessarily the loss of a war, and this war will go on,” Eric Holder, the former U.S. attorney general and Democrat, told MSNBC, saying that he and the Democratic Party will be suing in states where state constitutions protect voting rights. “This fight for voting rights and voter protection and for our democracy will continue.”

“The stakes are too important to give up now,” said Damon Hewitt, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which for years has operated an Election Day hotline to help people vote. “Our country cannot claim to be free while allowing states to legislate away that freedom at will.”

In recent weeks, as it became clear that the Senate was not going to change its rules to allow the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to pass with a simple majority, there have been efforts by some lawmakers, election policy experts, and civil rights advocates to identify what election reforms could pass the Senate.

“There are several areas… where I think there could be bipartisan consensus,” said David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research, in a briefing on January 20. “These areas are all around those guardrails of democracy. They are all about ensuring that however the voters speak that their voice is heard… and cannot be subverted by anyone in the post-election process.”

Becker cited updating the 1887 Electoral Count Act, which addressed the process where state-based slates of presidential electors are accepted by Congress. (In recent weeks, new evidence has surfaced showing that Donald Trump’s supporters tried to present Congress with forged certificates as part of an effort to disrupt ratifying the results on January 6, 2021.) Updating that law could also include clarifying which state officials have final authority in elections and setting out clear timetables for challenging election results in federal court after Election Day.

Five centrist Washington-based think tanks issued a report on January 20, Prioritizing Achievable Federal Election Reform, which suggested federal legislation could codify practices now used by nearly three-quarters of the states. Those include requiring voters to present ID, offering at least a week of early voting, allowing all voters to request a mailed-out ballot, and allowing states to start processing returned absentee ballots a week before Election Day.

But the report, which heavily drew on a task force of 29 state and local election officials from 20 states convened by Washington’s Bipartisan Policy Center, was notable in what it did not include, such as restoring the major enforcement section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was removed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013. It did not mention the Electoral Count Act nor growing threats to election officials from Trump supporters.

“This won’t satisfy all supporters of the Freedom to Vote Act, but this is a plausible & serious package of reforms to make elections more accessible and secure that could attract bipartisan support,” tweeted Charles Stewart III, a political scientist and director of the MIT Election Data and Science Lab. “A good starting point.”

The reason the centrist recommendations won’t satisfy civil rights advocates is that many of the most troubling developments since the 2020 election would likely remain.

Targeting Battleground States

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Former president Donald Trump

By Rami Ayyub and Alexandra Ulmer

(Reuters) -The prosecutor for Georgia's biggest county on Thursday requested a special grand jury with subpoena power to aid her investigation into then-President Donald Trump's efforts to influence the U.S. state's 2020 election results.

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