Feb. 2021 News

 

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Editor's Choice: Scroll below for our monthly blend of mainstream and alternative February 2021 news and views

Note: Excerpts are from the authors' words except for subheads and occasional "Editor's notes" such as this.

 

Feb. 28

Top Headliness

 

Virus Victims, Responses

 

Media News

 

U.S. Politics, Governance

 

U.S. Law, Courts, Crime

 

Top Stories

washington post logoWashington Post, House Democrats pass Biden’s $1.9 trillion relief plan despite setback on minimum wage, Erica Werner and Jeff Stein, Feb. 28, 2021 (print ed.). The president’s wide-ranging relief bill clears the House over unanimous GOP opposition, heads to Senate.

joe biden gage skidmore microphoneThe House approved President Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus plan early Saturday and sent it to the Senate, as Democrats defied united GOP opposition to advance the massive relief package aimed at stabilizing the economy and boosting coronavirus vaccinations and testing.

The legislation, Biden’s first major agenda item, passed 219-212. Republicans unanimously opposed the bill, a strikingly partisan outcome just a month after the new president was inaugurated with calls for bipartisanship and unity. All but two Democrats voted in favor.

The vote closed shortly after 2 a.m. Saturday after a long day of debate, with Republicans repeatedly decrying the legislation as a partisan boondoggle and Democrats defending it as much-needed relief. Even bigger fights await in the Senate, where Democratic unity will face greater tests.

The action in the House came after the Senate parliamentarian ruled that the $15 minimum wage in the legislation is not permitted under Senate rules. House Democrats included it anyway, and it’s not clear how the issue will get resolved.

Nancy Pelosi Ahead of the vote House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), left, pledged that even if the Senate takes out the minimum-wage increase — the No. 1 priority for many liberals — the House will “absolutely” pass the revised legislation and send it to Biden to sign.

democratic donkey logoBeyond the minimum-wage increase, the sprawling relief bill would provide $1,400 stimulus payments to tens of millions of American households; extend enhanced federal unemployment benefits through August; provide $350 billion in aid to states, cities, U.S. territories and tribal governments; and boost funding for vaccine distribution and coronavirus testing — among myriad other measures, such as nutritional assistance, housing aid and money for schools.

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washington post logoWashington Post, Biden tells the world ‘America is back.’ The world isn’t so sure, Anne Gearan and Ashley Parker, Feb. 28, 2021 (print ed.). President Biden (shown in a file photo) is pushing to reclaim America’s global leadership after four years of the former president's insults and snubs.

For President Biden and his circle, a low point in America’s global standing under President Donald Trump came when he blew up a meeting of U.S. allies in 2018, accusing close partners of “robbing” the United States and hurling insults at his Canadian host.

So it was no accident that Biden’s push to reclaim American leadership in recent days has pointedly included a starring role for Canada, as the new administration seeks to woo an array of allies with a message that “America is back.”

But it’s increasingly clear that Biden cannot simply sweep up the broken diplomatic china and restore the world order that reigned when he was vice president. There is one simple reason: Allies know Trumpism could always come back, either in a 2024 bid by Trump himself or from another presidential hopeful offering a similar pitch.

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 Donald Trump at CPAC on Feb. 28 in Orlando, Florida. Photo: Courtesy of C-SPAN.

Axios, In CPAC speech, Trump says he won't start a 3rd party, Alayna Treene and Orion Rummler, Feb. 28, 2021. In his first public speech since leaving office, former President Trump told the audience at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) that he would not start a third party because "we have the Republican party."

Why it matters: The former president aims to cement himself as Republicans' "presumptive 2024 nominee" as his top contenders — including former members of his administration — face the challenge of running against the GOP's most popular politician.

republican elephant logoTrump made clear that he isn't going anywhere and treated his CPAC speech like one of his MAGA rallies, bouncing around on topics, bashing political opponents, and listing long-held grievances.

After predicting that President Biden would "lose the White House decisively four years from now," Trump said he might run again in 2024, while repeating the false claim that he won the 2020 election: "Actually, as you know, they just lost the White House. Who knows, I may even decide to beat them for a third time, okay?"

"This election was rigged," Trump falsely claimed, before calling for heavy restrictions on mail-in and absentee voting.

No longer able to do so on Twitter, Trump spent a good portion of his speech sowing doubt about election and stoking the same anger among his base that led to the violence at the Capitol on 1/6.

What to watch: 2024 contenders like Mike Pompeo, Nikki Haley, and Mike Pence — two of whom skipped CPAC this year — will need to throw their hat in the ring earlier than their potential challengers who are in office.

The former Trump administration officials no longer have the public platform needed to stay relevant on a day-to-day basis.

Trump's derisive language and refusal to take a back seat is also further contributing to the factions we're seeing take shape within the GOP.

Mitch McConnell had to eat crow after taking a beating from Trump following his scathing remarks about the former president's role in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. The minority leader said he would "absolutely" support Trump if he were the 2024 Republican nominee.

Mitt Romney, arguably Trump's biggest GOP detractor in Congress, said this week that Trump would probably win the 2024 nomination if he ran.

washington post logoWashington Post, Supreme Court to again consider protections for minority voters, Robert Barnes, Feb. 28, 2021 (print ed.). A more conservative court could make changes in how rules for next election will be set. This week, justices will review the shield provided by the Voting Rights Act, first passed in 1965 to forbid laws that result in discrimination based on race.

With one contentious election behind it, the Supreme Court this week will consider the rules for the next, and how federal law protects minority voters as states across the nation race to revamp their regulations.

The court on Tuesday will review the shield provided by the Voting Rights Act (VRA), first passed in 1965 to forbid laws that result in discrimination based on race.

The cases at the Supreme Court involve two voting regulations from Arizona that are in common use across the country. One throws out the ballots of those who vote in the wrong precinct. The other restricts who may collect ballots cast early for delivery to polling places, a practice then-President Donald Trump denounced as “ballot harvesting.”

But the greater impact will be the test that the increasingly conservative court develops for proving violations of the VRA, as new laws are proposed and state legislatures begin redrawing congressional and legislative districts following the 2020 Census.

 

Virus Victims, Responses

Worldometer, World & U.S. Coronavirus Case Totals (updated: Feb. 28, 2021), with some governments reporting slightly lower numbers than the totals here):

World Cases: 114,468,777, Deaths: 2,539,109
U.S. Cases:    29,202,966, Deaths:    524,670

washington post logocovad 19 photo.jpg Custom 2Washington Post, 49.8 million vaccinated: The number of people who have received at least one dose of the vaccine, covering 40.9% of the prioritized population and 15 % of the total population. See about your state.

 

Media News

washington post logoWashington Post, Marty Baron, Jeff Bezos, Donald Trump and the eight years that reshaped The Washington Post — and journalism, Sarah Ellison, Feb. 28, 2021 (print ed.). Baron, who is retiring Sunday, expected to manage a newspaper during hard times. Instead, he found unimagined opportunities and challenges under the ownership of Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, left at left.

martin baron at 2018 pulitzers wikimedia commonsThe biggest challenge Baron, right, saw when he started at The Post in the first week of 2013: "We didn't have a clear vision about how we were going to get out of the mess that we were in."

At a time of aging readership, steep print circulation declines and the loss of ad revenue to digital players including Facebook and Google, The Post had avoided the major layoffs imposed by many other regional newspapers. But its ranks and its ambitions had been thinned by staff buyouts and positions left unfilled.

jeffrey bezos washington postThe effect was plainly visible to Baron in a news product he found at the time to be lacking in investigative and accountability reporting.

“And I was surprised by that,” he said, “that here we were with The Washington Post, and some days we were struggling to figure out what would be worth putting on the front page.”

Meanwhile, it seemed to him that the staff was unnecessarily demoralized by the fact that its longtime rival, the New York Times, appeared to be thriving. Baron, though, saw opportunity. “They can be the U.S. Army, and we can be the Special Forces,” he said. “And you know, the Special Forces can win the war.”

It was a pragmatic optimism that Baron had also shown in his earlier roles overseeing newsrooms whose flush days were past. At the Herald, “he came in and said, ‘This is the hand we are dealt,’ ” said Alberto Ibargüen, who was publisher when he hired Baron as editor.

He displayed a sure-footedness in managing staff and stories. “He demanded more from the people we had,” Ibargüen said. “His insight was we didn’t need to go around hiring reporters from every which place; he just needed people to step up and do the reporting they are capable of.”

Hollywood PoliTrivia, Commentary: Hollywood, the Press, and Politics, Wayne Madsen, left, Feb. 28, 2021. Newspaper columnists who specialized in Hollywood wayne madsen may 29 2015 cropped Smallgossip provided an early bridge between Tinsel Town and Washington, DC.

Perhaps the most well-known disher of dirt on the printed page was Hedda Hopper, born Elda Furry, a former New York chorus girl and Hollywood actress. After seeing her movie career ebb, in 1935, Hopper began writing a weekly gossip column for The Washington Herald, which was owned by yellow journalism purveyor William Randolph Hearst.

Hopper was vicious toward those who, out of dislike for Hopper, passed juicy items to her arch-rival in the gossip business, Louella Parsons. Known as the "Queen of Hollywood Gossip," Parsons lost sole claim to that title after Hopper arrived on the scene.

Parsons and Hopper paved the way for other gossip columnists, including men, to enter the business of dishing dirt on the printed page and over the airwaves. On the East Coast, Walter Winchell's gossip columns and staccato-voiced broadcasts became the source of all sorts of juicy gossip on celebrities and politicos, alike. Winchell's own rival, Ed Sullivan, specialized in writing about Broadway shows and providing tantalizing gossip about Gotham's celebrity set in his "Little Old New York" column in New York Daily News.

Winchell and Sullivan, like Hopper and Parsons, competed with one another to see which was more anti-Communist.

ny times logoNew York Times, Lawyer Seeks Criminal Investigation of T.I. and Tiny on Behalf of Multiple Women, Melena Ryzik and Joe Coscarelli, Feb. 28, 2021. The Atlanta superstar rapper and his wife have denied allegations that they drugged and sexually assaulted women, and their lawyer called it a “shakedown.”

Weeks after accusations of sexual abuse and assault against the rapper T.I. and his wife, Tameka Harris, started circulating on social media, a lawyer has approached law enforcement authorities in two states seeking criminal inquiries, on behalf of 11 people who said they were victimized by the couple or members of their entourage.

Four women have accused the celebrity pair of drugging and sexually assaulting them, including two instances of rape that were said to have occurred in Georgia and California, according to the letters sent on Feb. 19 by the lawyer, Tyrone A. Blackburn, to state and federal prosecutors in both states. Similar letters were sent to the attorneys general in those states.

Mr. Blackburn, a New York-based lawyer, said that the “eerily similar” experiences spanned more than a decade, beginning in 2005; the most recent allegation of sexual abuse occurred in 2017 or 2018, he said. None of the women involved know one another, but described “sexual abuse, forced ingestion of illegal narcotics, kidnapping, terroristic threats and false imprisonment” at the behest of T.I., Ms. Harris and their associates or employees, Mr. Blackburn wrote. His letters also included instances of nonsexual intimidation, assault and harassment.

A lawyer for T.I. and Ms. Harris said that the couple “deny in the strongest possible terms these baseless and unjustified allegations.”

“We fully expect that if these claims are thoroughly and fairly investigated, no charges will be forthcoming,” the lawyer, Steve Sadow, said in a statement on Friday. “These allegations are nothing more than the continuation of a sordid shakedown campaign that began on social media and now attempts to manipulate the press and misuse the justice system.”

Mr. Blackburn’s letters called on the officials to investigate the behavior of T.I., an Atlanta superstar born Clifford J. Harris Jr., and Ms. Harris, also known as Tiny, a member of the R&B group Xscape, in order “to tackle and end the stream of depravity being committed.” Most of his clients were referred to anonymously in the letters, Mr. Blackburn wrote, because they were “in fear for their lives and safety,” citing T.I.’s reputation as a powerful man who has been convicted in the past of federal weapons charges.

However, the lawyer added: “My clients and their witnesses are prepared to speak with investigators and prosecutors from your office.”

 

U.S. Politics, Governance

washington post logoWashington Post, At conservative conference, Trump’s election falsehoods flourish, David Weigel, Feb. 28, 2021 (print ed.). The Republican Party on display at CPAC this weekend was anti-monopoly, anti-free trade, skeptical of foreign wars, girded for economic conflict with China — and frequently invested in things that aren’t true.

Election myths were mentioned often, though rarely the damage they’d led to on Jan. 6, when hordes of Trump supporters fueled by the falsehoods and seeking to block Joe Biden’s election stormed the Capitol.

Trump’s feuds with election officials and social media companies have become the conservative movement’s causes, as the weekend demonstrated. Trump will make his first post-White House speech at the conference on Sunday.

republican elephant logoA regular sub-theme for Trump loyalists was censorship; left unspoken was that various politicians, including Trump, were kicked off social media platforms for repeatedly spreading falsehoods about the election.

“If they can censor him, they can censor any American citizen,” said Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, who got a standing ovation on Friday when he talked about contesting Pennsylvania’s electoral votes on Jan. 6. “I said, we ought to have a debate about election integrity. What was the result of that?”

Some of the event’s sponsors told attendees about new social networks where they could escape post-Jan. 6 limits on their speech, or anecdotes that could validate their election doubts. Gemki Fujii, a Japanese conservative activist who paid for ads and a booth at the conference, said in a video that Americans needed to form a “samurai-to-samurai alliance” with Asian conservatives after the 2020 election was “stolen” on behalf of “the Chinese Communist Party.”

madison cawthorn resized hunting amazon

washington post logoWashington Post, The making of Rep. Madison Cawthorn: How falsehoods helped propel the career of a new pro-Trump star of the far right, Michael Kranish, Feb. 28, 2021 (print ed.). Cawthorn, 25, shown above, a Republican congressman representing the Ashville region in North Carolina, has adopted the Trump playbook, making false statements about his background, issuing baseless allegations about voter fraud and demonizing his political opponents.

joe biden kamala harris

Palmer Report, Opinion: I’m going to say something controversial: we’re winning, Bill Palmer, right, Feb 28, 2021. After four years of fighting just to keep some bill palmersemblance of the American democracy alive, a final year of fighting just to keep ourselves alive, and a grand finale that included a terrorist attack and the attempted murder of the top elected leaders in our government, it’s easy to see how the mindset has set in that we might not exactly be winning.

Add all of that with the fact that we’re still stuck in a pandemic, the economy is still on thin ice, and the Republican Party is more unapologetically deranged than ever, and it helps create the illusion that we’re still losing. Throw in the reminder we’re all getting this month that constructively governing is slow and tricky even when the good guys are in charge, and it’s easy to understand everyone’s frustration.

bill palmer report logo headerBut I’m going to tell you something controversial: we are in fact winning. And we’re not just winning in small or isolated ways, either. Remember all those executive orders President Biden signed during the first week? They’ve restored rights, fixed many of the wrongs of the previous four years, and saved lives. The COVID relief bill is about to pass, and while it may not include the minimum wage provision, we managed to get every dollar we wanted into the bill – and it’s all going to the right places.

Russia is openly pissed off that President Biden blew up a Syrian ammo dump in order to get a terror cell to cool its heels. Stop and think about how much of a breakthrough it is that Russia is actually pissed off at the United States. That went four years without happening. Republicans are having meltdowns at CPAC about transgender rights, because we’re in the process of finally making transgender rights happen. We’re also going to make voting rights happen, and yes, the minimum wage will end up happening one way or the other.

democratic donkey logoSo why exactly do we think we’re still losing? Part of it may be that the media spent four years portraying Trump and the Republicans as being able to get their way on everything they wanted, by a simple wave of a magic wand. In reality this was never the case. Despite having majority control, Trump and the GOP only managed to carry out a fraction of their desired agenda, and only by grinding it out. Remember all the times we dragged out a bill or a nomination that the GOP wanted to pass, even though they had the majority? Now they’re doing that to us. Those are the “checks and balances” that in any other context we’d be applauding.

After four years of losing, and four years of (incorrectly) being told that the other side was magically doing everything it wanted to do, here we are in charge – and it turns out to be an incremental grind. But government is always a grind, for whichever side might be in charge. In politics, this is what winning and progress look like. It’s never about foot stomping or instant gratification.

You have to fight for the opportunity to be in charge, and then once you’re in charge, you have to fight to make things happen. If you want instant gratification, or you’re only interested in complaining that good things aren’t happening as cleanly as you’d like, then politics isn’t the right arena for you.

Axios, Border Democrat warns Biden about immigrant fallout, Stef W. Kight, Feb. 28, 2021. A Democratic lawmaker representing a border district warned the Biden administration against easing up too much on unauthorized immigrants, citing their impact on his constituents, local hospitals and their potential to spread the coronavirus.

Why it matters: Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) told Axios he supports President Biden. But the moderate said he sees the downsides of efforts to placate pro-immigrant groups, an effort that threatens to blow up on the administration.

"You just can't say, 'Yeah, yeah, let everybody in' — because then we're affected down there at the border," Cuellar told Axios on Saturday.

The big picture: Border crossings are rising. Hospitals in the Rio Grande Valley area are already busy. The Border Patrol has less capacity than normal.

Cuellar hopes the administration continues using a Trump-era public health order to quickly expel migrant adults and families, at least during the pandemic. Activists have called for Biden to end the use of the policy, called Title 42.

democratic donkey logoHe said smugglers will likely use the shift in immigration tactics from the Trump to the Biden administration to convince migrants to come to the U.S. "The bad guys know how to market this," Cuellar said.

Some immigrants are being allowed into the country without getting a COVID-19 test first — a concern for some non-governmental organizations caring for them, Cuellar said.

He complained about a contradiction between releasing some unauthorized immigrants into border communities while keeping legal, cross-border travel closed. Many local businesses depend on Mexican shoppers for 50% to 75% of their sales, he said.

Cuellar is not the first Texas Democrat to warn the Biden administration of the impact of growing numbers of immigrants on border communities.

Facing the weather emergency in Texas, Del Rio Mayor Bruno Lozano targeted the president in a video this month: "I am pleading and requesting with you to please put a halt to any measures regarding the release of immigrants."

ny times logoNew York Times, Cuomo Attacked Over His Plan for Review of Sex Harassment Claims, Dana Rubinstein, Feb. 28, 2021. Democratic leaders in Albany questioned the impartiality of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s choice to lead the inquiry, while others called for his immediate resignation.

andrew cuomoHours after a second woman came forward to accuse Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, right, of sexually harassing her, a torrent of New York politicians from Mr. Cuomo’s own Democratic Party demanded an independent investigation into the matter.

Many of those elected officials — including the leaders of the State Senate and Assembly — seemed skeptical of Mr. Cuomo’s decision to appoint a former federal judge with close ties to one of Mr. Cuomo’s longtime allies to conduct a “full and thorough outside review.”

A small handful of lawmakers from the Democratic Party’s leftmost flank joined with some Republicans to demand that Mr. Cuomo immediately resign.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Biden’s Middle East policy is one-and-a-half steps forward, but not enough, Jennifer Rubin, Feb. 28, 2021. Contrary to conservative critics who fear the Biden administration would fail to respond to Iranian proxy attacks for fear of disrupting conversations to get back into the Iran nuclear deal, the president and his advisers have responded forcefully.

 

U.S. Law, Courts, Crime

washington post logoWashington Post, Post, Retropolis, The Past, Rediscovered: An NYPD cop allegedly confessed to aiding in Malcolm X’s assassination. His daughter says his letter is fake. His daughter says his letter is fake, Derek Hawkins, Feb. 28, 2021. Kelly Wood said there was no way her father, Raymond A. Wood, wrote the letter, in which he purportedly admitted to helping arrest members of Malcolm X’s security team days before the 1965 assassination.

malcolm x stamp black heritageA letter purporting to contain a New York police officer’s deathbed confession about his involvement in the assassination of Malcolm X (shown at right on a U.S. postage stamp) is a fake, the officer’s daughter said Friday, adding another wrinkle to decades-long investigations into the civil rights leader’s killing.

In an interview with NY1, Kelly Wood said there was no way her father, Raymond A. Wood, wrote the letter, in which he purportedly admitted to helping arrest members of Malcolm X’s security team days before the 1965 assassination.

“My father is not a coward. He would have never ever asked anybody to speak on his behalf after his passing,” she said. “If he had something to say, he would have said it when he was alive. I’m certain of that.”

The document made waves when it was released last week by Malcolm X’s three daughters, civil rights attorney Ben Crump and Wood’s cousin, Reggie Wood. They said Raymond Wood wrote it after falling ill in 2011 and asked that it not be made public until after he died.

The revelations seemed to bolster long-standing claims by some activists and historians that the New York Police Department and the FBI helped orchestrate the murder of Malcolm X, who was gunned down in a Harlem auditorium as he was preparing to speak.

But Kelly Wood said it would have been out of character for her father to keep critical information about Malcolm X’s death hidden for all those years. “If he was involved in any way,” she said, “he would have spoken up earlier.” While she believed Reggie Wood may have been sincerely trying to assist Malcolm X’s family, she told NY1, “hurting my father’s reputation is not the way to do it.”

The letter described how Raymond Wood, while working as an undercover NYPD officer, was assigned to a unit that infiltrated civil rights groups in search of illegal activities so that the FBI could arrest their leaders. According to the letter, Wood’s supervisors threatened to charge him with false crimes if he tried to resign.

“I participated in actions that in hindsight were deplorable and detrimental to my own black people,” the letter read. “Under the direction of my handlers, I was told to encourage leaders and members of the civil rights groups to commit felonious acts.”

In February 1965, according to the letter, Wood’s supervisors had him lure two key players on Malcolm X’s security team into a plot to bomb the Statue of Liberty. Four people were arrested on Feb. 16 on charges that they sought to blow the head off the structure, and Wood was credited on the front page of the New York Times for infiltrating the group. Malcolm X was assassinated Feb. 21 at the Audubon Ballroom, where guards were unable to secure the entry.

According to the letter, Wood’s supervisors ordered him to be at the ballroom that day, and witnesses reported him leaving the scene after the fatal shooting. Khalil Islam, also known as Thomas Johnson, “was later arrested and wrongfully convicted to protect my cover and the secrets of the FBI and NYPD,” the letter read.

Wood is said to have written the letter after being diagnosed with stomach cancer in 2011. The cancer went into remission in 2012, and he did not die until November.

At last weekend’s news conference, Reggie Wood said his cousin had been estranged from the family for more than 46 years around the time his health declined and wanted to reconnect with his relatives before he died. Reggie Wood said he volunteered to move Raymond Wood to Tampa so his family could care for him. After Raymond Wood died, he found the “confession letter,” which he said Raymond Wood had written and mailed to Reggie Wood’s father.

washington post logoWashington Post, Virginia House passes bill to legalize pot in 2024, Gregory S. Schneider and Laura Vozzella, Virginia lawmakers reached a deal Saturday on landmark legislation to legalize marijuana in 2024 as the General Assembly wrapped up an ambitious legislative session.

But the deal drew fierce pushback from legalization advocates, who said the compromise was worse than the status quo because, among other things, it requires the legislature to vote on aspects of the bill again next year, when Democratic control of the General Assembly and Executive Mansion is not a given.

The criticism added drama and uncertainty to the day as lawmakers scrambled to keep the massive legalization bill on track. But the House eventually passed the nearly 300-page measure on a vote of 48 to 43, with two abstaining, and the Senate followed suit with a 20-to-19 vote.

Last-minute wrangling on the marijuana bill capped six weeks of action on other big-ticket issues, including votes to make Virginia the first Southern state to abolish the death penalty, codifying sweeping changes to the state’s early-voting system and addressing the economic and social impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Democrats, who control both chambers, pushed their agenda with an eye toward elections this fall, when their grip on power is at stake in contests for all 100 seats in the House of Delegates along with governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general.

 

Feb. 27

Top Headlines

 

Virus Victims, Responses

 

More On Pro-Trump Capitol Riot Mob

 

U.S. Politics, Governance

 

U.S. Law, Courts, Crime

 

World News

 

Top Stories

ny times logoNew York Times, In Statehouses, Stolen-Election Myth Fuels a G.O.P. Drive to Rewrite Rules, Michael Wines, Feb. 27, 2021. President Donald J. Trump’s baseless claims of a stolen election, Republicans in state legislatures nationwide are mounting extraordinary efforts to change the rules of voting and representation — and enhance their own political clout.

At the top of those efforts is a slew of bills raising new barriers to casting votes, particularly the mail ballots that Democrats flocked to in the 2020 election. But other measures go well beyond that, including tweaking Electoral College and judicial election rules for the benefit of Republicans; clamping down on citizen-led ballot initiatives; and outlawing private donations that provide resources for administering elections, which were crucial to the smooth November vote.

republican elephant logoAnd although the decennial redrawing of political maps has been pushed to the fall because of delays in delivering 2020 census totals, there are already signs of an aggressive drive to further gerrymander political districts, particularly in states under complete Republican control.

The national Republican Party joined the movement this past week by setting up a Committee on Election Integrity to scrutinize state election laws, echoing similar moves by Republicans in a number of state legislatures.

Republicans have long thought — sometimes quietly, occasionally out loud — that large turnouts, particularly in urban areas, favor Democrats, and that Republicans benefit when fewer people vote. But politicians and scholars alike say that this moment feels like a dangerous plunge into uncharted waters.

Republicans nationwide are mounting efforts to change voting rules, led by loyalists who embrace former President Trump’s baseless election claims.
With an avalanche of restrictive legislation, politicians and scholars alike say that this moment feels like a dangerous plunge into uncharted waters.

ny times logoNew York Times, Live Reports, Covid-19 Live Updates: F.D.A. Grants Emergency Authorization for Johnson & Johnson Vaccine, Noah Weiland and Sharon LaFraniere, Feb. 27, 2021. Younger American military service members are declining shots. Some colleges and universities, fearing attrition, are pledging to reopen more fully this fall. Captain Tom,’ the 100-year-old who raised millions for Britain’s health system, gets a hero’s goodbye at his funeral.

The Food and Drug Administration on Saturday authorized Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot Covid-19 vaccine for emergency use, beginning the rollout of millions of doses of a third effective vaccine that could reach Americans by early next week.

fda logoThe announcement arrived at a critical moment, as the steep decline in coronavirus cases seems to have plateaued and millions of Americans are on waiting lists for shots.

Johnson & Johnson has pledged to provide the United States with 100 million doses by the end of June. When combined with the 600 million doses from the two-shot vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna scheduled to arrive by the end of July, there will be more than enough shots to cover any American adult who wants one.

But federal and state health officials are concerned that even with strong data to support it, some people may perceive Johnson & Johnson’s shot as an inferior option.

The new vaccine’s 72 percent efficacy rate in the U.S. clinical trial site — a number scientists have celebrated — falls short of the roughly 95 percent rate found in studies testing the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines. Across all trial sites, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine also showed 85 percent efficacy against severe forms of Covid-19 and 100 percent efficacy against hospitalization and death from the virus.

“Don’t get caught up, necessarily, on the number game, because it’s a really good vaccine, and what we need is as many good vaccines as possible,” Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, said in an interview on Saturday. “Rather than parsing the difference between 94 and 72, accept the fact that now you have three highly effective vaccines. Period.”

johnson johnson logoIf Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine would have been the first to be authorized in the United States instead of the third, “everybody would be doing handstands and back flips and high-fives,” said Dr. James T. McDeavitt, dean of clinical affairs at the Baylor College of Medicine.

Dr. Janet Woodcock, the acting F.D.A. commissioner, said in a telephone briefing with reporters on Saturday that “each of these vaccines will be effective” and would prevent hospitalizations and death. “This is an effective vaccine that meets the federal standards,” she said. “They haven’t been tested head to head against one another, so it’s very difficult to do a numerical comparison.”

On Sunday, a committee of vaccine experts who advise the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will meet to discuss whether certain population groups should be prioritized for the vaccine, guidance that state health officials have been eagerly awaiting in anticipation of the F.D.A.’s authorization.

One administration official familiar with the distribution of the vaccine said that shipments would begin on Monday and deliveries could arrive as soon as Tuesday.

Johnson & Johnson has said it will ship nearly four million doses as soon as the F.D.A. authorizes distribution and another 16 million or so doses by the end of March. That is far fewer than the 37 million doses called for in its $1 billion federal contract, but the contract says that deliveries that are 30 days late will still be considered timely.

The federal government is paying the firm $10 a dose for a total of 100 million doses to be ready by the end of June, substantially less per dose than it agreed to pay Moderna and Pfizer, which developed its vaccine with a German partner, BioNTech.

Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose vaccine might allow states to rapidly increase the number of people who have been fully inoculated. Unlike the other two vaccines, it can be stored at standard refrigeration temperatures for at least three months.

 washington post logoWashington Post, Bills, paychecks and medications are getting stuck in the mail as USPS delays persist, Jacob Bogage and Hannah Denham, Feb. 27, 2021 (print ed.). Mark Currie of Virginia had three checks snagged in postal delays in three months. In New Jersey, Lois Fitton says she was forced to us mail logopay interest on a credit card balance because the bill never arrived. Jim Rice says two insurance companies canceled policies for his property management business in Oklahoma after the payments got lost in the mail.

As the service crisis at the U.S. Postal Service drags into its eighth month, complaints are reaching a fever pitch. Consumers are inundating members of Congress with stories of late bills — and the late fees they’ve absorbed as a result. Small-business owners are waiting weeks, even months, for checks to arrive, creating cash-flow crunches and debates on whether to switch to costlier private shippers. Large-scale mailers, such as banks and utilities, are urging clients to switch to paperless communication, a shift that would further undercut the agency’s biggest revenue stream.

The growing outcry adds another dimension to the agency’s myriad crises: a clogged processing and transportation network, severe staffing shortages and $188.4 billion in liabilities. The prolonged performance declines have eroded the reputation of one of the few government agencies that boast generations of broad public support.

ny times logoNew York Times, F.B.I. Is Said to Have Singled Out Suspect in Capitol Officer’s Death, Katie Benner and Adam Goldman, Feb. 26, 2021. The death of the officer, Brian Sicknick, after the Capitol riot has been a major focus for investigators scrutinizing the attack by a pro-Trump mob.

The F.B.I. has pinpointed an assailant in its investigation into the death of Brian D. Sicknick, a Capitol Police officer who was injured while fending off the pro-Trump mob that stormed the Capitol last month and later died, according to two law enforcement officials briefed on the inquiry.

The F.B.I. opened a homicide investigation into Officer Sicknick’s death soon after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. Investigators initially struggled to determine what had happened as he fought assailants. They soon began to suspect his death was related to an irritant, like mace or bear spray, that he had inhaled during the riot. Both officers and rioters were armed with such irritants during the attack.

FBI logoIn a significant breakthrough in the case, investigators have now pinpointed a person seen on video of the riot who attacked several officers with bear spray, including Officer Sicknick, according to the officials. And video evidence shows that the assailant discussed attacking officers with the bear spray beforehand, one of the officials said.

While investigators narrowed potential suspects seen in video footage to a single person this week, they have yet to identify the assailant by name.

Justice Department log circularGiven the evidence available to investigators, prosecutors could be more likely to bring charges of assaulting an officer, rather than murder, in the case. But the death of Officer Sicknick, a 42-year-old Air National Guard veteran who served in Saudi Arabia and Kyrgyzstan, could increase the penalties that prosecutors could seek if they took such a case to court.

Irritants like bear spray, pepper spray and mace are considered to be nonlethal crowd control deterrents, but they can cause physical reactions that could create risks for people with underlying health conditions and disorientation that could lead to injury.

On Jan. 7, when Officer Sicknick died, the Capitol Police issued a statement that said he “was injured while physically engaging with protesters,” and then “returned to his division office and collapsed.” He succumbed to his injuries at the hospital.

Besides Officer Sicknick, two other officers who tried to defend the Capitol later died, both by suicide, according to the local police. At least 138 officers suffered injuries ranging from bruises and fractures to concussions, burns and even a mild heart attack, ranking it among the worst days for law enforcement injuries since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

In the hours after Officer Sicknick was rushed to the hospital, officials initially said that he had been struck with a fire extinguisher. They later said that there was no evidence to support that he had died from any blunt force trauma. More recently, F.B.I. officials homed in on the potential role of an irritant as a primary factor in his death.

Federal prosecutors said that Louis Enrique Colon of Missouri, Felicia Konold and Cory Konold of Arizona, and William Chrestman, Christopher Kuehne and Ryan Ashlock of Kansas were part of a group of Proud Boys who traveled to Washington in order to “stop, delay, and hinder the congressional proceeding” on Jan. 6. See related Washington Post story below.

washington post logoWashington Post, Editorial: Too many Republicans can’t be trusted to sit on a Jan. 6 commission, Editorial Board, Feb. 27, 2021. It would be better to have no commission than to offer another forum for Republicans to cover for Trump.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) this week criticized a plan for a Jan. 6 commission offered by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), saying that any panel should have equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats, and that, if it takes any broader look at violent extremists, it should also consider political violence unrelated to the Capitol invasion — that is, unrest on the fringes of last summer’s racial justice protests. In normal circumstances, this situation would result in a deal: More Republicans would be added to the panel, and both sides would agree to exclude matters extraneous to the lead-up to, execution of and reaction to the Jan. 6 riot.

But there is an underlying problem: Huge swaths of the Republican Party remain devoted to lies about the 2020 election and its aftermath — the same sorts of fictions that inspired the Jan. 6 invaders. Dozens of GOP lawmakers are attending the Conservative Political Action Conference, a gathering devoted to questioning the 2020 election results. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) argued this week at a hearing on the insurrection that “fake Trump protesters” were responsible for Jan. 6. While other Republicans are less actively spreading disinformation, they are still failing to call out former president Donald Trump’s lies and put the blame for Jan. 6 where it belongs.

Many Republicans might think that antifa deserves just as much scrutiny, but this is not the proper forum. The Jan. 6 insurrection was a unique danger, an attack on the nation’s democratic system that breached the country’s seat of government, incited by those who sought to overturn a free and fair election.

 

Virus Victims, Responses

covad 19 photo.jpg Custom 2Worldometer, World & U.S. Coronavirus Case Totals (updated: Feb. 27, 2021), with some governments reporting slightly lower numbers than the totals here):

World Cases: 114,089,048, Deaths: 2,531,319
U.S. Cases:     29,137,887, Deaths:   523,092

washington post logoWashington Post, 47.2 million vaccinated: The number of people who have received at least one dose of the vaccine, covering 38.7% of the prioritized population and 14.2 % of the total population. See about your state.

washington post logoWashington Post, FDA advisers endorse J&J coronavirus vaccine, paving the way for likely authorization this weekend, Carolyn Y. Johnson and Laurie McGinley, Feb. 27, 2021 (print ed.). The committee’s endorsement comes after an all-day meeting exploring the shot’s safety and effectiveness.

The Food and Drug Administration said Friday evening that it will “rapidly work” to authorize the Johnson & Johnson single-shot coronavirus vaccine, shortly after an expert committee unanimously recommended the vaccine.

fda logoIn a statement, the agency said it has notified the company and federal officials involved in vaccine distribution so that they can prepare to ship the vaccine shortly. The FDA may issue an emergency use authorization as soon as Saturday, with the first few million doses of a shot that is relatively simple to store, handle and administer distributed next week.

johnson johnson logoOn Friday, the agency’s vaccine advisory committee strongly endorsed the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which will be the third coronavirus vaccine in the United States and the first to require just a single dose.

The third vaccine will arrive as the United States this week marked the grim milestone of 500,000 deaths at a crucial moment in the pandemic. After weeks of declining new cases, the downward trend has stalled — a change that makes many experts uneasy that officials are relaxing restrictions and people are letting their guard down just when variants capable of spreading faster or slipping by some aspects of immunity are poised to take off.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was 85 percent effective at protecting against severe cases of illness, and there were no deaths or hospitalizations a month after participants received the vaccine. The vaccine was less effective at preventing moderate cases of illness, and some experts have feared there could be an erroneous perception among the public that they should wait for other vaccines, which could prolong the pandemic and leave people unprotected.

 

More On Pro-Trump Capitol Riot Mob

capitol noose shay horse nurphoto via getty

A crowd of Trump supporters surrounded a newly erected set of wooden gallows outside the Capitol Building on Jan. 6. "Hang Mike Pence!" members of the crowd shouted at times about the Republican Vice President who had announced that he could not comply with the president's call to block election certification that day. The wooden gallows near the Capitol Reflecting Pool was just one example of the racist and anti-Semitic imagery on display at the riot. The noose is a racist symbol of the lynching of Black Americans. (Photo by Shay Horse  via NurPhoto / Getty).

brian sicknick

washington post logoWashington Post, FBI probe of Capitol riot focuses on video of chemicals being sprayed on officer who later died, Matt Zapotosky and Spencer S. Hsu, Feb. 27, 2021 (print ed.). Investigators have uncovered video appearing to show someone spraying a chemical irritant at Capitol Police Officer Brian D. Sicknick, above, and other law enforcement personnel fending off rioters in last month’s attack, though they have yet to identify the person or tie the activity directly to Sicknick’s death, according to people familiar with the matter.

Sicknick’s death has vexed investigators exploring the Jan. 6 riot, as they have struggled to figure out how precisely he died and whether someone could be held criminally accountable in connection with the death.

FBI logoInvestigators determined Sicknick did not die of blunt force trauma, people familiar with the matter said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation. U.S. Capitol Police in a statement Jan. 8 said that Sicknick died “due to injuries sustained while on duty.” No autopsy or toxicology report has been made public, unusual seven weeks after a death.

Capitol Police said in a statement Friday the medical examiner’s report was not yet complete, adding, “We are awaiting toxicology results and continue to work with other government agencies regarding the death investigation.”

Officer Brian D. Sicknick remembered as hero who died defending the U.S. Capitol

The video could offer prosecutors a path to charging someone in connection with Sicknick’s death — though they still have to identify the assailant and would then have to establish that the spraying proved fatal. Prosecutors, instead, might consider bringing assault charges.

The FBI captured screenshots of people visible in the video, one person familiar with the matter said, and in the past month released the images publicly, hoping to identify them. The bureau did not mention Sicknick or depict the chemical spraying when distributing the images.

Spokespeople for the FBI and the Justice Department declined to comment. The new video was previously reported by CNN. The New York Times reported more of its contents on Friday.

Acting deputy attorney general John Carlin said Friday that prosecutors have now charged more than 300 people in connection with the Jan. 6 attack at the Capitol, when a mob supportive of President Donald Trump stormed passed barricades and sparred with police inside and outside the building. They have arrested more than 280, Carlin said.

Sicknick, a 42-year-old from South River, N.J., joined the Capitol Police in 2008. He was the sixth Capitol Police officer to die in the line of duty since 1952, and the fourth to be a victim of an attack on the Capitol grounds. Those who knew Sicknick said he was conservative and supported Trump, but his political views did not align neatly with one party.

washington post logoWashington Post, Riot defendants facing jail have regrets. Judges aren’t buying it, Rachel Weiner and Spencer S. Hsu, Feb. 27, 2021 (print ed.). For many accused of trying to block Congress from confirming the winner of the U.S. presidential election on Jan. 6, arrest was a reality check. Now they are getting another.

As defendants charged in the Capitol siege have been coming through court, some have been shifting blame onto former president Donald Trump, downplaying their actions or expressing remorse. But federal judges — particularly those who work a few blocks from the Capitol — aren’t buying it.

One judge called a defendant’s claim of civil disobedience “detached from reality.” Another verbally smacked down an attorney who tried to use QAnon — the sprawling set of false claims that have coalesced into an extremist ideology — to explain his client shouting “Kill them all!” Other judges have been giving defendants civics lessons on how democracy works.

beryl howellU.S. District Judge Beryl Howell, left, the chief federal jurist for the District of Columbia, responded incredulously to one defense attorney who said his client believed Trump requested his unlawful conduct. She said that if a president could authorize overturning an election he would be no different from “a king or a dictator,” and “that is not how we operate here.”

When the attorney added that the man, the accused leader of a Proud Boys group, had been “chastened rather than emboldened” by the federal charges and that his anti-government “fever has broken,” Howell clapped back.

“Essentially, that’s what your argument is, saying, ‘Whoops,’ now?” Howell asked. “Has he expressed any remorse or rejection of his membership in the Proud Boys, a gang of nationalist individuals? Does he reject the fantasy the election was stolen? Does he regret the positions that animated the mob on January 6th? Is there anything on the record about any of those things?”

“Whoops” is, essentially, what many of the accused are now saying.

 

U.S. Politics, Governance

washington post logoWashington Post, Trump is building a political operation to cement his hold on the GOP, Josh Dawsey and Michael Scherer, Feb. 27, 2021. Ahead of his first major post-White House address at the Conservative Political Action Conference, the former president is making plans to launch a super PAC, has begun endorsing candidates and is plotting a possible 2024 run.

Any lingering doubts about Donald Trump’s primacy in the Republican Party have been settled in recent weeks by the parade of petitioners he has welcomed to his Florida social club.

republican elephant logoThe party chairwoman, the top two House Republicans, the senior senator from South Carolina and a coterie of other former aides and advisers have all made appearances at Mar-a-Lago, offering their counsel and seeking the favor of a former president who many believe controls the short-term fortunes of GOP candidates up and down the ballot — and has made it clear he plans to use that power.

Over meals and many Diet Cokes, Trump has already started building his post-White House political operation and cementing his role as the party’s de facto leader. He has begun to formalize a structure of political advisers around him and made plans to start a new super PAC — capable of raising donations of any size — to support candidates he favors. His team is looking to formalize a process for vetting endorsement prospects, assessing what candidates have said and done for Trump in the past.

He has also discussed drafting a new “America First” agenda — like the 1994 “Contract with America,” but focused on issues such as border security and trade — to steer the party’s direction, according to Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.).

“He is going to be very involved,” Graham said.

Trump’s politics hurt his businesses. Will he sell as he looks to a potential 2024 campaign?

It’s not just about shaping the GOP from the sidelines. Trump is keenly focused on his long-term political comeback, quizzing allies about how to launch a 2024 bid and who his most formidable challengers would be, advisers said.

To the relief of party strategists, the former president has abandoned for now talk of starting a third party, according to several people, who, like others interviewed for this story, spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private conversations.

He has begun intervening to pick favorites in GOP primaries, endorsing on Friday a former aide challenging a House member who voted for his impeachment. But he is not planning to go up against every Republican who defied him, they said. “What’s the point of a civil war in a party you basically control?” joked one Republican operative close to Trump.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: With voting rights already under attack, the Supreme Court could deal another big blow, Ruth Marcus, right, Feb. 26, 2021. In ruth marcus twitter CustomGeorgia, state legislators are debating new voting restrictions, including imposing additional ID requirements for absentee voting and eliminating early voting on Sundays, which just happens to be the time for “Souls to the Polls” turnout efforts in Black churches.

In short, in the face of record turnout in the 2020 elections, there are any number of initiatives underway that would make it more difficult to vote — and that would pose particular hurdles for voters of color. Meanwhile, and ominously, the Supreme Court is poised to take up a case that could neuter the remaining key provision of the Voting Rights Act that might be used to strike down these restrictions.

The Supreme Court eviscerated the Voting Rights Act in its 2013 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder. That 5-to-4 decision gutted a key provision, known as Section 5, which required certain states and localities with a history of discrimination to obtain approval from the Justice Department before changing voting procedures. In the aftermath of Shelby County, states raced to enact voter ID laws, purge voter rolls, curtail early voting and impose other restrictions.

The demise of Section 5 left voting rights advocates with one other part of the law, Section 2, which doesn’t prevent the changes from being made in advance but — at least in theory — prohibits voting practices that abridge minority voting rights.

dnc square logoOn Tuesday, in Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments about two voting restrictions from Arizona. The first is a state policy that requires the entire ballot to be thrown out if a vote is cast in the wrong precinct — even if the voter was legally entitled to cast some of the votes, say for federal or statewide office. The second is a law that makes it a crime for most third parties to collect and deliver ballots, a practice attacked by Republicans as “ballot harvesting,” and which they argue poses a risk of voter fraud.

The Democratic National Committee, which challenged both restrictions, contends that they have the effect of disenfranchising voters of color. Citing Arizona’s “long history of racial discrimination and its continuing effects,” the DNC argues that minority voters move more frequently and are twice as likely as White voters to have their ballots rejected because of voting in the wrong precinct.

ny times logoNew York Times, Cuomo Is Accused of Sexual Harassment by a 2nd Former Aide, Roni Caryn Rabin, Feb. 27, 2021. Charlotte Bennett, the aide, told The Times that Gov. Andrew Cuomo had harassed her last spring. He denied any impropriety and called for an outside review. Ms. Bennett, 25, said he had asked her questions about her sex life, whether she was monogamous in relationships and if she had been with older men.

andrew cuomoA second former aide to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is accusing him of sexual harassment, saying that he asked her questions about her sex life, whether she was monogamous in her relationships and if she had ever had sex with older men.

The aide, Charlotte Bennett, who was an executive assistant and health policy adviser in the Cuomo administration until she left in November, told The New York Times that the governor had harassed her late last spring, during the height of the state’s fight against the coronavirus.

Ms. Bennett, 25, said the most unsettling episode occurred on June 5, when she was alone with Mr. Cuomo, right, in his State Capitol office. In a series of interviews this week, she said the governor had asked her numerous questions about her personal life, including whether she thought age made a difference in romantic relationships, and had said that he was open to relationships with women in their 20s — comments she interpreted as clear overtures to a sexual relationship.

Mr. Cuomo said in a statement to The Times on Saturday that he believed he had been acting as a mentor and had “never made advances toward Ms. Bennett, nor did I ever intend to act in any way that was inappropriate.” He said he had requested an independent review of the matter and asked that New Yorkers await the findings “before making any judgments.”

Ms. Bennett said that during the June encounter, the governor, 63, also complained to her about being lonely during the pandemic, mentioning that he “can’t even hug anyone,” before turning the focus to Ms. Bennett. She said that Mr. Cuomo asked her, “Who did I last hug?”

Ms. Bennett said she had tried to dodge the question by responding that she missed hugging her parents. “And he was, like, ‘No, I mean like really hugged somebody?’” she said.

Mr. Cuomo never tried to touch her, Ms. Bennett said, but the message of the entire episode was unmistakable to her.

“I understood that the governor wanted to sleep with me, and felt horribly uncomfortable and scared,” Ms. Bennett said. “And was wondering how I was going to get out of it and assumed it was the end of my job.”

Ms. Bennett said she had disclosed the interaction with Mr. Cuomo to his chief of staff, Jill DesRosiers, less than a week later and was transferred to another job, as a health policy adviser, with an office on the opposite side of the Capitol, soon after that. Ms. Bennett said she had also given a lengthy statement to a special counsel to the governor, Judith Mogul, toward the end of June.

Ms. Bennett said she ultimately decided not to insist on an investigation because she was happy in her new job and “wanted to move on.” No action was taken against the governor.

In his statement, Mr. Cuomo called Ms. Bennett a “hard-working and valued member” of his staff with “every right to speak out.” He said that Ms. Bennett had spoken to him about being a sexual assault survivor — an experience about which she had been open in the past — and he had tried to be supportive and helpful. “The last thing I would ever have wanted was to make her feel any of the things that are being reported,” the governor said.

ny times logoNew York Times, Pregnant, Imprisoned and at Risk: Inmates Left Behind Bars as Covid Rages, Jesse McKinley, Feb. 27, 2021. When the pandemic erupted, federal prisons were told to grant home confinement to some medically vulnerable inmates. But some have been slow to act.

Shacarey James was six weeks pregnant when she reported to the Federal Correctional Institution in Danbury, Conn., last summer to serve a sentence for a parole violation.

At risk for severe illness if infected with the coronavirus, Ms. James kept her mask on at all times, except when she was sleeping. In December, a woman assigned to the next bunk developed a hacking cough.

Ms. James, 25, suspected a coronavirus infection, but officers at the prison at first dismissed her concerns, saying pregnancy “hormones” were making her anxious, and they refused to test her bunkmate.

Four days later, the woman’s temperature spiked, and a diagnostic test came back positive. “She was three feet from me — we were eye-to-eye,” said Ms. James. “I thought she was going to pass away in front of me.”

Ms. James escaped infection, but whether she should have been in the prison at all remains a pressing question. When the pandemic erupted last spring, federal prisons were told to move quickly to grant home confinement to medically vulnerable inmates who did not pose a risk to the public.

Inmates like Ms. James, who was convicted of cashing fake checks, were to serve out their sentences at their residences, with an electronic bracelet monitoring their movements. The goal was to protect them, reduce prison overcrowding and minimize the risk of outbreaks. But the Federal Bureau of Prisons has been slow to act.

The coronavirus has infected more than 620,000 inmates and correctional officers in the nation’s prisons, jails and detention centers, according to a New York Times database. Nearly 2,800 inmates and guards have died, making correctional facilities among the most significant battlefronts of the pandemic, along with nursing homes and schools.

Yet just 7,850 of the 151,735 people serving federal sentences right now have been granted home confinement — about 5 percent. State prison populations have fallen by 15 percent since the pandemic began, according to the Prison Policy Initiative, but not because inmates are being released to home confinement. Instead, many state prisons simply have stopped accepting transfers from county jails.

The Danbury compound, one of 122 federal prisons, offers a prism into the bureau’s failure to contain the virus. Though Danbury was singled out for prompt action by former Attorney General William P. Barr because it had seen an outbreak, only about 100 inmates have been granted home confinement so far, many as recently as December. At least 550 are still under consideration, most of them convicted of nonviolent offenses like fraud or drug possession.

In December, cases at Danbury rebounded as more than one in 10 inmates at the complex tested positive for the virus. In a minimum-security women’s facility called the Camp, where Ms. James was held, 34 of the 50 inmates were infected.

Palmer Report, Opinion: This is just painful to watch, Bill Palmer, Feb. 27, 2021. You’d need to have a political IQ of just about zero to honestly believe that “Biden didn’t wave a magic wand and send MBS through a trap door this week” means that Biden isn’t doing anything about MBS. Effective solutions are sophisticated, take time, involve several facets, often play out behind closed doors, and rarely involve any public foot stomping. This is the world stage, not kindergarten.

bill palmer report logo headerWhen you look at how many cable news hosts and liberal Twitter pundits are now pushing this “Biden let MBS off the hook” tripe, and you consider that they can’t all be that clueless, you realize most of them are just dishonestly attacking Biden to try to score cheap points with the “left wants to eat itself” crowd. The media had an opportunity here to educate the public, and instead went for the phony appearance of being hard on both sides. It’s painful to watch, and it does real harm to the public discourse. It’s why we can’t have nice things.

CPAC is controlled by Matt Schlapp, a Trump loyalist whose wife worked in the Trump regime and on the Trump 2020 campaign. So of course CPAC is a Trump worship event. Doesn’t mean Trump is somehow magically viable going forward. It’s just that CPAC is run by his longtime butt-kissers, so the entire conference consists of Trump butt-kissing. Any speakers who wanted to steer out a different direction for the GOP weren’t invited this year.

washington post logoWashington Post, Most House Republicans voted not to certify some election results. Democrats are still seething, Paul Kane, Feb. 27, 2021 Almost two-thirds of the House GOP voted for one of the challenges to Biden’s wins in Arizona and Pennsylvania, even after the attack on the Capitol. Of the 41 freshman Republicans who voted that night, 31 opposed Biden’s victory in at least one state.

Other Democrats have voiced similar sentiments. The votes that followed the siege of the Capitol are a red line upon which they are basing their decisions on whom to work with from the other side of the aisle.

The issue is most acute for the freshmen, who were in their third full day in office Jan. 6 and had yet to build any alliances with Republicans. They had no trust, no mutual respect, no reservoir of personal goodwill from which to draw.
Metal detectors were installed in the Capitol following the Jan. 6 riots. Republicans aren't happy.
Rep. Greg Steube (R-Fla.) and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) slammed new House rules to install metal detectors in the Capitol, following the Jan. 6 riots. (The Washington Post)

“You come here with an open heart and open mind,” said Rep. Marilyn Strickland (D-Wash.), who won a comfortably Democratic seat outside Seattle. But, she said, “January 6th just changed everything.”

Some members of the 2020 Republican class want their counterparts to know the feeling is mutual. They believe that their challenge to last year’s election results was similar to four years ago when some House Democrats tried to object to Donald Trump’s victory in multiple states, and that they should not be lumped together with the violent mob that ransacked the Capitol.

“For them to suggest that challenging the results in 2021 was different, and then to accuse Republicans of somehow being complicit in the assault by others on the Capitol, I think is terribly disingenuous and dangerous to a cooperative spirit,” said Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.), a staunch conservative who defeated a GOP incumbent before winning in November.

There were significant differences in the two certifications. Hillary Clinton accepted her defeat in the 2016 election and did not spend weeks calling for a mass protest at the Capitol. Then a small group of House Democrats objected to Trump’s victory in nine states, but no senator joined their effort. Vice President Biden, who presided over the Senate for the certification, quickly gaveled down the objections.

That certification debate ended in less than an hour — with no violence.

“That’s comparing a peanut to a watermelon,” Strickland said of Republicans who equate the two attempts to block certifications.

Tense partisan relations are now the new normal in Congress, driven by an era when partisan provocateurs draw more attention on social media and political cable news shows.

 

U.S. Law, Courts, Crime

Law & Crime, Bar Complaints Filed Against Three Attorneys Who Pressed Louie Gohmert’s ‘Frivolous and Dangerous’ Lawsuit to Overturn 2020 Presidential Election, Colin Kalmbacher, Feb. 27, 2021, 2021. Washington, D.C.-based attorney Patrick Malone submitted two separate bar complaints to the District of Columbia Court of Appeals Office of Disciplinary counsel. The two complaints target three members of the D.C Bar: (1) Julia Z. Haller; (2) Lawrence Joseph; and (3) Brandon Johnson.

Each of the accused attorneys is named in a complaint concerning the case stylized as Gohmert v. Pence, a lawsuit filed by Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.) late last year which asked a federal judge to reconfigure a post-Reconstruction law in order to give then-vice president Mike Pence the power to determine the winner of the 2020 presidential election. The lawsuit was tossed by a federal district court. Then it was thrown out by a federal appellate court. Completing the hat trick, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to consider the lawsuit with a single sentence in early January.

Each of the three pro-GOP attorneys “seriously violated the District of Columbia Rules of Professional Conduct” and engaged in “unethical” behavior viz. the Gohmert lawsuit, the complaint alleges. Specifically, Malone claims the Texas Republican’s arguments were frivolous and presented for an “improper purpose” and that the attorneys themselves engaged in “conduct that seriously interferes with the administration of justice” by litigating the GOP’s concerns therein.Six 'Proud Boys' Indicted: Clockwise, from upper left: Ryan Ashlock, William Chrestman, Louis Enrique Colon, Cory Konold, Felicia Konold, and Christopher Kuehne. (Images via federal court documents.)

Six 'Proud Boys' Indicted: Clockwise, from upper left: Ryan Ashlock, William Chrestman, Louis Enrique Colon, Cory Konold, Felicia Konold, and Christopher Kuehne. (Images via federal court documents.)

Law & Crime, Six 'Proud Boys' Indicted for Conspiring to Obstruct Congress during Jan. 6 Capitol Siege, Aaron Keller, Feb. 27, 2021. A federal grand jury has indicted six members of the “Proud Boys,” federal prosecutors said in a Friday news release. Indicted are William Chrestman, 47, Christopher Kuehne, 47, and Ryan Ashlock, 21, of Kansas; Louis Enrique Colon, 44, of Missouri; and Felicia Konold, 27, and Cory Konold, 25, of Arizona.

As Law&Crime previously noted, Felicia Konold is “a rare female self-proclaimed recruit of the anti-feminist” group. Court papers cite a social media post where she says she was “recruited” by the Proud Boys of Kansas City, even though she was from Arizona, and that they told her she was “with them now.”

“The indictment alleges that the defendants planned with each other, and with others known and unknown, to enter the Capitol forcibly on January 6, and to stop, delay, and hinder the Congressional proceeding occurring that day,” prosecutors said further. “The defendants brought and wore paramilitary gear and supplies — including camouflaged combat uniforms, tactical vests with plates, helmets, eye protection, and radio equipment, and affixed orange tape to their clothing and tactical gear to identify each other. The defendants marched with other members of the Proud Boys to the Capitol and forcibly stormed past exterior barricades, U.S. Capitol Police officers, and law enforcement officers, before all but Ashlock entered the Capitol.”

Prosecutors say Chrestman stirred the crowd to action.

“Whose house is this?” he’s alleged to have shouted while facing the crowd assembled outside the capitol.

“Our house!” the crowd said.

“Do you want your house back?” Chrestman then questioned.

“Yes!” the crowed said.

Law & Crime, Commentary: Sen. Bennet Bucks Biden Admin. Request; Names Former McDonald’s, Big Pharma Attorney for Lifetime Judgeship, Colin Kalmbacher, Feb. 27, 2021. Progressive groups are criticizing Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat shown below at right, for ignoring President Joe Biden’s request for judges.

michael bennetOn Dec. 22, well before the 46th presidency took shape, incoming (and now current) White House counsel Dana Remus sent a letter to senators on transition team letterhead insisting that the Biden administration was focused on prioritizing public defenders and civil rights lawyers — two legal professions that barely register on the federal bench—for district judge positions.

The Biden-Remus request came after progressive legal organizations made a series of requests for the new administration to revamp the judiciary with lawyers who didn’t come from the corporate world after decades of bipartisan affection for corporate attorneys resulted in nearly 70 percent of circuit judges hailing from the largely white and high-priced world of elite private practice.

“After decades of frustration, as the courts become more and more conservative, and more and more deferential to the powerful moneyed interests in our country, a lot of hard-working lawyers who don’t make a lot of money have had it,” former Wisconsin senator Russ Feingold, president of the American Constitution Society, said late last year. “They’re saying, ‘Why is it that we work hard, and we make our arguments and that somehow we have to go before judges who don’t have the experience of being on this side of the bar?'”

On Feb. 3, Bennet had only one name to suggest: Former assistant U.S. attorney Regina Rodriguez is currently a partner at corporate law firm and lobbying giant WilmerHale, where she co-chairs the trial practice division.

Bennet’s office told a Colorado news outlet that it was “disappointing that an out-of-state dark money group” was attacking the pick.

Regina Rodriguez “is an incredibly qualified Latina candidate who would bring diversity to the federal bench,” a Bennet spokesperson said. “She also has a long track record of community service to Colorado’s children and working families.”

 

World News

ny times logoMint Press News, Commentary: Deafening Silence: Media Completely Ignore American Secret Agent’s Trial for Terrorism in Venezuela, Alan Macleod, One might think that a supposedly innocent American citizen on trial for terrorism inside a hostile enemy country, facing decades behind bars in Venezuela’s notorious prisons, would spark a nationwide media furor.

venezuela flag waving customUnless you read the local Venezuelan press, you are unlikely to know that an American secret agent is currently standing trial in Venezuela on charges of terrorism and weapons trafficking.

Matthew John Heath was arrested in September outside Amuay and Cardon oil refineries in possession of a submachine gun, a grenade launcher, C4 explosives, a satellite phone and bricks of $20 bills. The Venezuelan government also alleges that he was found carrying a small coin or badge that CIA employees use to prove their identity to one another without raising suspicions. On Wednesday, Heath pled not guilty to all charges.

Situated in Falcon state in the west of the country, the Amuay and Cardon facilities are the largest refineries in the oil-rich nation, considered an enemy of the United States since it elected socialist president Hugo Chavez in 1998. The facilities have been the site of controversy before: in 2012, a fire at the plants killed 55 people; after conducting hundreds of interviews with experts and witnesses and carrying out over 200 inspections and technical tests, the Venezuelan government claimed that the evidence of sabotage was “overwhelming.”

Palmer Report, Opinion: What President Biden is really doing with Mohammed bin Salman, Bill Palmer, right, Feb. 27, 2021. The White House released a sealed bill palmerreport Friday on the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, confirming what we all already knew: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was behind the murder.

Because fringe leftists are already getting bored with the good guys being in charge of the United States and they’re ready to start dishonestly attacking the good guys, they’ve spent the past day criticizing President Joe Biden for letting Mohammed bin Salman “get away with it.” No really, this sentiment exists, and it’s disturbingly widespread across the social media. The sentiment is, needless to say, myopic at best.

bill palmer report logo headerFirst of all, no one outside Joe Biden’s inner circle has any idea what strategy Biden is planning when it comes to MBS. The White House only released this report on this date because Congress required it to. But a strategy for something as complex as punishing and/or ousting the Crown Prince of a troubled American ally isn’t something that happens overnight. The notion that Biden has let MBS, right, “get away with it” because he hasn’t taken action yet? That’s frankly idiotic.

Mohammed Bin Salman Al-SaudAs usual, the folks ringing this bell have no actual solutions to offer when it comes to what President Biden should supposedly have done by now in response, beyond simplistic magic wand nonsense. What do they want Biden to do, send the U.S. military to invade Saudi Arabia and kidnap MBS? These are the same fringe leftists who earlier this week criticized Biden because he blew up an empty ammo dump in Syria in order to get a terror cell to cool its jets.

The reality is that any realistic strategy for removing or neutering Mohammed bin Salman is going to have to be a complex one, because the variables are incredibly tricky. If such a strategy is rushed for the sake of appeasing the fringe left foot stompers, it could backfire and result in negative outcomes ranging from MBS instantly becoming King, to extremist terrorists overthrowing the Saudi government.

Meanwhile back in the real world, based on everything we’ve ever known about Joe Biden, he has no intention whatsoever of simply letting Mohammed bin Salman “get away with it.” It’s just that sophisticated solutions to complex and tricky situations never involve magic wands or foot stomping, and very rarely involve instant gratification. Put another way: wouldn’t you love to have been a fly on the wall during Biden’s phone call this week with Saudi King Salman?

 

Feb. 26

Top Headlines


Virus Victims, Responses

 

U.S. Politics, Governance

 

White House Transition

 

U.S. Media News

 

World News

 

U.S. Law, Courts, Crime

 

Top Stories

Former Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi national and Virginia resident, is shown above entering a Saudi consulate in Turkey where he was butchered in 2018 by a Saudi team.

Former Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi national and Virginia resident, is shown above entering a Saudi consulate in Turkey where he was butchered in 2018 by a Saudi team while his fiance waited outside.

washington post logoWashington Post, Saudi crown prince approved fatal Khashoggi operation, U.S. report concludes, Karen DeYoung, Feb. 26, 2021. The report by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence was ordered by Congress. Its release could push strained U.S.-Saudi relations to new lows.

mohammed bin salman al saudSaudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, right, “approved” the operation that led to the brutal 2018 murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, according to a long-withheld U.S. intelligence report made public Friday.

The unclassified report, by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), confirmed classified conclusions reached by the CIA just weeks after the killing of the dissident writer, a Virginia resident and contributing columnist for The Washington Post.

The two-page report said the intelligence community based its conclusions on the absolute control the crown prince, known as MBS, had over decision-making in the kingdom, his “support for using violent measures to silence dissidents abroad, including Khashoggi,” and the participation in the operation of his senior aides and security officials.

Saudi Arabian flagThe State Department, “to reinforce the world’s condemnation of that crime,” and push back at governments that threaten reporters, announced a new visa restriction policy against anyone “acting on behalf of a foreign government” involved in “serious, extraterritorial counter-dissident activities.”

But in a reflection of what officials described as the complications of bilateral relations with a traditional partner nation, the restrictions will not be applied against the 35-year-old crown prince.

ny times logoNew York Times, Analysis: Biden Won’t Penalize Saudi Crown Prince Over Khashoggi’s Killing, Fearing Relations Breach, David E. Sanger, Feb. 26, 2021. The decision will disappoint the human rights community and members of his own party who complained during the Trump administration that the U.S. was failing to hold Mohammed bin Salman accountable.

President Biden has decided that the diplomatic cost of directly penalizing Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, is too high, according to senior administration officials, despite a detailed American intelligence finding that he directly approved the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, the dissident and Washington Post columnist who was drugged and dismembered in October 2018.

The decision by Mr. Biden, who during the 2020 campaign called Saudi Arabia a “pariah” state with “no redeeming social value,” came after weeks of debate in which his newly formed national security team advised him that there was no way to formally bar the heir to the Saudi crown from entering the United States, or to weigh criminal charges against him, without breaching the relationship with one of America’s key Arab allies.

Officials said a consensus developed inside the White House that the cost of that breach, in Saudi cooperation on counterterrorism and in confronting Iran, was simply too high.

For Mr. Biden, the decision was a telling indication of how his more cautious instincts kicked in, as the responsibilities of managing a difficult ally led him to find ways other than going directly after Prince Mohammed to make Saudi Arabia pay a price.

While human rights groups and members of his own party applauded the president for making public the official intelligence finding, whose contents leaked more than two years ago, many said that it was just a first step — and that more had to be done to hold the crown prince, known by his initials M.B.S., accountable for his role.

washington post logoWashington Post, Capitol Police chief says extremists have discussed attack on Congress during Biden’s first joint address, Karoun Demirjian, Feb. 26, 2021 (print ed.). The acting chief of the U.S. Capitol Police warned lawmakers Thursday that militia members involved in the Jan. 6 riot “want to blow up the Capitol and kill as many members as possible” during President Biden’s first congressional address.

The stark warning about another potential threat to Congress — which has not been corroborated by other law enforcement agencies — comes as a date for Biden’s first address on Capitol Hill has not been set. New presidents typically deliver a speech to a joint session of Congress in February.

yogananda pittmanActing chief Yogananda D. Pittman, right, told lawmakers there was “a direct nexus” between the threats and a Biden speech.

She cited that intelligence to explain why National Guard members who were deployed and the tall security barriers that were erected around the Capitol after the insurrection have not yet been removed.

“Based on that information, we think that it’s prudent that Capitol Police maintain its enhanced and robust security posture until we address those vulnerabilities going forward,” Pittman said.

It was not clear whether other agencies have also identified threats to the Capitol during Biden’s first congressional address. An FBI spokeswoman declined to comment. The bureau is regularly tipped to online chatter about all manner of threats, and officials have said it is difficult to separate that which is aspirational from that which poses real concern.

Troubling online conversation often fails to materialize into a tangible threat. In the run-up to Biden’s inauguration, for example, the FBI privately warned law enforcement agencies that far-right extremists had discussed posing as National Guard members in Washington, and that others have reviewed maps of vulnerable spots in the city. Officials took aggressive measures to secure the Capitol, and ultimately the day passed without incident.

But officials are eager to show they are taking threats seriously, particularly because lawmakers from both parties have criticized the Capitol Police and the FBI for not responding to indications of possible violence before the Jan. 6 riot. An internal Capitol Police intelligence report three days before the siege warned “Congress itself” could be the target of violence, and an FBI office in Virginia warned one day before that demonstrators were prepared for “war.”

Pittman insisted Thursday there was “no credible threat” in the available intelligence that rioters would actually break into the Capitol. As a result, she said, the police “were not prepared” for the demonstration to turn into an angry mob, as she said a small subset of organized rioters whipped up the others present to increasing displays of aggression and violence.

And she said that “well in excess” of 10,000 people came onto the Capitol grounds during the Jan. 6 insurrection, and that about 800 entered the building — the first time an official has provided an estimate of the size of the crowd that broke through the Capitol’s perimeter.

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politico CustomPolitico, U.S. diplomat openly calls for Christian nation-states, rails against Jews, Nahal Toosi, Feb. 26, 2021. Fritz Berggren’s hundreds of blog posts, videos and podcasts date back several years. A State Department official for several years has been publicly calling for the establishment of Christian nation-states, warning that white people face “elimination” and railing against Jews as well as Black Lives Matter and other social movements.

Fritz Berggren, a mid-ranking Foreign Service officer, openly uses his name and image as he espouses these and other controversial views, according to a review of his online postings. Current and former State Department officials noted the connection to POLITICO in recent days.

“Jesus Christ came to save the whole world from the Jews — the founders of the original Anti-Christ religion, they who are the seed of the Serpent, that brood of vipers,” states an Oct. 4 blog post signed “Fritz Berggren, PhD” and titled “Jews are Not God’s Chosen People. Judeo-Christian is Anti-Christ.”

“They murdered Jesus Christ,” the 5,300-word post continues, “How then can they be God’s chosen?”

Berggren’s voluminous output dates back to at least September 2017, according to the archives of his website, Bloodandfaith.com. An about page for the site, also signed “Fritz Berggren, PhD,” offers what appears to be a manifesto of sorts. Like several of his other posts, it includes a video of Berggren expanding on his views.

“The goal of the Left is to destroy blood and faith so that (Marxist) religion alone becomes master and enslaver of all,” Berggren writes. “Europeans must reclaim their blood and faith, just as Blacks are proud and hispanics have very strong blood identity organizations.”

Two days after the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, another post signed by Berggren declared: “Notes on the events of January 6. The illusion of a participatory democracy has been burst. You already live in a cult/theocracy — I offer you Christian liberty in a Christian nation.”

President Joe Biden has made diversity a priority for his administration and has sharply criticized anything that smacks of white supremacy and anti-Semitism. The Pentagon already has launched a campaign to root out white nationalists and other extremists in the military. While there’s no similar effort underway in Foggy Bottom, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced he is creating a new position, chief diversity and inclusion officer, to promote that ideal.

According to a directory viewed by POLITICO, Berggren is currently assigned to a State Department unit that handles special immigrant visas for Afghans. His previous positions have included serving as a financial management officer at the U.S. Embassy in Bahrain, according to an older directory.

Asked about Berggren, a spokesperson for the State Department declined to say whether his remarks had led to internal disciplinary measures of any kind. “We will not comment on internal personnel matters beyond saying that these are personal views and do not represent those of the State Department,” the spokesperson said. “As a department, we embrace and champion diversity, equity and inclusion as a source of strength.”

Exactly when Berggren entered U.S. diplomatic ranks wasn’t clear, but he is listed as a Foreign Service employee on congressional documents at least as far back as 2009. His sparse LinkedIn account describes him as an “FSO” — a Foreign Service officer.

Berggren did not reply to messages sent to his work and personal email addresses nor to ones sent through LinkedIn and his Blood and Faith website. Phone numbers listed for him did not work.

Free speech vs. a diplomatic problem

The State Department’s options for addressing Berggren’s online postings may be limited.

There are rules that govern diplomats’ on- and off-duty behavior that could be grounds for punishment or dismissal in similar instances — rules that can differ based on whether a person is serving overseas or in the United States. But the federal government, for First Amendment reasons, is not supposed to dictate its employees’ religious views.

According to a former State Department attorney, if Berggren can show that he never used work time or U.S. government equipment to craft his writings and recordings, he might fall in a gray area in terms of whether or how the department could discipline him. The former attorney did not have direct knowledge of the case and requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation. POLITICO found no examples of Berggren identifying himself as a State Department official in his online commentary.

The Blood and Faith site was updated just this week with posts that take shots at Jewish people, the United Nations and the LBGTQ community, among others.

The blog’s archives date to Sept. 16, 2017, and they include around 300 posts that tackle topics ranging from theories about Christian violence to the importance of bloodlines. Many of the posts link to videos as well as podcasts in which Berggren discusses his beliefs.

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washington post logoWashington Post, In Biden administration’s first military action against Iran-linked groups, U.S. launches airstrike in Syria, Missy Ryan, Anne Gearan and Alex Horton, Feb. 26, 2021. The Biden administration conducted an airstrike in Syria on Thursday that officials believe killed a number of alleged Iranian-linked fighters, signaling its intent to use targeted military action to push back against violence tied to Tehran.

The attack on a border-crossing station in eastern Syria, the first lethal operation ordered by the Biden administration against Iran’s network of armed proxies, was “authorized in response to recent attacks against American and coalition personnel in Iraq, and to ongoing threats,” Pentagon spokesman Iran FlagJohn Kirby said.

The facilities were used by Iranian-linked Iraqi militias, including Kataib Hezbollah and Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada, he said.

Department of Defense SealThe operation follows a deadly attack on a location housing U.S. personnel in Iraq that American officials have attributed to Iranian-linked groups. Earlier this month, rocket fire in northern Iraq killed a contractor working with the U.S. military and injured a U.S. service member.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, shown above, told reporters Thursday that he was confident the building targeted in Syria was used by the militia responsible for recent attacks

just security logoJust Security, Commentary: Biden’s First Strike and the International Law of Self-Defense, Adil Ahmad Haque, Feb. 26, 2021. The United States carried out airstrikes in Syria early Friday morning, killing several people and destroying several buildings. The Pentagon says that the airstrikes were a response to a rocket attack that occurred on Feb. 15, some 10 days earlier, at Erbil airport in northern Iraq, some 400 km away. That rocket attack killed a Filipino contractor, wounded four American contractors, and wounded a U.S. soldier.

It’s not clear whether the U.S. airstrikes targeted the group responsible for the rocket attack, or other groups affiliated with it. The Pentagon says “the strikes destroyed multiple facilities located at a border control point used by a number of Iranian backed militant groups including Kait’ib Hezbollah and Kait’ib Sayyid al Shuhada.” It did not mention Awliya al Dam, the group that claimed responsibility for the rocket attack in Erbil.

The U.S. airstrikes almost certainly violated international law, for two basic reasons. The airstrikes did not repel an ongoing armed attack, halt an imminent one, or immediately respond to an armed attack that was in fact over but may have appeared ongoing at the time (see here and here). And the airstrikes were carried out on the territory of another State, without its consent, against a non-State actor (or two, or more) (see here). These two reasons, combined, are decisive. It cannot be lawful to use armed force on the territory of another State when it is clear that no armed attack by a non-State actor is ongoing or even imminent.

The Pentagon says that the attacks were launched “in response to recent attacks against American and coalition personnel in Iraq, and to ongoing threats to those personnel.” The Feb. 15 attack was clearly over and not ongoing. And ongoing threats are not imminent attacks. The United States is free to take lawful action in Iraq to improve the long-term security of its forces and contractors in Iraq. It may not legally take military action in Syria to improve the long-term security of its forces and contractors in Iraq.

joe biden oThe U.S. government has not yet explained its decision to strike inside Syria rather than take lawful action inside Iraq. According to one former official, “[t]he decision to strike in Syria instead of Iraq was likely to avoid causing issues for the Iraqi government.” Needless to say, it is unlawful to bomb one country to avoid “causing issues” with another.

The Pentagon says that the operation “sends an unambiguous message: President Biden will act to protect American and coalition personnel.” The operation sends another message: President Biden will violate international law, much like his predecessors

washington post logoWashington Post, Minimum wage increase imperiled in covid relief bill by Senate official’s ruling, Erica Werner, Feb. 26, 2021 (print ed.). Parliamentarian says the $15 hourly minimum wage, a liberal priority, not allowed in relief bill as written under Senate rules. President Biden’s proposed $15-an-hour minimum wage increase cannot remain in his coronavirus relief bill as written, the Senate’s parliamentarian said Thursday, imperiling a major campaign promise and top priority for the party’s liberal wing.

The guidance from the parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, was communicated privately to key Senate offices and confirmed by aides in both parties. It could be a major setback for liberals hoping to use Biden’s $1.9 trillion relief bill as the vehicle for their long-sought goal of raising the federal minimum wage from its current level of $7.25 an hour.

Democrats had been anxiously awaiting MacDonough’s decision, but their next steps are not clear. The ruling pertains only to the Senate, where the legislation will move forward under complex rules that prohibit certain items that don’t have a particular impact on the budget. MacDonough determined that, as written, the minimum wage increase did not pass that test -- an outcome that had been predicted by a number of Democrats, including Biden himself.

The House is moving forward Friday to pass the stimulus relief package and send it to the Senate. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has committed to keeping the minimum wage increase in the bill. If she does, Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) will then face a decision on whether to take out the minimum wage increase, or try to keep it in the bill -- potentially by trying to rewrite it in such a way that it could pass muster under the Senate’s complicated parliamentary rules.

 

Virus Victims, Responses

covad 19 photo.jpg Custom 2Worldometer, World & U.S. Coronavirus Case Totals (updated: Feb. 26, 2021), with some governments reporting slightly lower numbers than the totals here):

World Cases: 113,653,395, Deaths: 2,521,286
U.S. Cases:    29,054,163, Deaths:    520,852

washington post logoWashington Post, 46.1 million vaccinated: The number of people who have received at least one dose of the vaccine, covering 37.8% of the prioritized population and 1396% of the total population. See about your state.

 washington post logoWashington Post, Biden pushes full-time school, but districts are cautious, citing CDC guidelines, Laura Meckler and Joe Heim, Feb. 26, 2021 (print ed.)  In areas with high infection rates — most of the country — the CDC recommends that school buildings open with a fraction of students in the building, or remain closed.

cdc logo CustomPresident Biden campaigned on a promise to reopen schools and said guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would help make it happen. That guidance is out, but in many communities, it is doing more to keep schools at least partially closed.

That’s because in areas with high infection rates — most of the country — the CDC recommends that school buildings open with a fraction of students in the building, or remain closed altogether.

The guidelines offer a detailed road map for precautions needed to open safely, but they also have led to confusion over whether the federal government is encouraging schools to open or not.

ny times logoNew York Times, Live Updates: One Pfizer Dose Strongly Protects Those Who’ve Had Virus, Studies Find, Staff Reports, Feb. 26, 2021. Two new pieces pfizer logoof research support the case for giving just one dose of the Pfizer vaccine to people who have antibodies against the virus. The F.D.A. is meeting Friday to consider the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: Get Whatever Vaccine You Can, Bruce Y. Lee, Feb. 26, 2021. When there are multiple shots of varying effectiveness, take whatever is available to you first.

Dr. Lee is the executive director of Public Health Informatics, Computational and Operations Research, a public health research group, and a professor at CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy.

ny times logoNew York Times, Tracking Coronavirus Cases at U.S. Colleges and Universities, Staff Report, Feb. 26, 2021. Cases have continued to emerge by the tens of thousands this year at colleges, a New York Times survey has found. Coronavirus cases have continued to emerge by the tens of thousands this year at colleges, a New York Times survey has found, after students returned to campuses at a time when case numbers were soaring across much of the country.

More than 120,000 cases have been linked to American colleges and universities since Jan. 1, and more than 530,000 cases have been reported since the beginning of the pandemic. The Times has also identified more than 100 deaths involving college students and employees. The vast majority occurred in 2020 and involved employees.

washington post logoWashington Post, Unprecedented numbers of students have disappeared during the pandemic. Schools are working harder than ever to find them, Moriah Balingit, Feb. 26, 2021 (print ed.). Many districts, cognizant of the damage that lost school time can cause, have employed extraordinary efforts to track down students to ensure that they are safe and have devices to learn.

washington post logoWashington Post, Jobless claims dropped last week by 111,000, Eli Rosenberg, Feb. 26, 2021 (print ed.). New unemployment claims dropped by 111,000 last week, the biggest drop in new claims since August, and a positive sign as the coronavirus pandemic spread has slowed in recent weeks.

About 730,000 new claims were filed for traditional unemployment insurance and another 451,000 claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, for gig and self employed workers. The total number of claims for all types of unemployment benefits was 19 million for the week ending February 6.

Coronavirus cases have dropped sharply across the country in recent weeks, propelling re-openings for shuttered businesses like restaurants in states like California and New York. The decrease in the weekly claims was powered by large drops of around 50,000 in California and 45,000 in Ohio, two states with major problems with fraudulent filings.

ny times logoNew York Times, Increase in Minimum Wage in Stimulus Plan Is Dealt Near-Fatal Blow, Emily Cochrane, Feb. 26, 2021 (print ed.). The Senate parliamentarian said the provision, which would raise the wage to $15 an hour, violated budgetary rules on what can be included in the package.

Democrats suffered a major setback on Thursday in their bid to push through a $15-an-hour minimum wage as part of President Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package, after the Senate’s top rule-enforcer said that the increase could not be included in the bill.

The decision effectively knocked out a crucial plank of Mr. Biden’s plan championed by liberals, and demonstrated the perils of Democrats’ strategy to fast-track passage of the sweeping pandemic aid legislation, part of an effort to steer around Republican obstruction.

It underscored that even with control of the White House and both chambers of Congress, Mr. Biden and Democrats still face formidable challenges in delivering on their most ambitious promises given their slim majorities and opposition from Republicans.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said the House would keep the provision in its version of the stimulus plan, which is set to be voted on on Friday. But the ruling from Elizabeth MacDonough, the Senate parliamentarian, all but sealed the fate of Democrats’ push to gradually raise the wage to $15 by 2025, which faces enough opposition from Republicans that it is all but certain to die on its own.

The decision also poured fuel on a smoldering debate among Democrats about how to use their Senate majority to achieve Mr. Biden’s agenda. Progressives who have pushed for the elimination of the filibuster — which effectively requires 60 votes to advance any major legislation — pointed to the ruling as evidence that Democrats had no choice but to change the rules of the Senate to enable them to push through crucial policy changes that have been stalled time and again amid Republican opposition.

The episode also touched off a bitter round of finger-pointing among Democrats, who are divided over how hard to push for the wage increase. Mr. Biden, a longtime creature of the Senate, had publicly professed skepticism that the provision would survive the procedural thicket facing his stimulus plan.

Two moderate Democrats, Senators Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, had also said they did not support including such a large increase to the federal minimum wage in the package, although some Democrats believed they might ultimately relent.

 

U.S. Politics, Governance

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: The Paradox of Pandemic Partisanship, Paul Krugman, right, Feb. 26, 2021 (print ed.). Many Republicans consider Biden illegitimate paul krugman— and support his plans.

President Biden’s Covid-19 relief proposal remains incredibly popular; if anything, it’s getting more popular as it barrels through Congress. Multiple polls show that something like 70 percent of Americans approve of the $1.9 trillion plan. It’s almost twice as popular as the Republican tax cut of 2017; it’s more popular than the Obama stimulus of 2009; it’s hard to believe now, but the Biden plan is more popular than Medicare was in the months before it passed in 1965.

Big business has also come on board: More than 150 senior executives at major companies have written congressional leaders urging enactment of Biden’s plan.

It’s not too hard to see why Democrats and independents like the plan. What I’m trying to understand is something that seems like a political paradox. Namely, how is it possible that so many Republicans approve of the plan?

Why is Republican support for Biden’s economic plans a puzzle? Because most of the Republican rank and file believe (based on nothing but lies) that the election was stolen. So we’re in a peculiar position where a substantial number of voters don’t believe Biden has the right to be running the country, but effectively approve of the way he’s running it, at least in terms of economic policy.

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Palmer Report, Opinion: Fact check: President Biden’s handling of immigrant children vs. Donald Trump’s handling of immigrant children, Jessica de la Davies, Feb. 26, 2021. President Biden is working to reform Immigration and Customs Enforcement. This follows on the heels of multiple scandals during the Trump administration that included separating families, placing children in cages and widespread abuse allegations.

bill palmer report logo headerRepublicans were eager to conflate Trump’s policy on children at the border with Biden’s policy. However, Trump’s treatment of children wasn’t controversial just because it resulted in children being detained at the border. It was controversial because Trump separated children from their parents, leaving thousands of very young children detained alone.

jen psakiOn Wednesday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki, right, shared that the Biden administration was forced to make a “tough choice” after 5,700 unaccompanied minors crossed the border, forcing of reopening a facility in Carrizo Springs, Texas. However, these children arrived unaccompanied. They were not forcible separated from their parents and they are receiving proper care. The minors are housed in attractive rooms with carpeting, windows and proper beds — not in cages.

To overhaul ICE, Biden has implemented new rules to limit the agency’s power. According to the Texas Tribune, ICE agents will focus “on national security threats, recent border crossers, and people completing prison and jail terms for aggravated felony convictions.”

Upon taking office, Biden established a task force to reunite hundreds of families still separated under Trump’s inhumane policy of separating children from their parents. According to NBC News, pro-bono lawyers have found 105 children in the past month. 506 children have still not been found. President Biden is working ethically to undo Trump’s horror camps and restore the world’s faith in our immigration system.

Jessica de la Davies is the producer of The Nutcracker on PBS, a two-time book author, Special Ambassador for the American Diabetes Association and an All-American Outstanding Woman of Achievement winner. You can connect with her on Twitter and Facebook.

Wayne Madsen Report, Opinion: The ghosts of Charles Lindbergh and Fred Trump haunt the Republican Party, Wayne Madsen, left (author of 18 books and wayne madsen screen shotformer Navy intelligence officer and National Security Agency analyst), Feb. 26, 2021. Donald Trump has managed to create an American personality-driven fascist political party from the remnants of the Republican Party, which once had moderate and even liberal wings.

This year's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), being held in Orlando -- far from its usual venue in the nation's capital, but nearer to Trump's Mar-a-Lago billionaire bungalow in Palm Beach -- will reiterate that the one-time "Grand Old Party" is now Trump's personal political device.

In Fred Trump's time, he and other pro-fascists placed their hopes on pro-Nazi aviator Charles Lindbergh accomplishing what Trump has done: form a serious fascist political party that could not only gain seats in the U.S. Congress but win the White House.

wayne madesen report logoWhat stopped Lindbergh and his allies from simply taking over the Republican Party was the presence of moderate-to-progressive Republican presidential nominees like Wendell Willkie, Thomas Dewey, and Alf Landon, all of whom supported many aspects of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal program. Moreover, Willkie, Dewey, and Landon fought against the America First Committee formed by Lindbergh, newspaper publishers Joseph M. Patterson (New York Daily News), Colonel Robert W. McCormick (Chicago Tribune), manufacturer William H. Regnery, Sears and Roebuck chairman General Robert Wood, Henry Ford, and other fascists desiring to keep the United States out of a war with Nazi Germany.

The group of Republicans who are speaking at this year's CPAC represent an even more bizarre ideology than that of the America First Committee of Lindbergh and old man Trump. Trump has not only placed his imprimatur on CPAC and its sponsoring organization, the American Conservative Union, but on the Republican Party itself.

Republican leaders are pressured not to "diss the Donald" in a manner reminiscent of government officials in Nazi Germany being careful not to insult the Fuehrer. For the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump and the seven GOP senators who voted to convict him over the January 6 "Reichstag Fire" assault on the U.S. Capitol retaliation was swift. Trump activists immediately subjected these Republicans to censure resolutions and some even made physical threats against the members of Congress and their families.

 washington post logoWashington Post, House votes to pass Equality Act, prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, Felicia Sonmez and Samantha Schmidt, Feb. 26, 2021 (print ed.). Pelosi describes the Equality Act as ‘necessary.’

The House on Thursday voted to pass the Equality Act, a far-reaching measure that has been decades in the making and would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The legislation was passed by the House in 2019 but blocked in the Republican-led Senate. This time around, Democrats now control the White House, House and Senate. President Biden has signaled his support for the measure, but it still faces an uphill fight in the Senate, where it would need 60 votes to break a legislative filibuster.

Nancy Pelosi “We have passed it in the House before — the Equality Act, H.R. 5, to end discrimination against the LGBTQ community,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), left, said at a news conference at the Capitol Thursday morning. “This time, it will be not only passed in the House, but on a path to a signing at the White House. We’re very excited about that.”

After a tense and often personal debate, the House voted 224-to-206 for the measure, with three Republicans joining all Democrats to vote "yes."

The legislation would amend federal civil rights laws to ensure protections for LGBTQ Americans in employment, education, housing, credit, jury service and other areas. It is a top legislative priority of President Biden, who in a statement last week called the bill “a critical step toward ensuring that America lives up to our foundational values of equality and freedom for all.”

A number of religious denominations are lobbying against the measure, saying its lack of religious exemptions creates one of the most sweeping challenges to religious liberty in decades.

Groups including the Church of Latter-day Saints, Orthodox Jews and Seventh-day Adventists, among others, say it could halt free and reduced lunches for children across the country who attend single-gender parochial schools, require church community halls to rent space for LGBT ceremonies and could threaten federal security grants for synagogues and mosques facing violence because of their faiths.

The House debate over the issue included personal testimony from several lawmakers. Several LGBT members of Congress were among those who rose in support of the measure, as were lawmakers whose family members are transgender.

washington post logoWashington Post, At conservative gathering, ideas fall to an airing of Trump grievances, David Weigel, Feb. 26, 2021 (print ed.). The Conservative Political Action Conference, which begins this week, has evolved from a fractious meeting of Republicans and libertarians into a celebration of the 45th president and the airing of his grievances.

djt march 2020 CustomTrump will close out the event with his first speech since leaving the White House, minutes after a 2024 presidential straw poll that he’s expected to win. The arguments among some elected Republicans about whether they should retool their agenda to prevent future losses, or revisit their alliance with Trump, will have to happen somewhere else.

“The idea that we’re going to come up with some kind of conservative platform at CPAC, it rings a little hollow,” said Matt Schlapp, the chairman of the American Conservative Union, which organizes the conference. “Right now, half the country” feels cheated “by the media coverage of the election. So we’re going to go back and cover the facts that most people in the media canceled.”

The facts haven’t been kind to that argument. Dozens of lawsuits and Trump’s Justice Department found no evidence of fraud last year that would have altered the election results.

But polling since Nov. 3 has found strong majorities of Republican voters agreeing with Trump and supporting his false take on the election. That has left CPAC in the same place as the larger Republican Party as they head toward the 2022 midterm election: wedded to Trump even as he alienates millions of potential voters.

The conference, founded in 1973, is usually held near Washington, with a crowd that can grow to 10,000 people. It moved this year to Orlando, where local covid-19 restrictions allow an indoor gathering if attendees are socially distanced and masked, and complete a quick health survey.

That will cut the full crowd at festivities that begin Thursday down to perhaps 3,500 — still one of the largest conferences in the country since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, with all but the priciest tickets sold out for weeks. Scaling a four-day convention down to a virtual Zoom-fest was never considered, and it might have clashed with the theme — “America Uncanceled,” a reference to the Republican idea that “cancel culture” is punishing conservatives for their beliefs.

Some prominent Republicans, whose criticism of the election myths have angered party activists, won’t be in attendance. Former vice president Mike Pence, a regular guest who against Trump’s wishes refused to declare the electoral college vote invalid, will not attend, and has kept a low profile since attending the inauguration of President Biden.

Mitchell_McConnellSen. Mitt Romney of Utah, a one-time winner of CPAC’s presidential straw poll, has been disinvited since becoming the first senator to vote for convicting an impeached president of his own party. (He also voted to convict earlier this month after Trump’s second impeachment.) Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), left, who hasn’t attended since 2014 and who excoriated Trump after voting to acquit him earlier this month, wasn’t invited, with a CPAC director telling McClatchy that he could return in 2022 “to address the improvements to election laws” Republicans are pushing through state legislatures.

Of the 47 Republican members of Congress scheduled to speak at CPAC, just nine voted to uphold every state’s election results on Jan. 6. None voted for impeachment.

Palmer Report, Opinion: Ted Cruz just got destroyed, Bill Palmer, right, Feb. 26, 2021. Now that Ted Cruz has turned himself into a national punchline with his bill palmerCancun scandal, he’s trying to make the punchline work for himself – and it’s not working. During an embarrassing CPAC speech today, Cruz joked about how the weather was better in Cancun, before yelling and hollering like a malfunctioning Steve Ballmer doll and leaving the stage. Then it got worse.

bill palmer report logo headerNever one to simply take a loss, Ted Cruz decided to double down on his idiocy. After his failed speech, he posted this tweet: “The Republican Party is not the party of the country clubs, it’s the party of hardworking, blue-collar men and women.”

Wait, really? This is the same Ted Cruz who just got back from the Ritz Carlton in Cancun. This is the same Ted Cruz who just gave a speech vaguely supporting Donald Trump, who owns multiple country clubs that haven’t yet been seized by creditors or prosecutors.

For his effort, Ted Cruz’s tweet ended up getting just ten thousand likes and a whopping twenty-nine thousand mostly negative comments, making for an ugly Twitter ratio. Cruz got destroyed in his replies, and he deserved it.

Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB), Hammonds’ grazing permit rescinded by Biden administration, David Steves and Monica Samayoa, Feb. 26, 2021. The Biden administration’s Bureau of Land Management on Friday rescinded a grazing permit that was granted to Eastern Oregon ranchers who were previously convicted of arson on public lands.

It reverses the decision by former President Donald Trump’s Interior secretary, David Bernhardt. He had granted the permit to Dwight and Steven Hammond on Trump’s final day in office. The permit gave the Hammonds the privilege to graze livestock on public land for 10 years.

Friday’s decision comes one day after a coalition of environmental groups sued the government over Bernhardt’s decision. Their lawsuit alleged that Bernhardt cut short the required public and environmental review processes before issuing permits to the Hammonds.

In its notice, the BLM wrote that it had remanded the decision for additional consideration after finding flaws in how the previous administration had made its decision to issue the permit. The government failed to immediately alert the public, resulting in confusion and preventing people from having the full 15-day period to object to such a decision, as required by federal rules.

“We’re grateful that the new administration saw right away that Bernhardt’s decision to grant the grazing permit without the proper public participation could not stand,” said Greta Anderson, deputy director of Western Watersheds Project, in an emailed statement. “We believe when they reconsider the proposed action, they’ll realize there were major substantive problems as well.”

Attempts to contact the Hammond family were unsuccessful.

The Western Watersheds Project was one of the groups behind the lawsuit.

The Hammonds’ arson conviction in 2012 led to the revocation of their previous grazing permit. The case was central to the armed takeover in 2016 of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, which devolved into a 41-day armed standoff. A jury later acquitted leaders of the takeover, including brothers Ammon and Ryan Bundy.

Trump pardoned the Hammonds two years later.

 

Biden Transition

ny times logoNew York Times, Jennifer Granholm is confirmed as energy secretary, Brad Plumer, Feb. 26, 2021 (print ed.). Jennifer M. Granholm could face challenges in managing the sprawling Energy Department. The Senate confirmed Jennifer M. Granholm to be energy secretary on Thursday, positioning the former governor of Michigan to play a key role in President Biden’s plans to confront climate change.

Ms. Granholm, a longtime champion of renewable energy development, was confirmed by a vote of 64 to 35, with support from both Democrats and Republicans. She will be the second woman to lead the Department of Energy, after Hazel R. O’Leary, who served under President Bill Clinton.

jennifer granholm twitter1Ms. Granholm will oversee an agency that plays a leading role in researching and developing new energy technologies, such as advanced wind turbines or methods to capture carbon dioxide from industrial facilities before the gas reaches the atmosphere. Energy experts have said innovations like these could prove critical for slashing planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions.

At her confirmation hearing last month, Ms. Granholm sought to allay fears by lawmakers that transitioning the United States away from fossil fuels and toward cleaner energy sources would devastate the nation’s economy. She pointed to her experience as Michigan’s governor during the 2009 recession, when the state invested heavily in electric vehicle technology and worker retraining programs amid efforts to rescue an ailing auto industry that had long focused on building gasoline-powered cars and trucks.

“I understand what it’s like to look into the eyes of men and women who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own,” Ms. Granholm said. But clean energy, she added, “is a sector that every single state can benefit from.”

Ms. Granholm could face challenges in managing the sprawling federal agency. Only about one-fifth of the Energy Department’s $35 billion annual budget is devoted to energy programs. The rest goes toward maintaining the nation’s nuclear weapons arsenal, cleaning up environmental messes from the Cold War and conducting scientific research in areas like high-energy physics at the department’s network of 17 national laboratories.

washington post logoWashington Post, Biden’s choice for trade chief calls for ‘worker-centered’ approach, David J. Lynch, Feb. 26, 2021 (print ed.). Katherine Tai told lawmakers Thursday that U.S. policies must be rethought to safeguard the critical supply lines that feed American factories and to regain the support of “regular people” who have felt victimized by previous commercial deals.

katherine tai resizedKatherine Tai, right, President Biden’s nominee to become the chief U.S. trade negotiator, said Thursday that U.S. policies must be rethought to safeguard the critical supply lines that feed American factories and to regain the support of “regular people” who have felt victimized by previous commercial deals.

Speaking at her Senate confirmation hearing, Tai promised a “worker-centered” trade policy that would break with both the Trump administration’s protectionism and the reflexive pro-trade stance of earlier Democratic presidents.

Many Americans “for a very long time felt disconnected from our trade policies,” Tai said, adding that voters saw trade deals as “concocted by people in places like Washington, Brussels and Geneva” in ways that were either irrelevant or damaging to their interests.

Tai cited novel labor and environmental provisions in the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement as an example of her approach. The accord was negotiated during the Trump administration, but as chief trade counsel on the House Ways and Means Committee, Tai played a key role in rewriting the pact’s fine print to win additional Democratic support.

Reps. Richard E. Neal (D-Mass.) and Kevin Brady (R-Tex.), the chairman and senior minority member of the House Ways and Means Committee, introduced Tai to members of the Senate Finance Committee, a sign of the bipartisan support that appears likely to cement her confirmation.

washington post logoWashington Post, Chart: Who Joe Biden is picking to fill his White House and Cabinet, Staff reports, Feb. 26, 2020. One of President-elect Joe Biden’s very first tasks will be filling the top positions in his White House and Cabinet. In contrast to President Trump’s notably White and male Cabinet, Biden has joe biden kamala harris campaign shotpromised to be “a president for all Americans” and build a Cabinet that reflects its diversity.

In making his selections Biden is looking to appease factions of the Democratic Party from moderates to progressives and longtime allies to newer faces. Cabinet positions — with the exception of the vice president and White House chief of staff — will also require approval from a Republican Senate, unless Democrats can win two Senate race runoffs in early January.

Once confirmed, they will be instrumental in carrying out his goals and setting the tenor his presidency. We’re tracking the people who Biden has already named and the top contenders for unfilled roles.

White House, Biden-Harris Cabinet, The Cabinet’s role is to advise the President on any subject he or she may require relating to the duties of each member’s joe biden orespective office. President Joe Biden’s Cabinet includes Vice President Kamala Harris and the heads of the 15 executive departments — the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Labor, State, Transportation, Treasury, and Veterans Affairs, and the Attorney General.

Additionally, the Cabinet includes the White House Chief of Staff, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, the Director of National Intelligence, and the US Trade Representative, as well as the heads of the Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Management and Budget, Council of Economic Advisers, Office of Science and Technology Policy, and Small Business Administration.

 

U.S. Media Newsfcc logo

ny times logoNew York Times, F.C.C. Approves a $50 Monthly High-Speed Internet Subsidy, Cecilia Kang, Feb. 26, 2021 (print ed.).  The money, aimed at low-income households, is part of an effort to bridge the access gap to broadband connectivity amid the pandemic.

The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday approved an emergency subsidy for low-income households to get high-speed internet, an effort to bridge the digital divide that has cut off many Americans from online communication during the pandemic.

jessica rosenworcel fccThe four-member commission unanimously agreed to offer up to $50 a month to low-income households and up to $75 a month to households on Native American land for broadband service. The F.C.C. will also provide a one-time discount of up to $100 on a computer or tablet for eligible homes.

The program will use $3.2 billion allocated late last year by Congress as part of its Covid-19 relief bill to bring internet service to American families for distance learning, work and digital health care.

Jessica Rosenworcel, right, the acting chairwoman of the F.C.C., said the program will be available within 60 days. The agency still needs to sign up willing internet service providers and set up a program to approve and track recipients. At least 14.5 million Americans, according to a F.C.C. report, do not have broadband. Over the past year, the digital divide has taken on greater urgency.

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: The Campaign to Cancel Wokeness, Michelle Goldberg, right, Feb. 26, 2021. How the right is trying to censor critical race theory. michelle goldberg thumbWhen it comes to outright government censorship, it is the right that’s on the offense. Critical race theory, the intellectual tradition undergirding concepts like white privilege and microaggressions, is often blamed for fomenting what critics call cancel culture. And so, around America and even overseas, people who don’t like cancel culture are on an ironic quest to cancel the promotion of critical race theory in public forums.

In September, Donald Trump’s Office of Management and Budget ordered federal agencies to “begin to identify all contracts or other agency spending related to any training on ‘critical race theory,’” which it described as “un-American propaganda.”

A month later, the conservative government in Britain declared some uses of critical race theory in education illegal. “We do not want teachers to teach their white pupils about white privilege and inherited racial guilt,” said the Tory equalities minister, Kemi Badenoch. “Any school which teaches these elements of critical race theory, or which promotes partisan political views such as defunding the police without offering a balanced treatment of opposing views, is breaking the law.”

 

World News

ap logoAssociated Press via New York Times, Hundreds of Nigerian Students Abducted, Residents Say, Staff Report, Feb. 26, 2021. Hundreds of girls were missing after a large group of gunmen raided a school in Nigeria early Friday morning, residents said, the latest mass abduction of schoolchildren in the northern part of the country.

One resident, Musa Mustapha, said the gunmen also attacked a nearby military camp and checkpoint, preventing soldiers from intervening while the gunmen spent several hours at the Government Secondary Jangebe School in Zamfara state. It was not immediately clear whether there were any casualties.

Several large groups of armed men, described by the government as bandits, operate in Zamfara, where they have established a reputation for kidnapping in exchange for money and for the release of their members from jail.

New York Times, Malta Police Complete Arrests in Journalist’s 2017 Murder, The force’s commissioner said everyone believed to be involved in the car bombing that killed Daphne Caruana Galizia was in custody. But a motive remains unclear.

washington post logoWashington Post, Russia says U.S. gave only a few minutes’ warning before strike in Syria, Robyn Dixon and Sarah Dadouch, Feb. 26, 2021. Russia was given about four to five minutes warning of the Biden administration’s first military action when it struck Iranian-backed militias in eastern Syria early Friday, according to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. But he said the warning came too late to reduce the risk of a potential clash between the two country’s forces.

Russian FlagU.S. officials believe the attack killed a number of alleged Iranian-linked fighters, signaling the administration’s intent to use targeted military action to push back against violence tied to Tehran.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported Friday that 22 Iranian-backed fighters were killed when the strike at 1 a.m. local time Friday (6 p.m. Thursday in Washington) hit three truckloads of weapons crossing a border point from Iraq to Syria. It added that the death toll could rise.

“Our military was warned four or five minutes in advance. Of course, this has no value even from the angle of deconfliction, as they say in relations between Russian and U.S. servicemen,” Lavrov told a Moscow news conference. He said the U.S. notice was given when the strike was “already being sergey lavrovdelivered.” He referred to communications between the U.S. and Russian militaries to “deconflict” Syrian airspace to avoid clashes between their aircraft.

Syria FlagRussia emerged as a key player in Syria when President Vladimir Putin deployed forces in 2015 to back Moscow’s longtime ally, President Bashar al-Assad. Russia claims to be the only foreign player legally in Syria, as Assad sought Russian help in confronting rebels in the country’s civil war.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the attack hit facilities used by Iranian-linked Iraqi militias, including Kataib Hezbollah and Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada, at a strategic border-crossing station in eastern Syria. The attack was “authorized in response to recent attacks against American and coalition personnel in Iraq, and to ongoing threats,” Kirby said.

The last U.S. strike targeting the Syrian border region was in late 2019 when the Pentagon struck two locations of Kataib Hezbollah.

Syrian state media confirmed the latest strike, reporting that it took place at a time when the army was targeting the Islamic State in the area.

Later Friday, Syria’s Foreign Ministry put out a statement condemning the attack, saying it breached international law and would escalate tensions in the area.

Iranian-backed groups allied to Assad control the border crossing, using it to transport weapons, personnel and goods.

Lavrov claimed to have intelligence that America has no plans to leave Syria and was aiming to break up the country.

ny times logoNew York Times, Dismay Turns to Outrage as South America’s Powerful Jump the Vaccine Line, Mitra Taj, Anatoly Kurmanaev, Manuela Andreoni and Daniel Politi, Feb. 26, 2021 (print ed.). A wave of corruption scandals is exposing how the rich and well-connected got vaccinated early. Public outrage is growing.

peru flag2Four ministers in Peru, Argentina and Ecuador have resigned this month or are being investigated on suspicion of receiving or providing preferential access to scarce coronavirus shots. Prosecutors in those countries, and in Brazil, are examining thousands more accusations of irregularities in inoculation drives, most of them involving local politicians and their families cutting in line.

As accusations of wrongdoing ensnare more dignitaries, tension is building in a region where popular outrage with graft and inequality have spilled in recent years into raucous protests against the political status quo. The frustration could find an outlet in the streets again — or at the polls, shaping voter decisions in upcoming races such as Peru’s elections in April.

 washington post logoWashington Post, U.K. Supreme Court rules woman who joined Islamic State as teen cannot return to Britain, Adam Taylor, Feb. 26, 2021. Shamima Begum, a British-born woman who left the country as a teenager in 2015 to join the Islamic State, will not be allowed to return to United Kingdom to fight a legal case about the revocation of citizenship, the country’s top court ruled Friday.

United Kingdom flagIn a unanimous ruling, Britain’s Supreme Court found that Begum’s rights were not breached when she was refused permission to return by the British government. The decision overturned a ruling by a lower court last year.

Lord Robert Reed, president of the Supreme Court, said that national security concerns were paramount in the case. “The right to a fair hearing does not trump all other considerations, such as the safety of the public,” Reed said in a statement.

The ruling does not prevent Begum, now 21, from continuing her legal case against the British government’s decision to revoke her citizenship in 2019.

However, Begum’s lawyers have said she has not been able to freely communicate with them from the al-Roj detention camp, where she is being kept by Syrian Kurdish groups without trial, and that the possibilities of a fair case would be limited if held remotely.

Rights groups criticized the court’s decision on Friday. “Barring Shamima Begum from Britain remains a cynical ploy to make her someone else’s responsibility,” Maya Foa, director of the rights group Reprieve, said in a statement.

The decision is the latest development in a case that has divided Britons on questions of extremism, human rights and a government’s responsibility to its citizens. Its impact is likely to be felt by others who left Western nations to join the Islamic State.

In November, Rights and Security International reported that at least 15 women and 35 children from Britain were being held in Syrian refugee camps and that the British government had a “systematic policy of depriving women in the camps of their citizenship.”

The Brussels-based Egmont Institute has estimated that almost 1,200 Europeans were being held in camps in Syria and Iraq after the fall of the Islamic State, more than half of whom were children, with only limited efforts for repatriation.

While Begum’s case is the highest-profile citizenship revocation, the study said that other European nations — including Belgium, France, Denmark and the Netherlands — have stripped citizenship from Islamic State fighters.

The U.S. Justice Department announced in October that it had repatriated a total of 27 Americans from Syria and Iraq, including 10 who had been charged with terrorism-related crimes.

The year before, a court backed President Donald Trump’s claim that one U.S.-born woman was not a citizen, even though she held a U.S. passport, because of her father’s diplomatic status in the United States at her time of birth.

Begum was 15 years old in 2015 when she joined two other schoolgirls and left Britain en route to Syria to join the Islamic State group. Her case immediately drew headlines in the British press, leaving many Britons horrified that girls so young would join a group known for extreme violence.

In 2019, as the Islamic State’s grip on its self-proclaimed caliphate was battered by coalition forces, Begum spoke to a reporter from the Times of London and asked the British government to help her return home. She was nine months pregnant at the time.

Although many people sympathized with the young woman, only 19 at the time, others were dismayed by a number of comments she had made to British media outlets in interviews from the Syrian camp and her stated lack of regret about joining the Islamic State in the first place.

 

U.S. Law, Courts, Crime

John Durham, left, talks with Robert Devlin, the senior state appellate judge who used to be his strike force partner, at a celebration Friday in honor of Durham’s retirement. (PHOTO: U.S. Attorney’s office)

John Durham, left, talks with Robert Devlin, the senior state appellate judge who used to be his strike force partner, at a celebration Friday in honor of Durham’s retirement. (PHOTO: U.S. Attorney’s office)

Hartford Courant, U.S. Attorney John Durham resigns; led prosecution of mobsters, drug kingpins and corrupt politicians, Edmund H. Mahony, Feb. 26, 2021. ‘A hero in the law enforcement community.’ U.S Attorney John H. Durham, who built an extraordinary record over more than four decades as a Connecticut prosecutor, is leaving office this weekend, part of President Joe Biden’s plan to quickly replace top federal prosecutors around the country with his own appointees.

Durham, right, has played a leading role in some of the most compelling criminal and political cases in Connecticut and elsewhere in the country since the john durham Custom1970s and his departure has judges, lawyers and law enforcement officers of all stripes reflecting on his contributions to the state’s criminal justice system and his absence going forward.

“I’m biased,” said Robert Devlin, a senior state appellate judge and Durham’s partner 40 years ago on the federal justice department’s super-secret organized crime strike force. “But if you look at it objectively, how can you not say that John Durham is the most consequential federal prosecutor ever to come out of the District of Connecticut, maybe even broader than that. Look at the cases he made and pushed across the finish line. One after the other, huge and difficult and complicated cases.”

As a mob prosecutor, Durham, now 70, convicted the leadership of the Patriarca crime family, then New England’s most powerful criminal outfit, riveting mob watchers across the country by playing for a Hartford jury — the first time anywhere, ever in public — a recording of notorious gangsters munching on prosciutto while new inductees burned images of the crime family’s patron saint during the mafia’s secret initiation ceremony.

He was an architect of the federal law enforcement strategy — still in use — that made Connecticut a national leader in reducing the drug violence that had left bodies in the streets of cities in Connecticut and elsewhere in the 1990s. He supervised the convictions of a long line of corrupt politicians — among them, a pedophile mayor, a state treasurer and a governor - twice.

And he was assigned by successive U.S. attorneys general of both parties to whitey bulger US Marshals Service Mug1investigate gangster James “Whitey” Bulger’s hold on law enforcement in Boston, the CIA’s post-911 interrogation tactics and the origins of the Trump-Russia collusion allegations — a matter in which he remains involved.

Bulger is shown at left in a mug shot and below right in 1953 mug shots earlier in his career as a Boston-based murderer, racketeer and mob leader.

“He is a hero in the law enforcement community in Connecticut and across the country,” said Christopher Droney, who worked with Durham when Droney was U.S. attorney in the 1990s and who later reviewed Durham’s work, first as a U.S. District Court judge and whitey bulger mugs 1953later on a federal appeals court. “He has taken on nearly impossible tasks and has done a terrific job with all of them. I am just very thankful that I had a chance to work with John and learn from him.”

Durham was nominated by President Donald J. Trump to be U.S. attorney, the state’s top federal law enforcement officer, in November 2017 and was confirmed and sworn in in February 2018. He is the first assistant U.S. attorney from Connecticut to become the state’s presidentially-appointed top federal prosecutor.

Within weeks, then-U.S. Attorney General William Barr asked Durham to put together a team and move to the nation’s Capitol to look for criminality in decisions by the FBI to eaves drop on Trump 2016 campaign aides and investigate since-discredited allegations of a connection between the campaign and Russian election meddling. In October, with the 2020 election approaching, Barr quietly appointed Durham as a special counsel, something Barr said would allow Durham to complete his work “without regard to the outcome of the election.”

Two weeks ago, Biden asked for resignations from all the nation’s U.S. attorneys, but allowed Durham to continue the collusion probe and David C. Weiss, U.S. attorney in Delaware, to continue a tax investigation of Biden’s son Hunter. Durham has been asked to leave his office by Feb. 28 and will be replaced as U.S. attorney on an interim basis by his chief deputy, longtime state and federal prosecutor Leonard C Boyle.

Associates said Durham made an emotional farewell to his staff in a video conference Friday, between calls from well-wishers. Later in the day, he stepped out of his office on the New Haven Green to acknowledge 300 or so masked and socially distanced judges, prosecutors and law enforcement officers who gathered in the windy courtyard behind the federal district courthouse for what amounted to a pandemic retirement send-off. He said he has been inspired by their public service, but much of the rest of his remarks were lost to his mask and the wind.

Durham began his career in 1977, prosecuting career criminals as an assistant to legendary New Haven State’s Attorney Arnold Markle, after graduating from the University of Connecticut School of Law and two years as a VISTA volunteer on the Crow Indian reservation in Montana.

He and Devlin partnered as the Connecticut office of the federal justice department’s organized crime strike force in 1977, prosecuting a pair of notorious Bridgeport gangsters, brothers Gus and Francis “Fat Franny” Curcio. The Curcio case was a battle that reached the U.S. Supreme Court. But it was a sideshow compared to the Patriarca mob case that unfolded in Hartford in the late 1980s.

Durham’s contribution to combating the drug violence that continues to plague Hartford, Bridgeport and New Haven was to federalize investigations. For years, drug offenses were state crimes. Local and state police agencies would make arrests for sale or possession, and suspects were quickly bailed out of detention and back in business on the streets. Upon conviction, drug dealers regularly were given relatively short sentences in state jails and prisons, from which they were able to continue to direct their businesses.

The new approach established federally-deputized, multi-agency task forces that were able to work with the federal law enforcement tools the state legislature — then and now — will not authorize for state and local police agencies. Those tools include efficient means of using subpoenas, wiretaps and other investigative weapons created to penetrate sophisticated criminal conspiracies. Federal defendants also can be denied bail as threats to public safety. And upon conviction, they face relatively severe sentences in out-of-state prisons under federal racketeering laws.

When then U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno sent Durham to Boston in 1998 a the head of the Justice Task Force to investigate law enforcement corruption, he walked into a hot war between the FBI on one hand and the Massachusetts State Police and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration on the other. The state police and drug agents were convinced that someone in the FBI was tipping gangsters James “Whitey” Bulger and Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi to their investigations.

They were right.

The state police and drug agents figured Durham had been sent by Washington to white wash the FBI. And the FBI resisted Durham to minimize damage to its institutional reputation.

The Courant had, at the time, obtained secret FBI memos suggesting Bulger, Flemmi and their Winter Hill Gang were involved in a murderous conspiracy to take over World Jai Alai, a pari-mutuel gambling business that operated venues in Florida and Connecticut. One memo raised questions about FBI involvement in the murder of Roger Wheeler, the Oklahoma tycoon who owned World Jai Alai.

Durham, with a team including colleagues from Connecticut, made cases against supervisory FBI agent John Connolly and Massachusetts state police Lieutenant Richard Schneiderhan. Durham tried and convicted Connolly in Boston of racketeering, bribery and other charges on evidence that portrayed him as a closet member of the Bulger gang. Witnesses tied Connolly to the jai alai murders - although he wasn’t convicted in Wheeler’s death until later.

Ed Mahony has covered Connecticut for more than three decades, mostly for the Hartford Courant. Over the last decade, he has covered some of the country’s biggest political and mob trials. He is the recipient of numerous journalistic awards, including the Pulitzer Prize and the George Polk award, which he has won twice.

washington post logoWashington Post, A Capitol rioter texted his ex during the insurrection to call her a ‘moron,’ feds say. She turned him in, Timothy Bella, Feb. 26, 2021 (print ed.). Standing on the Capitol steps on Jan. 6, Richard Michetti allegedly took a break from the rioting to argue with his ex-girlfriend over text message. After sending photos and videos of the mob and boasting how he had avoided tear gas, Michetti parroted Donald Trump’s false claims of election fraud.

“If you can’t see the election was stolen you’re a moron,” Michetti, shown in a photo at right published by the FBI in a court filing, wrote in a text to the woman, according to court documents.

richard michetti fbiThe next day, the woman he had insulted promptly told the FBI that her ex was at the Capitol, handing over to law enforcement the string of texts, photos and videos he had sent to her.

Michetti, who lives in Ridley Park, Pa., has now been charged with knowingly entering a restricted building, violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds, and obstruction of Congress. If convicted, Michetti, who was arraigned Tuesday in federal court in Philadelphia, faces up to 20 years in prison, reported the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Neither Michetti nor his attorney, federal public defender Kathleen Gaughan, immediately responded to a request for comment late Wednesday.

Michetti joins the growing list of more than 200 people who have been charged in the insurrection. Many of the alleged rioters were identified by law enforcement through text messages sent to family and friends that bragged of their presence in D.C. last month.

ny times logoNew York Times, Lady Gaga’s Dogs Are Stolen and Dog Walker Is Shot, Johnny Diaz, Feb. 26, 2021 (print ed.). The Los Angeles police said that two French bulldogs were taken Wednesday night and that a dog walker was critically injured. Lady Gaga, shown below left in a photo taken at the Biden Inaugural, is offering a reward for their safe return, a representative said.

lady gaga biden inauguralA man was shot while he was walking two French bulldogs in Los Angeles on Wednesday night and the dogs were stolen, the police said. The dogs belonged to the singer Lady Gaga, according to a representative.

The shooting took place around 9:40 p.m. local time as the man, whom police did not identify, was walking north on Sierra Bonita Avenue in Hollywood, according to the Los Angeles Police Department.

It was not clear why the man was shot. The man, who is in his 30s, was shot at least once, the police said. The gunman stole the dogs and was seen leaving in a white vehicle, the authorities said. The victim was cradling a third dog as emergency medical workers treated him, according to KABC-TV which had a helicopter over the scene.

“It looks like a semiautomatic handgun was used,” Officer Jeff Lee, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Police Department, said Thursday.

The victim was taken to a hospital and was in critical condition on Thursday. No arrests have been made and an investigation is ongoing.

The dogs, named Koji and Gustav, belong to Lady Gaga, who is offering a $500,000 reward for information about the dogs, a representative for the singer said. Anyone with information should email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., the representative said.

Lady Gaga, whose real name is Stefani Germanotta, announced in 2016 that she had added a black-and-white puppy to her family of dogs, which included two named Koji and Asia. Lady Gaga, who performed the national anthem at President Biden’s inauguration last month, released her latest album, “Chromatica,” last year.

Law & Crime, American Attorney Already in Prison for Sexually Abusing Children in Cambodia Has Now Been Indicted in the U.S., Alberto Luperon, Feb. 26, 2021. Rugh James Cline, 40, a Florida-based attorney serving a sentence of two and a half years in Cambodia for abusing girls, was indicted on Thursday in the United States on similar charges, including possession of child pornography.

Cline was previously convicted of paying to abuse three girls under the age of 15 in incidents from February and May of 2019. The defendant, a 2010 graduate of the University of Miami School of Law, is delinquent on his fees, and is not eligible to practice law in Florida, according to The Florida Bar.

 

Feb. 25

Top Headlines

 

More On Trump Mob Capitol Riot

 

Virus Victims, Responses


White House Transition

 

U.S. Politics, Governance

 

 U.S. Law, Courts, Crime

 

World News

 

Top Stories

washington post logoWashington Post, Politics Live Updates: Biden marks the 50 millionth coronavirus vaccination shot in the United States, Colby Itkowitz, Amy B Wang, John Wagner, Karoun Demirjian and Felicia Sonmez, Feb. 25, 2021. President Biden commemorated the 50 millionth coronavirus vaccination shot in the United States with an event at the White House in which several people were vaccinated as Vice President Harris and Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious-disease expert, looked on.

Later, in a virtual meeting with governors, Biden promoted his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill.

yogananda pittmanActing Capitol Police chief Yogananda D. Pittman, right, on Thursday told a panel of House lawmakers that some of the armed groups behind the Jan. 6 riot “want to blow up the Capitol and kill as many members as possible” during Biden’s first address to a joint session of Congress, an event that has not yet been scheduled.

ny times logoNew York Times, Nursing Homes, Once Hotspots, Far Outpace U.S. in Covid-19 Declines, Matthew Conlen, Sarah Mervosh and Danielle Ivory, Feb. 25, 2021. New cases in nursing homes have dropped more than 80 percent since vaccinations began, according to a New York Times analysis of federal data. Deaths have declined sharply as well. The turnaround is an encouraging sign for vaccine effectiveness and shows what may be in store for the rest of the U.S.

Throughout the pandemic, there has been perhaps nowhere more dangerous than a nursing home. The coronavirus has raced through some 31,000 long-term care facilities in the United States, killing more than 163,000 residents and employees and accounting for more than a third of all virus deaths since the late spring.

But for the first time since the American outbreak began roughly a year ago — at a nursing care center in Kirkland, Wash. — the threat inside nursing homes may have finally reached a turning point.

Since the arrival of vaccines, which were prioritized to long-term care facilities starting in late December, new cases and deaths in nursing homes, a large subset of long-term care facilities, have fallen steeply, outpacing national declines, according to a New York Times analysis of federal data. The turnaround is an encouraging sign for vaccine effectiveness and offers an early glimpse at what may be in store for the rest of the country, as more and more people get vaccinated.

NBC News, Former U.S. gymnastics coach dies by suicide after arrest for alleged sex crimes in Michigan, David K. Li, Feb. 25, 2021. John Geddert's death NBC News logomarks a "tragic end to a tragic story for everyone involved," according to state AG.

Police found the body of a former U.S. gymnastics coach, who has ties to disgraced doctor Larry Nassar, hours after he was criminally charged in Michigan on Thursday.

John Geddert died by suicide and was discovered in Grand Ledge, Michigan, according to Kelly Rossman-McKinney, a spokeswoman for Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel.

Geddert’s body was found by state police troopers in a rest area off eastbound Interstate 96 at 3:24 p.m. EST.

The "investigation is ongoing; no further details will be released at this time," according to a police statement.

Geddert had agreed to surrender at a sheriff's office on Thursday before a 2:15 p.m. arraignment but he never showed up, Rossman-McKinney said.

"My office has been notified that that the body of John Geddert was found late this afternoon after taking his own life," Nessel said in a statement. "This is a tragic end to a tragic story for everyone involved."

The former coach, wholed the U.S. women's gymnastics team at the 2012 Olympic games in London, was charged with 20 counts of human trafficking and forced labor resulting in injury, one count of racketeering, two counts of criminal sexual conduct and one count of lying to police, according to a Michigan state criminal complaint filed in Eaton County.

In the two criminal sexual conduct counts, Geddert, 63, was accused of "sexual penetration" of a girl under 16 in January 2012, according to the complaint.

"John Geddert used force, fraud and coercion against the young athletes that came to him for gymnastics training for financial benefit to him," Nessel told reporters hours before Geddert's body was found.

"The victims suffer from disordered eating, including bulimia and anorexia, suicide attempts and self-harm, excessive physical conditioning, repeatedly being forced to perform even when injured, extreme emotional abuse and physical abuse, including sexual assault. Many of these victims still carry these scars from his behavior to this day."jamal khashoggi entering consulate

ny times logoNew York Times, Candidate Biden Called Saudi Arabia a ‘Pariah.’ Now He Has to Deal With It, David E. Sanger, Feb. 25, 2021 (print ed.). In a coming call with King Salman, the president plans to warn him that the United States will soon make public intelligence about the Saudi crown prince’s role in the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, shown above entering a Saudi consulate where he was butchered by a Saudi team.

Saudi King Salman bin Abdull Aziz Dec. 9, 2013While the Trump administration dealt at length with the crown prince — who was frequently in contact with Jared Kushner, right, former President Donald J. Trump’s son-in-law and adviser — Mr. Biden is taking the position that King Salman, left, is still the country’s leader, and the only one he will talk with directly. Since the crown prince serves as the defense minister, he has been told to communicate with Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III.

But the issue of protocol is less important than the sharp shift in the way the Saudis are being treated.

Nearly three weeks ago, at the State Department, Mr. Biden ordered an end to arms sales and other support to the Saudis for a war in Yemen that he called a “humanitarian and strategic catastrophe.” American defensive arms will continue to flow, largely to protect against Iranian missiles and drones, but mohammed bin salman al saudMr. Biden was making good on a campaign promise to end the Trump-era practice of forgiving Saudi human rights violations in order to preserve jobs in the American arms industry.

Saudi Arabian flagFor the administration to go directly after Prince Mohammed, right, the workaholic, unforgiving son of the king known as M.B.S., is an entirely different kind of problem. The content of the assessment, chiefly written by the C.I.A., is no mystery: In November 2018, The New York Times reported that intelligence officials had concluded that the crown prince ordered the killing of Mr. Khashoggi, who was drugged and dismembered in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.

 

Virus Victims, Responses

fda logowashington post logoWashington Post, FDA review confirms safety and efficacy of single-shot Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine, especially against severe cases, Carolyn Y. Johnson and Laurie McGinley, Feb. 25, 2021 (print ed.). The vaccine was found to prevent severe illness that results in hospitalizations and deaths in a large clinical trial, paving the way for likely authorization this week.

A Food and Drug Administration review released Wednesday of the single-shot coronavirus vaccine made by pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson found it was safe and effective and completely prevented hospitalizations and deaths in a large clinical trial.

johnson johnson logoThe review sets the stage for a third coronavirus vaccine to be authorized as soon as this weekend, a point of hope in the middle of a pandemic that has killed more than a half-million people in the United States.

The review, though positive, was more nuanced than regulators’ assessments of the first two coronavirus vaccines, reflecting a pandemic that has entered a more complicated phase as variants capable of slipping by some aspects of immunity have emerged. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was more than 85 percent effective at preventing severe illness, including in a region dominated by a concerning variant, but only 66 percent protective overall when moderate cases were included.

ny times logoNew York Times, How the Johnson & Johnson Vaccine Works, Jonathan Corum and Carl Zimmer, Updated Feb. 24, 2021. An adenovirus helps prime the immune system to fight the coronavirus. Clinical trials showed that a single dose had an efficacy rate of up to 72 percent.

covad 19 photo.jpg Custom 2Worldometer, World & U.S. Coronavirus Case Totals (updated: Feb. 25, 2021), with some governments reporting slightly lower numbers than the totals here):

World Cases: 113,209,076, Deaths: 2,510,969
U.S. Cases:     28,976,256, Deaths:   518,421

washington post logoWashington Post, 45.2 million vaccinated: The number of people who have received at least one dose of the vaccine, covering 37.1% of the prioritized population and 13.6% of the total population. See about your state.

washington post logoWashington Post, Jobless claims dropped last week by 111,000, Eli Rosenberg, Feb. 25, 2021. New unemployment claims dropped by 111,000 last week, the biggest drop in new claims since August, and a positive sign as the coronavirus pandemic spread has slowed in recent weeks.

About 730,000 new claims were filed for traditional unemployment insurance and another 451,000 claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, for gig and self employed workers. The total number of claims for all types of unemployment benefits was 19 million for the week ending February 6.

Coronavirus cases have dropped sharply across the country in recent weeks, propelling re-openings for shuttered businesses like restaurants in states like California and New York. The decrease in the weekly claims was powered by large drops of around 50,000 in California and 45,000 in Ohio, two states with major problems with fraudulent filings.

 

More On Trump Mob Capitol Riot

benito mussolini adolf hitler donald trump

Fascist leaders Benito Mussolini of Italy, Adolf Hitler of Germany and Donald Trump of the United States

Wayne Madsen Report, Opinion: Beware fascist marches: they are the hatcheries for fascist coups, Wayne Madsen, left (author of 18 books and former Navy intelligence officer and National Security Agency analyst), Feb. 25, 2021. wayne madsen screen shotThere are some key facts about the events of January 6, 2021 that must be made crystal clear as the fascist Republican Party embarks on a campaign of gaslighting America about the attempted Donald Trump coup attempt against the government of the United States.

The January 6 coup attempt, highlighted by a march from the Ellipse, south of the White House, to the U.S. Capitol, where the new Congress was being sworn in and the votes of the Electoral College were being certified, used the same template as one of Trump's heroes, Italian Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. 

Similar to the Trump march on the Capitol, Mussolini’s Fascist Blackshirt march on Rome was not taken very seriously by the incumbent Italian Prime Minister. On October 28, 1922, after Mussolini besieged the Italian government with some 30,000 Blackshirt militia supporters, the Italian King, quite happily it turns out, handed over the reins of government to Mussolini and his fascists. By 1925, Italy was a full-blown fascist dictatorship. The Parliament was dissolved and replaced by the “Chamber of Fasces and Corporations.”

wayne madesen report logoIt is clear that the January 6 American coup plotters intended to replace the U.S. Congress with a rump parliament consisting of only Trump supporters. With the elimination of much of the Congressional leadership through assassination, the January 6 coup marchers and enablers at the White House, Pentagon, and in Congress would have ensured the rejection of the Electoral College victory of Joe Biden and declared Donald Trump the winner. Such an act would have ushered into being an American fascist dictatorship using the example set by Mussolini in Rome in 1922.

Mussolini's "March on Rome" inspired other fascists to follow the lead of the Italian fascists. On November 8 the following year, Nazi leaders in Munich, including Adolf Hitler, led a 2,000-strong march on the Feldherrnhalle in central Munich. Their goal was to overthrow the Bavarian state government and establish a base in Munich, from where they would march aganst the Weimar government in Berlin.

The Capitol siege and coup attempt not only involved law enforcement enablers and sympathizers, with as many as 35 Capitol Police officers currently under investigation for their actions or lack thereof on January 6, but also pro-Trump elements within the Departments of Defense, Justice, and Homeland Security who failed to heed the warnings from the FBI office in Norfolk.

washington post logoWashington Post, Major Trump backer Rebekah Mercer orchestrates Parler’s second act, Rachel Lerman, Feb. 25, 2021 (print ed.). The daughter of a major Republican donor is a founding investor of the social media network, where she reportedly is pulling strings.

rebekah mercerWhen social media website Parler’s founding CEO John Matze was pushed out last month, it was at the direction of a quiet but powerful political megadonor backing the right-leaning site.

parler logoRebekah Mercer, above right, the 47-year-old daughter of major Republican donor Robert Mercer, is a founding investor of Parler. She increasingly pulls the strings at the company, according to people familiar with the company who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private business matters. She holds the majority stake in Parler and controlled two of three board seats as of early February — a board to which she recently appointed allies.

The social media company started garnering a name for itself last year as a friendly gathering spot for Republican politicians and pundits turned off by fact-checking and moderation on sites like Facebook and Twitter. But Parler, which publicly extolled itself as a free-speech-focused network with minimal rules, became a breeding ground for conspiracy theories about the 2020 presidential election. The site was knocked offline shortly after the riot at the U.S. Capitol for its alleged role in allowing the rioters to plan and egg each other on.

Now Mercer, who is credited with helping get Donald Trump elected president in 2016, is working to revive the site. It came back online last week with her new handpicked CEO, former tea party patriots leader, Mark Meckler, at the helm. It’s the latest in a long line of maneuvers by the Mercer family to create an alternative media industry that pushes a version of the cambridge analytica facebook logosnews that fits with their right-wing, populist political agenda — while keeping a low profile themselves.

Mercer has worked with her father for years to fund and support a complicated web of foundations and companies designed in part to sow distrust of big government. The Mercers invested in data company Cambridge Analytica, the firm that spurred a long-running scandal over misuse of Facebook data. They also invested heavily in right-wing site Breitbart News and were instrumental in connecting its former CEO, Stephen K. Bannon, with Donald Trump, for whom he served in a senior adviser role until mid-2017.

washington post logoWashington Post, A Capitol rioter texted his ex during the insurrection to call her a ‘moron,’ feds say. She turned him in, Timothy Bella, Feb. 25, 2021.  Standing on the Capitol steps on Jan. 6, Richard Michetti allegedly took a break from the rioting to argue with his ex-girlfriend over text message. After sending photos and videos of the mob and boasting how he had avoided tear gas, Michetti parroted Donald Trump’s false claims of election fraud.

“If you can’t see the election was stolen you’re a moron,” Michetti, shown in a photo at right published by the FBI in a court filing, wrote in a text to the woman, according to court documents.

richard michetti fbiThe next day, the woman he had insulted promptly told the FBI that her ex was at the Capitol, handing over to law enforcement the string of texts, photos and videos he had sent to her.

Michetti, who lives in Ridley Park, Pa., has now been charged with knowingly entering a restricted building, violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds, and obstruction of Congress. If convicted, Michetti, who was arraigned Tuesday in federal court in Philadelphia, faces up to 20 years in prison, reported the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Neither Michetti nor his attorney, federal public defender Kathleen Gaughan, immediately responded to a request for comment late Wednesday.

Michetti joins the growing list of more than 200 people who have been charged in the insurrection. Many of the alleged rioters were identified by law enforcement through text messages sent to family and friends that bragged of their presence in D.C. last month.

 

Biden Transition

washington post logoWashington Post, Biden nominates three to USPS board as DeJoy testifies on mail crises, Jacob Bogage, Christopher Ingraham and Hannah Denham, Feb. 25, 2021 (print ed.). The nominations signal a White House move toward reasserting control of the U.S. Postal Service even as GOP-appointed Postmaster General Louis DeJoy told Congress he would press forward with plans to raise prices and slow the mail.

us mail logoThe White House moved toward reasserting control of the U.S. Postal Service on Wednesday even as its Republican postmaster general defiantly told Congress he would press forward with plans to raise prices and slow the mail, brushing off calls for him to resign.

President Biden named two Democrats and a voting rights advocate to fill three of the four openings on the Postal Service’s governing board, according to three people briefed on the discussions and later confirmed by the White House: Ron Stroman, the Postal Service’s recently retired deputy postmaster general; Amber McReynolds, the chief executive of the National Vote at Home Institute; and Anton Hajjar, the former general counsel of the American Postal Workers Union.

If all three win Senate confirmation, the nine-member board would be made up of equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans with McReynolds, whose organization is a darling of left-leaning groups, as the lone independent.

louis dejoy CustomThe new slate would create a Democratic advantage and potentially the votes to oust DeJoy, whose summer overhaul led to precipitous service declines that snarled up untold numbers of Americans’ bills, prescriptions and paychecks. DeJoy, with the current board’s backing, slashed overtime and dramatically reduced mail processing capabilities, moves deemed by an inspector general’s audit to reflect a lack of preparation or concern for how they might affect service.

Though the mail slowdowns have opened DeJoy to intense public scrutiny and raised the hackles of some postal experts and voting rights activists, he has made clear he would continue to push through his agenda to rein in the agency’s $188.4 billion in liabilities. He testified to a House panel Wednesday that discussions for his new strategic plan included further delivery slowdowns.

Congressional Democrats had pushed Biden to move quickly on the nominations. Mailing industry insiders and Congressional staff briefed by the White House and Biden’s transition team say the governors represent the most direct line for the administration to not only revitalize mail delivery but to expand government services, including broadband and banking access, as well as fortify agency oversight.

“I’m pleased the Biden administration is making the postal board of governors a top priority," said Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), chair of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which will oversee the nominees’ confirmation process. "We need to get qualified nominees in these seats who will work with Congress to ensure the Postal Service is focused on strong service performance — and we need to do it quickly.”

The move is a potential boon for voting rights groups, which have pressed Congress to use the Postal Service to expand vote-by-mail access as a firewall against Republican state legislatures that have introduced bills to do the opposite.

ny times logoNew York Times, Jennifer Granholm is confirmed as energy secretary, Brad Plumer, Feb. 25, 2021. Jennifer M. Granholm could face challenges in managing the sprawling Energy Department. The Senate confirmed Jennifer M. Granholm to be energy secretary on Thursday, positioning the former governor of Michigan to play a key role in President Biden’s plans to confront climate change.

Ms. Granholm, a longtime champion of renewable energy development, was confirmed by a vote of 64 to 35, with support from both Democrats and Republicans. She will be the second woman to lead the Department of Energy, after Hazel R. O’Leary, who served under President Bill Clinton.

jennifer granholm twitter1Ms. Granholm will oversee an agency that plays a leading role in researching and developing new energy technologies, such as advanced wind turbines or methods to capture carbon dioxide from industrial facilities before the gas reaches the atmosphere. Energy experts have said innovations like these could prove critical for slashing planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions.

At her confirmation hearing last month, Ms. Granholm sought to allay fears by lawmakers that transitioning the United States away from fossil fuels and toward cleaner energy sources would devastate the nation’s economy. She pointed to her experience as Michigan’s governor during the 2009 recession, when the state invested heavily in electric vehicle technology and worker retraining programs amid efforts to rescue an ailing auto industry that had long focused on building gasoline-powered cars and trucks.

“I understand what it’s like to look into the eyes of men and women who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own,” Ms. Granholm said. But clean energy, she added, “is a sector that every single state can benefit from.”

Ms. Granholm could face challenges in managing the sprawling federal agency. Only about one-fifth of the Energy Department’s $35 billion annual budget is devoted to energy programs. The rest goes toward maintaining the nation’s nuclear weapons arsenal, cleaning up environmental messes from the Cold War and conducting scientific research in areas like high-energy physics at the department’s network of 17 national laboratories.

washington post logoWashington Post, Biden’s choice for trade chief calls for ‘worker-centered’ approach, David J. Lynch, Feb. 25, 2021. Katherine Tai told lawmakers Thursday that U.S. policies must be rethought to safeguard the critical supply lines that feed American factories and to regain the support of “regular people” who have felt victimized by previous commercial deals.

Katherine Tai, President Biden’s nominee to become the chief U.S. trade negotiator, said Thursday that U.S. policies must be rethought to safeguard the critical supply lines that feed American factories and to regain the support of “regular people” who have felt victimized by previous commercial deals.

Speaking at her Senate confirmation hearing, Tai promised a “worker-centered” trade policy that would break with both the Trump administration’s protectionism and the reflexive pro-trade stance of earlier Democratic presidents.

Many Americans “for a very long time felt disconnected from our trade policies,” Tai said, adding that voters saw trade deals as “concocted by people in places like Washington, Brussels and Geneva” in ways that were either irrelevant or damaging to their interests.

Tai cited novel labor and environmental provisions in the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement as an example of her approach. The accord was negotiated during the Trump administration, but as chief trade counsel on the House Ways and Means Committee, Tai played a key role in rewriting the pact’s fine print to win additional Democratic support.

Reps. Richard E. Neal (D-Mass.) and Kevin Brady (R-Tex.), the chairman and senior minority member of the House Ways and Means Committee, introduced Tai to members of the Senate Finance Committee, a sign of the bipartisan support that appears likely to cement her confirmation.

washington post logoWashington Post, Chart: Who Joe Biden is picking to fill his White House and Cabinet, Staff reports, Feb. 25, 2020. One of President-elect Joe Biden’s very first tasks will be filling the top positions in his White House and Cabinet. In contrast to President Trump’s notably White and male Cabinet, Biden has joe biden kamala harris campaign shotpromised to be “a president for all Americans” and build a Cabinet that reflects its diversity.

In making his selections Biden is looking to appease factions of the Democratic Party from moderates to progressives and longtime allies to newer faces. Cabinet positions — with the exception of the vice president and White House chief of staff — will also require approval from a Republican Senate, unless Democrats can win two Senate race runoffs in early January.

Once confirmed, they will be instrumental in carrying out his goals and setting the tenor his presidency. We’re tracking the people who Biden has already named and the top contenders for unfilled roles.

White House, Biden-Harris Cabinet, The Cabinet’s role is to advise the President on any subject he or she may require relating to the duties of each member’s joe biden orespective office. President Joe Biden’s Cabinet includes Vice President Kamala Harris and the heads of the 15 executive departments — the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Labor, State, Transportation, Treasury, and Veterans Affairs, and the Attorney General.

Additionally, the Cabinet includes the White House Chief of Staff, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, the Director of National Intelligence, and the US Trade Representative, as well as the heads of the Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Management and Budget, Council of Economic Advisers, Office of Science and Technology Policy, and Small Business Administration.

washington post logoWashington Post, Many of Biden’s nominees of color run into turbulence in the Senate, Annie Linskey, Feb. 25, 2021 (print ed.). Activists see a pattern imperiling many of President Biden’s non-White nominees, making their confirmation process rougher and meaner than in previous years and when compared with their White counterparts.

The Biden administration has fewer top government leaders in place than other recent presidents at this point in their terms, a pace that’s been slowed by a siege at the Capitol, an impeachment trial, a plague and a series of snowstorms.

But activists who pushed Biden to nominate a diverse Cabinet are also noticing another phenomenon: Many of the president’s Black, Latino, Asian and Native American nominees are encountering more political turbulence than their White counterparts, further drawing out the process of staffing the federal government.

Controversy has centered on endangered nominee Neera Tanden, who would be the first Indian American to lead the Office of Management and Budget, typically a low-profile post. Her detractors, including Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, have seized on scores of pointed attacks that Tanden has made via social media in recent years — a line of criticism that women’s groups say is unfair because it focuses on her tone rather than her qualifications or policies.

Activists say the concerns raised over Tanden are part of a broader pattern imperiling many of Biden’s nominees of color, making their confirmation process rougher and meaner than in previous years and when compared with their White counterparts. Many of these nominees are still likely to go forward along mostly partisan lines, but with their qualifications scrutinized more closely and their reputations attacked more forcefully than their White counterparts, activists say.

lloyd austin resized uniform fileBiden made a point of elevating a record number of officials of color to top posts, putting the majority-White Senate in a position where it is potentially more likely that candidates of color will be rejected or scrutinized.

Republicans point out that two of Biden’s Black nominees, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, shown in a file photo from his military career years, and U.N. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, had support from both sides of the aisle, and that Alejandro Mayorkas, who is Latino, was confirmed as homeland security secretary.

 

U.S. Politics, Governance

washington post logoWashington Post, House votes to pass Equality Act, prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, Felicia Sonmez and Samantha Schmidt, Feb. 25, 2021. Pelosi describes the Equality Act as ‘necessary.’

The House on Thursday voted to pass the Equality Act, a far-reaching measure that has been decades in the making and would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The legislation was passed by the House in 2019 but blocked in the Republican-led Senate. This time around, Democrats now control the White House, House and Senate. President Biden has signaled his support for the measure, but it still faces an uphill fight in the Senate, where it would need 60 votes to break a legislative filibuster.

Nancy Pelosi “We have passed it in the House before — the Equality Act, H.R. 5, to end discrimination against the LGBTQ community,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), left, said at a news conference at the Capitol Thursday morning. “This time, it will be not only passed in the House, but on a path to a signing at the White House. We’re very excited about that.”

After a tense and often personal debate, the House voted 224-to-206 for the measure, with three Republicans joining all Democrats to vote "yes."

The legislation would amend federal civil rights laws to ensure protections for LGBTQ Americans in employment, education, housing, credit, jury service and other areas. It is a top legislative priority of President Biden, who in a statement last week called the bill “a critical step toward ensuring that America lives up to our foundational values of equality and freedom for all.”

A number of religious denominations are lobbying against the measure, saying its lack of religious exemptions creates one of the most sweeping challenges to religious liberty in decades.

Groups including the Church of Latter-day Saints, Orthodox Jews and Seventh-day Adventists, among others, say it could halt free and reduced lunches for children across the country who attend single-gender parochial schools, require church community halls to rent space for LGBT ceremonies and could threaten federal security grants for synagogues and mosques facing violence because of their faiths.

The House debate over the issue included personal testimony from several lawmakers. Several LGBT members of Congress were among those who rose in support of the measure, as were lawmakers whose family members are transgender.

 

mike pence bites lip Custom

Palmer Report, Opinion: The real reason Mike Pence is refusing to give up the ghost, Bill Palmer, right, Feb. 25, 2021. Donald Trump recently tried to have Mike bill palmerPence murdered. Trump still hates Pence so much that he managed to make sure Pence wasn’t invited to speak at this year’s CPAC convention. Yet Pence is still claiming that he and Trump are close, even as Pence launches a political group aimed at pandering to Trump’s base. This has all led observers to conclude that Pence is a coward who’s afraid of Trump. But that’s not what’s going on here. In reality Pence is just shamelessly ambitious.

bill palmer report logo headerAfter Mike Pence’s political career stalled out in Indiana, he latched onto Trump in 2016 in the hope of reviving it. Sure enough, that worked. Now Pence is forever married to Trump in the eyes of most of the public as a result, but that’s just the price he pays for having ridden Trump’s coattails to begin with.

Pence knows that if he were to publicly come out against Trump at this late date, the far right would completely reject Pence in response, and no one outside of the far right would suddenly become a Pence supporter. In other words, the far right is the only space that Pence has left to pander to, and because Trump is still popular on the far right, Pence is still playing along with that notion.

Mike Pence knows that if he wants to mount any sort of a minor comeback, either as a Congressman in a far right Indiana district, or as a far right lobbyist, he’ll have to keep pandering to Trump’s base for awhile longer. Trump is already irrelevant in mainstream American politics, but Pence was never going to play well with the mainstream anyway.

The bottom line is that Pence is still willing to humiliate himself in order to feed his shameless ambition of remaining relevant in politics, so he can continue pushing his far right views and continue pocketing the money. He humiliated himself by joining the Trump ticket to begin with, so this is nothing new for him.

ny times logoNew York Times, Effort to Recall Gavin Newsom in California Taps Into Pandemic Anger, Shawn Hubler, Feb. 25, 2021 (print ed.). Democrats have closed ranks around Gov. Gavin Newsom, praising his handling of the pandemic. But conservatives say his shutdowns were destructive.

gavin newsom oLong before Orrin Heatlie filed papers to recall Gavin Newsom, right, he knew the odds were against unseating the suave ex-mayor of San Francisco who ascended to become California’s governor.

“Democrats have a supermajority here — it’s one-party rule,” said Mr. Heatlie, a Republican and retired Yolo County sheriff’s sergeant. Voters had elected Mr. Newsom in 2018 by a record 24-point margin. As recently as April, 70 percent still approved of his performance. Plus, just to trigger a recall election, Mr. Heatlie’s petition would require about 1.5 million valid voter signatures.

Lately, however, Mr. Heatlie has been feeling lucky.

California has been upended by the coronavirus. Most of the state is waiting — impatiently — for vaccinations. Schools in big cities have yet to reopen their classrooms. Prison inmates and international fraud rings may have looted as much as $30 billion from the state’s pandemic unemployment insurance program.

democratic donkey logoA year into the coronavirus crisis, Mr. Newsom is not the only governor who has hit a political rough patch. Across the country, pandemic-weary Americans are taking their rage and grief out on chief executives.

A recent poll by the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, showed Mr. Newsom’s approval rates plunging, but only to 46 percent.

For the recall to move forward, proponents must gather 1,495,809 valid signatures from registered voters by March 17 — enough to equal 12 percent of the votes cast in the most recent election for governor. Counties must then verify them by April 29.

About 1.1 million signatures have been filed so far, and of the nearly 800,000 that have been vetted, nearly 670,000 have been deemed valid. If the measure qualifies, the campaign figures that the election would be in August or September; independent political analysts say November or December.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: At conservative gathering, ideas fall to an airing of Trump grievances, David Weigel, Feb. 25, 2021. The Conservative Political Action Conference, which begins this week, has evolved from a fractious meeting of Republicans and libertarians into a celebration of the 45th president and the airing of his grievances.

djt march 2020 CustomTrump will close out the event with his first speech since leaving the White House, minutes after a 2024 presidential straw poll that he’s expected to win. The arguments among some elected Republicans about whether they should retool their agenda to prevent future losses, or revisit their alliance with Trump, will have to happen somewhere else.

“The idea that we’re going to come up with some kind of conservative platform at CPAC, it rings a little hollow,” said Matt Schlapp, the chairman of the American Conservative Union, which organizes the conference. “Right now, half the country” feels cheated “by the media coverage of the election. So we’re going to go back and cover the facts that most people in the media canceled.”

The facts haven’t been kind to that argument. Dozens of lawsuits and Trump’s Justice Department found no evidence of fraud last year that would have altered the election results.

But polling since Nov. 3 has found strong majorities of Republican voters agreeing with Trump and supporting his false take on the election. That has left CPAC in the same place as the larger Republican Party as they head toward the 2022 midterm election: wedded to Trump even as he alienates millions of potential voters.

The conference, founded in 1973, is usually held near Washington, with a crowd that can grow to 10,000 people. It moved this year to Orlando, where local covid-19 restrictions allow an indoor gathering if attendees are socially distanced and masked, and complete a quick health survey.

That will cut the full crowd at festivities that begin Thursday down to perhaps 3,500 — still one of the largest conferences in the country since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, with all but the priciest tickets sold out for weeks. Scaling a four-day convention down to a virtual Zoom-fest was never considered, and it might have clashed with the theme — “America Uncanceled,” a reference to the Republican idea that “cancel culture” is punishing conservatives for their beliefs.

Some prominent Republicans, whose criticism of the election myths have angered party activists, won’t be in attendance. Former vice president Mike Pence, a regular guest who against Trump’s wishes refused to declare the electoral college vote invalid, will not attend, and has kept a low profile since attending the inauguration of President Biden.

Mitchell_McConnellSen. Mitt Romney of Utah, a one-time winner of CPAC’s presidential straw poll, has been disinvited since becoming the first senator to vote for convicting an impeached president of his own party. (He also voted to convict earlier this month after Trump’s second impeachment.) Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), left, who hasn’t attended since 2014 and who excoriated Trump after voting to acquit him earlier this month, wasn’t invited, with a CPAC director telling McClatchy that he could return in 2022 “to address the improvements to election laws” Republicans are pushing through state legislatures.

Of the 47 Republican members of Congress scheduled to speak at CPAC, just nine voted to uphold every state’s election results on Jan. 6. None voted for impeachment.

ny times logoNew York Times, Biden Doesn’t Shy From Early Fights to Move His Agenda Forward, Staff reports, Feb. 25, 2021 (print ed.). President Biden’s administration is plunging into battles over his stimulus proposal and cabinet nominees this week. He is also expected to order a review of critical supply chains. Senate committees abruptly postpone votes on Neera Tanden, signaling pessimism on Biden’s nominee.

washington post logoWashington Post, Marjorie Taylor Greene accused of cruelty aimed at colleague’s transgender child, Katie Shepherd, Feb. 25, 2021.After a contentious debate on the Equality Act, which would extend civil rights protections to the LGBTQ community, Rep. Marie Newman (D-Ill.) on Wednesday raised a transgender pride flag outside her office — which happens to sit directly across from the office of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), one of the bill’s most vocal opponents.

U.S. House logo“Our neighbor, [Greene], tried to block the Equality Act because she believes prohibiting discrimination against trans Americans is ‘disgusting, immoral, and evil,’” Newman, who has a transgender daughter, wrote on Twitter with a video of her hanging the flag. “Thought we’d put up our Transgender flag so she can look at it every time she opens her door.”

marjorie taylor greene headshotGreene, right, who lost her committee memberships by promoting false and extremist claims, quickly responded with her own video mocking Newman’s earlier tweet as she hung up a poster that said: “There are TWO genders: Male & Female. Trust The Science!”

“Thought we’d put up ours so [Newman] can look at it every time she opens her door,” Greene said.

The exchange quickly went viral, leading critics to accuse Greene of cruelty directly aimed at Newman’s family — the latest bit of outrage spurred by a House member who has espoused QAnon’s baseless theories and falsely suggested former president Donald Trump’s supporters were not present at the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

 

U.S. Law, Courts, Crime

ny times logoNew York Times, Biden Revokes Trump’s Pause on Green Cards, Michael D. Shear, Updated Feb. 25, 2021. President Biden has issued several executive ICE logoorders and directives aimed at lifting restrictions on immigrants put in place under President Trump.

President Biden reopened the country on Wednesday to people seeking green cards, ending a ban on legal immigration that President Donald J. Trump imposed last spring, citing what he said was the need to protect American jobs during the pandemic.

In a proclamation, Mr. Biden said that the ban did “not advance the interests of the United States,” challenging Mr. Trump’s claims that the way to protect the American economy during the health crisis was to shut the country off from the rest of the world.

“To the contrary,” Mr. Biden said of his predecessor’s immigration ban, “it harms the United States, including by preventing certain family members of United States citizens and lawful permanent residents from joining their families here. It also harms industries in the United States that utilize talent from around the world.”

The president’s action was the latest example of his efforts to roll back Mr. Trump’s assault on the nation’s immigration system. Since taking office, Mr. Biden has issued several executive orders and directives aimed at lifting restrictions on immigrants put in place over the past four years.

In April, as the coronavirus crisis worsened, Mr. Trump ordered a “pause” in the issuance of green cards, one of the primary ways that foreigners can receive permission to live and work in the United States.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, right.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, right.

Palmer Report, Opinion: Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance got Donald Trump’s tax returns today. Here’s what happens next, Bill Palmer, right, Feb. 25, 2021. bill palmerCynics said it would never happen “no matter what.” Even after the Supreme Court ruled that it must happen, the deepest of cynics were still sure it somehow wouldn’t. But after the Supreme Court shot Donald Trump down a second time over his tax returns, there was no longer any doubt that they would end up in the hands of prosecutors. According to multiple major news outlets, the handover happened today.

To be clear, it was accounting firm Mazars that handed over Trump’s tax returns, not Trump himself. So no, what was turned over today wasn’t some fake version whipped up on the spot to try to fool prosecutors. Whatever was turned over to the Manhattan District Attorney today is in fact what Trump filed to begin with. Whether Trump falsified his tax returns when he filed them is another story. So what happens now?

mazars logo croppedWe will certainly not see Trump arrested today or tomorrow. Prosecutors now have to go through Trump’s tax returns, which are lengthy and complex, line by line. The good news is that because they’ve already reportedly identified a number of criminal acts on Trump’s part, such as overvaluing certain properties while applying for new loans, they simply have to match up those numbers with the corresponding lines in Trump’s tax returns. So that part will go comparatively quickly.

What will take longer is going line by line through Trump’s tax returns, looking for suspicious numbers that jump out and point to additional potential crimes that prosecutors don’t already know about. Investigating those new crimes could take some time.

It’s not clear if prosecutors will ultimately have the grand jury indict Donald Trump on the known crimes now, and then bring superseding incitements later for any additional crimes they track down, or if prosecutors will wait and bring all of the indictments at once. That decision will likely determine whether Trump’s arrest comes a few weeks from now or a few months from now.

bill palmer report logo headerBut what’s important is that it’s going to happen. Based on the serious financial crimes that were unearthed as a result of him becoming President, and the fact that New York prosecutors have had a grand jury poking into his finances for more than a year, it was clear all along that if he lost the election he’d end up getting arrested. Now that process is playing out as expected.

Keep in mind that with Donald Trump now out of power, haste isn’t what’s important; thoroughness is. It’s all about making the case so overwhelming that a conviction ends up being a formality. Keep in mind that even once Trump is arrested, his trial might not take place for perhaps six months; the legal system has its own timeline. But Trump is going to prison.

ny times logoNew York Times, Lady Gaga’s Dogs Are Stolen and Dog Walker Is Shot, Johnny Diaz, Feb. 25, 2021. The Los Angeles police said that two French bulldogs were taken Wednesday night and that a dog walker was critically injured. Lady Gaga, shown below left in a photo taken at the Biden Inaugural, is offering a reward for their safe return, a representative said.

lady gaga biden inauguralA man was shot while he was walking two French bulldogs in Los Angeles on Wednesday night and the dogs were stolen, the police said. The dogs belonged to the singer Lady Gaga, according to a representative.

The shooting took place around 9:40 p.m. local time as the man, whom police did not identify, was walking north on Sierra Bonita Avenue in Hollywood, according to the Los Angeles Police Department.

It was not clear why the man was shot. The man, who is in his 30s, was shot at least once, the police said. The gunman stole the dogs and was seen leaving in a white vehicle, the authorities said. The victim was cradling a third dog as emergency medical workers treated him, according to KABC-TV which had a helicopter over the scene.

“It looks like a semiautomatic handgun was used,” Officer Jeff Lee, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Police Department, said Thursday.

The victim was taken to a hospital and was in critical condition on Thursday. No arrests have been made and an investigation is ongoing.

The dogs, named Koji and Gustav, belong to Lady Gaga, who is offering a $500,000 reward for information about the dogs, a representative for the singer said. Anyone with information should email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., the representative said.

Lady Gaga, whose real name is Stefani Germanotta, announced in 2016 that she had added a black-and-white puppy to her family of dogs, which included two named Koji and Asia. Lady Gaga, who performed the national anthem at President Biden’s inauguration last month, released her latest album, “Chromatica,” last year.

 

World News

ny times logoNew York Times, Dismay Turns to Outrage as South America’s Powerful Jump the Vaccine Line, Mitra Taj, Anatoly Kurmanaev, Manuela Andreoni and Daniel Politi, Feb. 25, 2021. A wave of corruption scandals is exposing how the rich and well-connected got vaccinated early. Public outrage is growing.

peru flag2Four ministers in Peru, Argentina and Ecuador have resigned this month or are being investigated on suspicion of receiving or providing preferential access to scarce coronavirus shots. Prosecutors in those countries, and in Brazil, are examining thousands more accusations of irregularities in inoculation drives, most of them involving local politicians and their families cutting in line.

As accusations of wrongdoing ensnare more dignitaries, tension is building in a region where popular outrage with graft and inequality have spilled in recent years into raucous protests against the political status quo. The frustration could find an outlet in the streets again — or at the polls, shaping voter decisions in upcoming races such as Peru’s elections in April.

Guardian, The Guardian, Amnesty strips Alexei Navalny of 'prisoner of conscience' status, Andrew Roth, Feb. 25, 2021 (print ed.). Rights group has been under pressure to condemn past statements by Kremlin critic.

Amnesty International has said it will cease calling Alexei Navalny a “prisoner of conscience”, following pressure to condemn anti-migrant statements he made in the 2000s as hate speech.

alexey navalny 2017Employees of Amnesty International said the organisation had received messages about Navalny’s past remarks that they felt “were part of a coordinated campaign to discredit him abroad,” but nonetheless felt compelled to change his designation.

In a crowing tweet, the head of Russia’s state-funded TV network RT, Margarita Simonyan, wrote that the west was “crying that this came after our columnist used concrete examples that reminded everyone he [Navalny] is a Nazi.”

Navalny, right, was arrested in January upon his return to Russia from Germany, where he had been recovering from an assassination attempt carried out by individuals identified as FSB operatives. His arrest and subsequent jailing sparked nationwide protests in Russia, Russian Flagbut his allies say they have now paused serious demonstrations until the spring.

Navalny’s offending remarks have not been specified, but the 44-year-old was engaged in nationalist politics at the time and voiced strongly anti-migrant views in several videos, including one in which he dressed as a dentist and appeared to compare immigrants to rotten teeth. He has moved away from rightwing politics in the years since the videos were made, but has declined to renounce his past views in numerous interviews, including one with the Guardian in 2017.

Julie Verhaar, Amnesty International’s acting secretary general, said in emailed remarks on Wednesday evening: “The speculation around Amnesty International’s use of the term ‘prisoner of conscience’ is detracting attention from our core demand that [Navalny] be freed immediately.”

She said the term “prisoner of conscience” denoted specific criteria established by Amnesty International and that “nothing Navalny has said in the past justifies his current detention.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Fading Sri Lankan Hopes for Justice Rest on U.N. Rights Council, Mujib Mashal, Feb. 25, 2021 (print ed.). The government, strongly tied to the military, is blocking inquiries into wartime atrocities, undermining efforts to learn the fates of thousands of missing people.

UN logoSince Gotabaya Rajapaksa took charge as president in late 2019, the authorities have raided news outlets, harassed and investigated journalists and activists, and dragged human rights lawyers and writers to jail and held them for months without charges, rights watchdogs like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch say.

Investigators looking into wartime abuses have been jailed, forced to flee the country or put under travel bans, in a clear message that the government sees accountability for past crimes as an affront.

That’s no coincidence. Sri Lanka’s new government is led by the same people who brought the three-decade war to a brutal end in 2009, then squelched discussion of it for half a decade after. During the final, brutal phase of the civil war, Mr. Rajapaksa, a former army officer, served as the defense minister.

  

Feb. 24

Top Headlines

 

Virus Victims, Responses

 

More On Trump Mob Capitol Riot

 

White House Transition

 

U.S. Politics, Governance

 

U.S. Law, Courts, Crime

 

World News

 

U.S. Media News

 

Top Stories

 

couy griffin facebook

In a now-deleted Facebook post, New Mexico county official Couy Griffin, above, predicted of Inauguration Day at the Capitol, “blood will run out of the building.”

washington post logoWashington Post, FBI alert on possible ‘war’ on Congress reached police on eve of attack, deepening questions, Beth Reinhard and Matt Zapotosky, Feb. 24, 2021 (print ed.).  A joint hearing by two Senate committees spotlighted the stark warnings issued before the Jan. 6 riot.

Around 7 p.m. on Jan. 5, less than 24 hours before an angry mob overran the U.S. Capitol, an FBI bulletin warning that extremists were calling for violent attacks on Congress landed in an email inbox used by the D.C. police department. That same evening, a member of the Capitol Police received the same memo.

FBI logoBut the alert was not flagged for top officials at either agency, according to congressional testimony Tuesday — deepening questions about the breakdowns that contributed to massive security failures on Jan. 6.

steve sund recroppedBoth acting D.C. police chief Robert J. Contee III and former Capitol Police chief Steven Sund, left, said the intelligence community at large failed to detect key information about the intentions of the attackers and adequately communicate what was known in the run-up to the Capitol riot.

“I would certainly think that something as violent as an insurrection at the Capitol would warrant a phone call or something,” Contee told lawmakers.

Sund cast the Capitol Police as a “consumer” of intelligence from 18 federal agencies.

“If they were finding efforts that this was a coordinated attack, that had been coordinated among numerous states for some time in advance of this, that’s the information that would have been extremely helpful to us,” Sund said, adding, “That type of information could have given us sufficient, advance warning to prep, plan for an attack such as what we saw.”

But Tuesday’s joint hearing by two Senate committees also spotlighted the stark warnings that were issued before Congress met in a joint session to formalize President Biden’s victory.

daniel banyai slate ridge facebook

ny times logoNew York Times, Gunfire in the Hills Unnerves a Vermont Town, Ellen Barry, Feb. 24, 2021 (print ed.). In Pawlet, Vt., where a landowner opened a tactical weapons training site, a zoning dispute has escalated into something more dangerous. Fear has gradually spread in the town of Pawlet.

In the hills west of town — which is where the trouble started — the houses are remote, separated by wind-scoured stretches of cropland. Those people are the most jittery.

Michelle Tilander, 63, a retired physical therapist who moved to West Pawlet 10 years ago, said she had written a letter to be opened in case she or her husband should be hurt or killed. “The police come in, they’ll find that envelope and they’ll know who to question,” she said.

She is talking about Daniel Banyai, a 47-year-old New Yorker who, attracted by Vermont’s relaxed gun laws, bought 30 acres in this rural town of around 1,400 and transformed it into his dream project, a training camp where visitors could practice shooting as if engaged in armed combat. He is shown in a Facebook photo above lecturing at the tactical center he has developed.

Whether those fears are warranted is a question that has preoccupied Vermont law enforcement for months. Certainly, the dispute has escalated over three years from a zoning matter into something more combustible, as Mr. Banyai resisted the town’s demands to dismantle his weapons training facility, Slate Ridge. Anonymous threats to his opponents have appeared online.

He has argued that his project is protected under the Second Amendment, and, over social media, has called for fellow gun rights advocates to back him up.

“I’m never leaving this land,” he said in an interview. “And I didn’t ask for this war to start, but I’m going to see it through. I want to see through my victory because I bought this land free and clear.”

 

Calvin E. Tyler Jr., left, and his wife, Tina Tyler, have pledged $20 million to endow scholarships for financially needy students at Morgan State University in Baltimore (Photo by Paul

Calvin E. Tyler Jr., left, and his wife, Tina Tyler, have pledged $20 million to endow scholarships for financially needy students at Morgan State University in Baltimore (Photo by Paul "P.A." Greene of Morgan State University, via Associated Press).

ny times logoNew York Times, He Had to Drop Out of College. Then He Gave It $20 Million, Stephanie Saul, Feb. 24, 2021 (print ed.). The gift will help Morgan State University, a historically Black college, finance scholarships for financially needy students.

morgan state logoWith no way of paying tuition, Calvin E. Tyler Jr. dropped out of college in his hometown, Baltimore, in 1963 before becoming a truck driver for UPS.

He was quickly promoted into management and ultimately worked his way into the company’s executive suite, serving as its senior vice president for U.S. operations as well as a director.

ups logoNearly 60 years after he was forced to abandon his schooling, Mr. Tyler and his wife, Tina Tyler, have pledged $20 million to endow scholarships for financially needy students at the college he left, now known as Morgan State University.

In making the announcement this week, officials said they believed the gift was the largest a former student has ever made to a historically Black university.

“I want to provide scholarships for young bright people so that they can graduate, get their degrees, and come out of college debt-free,” Mr. Tyler said in an interview. “Going to college for four years and coming out with a degree and, at the same time, $80,000 to $100,000 in debt puts the person behind.”

The burden of loans is particularly severe among Black students at four-year colleges, with research suggesting they are more likely to borrow for school than their white peers, owing an average of $7,400 more when they graduate.

The couple’s philanthropy also comes as the long-term cost of college is becoming a front-and-center issue in Washington. President Biden has proposed expanding federal Pell grants for low-income students and canceling $10,000 in federal debt per student, with progressives in the Democratic Party pushing for more generous loan forgiveness programs.

David K. Wilson, president of Morgan State (shown above at center), said the Tylers were motivated in part by the realization that the coronavirus pandemic had exacerbated longstanding financial challenges for historically Black colleges and their students.

 

Virus Victims, Responses

covad 19 photo.jpg Custom 2Worldometer, World & U.S. Coronavirus Case Totals (updated: Feb. 24, 2021), with some governments reporting slightly lower numbers than the totals here):

World Cases: 112,754,519, Deaths: 2,498,675
U.S. Cases:     28,898,587, Deaths:   515,017

washington post logoWashington Post, 44.5 million vaccinated: The number of people who have received at least one dose of the vaccine, covering 36.6% of the prioritized population and 13.4% of the total population. See about your state.

washington post logoWashington Post, Live Updates: Coronavirus deaths fell by 20% last week, WHO says, Erin Cunningham, Feb. 24, 2021. Global deaths from the coronavirus fell by 20 percent last week compared with the week before, the World Health Organization said — part of a wider trend that also includes a decline in cases worldwide. The downturn in cases and deaths follows a winter surge in infections but also has coincided with an increase in vaccinations, particularly in the United States and Europe.

world health organization logo CustomAccording to the WHO, nearly 66,000 global deaths from coronavirus-related complications were reported last week — the third straight week that the figure has fallen. The number of new cases also dropped for the sixth consecutive week, falling by 11 percent, the agency said. The total number of confirmed coronavirus cases stands at 112 million since the start of the pandemic; more than 2.4 million deaths have been reported worldwide.

Here are some significant developments:

  • Biden’s covid relief bill under threat from conservative Senate Democrats
  • Amid vaccine delivery delays, Philippine official confesses to taking a smuggled one
  • Medical mystery: Baby with high viral load puzzles researchers

washington post logoWashington Post, Moderate Senate Democrats target state aid fund in covid relief bill, Erica Werner, Jeff Stein and Seung Min Kim, Feb. 24, 2021 (print ed.). Disputes grow over minimum wage, aid to states and other issues.

us senate logoEven as the House prepares to pass President Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill this week, divisions are growing among Senate Democrats over state aid and a $15 minimum wage — raising the prospect the bill might have to change significantly to pass the Senate.

Biden himself has forcefully defended his legislation in recent days, asking critics, “What would they have me cut?” Democratic senators, it turns out, have plenty of ideas.

Democrats’ proposal would devote hundreds of billions of dollars to extending unemployment benefits through August and approving another round of stimulus payments at $1,400 per person, as well as devoting billions to vaccine distribution, housing and nutritional assistance, in addition to raising the minimum wage and helping states and local governments.

Dick ShelbySen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), left, who has been a vocal skeptic of raising the current $7.25 federal hourly minimum wage to $15 an hour, as proposed by Biden, told reporters this week he hopes to amend the legislation to boost the minimum wage to $11 an hour instead.

Several Democratic senators are working on changes to the portion of the bill on state and local aid, including redirecting some of the money to invest in infrastructure to expand the broadband network.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) — who has also opposed the $15 minimum wage increase — has been working to include more funding for small restaurants in the legislation, as well as lobbying for other provisions to help her state.

 

More On Trump Mob Capitol Riot

 

Former Trump 2016 Campaign CEO and White House advisor Steve Bannon after his arrest last August 21 on a fugitive Chinese billionaire's yacht, portrayed in the background.

Former Trump 2016 Campaign CEO and White House advisor Steve Bannon after his arrest last August 21 on a fugitive Chinese billionaire's yacht, portrayed in the background. President Trump pardoned Bannon from federal charges alleging that he profited from a scheme to bilk pro-Trump donors hoping to build a "Wall" at the U.S.-Mexico border with private funds.

 wayne madesen report logo

Wayne Madsen Report, Investigative Commentary: Key indicators that January 6 was an attempted coup d'etat, Wayne Madsen (left, author of 18 books, former Navy intelligence officer and wayne madsen may 29 2015 cropped SmallNSA analyst), Feb. 24,2021. The history of modern political era coups and coup plots provides a great deal of insight in forming a conclusion that what occurred at the U.S. Capitol on January 6 was no mere "riot" or protest "gone wild."

Recent disclosures in federal charging documents of insurrection participants and leaders, as well as the feeble attempt by the Capitol's three top law enforcement officials -- who either resigned or were fired after the melée -- to blame others for the lack of security all point to a coordinated operation involving the Trump White House, the political leadership of the Pentagon, far right extremist groups, and last, but not least, GOP Congressional insiders, including Senators and U.S. Representatives and their staffs.

It can also be ascertained what sort of post-constitutional government Donald Trump and his collaborators planned to form after eliminating the legislative branch of the federal government as a threat.

What is being largely missed by the corporate media is the fact that former and, reportedly, current Trump political adviser Steve Bannon is in league with far-right fascist parties around the world that seek to oust existing democratic governments and replace them with far-right regimes. Bannon's efforts are being financially supported by Rebekah Mercer, the deep-pocketed billionaire daughter of hedge fund mogul and major alt-right media financier Robert Mercer; exiled Chinese billionaire and would-be fascist warlord of a post-Communist Chinese state, Guo Wengui; and right-wing, anti-Pope Francis elements of the fascist Roman Catholic order Opus Dei.

washington post logoWashington Post, Major Trump backer Rebekah Mercer orchestrates Parler’s second act, Rachel Lerman, Feb. 24, 2021. The daughter of a major Republican donor is a founding investor of the social media network, where she reportedly is pulling strings.

When social media website Parler’s founding CEO John Matze was pushed out last month, it was at the direction of a quiet but powerful political megadonor backing the right-leaning site.

parler logoRebekah Mercer, right, the 47-year-old daughter of major Republican donor Robert Mercer, is a founding investor of Parler. She increasingly pulls the strings at the company, according to people familiar with the company who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private business matters. She holds the majority stake in Parler and rebekah mercercontrolled two of three board seats as of early February — a board to which she recently appointed allies.

The social media company started garnering a name for itself last year as a friendly gathering spot for Republican politicians and pundits turned off by fact-checking and moderation on sites like Facebook and Twitter. But Parler, which publicly extolled itself as a free-speech-focused network with minimal rules, became a breeding ground for conspiracy theories about the 2020 presidential election. The site was knocked offline shortly after the riot at the U.S. Capitol for its alleged role in allowing the rioters to plan and egg each other on.

Now Mercer, who is credited with helping get Donald Trump elected president in 2016, is working to revive the site. It came back online last week with her new handpicked CEO, former tea party patriots leader, Mark Meckler, at the helm. It’s the latest in a long line of maneuvers by the Mercer family to create an alternative media industry that pushes a version of the cambridge analytica facebook logosnews that fits with their right-wing, populist political agenda — while keeping a low profile themselves.

Mercer has worked with her father for years to fund and support a complicated web of foundations and companies designed in part to sow distrust of big government. The Mercers invested in data company Cambridge Analytica, the firm that spurred a long-running scandal over misuse of Facebook data. They also invested heavily in right-wing site Breitbart News and were instrumental in connecting its former CEO, Stephen K. Bannon, with Donald Trump, for whom he served in a senior adviser role until mid-2017.

Palmer Report, Opinion: They’re either lying, or they were in on it, Bill Palmer, right, Feb. 24, 2021. We all knew that a ton of deranged Trump supporters would be outside the Capitol on January bill palmer6th. Everyone paying attention to the news cycle knew it. Anyone reading Trump’s tweets knew it.

bill palmer report logo headerWe just expected it not to go anywhere, because we presumed that law enforcement leaders would prepare for it, in which case the invasion never would have happened. It would have merely been a bunch of angry goons yelling stupid things outside the building, and nothing more.

During Tuesday’s congressional hearings, we kept hearing from law enforcement leaders who claim they had no idea Trump’s goons were going to be outside the Capitol on January 6th. But any law enforcement leader who says they didn’t see it coming is lying – or in on it.

Part of the reason these kinds of congressional hearings take place is that they force the people involved in the scandal to publicly stake themselves to a position on what happened, which can then point criminal investigators in the right direction when it comes to uncovering what really happened. The law enforcement leaders who are currently playing dumb are the ones who have something to hide.

ny times logoNew York Times, Retired N.Y.P.D. Officer Who Guarded City Hall Charged in Capitol Riot, Jonah E. Bromwich, Feb. 23, 2021. Thomas Webster turned himself in on charges that he assaulted a Washington police officer with a flagpole during the Jan. 6 attack on Congress.

A retired New York police officer who once was part of the security detail at City Hall was charged on Tuesday with assaulting a police officer with a metal flagpole during the pro-Trump riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6.

thomas webster resized headshotThe former officer, Thomas Webster, shown in an FBI photo, served in a New York Police Department unit that provided security for the mayor, Gracie Mansion and City Hall, according to a law enforcement official. He retired from the force in 2011.

Mr. Webster, 54, a former Marine, surrendered to the F.B.I. on Monday and was charged with six counts relating to the attack on an officer from the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, D.C., and his participation in the violent attempt to stop Congress from certifying the presidential election results.

A federal prosecutor said there were videos of Mr. Webster attacking the Washington officer, first with a metal flagpole that earlier had flown a Marine Corps flag, and then with his bare hands.

According to court documents, after the officer wrestled the flagpole away from Mr. Webster, the former Marine tackled the officer, pinned him to the ground, straddled him and attempted to rip off his face shield and gas mask — an attack that left the officer unable to breathe.

“These videos shock the conscience,” the prosecutor, Benjamin A. Gianforti, said. He said Mr. Webster had shown an utter lack of compassion and had pursued the officer he attacked “like a junkyard dog.” The government did not immediately identify the officer.

ron johnson palmer

washington post logoWashington Post, Critics slam Sen. Ron Johnson for unfounded claim that ‘fake Trump protesters’ led riots: ‘It’s disgraceful,’ Katie Shepherd, Feb. 24, 2021. As senators on Tuesday worked to unpack the security failures that allowed a pro-Trump mob to storm the Capitol last month, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), shown above, offered a wholly different take on what had happened: that “agent provocateurs” and “fake Trump protesters” were to blame.

Critics, including some within his party, promptly slammed Johnson over his unfounded suggestions that the Jan. 6 insurrection had been a “jovial” protest and that rioters who stormed the Capitol were not supporters of Donald Trump. “It’s disgraceful for a sitting Senator to spread disinformation so blatantly,” Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), who has been an outspoken djt maga hatcritic of Trump and his role in the insurrection, said Tuesday evening on Twitter. “It’s a disservice to the people he serves to continue lying to them like this. It’s dangerous and it must stop.”

As security officials testified about the intelligence lapses that allowed an armed group of insurrectionists to storm the Capitol on Jan. 6, Johnson repeated unfounded claims about the riot that have become a familiar refrain from those who want to minimize the event’s seriousness and distance the worst participants from Trump.

Quoting an article published on a far-right website, Johnson claimed the “great majority” of protesters had a “jovial, friendly, earnest demeanor” and blamed the violence that turned deadly on “plainclothes militants, agent provocateurs, fake Trump protesters, and disciplined uniformed column of attackers.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Life amid the ruins of QAnon: ‘I wanted my family back,’ Greg Jaffe and Jose A. Del Real, Feb. 24, 2021 (print ed.). An epidemic of conspiracy, fanned by social media and self-serving politicians, is tearing families apart.

She bought ammunition, camping gear, a water purifier and boxes of canned food. Then, Tyler’s mother started wearing a holstered pistol around the house, convinced that 10 days of unrest and mass power outages were coming.

The chaos would culminate, she assured her son, in former president Donald Trump’s triumphant return to power on March 4, the original Inauguration Day before the passage of the 20th Amendment in 1932.

Tyler, 24, had been living with his mother an hour north of Minneapolis since he graduated college in 2019. The paranoia and fear that had engulfed his home had become unbearable in the months since Trump began to falsely claim that the 2020 election had been stolen from him.anthony warner

ny times logoNew York Times, Behind Nashville Bombing, a Conspiracy Theorist Stewing Over Government, Steve Cavendish, Neil MacFarquhar, Jamie McGee and Adam Goldman, Feb. 24, 2021.  Anthony Warner, above, who was obsessed with an outlandish tale about lizard aliens and other plots, had been planning the Christmas Day bombing for months.

Mr. Warner, the authorities said, drove his booby-trapped white recreational vehicle to Second Avenue North in the pre-dawn hours. The detonation damaged some 50 buildings, collapsing a few and shearing the antique brick facades off others that will require years and tens of millions of dollars to restore. Two months later, the blast area remains a confused, desolate patchwork of boarded-up buildings, cyclone fencing and uneven reconstruction efforts.

The explosion, in front of an AT&T hub, crippled cellular, internet and cable service across several states for two days and underscored the vulnerability of such common yet unprotected facilities.

Though Mr. Warner’s motive remains shrouded in mystery, false information and outlandish tales had poisoned his mind, apparently driving him to spectacular violence. This mind-set has become alarmingly familiar to law enforcement officials now reckoning with the destructive force of conspiracy theories that mutate endlessly online and played a role in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Mr. Warner, who was 63 when he died, was not among the angry QAnon followers who came to believe the unlikely theory that Donald J. Trump would hold onto power by defeating a satanic cabal. He was a computer specialist with a deep distrust of government, according to his own writings and to those who knew him. A loner, he had made at least one female friend feel manipulated and frightened. And he had cultivated a bizarre obsession with shape-shifting alien lizards and a dense thicket of other peculiar ideas.

 

Biden Transition

washington post logoWashington Post, Biden nominates three to USPS board as DeJoy testifies on mail crises, Jacob Bogage, Christopher Ingraham and Hannah Denham, Feb. 24, 2021.The nominations signal a White House move toward reasserting control of the U.S. Postal Service even as GOP-appointed Postmaster General Louis DeJoy told Congress he would press forward with plans to raise prices and slow the mail.

us mail logoThe White House moved toward reasserting control of the U.S. Postal Service on Wednesday even as its Republican postmaster general defiantly told Congress he would press forward with plans to raise prices and slow the mail, brushing off calls for him to resign.

President Biden named two Democrats and a voting rights advocate to fill three of the four openings on the Postal Service’s governing board, according to three people briefed on the discussions and later confirmed by the White House: Ron Stroman, the Postal Service’s recently retired deputy postmaster general; Amber McReynolds, the chief executive of the National Vote at Home Institute; and Anton Hajjar, the former general counsel of the American Postal Workers Union.

If all three win Senate confirmation, the nine-member board would be made up of equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans with McReynolds, whose organization is a darling of left-leaning groups, as the lone independent.

louis dejoy CustomThe new slate would create a Democratic advantage and potentially the votes to oust DeJoy, whose summer overhaul led to precipitous service declines that snarled up untold numbers of Americans’ bills, prescriptions and paychecks. DeJoy, with the current board’s backing, slashed overtime and dramatically reduced mail processing capabilities, moves deemed by an inspector general’s audit to reflect a lack of preparation or concern for how they might affect service.

Though the mail slowdowns have opened DeJoy to intense public scrutiny and raised the hackles of some postal experts and voting rights activists, he has made clear he would continue to push through his agenda to rein in the agency’s $188.4 billion in liabilities. He testified to a House panel Wednesday that discussions for his new strategic plan included further delivery slowdowns.

Congressional Democrats had pushed Biden to move quickly on the nominations. Mailing industry insiders and Congressional staff briefed by the White House and Biden’s transition team say the governors represent the most direct line for the administration to not only revitalize mail delivery but to expand government services, including broadband and banking access, as well as fortify agency oversight.

“I’m pleased the Biden administration is making the postal board of governors a top priority," said Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), chair of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which will oversee the nominees’ confirmation process. "We need to get qualified nominees in these seats who will work with Congress to ensure the Postal Service is focused on strong service performance — and we need to do it quickly.”

The move is a potential boon for voting rights groups, which have pressed Congress to use the Postal Service to expand vote-by-mail access as a firewall against Republican state legislatures that have introduced bills to do the opposite.

washington post logoWashington Post, Biden turns to Obama administration veteran to lead key federal personnel agency, Lisa Rein and Eric Yoder, Feb. 24, 2021 (print ed.). Kiran Ahuja will lead the Office of Personnel Management, a department that is expected to take on a high-profile role.

joe biden oPresident Biden has tapped Kiran Arjandas Ahuja, a civil rights lawyer, activist and Obama-era veteran, to lead the Office of Personnel Management, a department the Trump administration tried to kill but is now expected to take on a high-profile role.

Ahuja, 49, served as the personnel agency’s chief of staff from 2015 to 2017 as it faced fallout from a massive data breach that compromised the personal information of millions of federal workers and contractors. Before that, she led the Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the Obama White House.

Ahuja returned to federal personnel matters during the Biden transition as head of the team reviewing OPM and other agencies that deal with the federal workforce, taking a leave from her role as chief executive of Philanthropy Northwest, a regional philanthropic network of six northwestern states. Her nomination was announced Tuesday.

Ahuja would have a mandate to reverse course on former president Donald Trump’s policies on the civil service, which he and his top aides often derided as a “deep state” of Democratic bureaucrats. Many agencies lost experts in a range of fields during the Trump era, and Biden has pledged to revitalize the workforce.

The agency became deeply politicized under the Trump administration, which installed a record number of political appointees there as personnel policy was increasingly dictated by the White House. Trump’s last confirmed personnel chief, Dale Cabaniss, quit with no notice last year after five months on the job, following months of tension with political appointees installed by the White House to monitor how she ran the office.

Trump’s first chief, Jeff Tien Han Pon, was fired after seven months because he resisted the administration’s plan to dismantle the office and farm out its functions to other departments, including the White House.

UN logo

washington post logoWashington Post, Senate confirms Biden’s nominee for ambassador to United Nations, John Hudson and Anne Gearan, Feb. 24, 2021 (print ed.). The Senate confirmed President linda thomas greenfieldBiden’s nominee for U.S. ambassador to the United Nations on Tuesday, elevating an African American woman and career diplomat to one of the most high-profile jobs in diplomacy.

The upper chamber took an initial step, voting 78 to 20 to elevate Linda Thomas-Greenfield, right, to ambassador status, with Democrats and moderate Republicans praising her decades of experience serving under presidents of both parties. A second vote to make her “representative of the United States of America to the Sessions of the General Assembly of the United Nations” was 78 to 21.

The votes come as the United States prepares to take over the rotating presidency of the U.N. Security Council for the month of March. Thomas-Greenfield has promised to work with foreign countries to achieve common goals and defend human rights around the world.

usda logo horizontal Customwashington post logoWashington Post, Tom Vilsack confirmed by the Senate for a second stint as agriculture secretary, Laura Reiley, Feb. 24, 2021 (print ed.).  The former Iowa governor served in the same role for eight years in the Obama administration and has pledged to focus on racial justice and climate change.

tom vilsack oThe Senate voted 92 to 7 Tuesday to approve President Biden’s nomination of Tom Vilsack, right, as agriculture secretary.

Vilsack’s path to confirmation was expected to be smooth after the Senate Agriculture Committee voted unanimously this month to advance his nomination, and many Republicans voted in favor Tuesday, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.).

washington post logoWashington Post, Hearing for Haaland, first Native American pick to run Interior Dept., focuses on fossil fuels, Darryl Fears, Feb. 24, 2021 (print ed.). Leaders of the Senate Energy Committee, both from oil-producing states, grilled Rep. Deb Haaland on President Biden’s opposition to new drilling leases on federal land.

deb haaland oThe Senate confirmation hearing for Deb Haaland, right, nominated to become the first Native American interior secretary, morphed Tuesday into a proxy fight over the future of fossil fuels as lawmakers from oil- and gas-producing states grilled her regarding the Biden administration’s embrace of green energy.

Nearly all the Republican members of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee questioned Haaland about her past statements regarding the need to stop drilling on federal lands managed by the Interior Department. President Biden, who says the country needs to transition away from burning fossil fuels to mitigate climate change, has paused new drilling leases on public lands and waters — a sharp departure from the Trump administration, which worked to expand drilling.

Through it all, Haaland — who would also become the first Native American Cabinet secretary if confirmed — remained calm, stressed that she wanted to work with supporters and opponents alike, and kept her answers short.

washington post logoWashington Post, Chart: Who Joe Biden is picking to fill his White House and Cabinet, Staff reports, Feb. 23, 2020. One of President-elect Joe Biden’s very first tasks will be filling the top positions in his White House and Cabinet. In contrast to President Trump’s notably White and male Cabinet, Biden has joe biden kamala harris campaign shotpromised to be “a president for all Americans” and build a Cabinet that reflects its diversity.

In making his selections Biden is looking to appease factions of the Democratic Party from moderates to progressives and longtime allies to newer faces. Cabinet positions — with the exception of the vice president and White House chief of staff — will also require approval from a Republican Senate, unless Democrats can win two Senate race runoffs in early January.

Once confirmed, they will be instrumental in carrying out his goals and setting the tenor his presidency. We’re tracking the people who Biden has already named and the top contenders for unfilled roles.

washington post logoWashington Post, Live Politics Updates: Manchin to back Haaland for Interior, Felicia Sonmez, Colby Itkowitz, Amy B Wang and John Wagner, Feb. 24, 2021. White House stands by ron klain oTanden for OMB, Chief of Staff Ron Klain, right, says if Neera Tanden isn’t confirmed, White House will find her another role; GOP’s Cassidy, who backed non-physician Azar to head HHS, says Becerra’s lack of medical background makes him unqualified; Biden says he’s disappointed more of his Cabinet picks have not been confirmed, blames lack of ‘rational’ transition.

Dick ShelbySen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), left, said Wednesday that he will vote to confirm Deb Haaland as interior secretary, citing the New Mexico congresswoman’s “bipartisan accomplishments and sincere willingness to work collaboratively on important issues.”

The announcement gives a boost to one of President Biden’s Cabinet nominees as they continue to face scrutiny at their confirmation hearings in the closely-divided Senate. Votes in Neera Tandentwo committees on the imperiled nomination of Neera Tanden, Biden’s pick to lead the Office of Management and Budget, have been delayed; the White House continued to maintain its support for Tanden, right.

Biden met at the White House with a bipartisan group of lawmakers before signing an executive order calling for a 100-day government review of potential vulnerabilities in U.S. supply chains for critical items, including computer chips, medical gear and electric-vehicle batteries.

Here’s what to know:

  • Even as the House prepares to pass Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill this week, divisions are growing among Senate Democrats over state aid and a $15 minimum wage — raising the prospect that the bill might have to change significantly to pass the Senate.
  • Top officials responsible for security at the Capitol on Jan. 6 as it was overrun by a mob backing President Donald Trump blamed intelligence failures for the attack, pointing to lapses that included a missed email warning of violence.
  • The Biden administration is preparing sanctions and other measures to punish Moscow for actions that go beyond the sprawling SolarWinds cyber­espionage campaign to include a range of malign cyberactivity and the near-fatal poisoning of a Russian opposition leader.
  • GOP’s Cassidy, who backed non-physician Azar to head HHS, says Becerra’s lack of medical background makes him unqualified
  • Biden says he’s disappointed more of his Cabinet picks have not been confirmed, blames lack of ‘rational’ transition

White House, Biden-Harris Cabinet, The Cabinet’s role is to advise the President on any subject he or she may require relating to the duties of each member’s joe biden orespective office. President Joe Biden’s Cabinet includes Vice President Kamala Harris and the heads of the 15 executive departments — the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Labor, State, Transportation, Treasury, and Veterans Affairs, and the Attorney General.

Additionally, the Cabinet includes the White House Chief of Staff, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, the Director of National Intelligence, and the US Trade Representative, as well as the heads of the Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Management and Budget, Council of Economic Advisers, Office of Science and Technology Policy, and Small Business Administration.

 

colin kahl proof

Proof via Substack, Investigative Commentary: A Statement on Colin Kahl, Seth Abramson, Feb 24, 2021. New reporting suggests that Senate Republicans may try to use me as part of a bid seth abramson headshotto scuttle one of Joe Biden's Pentagon nominations (shown above)—a sad misdirection doomed to fail.

It recently came to my attention that there’s a distant chance my name will come up at a televised Congressional hearing on March 4, 2021. Because—if this comes to pass—it would be part of a preposterous sideshow deeply incongruous with the dignity of the Senate and the gravity of the hearing in question, I thought I’d issue a statement now that anyone can refer to later if they wish to, or if circumstances should warrant it. I regret that this is even necessary.

I don’t know Colin Kahl. I’ve never met or spoken to Colin Kahl. I know so little about the man that in drafting this brief statement I repeatedly spelled his name “Kohl” until I looked it up and saw that I’d been mistaken. Yes, Colin Kahl follows me on Twitter, but then so do nearly a million people—including an arch-conservative like Charlie Kirk and one of the chief critics of “Russiagate” reporting (as he calls it), Matt Taibbi. My Twitter feed is followed by thousands of major-media journalists and by hundreds of politicians, local and state and federal, who hail from both major political parties.

seth abramson proof logoOn March 23, 2017, approximately 60 days after the release of the Steele dossier and many months before the appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel in the Trump-Russia affair, I published a lengthy thread on Twitter. I was already becoming well known on Twitter for such threads, which I mercifully briefly—though March 2017 happens to be in a sweet spot in this regard—called “mega-threads.” By the late summer of 2017, both I and Colin Kahl would be remarked upon by Politico as being among the ten most notable “threaders” on Twitter. It’s entirely possible that, to the extent Kahl took any notice of my “mega-threads” in the spring of 2017, it was in part because they stood out to him for their length, and in certain respects mirrored his own crowbarring of Twitter’s rather straitjacketed UX for his own rhetorical purposes.

Kahl was one of literally millions of Twitter users—according to Twitter analytics—who read my now-famous (or now-infamous, depending on your historical view and your politics) “Mayflower Thread,” a work that was inspired by the fact that in early 2017 journalists around the country, metajournalists like myself included, were still trying to determine the validity of the Steele dossier. I ultimately came down on the same side as many folks in journalism and indeed as Steele himself, concluding that the dossier was likely about one-third false and two-thirds accurate, consistent with what we might expect from a bundle of raw intelligence from one of the world’s top spies and a longtime partner of the FBI. I understand that conservatives demur from this assessment, in response to which I comfort myself with the knowledge that almost none of the critics of the Steele dossier have read it. I not only read it countless times, I wrote a bestselling trilogy of books on Trump’s foreign policy scandals in Russia and the Middle East (Proof of Collusion in 2018, Proof of Conspiracy in 2019, and Proof of Corruption in 2020) that spanned 2,500 pages and 12,000 major-media citations. So my assessment of the Steele dossier is that of a researcher and an author, not a partisan.

christopher steele ex MI6 spy express croppedMy March 2017 “Mayflower Thread” sought to investigate whether a then-only-lightly-reported event in the late period of Donald Trump’s 2016 primary campaign, his April 27 foreign policy speech (indeed his first such speech) at the Center for the National Interest, dovetailed with the raw intel [Christopher Steele, the former British spy and Russia expert, shown at left] had provided to the FBI in the summer of 2016. It turned out that in certain respects it did; with respect to other components, such as the dossier’s recitation of contacts between Trump national security adviser Carter Page and Kremlin agents, we would only discover how on point the dossier was many months later, when Page publicly lied about the contacts on national television.

Because I am a metajournalist, not a reporter, my thread drew almost exclusively from major-media sources, citing and linking to, variously, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Reuters, Politico, Slate, BuzzFeed News, New York Magazine, and the website for the Center for the National Interest, among other sources. Content from the Mayflower Thread would later be included in my book Proof of Collusion, which was published by Simon & Schuster—Bob Woodward’s publisher—and became a New York Times bestseller in November of 2018. The number of significant insights in the Mayflower Thread is what caused it to go viral and receive media coverage on both sides of the Atlantic, with me thereafter appearing on CNN, the BBC, the CBC, CBS News, HBO, and countless other media outlets in significant part on the strength of the revelations in the thread. These included 14 ultimately prescient observations, all based on OSINT and my own past experience as a criminal investigator in the federal criminal justice system in D.C. (as well as my years of experience as a public defender in multiple jurisdictions in New England):

  • Paul Manafort took over effective control of Trump’s 2016 campaign far earlier than many realized, in fact in early April 2016.
  • Top players in Trump’s campaign—and top advisers in Trump’s social circle— wanted Manafort to take over the campaign from Corey Lewandowski almost immediately after the former’s hire.
  • Jared Kushner had orchestrated Trump’s first foreign policy speech through extensive contact with the Center for the National Internet and its director, a man (Dimitri Simes) who was the Trump campaign’s top adviser on Russia in 2016 and now works as a paid propagandist for Vladimir Putin in Moscow.
  • Kushner and Manafort were keen to work with the Center in part because of its close ties to Moscow and Trump’s professed desire for a detente with Russia.
  • Manafort made the decision to move Trump’s speech from the National Press Club to the Mayflower Hotel just days before the event, doing so in part to facilitate a private VIP event before the speech to which media would not be invited.
  • The VIP event included a large number of people who shared Trump’s goal of a detente with Russia, including Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, Iran-Contra figure Bud McFarlane, and ambassadors from countries rooting for a U.S.-Russia breakthrough in part because they were involved in a massive oil-and-LNG deal with the Kremlin (a deal often referred to, at the time, as the “Rosneft deal”).
  • Trump had had secret meetings at Trump Tower with Kislyak and McFarlane—both of who would later be involved in White House efforts to broker a secretive multilateral foreign policy deal with the Kremlin involving oil and LNG in the Middle East and elsewhere—during a 3-day period in which the aforementioned Rosneft deal was closing.
  • Richard Burt, an adviser to Russia’s Alfa Bank, had participated in the vetting of Trump’s April 27 speech.
  • One of the attendees at the VIP event at the Mayflower Hotel, Jeff Sessions, chose to lie to Congress about his attendance.
  • Trump miscast the length and nature of the VIP event to falsely portray himself and his top advisers as having had no significant contact with any of the event’s attendees.
  • Kislyak also lied about his contact with the Trump campaign—both his contacts in April 2016 and thereafter.
  • Manafort, based on a long history of working on behalf on pro-Kremlin interests, was well-positioned to seek out secret contacts with such interests, or even with agents of the Kremlin.
  • Many of the Kremlin agents or pro-Kremlin advisers Trump and his top advisers (including Kushner) met with at Trump Tower during the 2016-2017 presidential transition were brought into Trump Tower through alternate entrances to keep the meetings secret from the media and the American people.
  • Bud McFarlane came to be keen on Trump and a Trump-Russia detente because he knew his designs on energy interests in the Middle East could be further effectuated by a historic geopolitical agreement between Trump and Putin.

Whatever you may think of the Trump-Russia investigation broadly writ, none of the above is controversial—as it was all later contained within the Mueller Report and, thereafter, in the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Report. I just happened to put together this information years before either DOJ or Congress did. And I put it together both accurately and responsibly, calling for additional investigations of the Rosneft deal mentioned in the Steele dossier without drawing any conclusions about that deal or the dossier that first brought it to the attention of the intel community.

So why am I writing now about a Twitter thread from nearly four years ago, which, to the extent it could come in for any criticism at all, would almost surely face such criticism from individuals employing 20/20 hindsight to make the hectic early days of the Trump-Russia probe seem more incautious than they were (or my thread was)?

Well, because apparently, three days after I posted the Mayflower Thread and it was being widely discussed on Twitter, Colin Kahl wrote that my research for the thread was “intriguing” and “seem[ed] worth [a] closer look.” It was hardly a fawning endorsement, especially as it came three days after the work had been published, at a time it was in general conversation on both the left and right of American politics. Indeed, Kahl did no more than say that the April 27 event “seemed” to be worth a “closer look,” without prejudging what that “look” might produce—if anything at all.

In the event, of course, it produced quite a lot. Nearly everything in my thread was confirmed, including Trump-Russia lies by the president, his top staffers, Putin’s top representative in the U.S., the now-disgraced director of the Center for the National Interest, Paul Manafort, Jeff Sessions, and many others in Trump’s personal, political, and professional milieus. While it did not turn out that there were significant sideline meetings at the Mayflower Hotel event—at least that we know of—there is no longer any doubt that the event was a turning point in Trump’s ongoing effort to woo Putin. The Mayflower Thread noted the possibility of sideline meetings at the Mayflower Hotel in April 2016, but it did not go beyond the then-available evidence to claim that such meetings were a certainty—merely that the possibility was worth consideration and additional investigation. That was, at the time, the prevailing view in America among those following the Trump-Russia scandal, with Colin Kahl being just one of many millions in agreement.

Apparently, Kahl’s mild approval of a stock of OSINT research that turned out to be years ahead of the curve is now a problem for his Senate confirmation as Joe Biden’s pick to run the Pentagon’s policy shop. Instead of lauding Kahl for recognizing solid independent journalism that turned out to be better sourced intelligence than almost anything Trump loyalists in the ODNI and elsewhere put out during the entirety of the Trump administration, the fact that Kahl quote-tweeted a New York Times-bestselling Trump biographer, Newsweek columnist, experienced attorney, journalism professor, and trained federal criminal investigator is now supposed to be some sort of problem.

Seth Abramson, shown above and at right, is founder of Proof and is a former criminal defense attorney and criminal investigator who teaches digital journalism, seth abramson resized4 proof of collusionlegal advocacy, and cultural theory at the University of New Hampshire. A regular political and legal analyst on CNN and the BBC during the Trump presidency, he is a best-selling author who has published eight books and edited five anthologies.

Abramson is a graduate of Dartmouth College, Harvard Law School, the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and the Ph.D. program in English at University of Wisconsin-Madison. His books include a Trump trilogy: Proof of Corruption: Bribery, Impeachment, and Pandemic in the Age of Trump (2020); Proof of Conspiracy: How Trump's International Collusion Is Threatening American Democracy (2019); and Proof of Collusion: How Trump Betrayed America (2018).

ny times logoNew York Times, Biden’s C.I.A. Pick Warns of China and Russia at Amicable Confirmation Hearing, Julian E. Barnes, Feb. 24, 2021. The nominee, William J. Burns, appears likely to win bipartisan support from senators.

williams burns 2005President Biden’s nominee to lead the C.I.A. pledged during his confirmation hearing on Wednesday to improve spying on China, warned of Russia’s ability to interfere with American affairs and promised to deliver apolitical intelligence to the White House, leaning on his long diplomatic experience to win over senators.

The nominee, William J. Burns, right, argued that China was an adversarial power and the intelligence community’s greatest geopolitical challenge. He called for investing more resources and personnel as well as technological innovation.

He also warned that even as a declining power, Russia has shown it can be disruptive. And he pledged to examine evidence about mysterious attacks that have left a number of C.I.A. officers with lingering ailments, making a commitment to a work force battered for years by former President Donald J. Trump.

cia logoMr. Burns’s confirmation as C.I.A. director seems all but assured, with a large bipartisan majority of senators supporting him. A vote by the full Senate could come next week.

The Senate Intelligence Committee hearing was far more of a coronation than a confrontational question-and-answer session, with more of the discussion focusing on foreign policy than intelligence matters, perhaps unsurprising given Mr. Burns’s experience as ambassador to Jordan and Russia, as well as the senior State Department positions he has held.

That deep experience and ability to clearly explain complex foreign policy challenges appealed to President Biden, according to current and former officials.

 

 

U.S. Politics, Governance

washington post logoWashington Post, Biden to order sweeping review of U.S. supply chain weak spots, David J. Lynch, Feb. 24, 2021 (print ed.). The directive comes as U.S. automakers are grappling with a severe shortage of semiconductors, essential ingredients in the high-tech entertainment and navigation systems that fill modern vehicles.

 ted cruz beard palmer

Palmer Report, Opinion: Ted Man Walking, Robert Harrington, right, Feb. 24, 2021. Try to guess who’s saying this: “As I look back over the eight years of the Obama/Biden Justice Department, in my view the most problematic aspect of that tenure was that the Department of Justice was politicized and weaponized in a way that was directly contrary to over a century of tradition of the robert harringtnn portraitDepartment of Justice being apolitical and not a partisan tool to target your opponents.”

Yes, that’s a real quote, and yes, it was said by a Republican politician, obviously. But here’s the thing, ask yourself this question, who is the one person on earth who shouldn’t be saying those words and where is the one place on earth shouldn’t he be saying them? If you answered “Ted Cruz at the Merrick Garland confirmation hearing,” you’d be spot on. And yes, I’m not making this up, Ted Cruz actually said those words and he said them in public at the confirmation hearing of Merrick Garland. Really.

Consider how much trouble Cruz is in already for his luxury flight to Cancun from his freezing constituency of Texas. Consider how hated he’s become for his flagrant hypocrisy already this last week.

bill palmer report logo headerConsider further that we just spent the last year and a half trying to rid ourselves of the most outrageously toxic and partisan Attorney General in American history, William Barr, a man who has been described by every sane news outlet in the country as “Donald Trump’s lawyer,” a man who Robert Mueller said deliberately misrepresented his report in favor of Donald Trump, a man who paved the way for the insurrection at the Capitol by questioning the validity of the 2020 election and supporting Trump’s interference with the US Postal Service. To ask such a question in light of that history and to try to blame “Obama/Biden” of “weaponized partisanship” without a shred of evidence positively staggers the imagination.

merrick garlandWhen you further consider that Merrick Garland, right, is one of history’s most outraged victims of Republican partisan weaponization of a process, Cruz’s question is as inappropriately infuriating as Bill Cosby asking E. Jean Carroll if she is going to stop raping Donald Trump.

All of which goes to prove that as long as he’s headed to the political gallows under his own power, Ted Man Walking might as well walk the whole Green Mile. And so he has, right into the history books as the biggest, stupidest, creepiest, most sanctimonious political hack in American history.

But Ted’s self-immolating statement wasn’t made wholly in the name of insanity. There was, at least, some method in his madness. He concluded with, “So it is very much my hope, if you’re confirmed as Attorney General, that you will bring that reputation for integrity to the Department of Justice and demonstrate a willingness to stand up for what will be inevitable political pressure to once again politicize the Department of Justice and use it as a tool to attack the political opponents of the current administration.” In other words, Cruz is trying to lay the groundwork for Trump’s escape from justice. He was trying to get Garland to commit to not prosecuting Trump.

Again, Justice Garland would have none of it. “I can assure you that I do not regard myself as anything other than the lawyer for the people of the United States.” Garland then added with emphasis, “I am not the President’s lawyer.” Yes, we already know what having an AG who works exclusively for the president and exclusively against the American people feels like, thank you very much.

In pressing him further, Cruz tried to get Garland to commit to not weaponizing “Oppo research from the Hillary Clinton campaign” by going after members of the previous administration. Again, Garland saw it coming and gave the correct reply: “It would be inappropriate to target any individual because of their politics or their position in a campaign. The only basis for targeting has to be evidence of a risk of a foreign intelligence problem or of a criminal problem.” In other words, Garland is saying he won’t go after Trump or any member of his pirate ship administration unless there’s evidence of criminality. And, as we all know, there’s plenty.

All of which means one thing and one thing only. Merrick Garland refused to fall for Ted Cruz’s game and, yes, Garland will prosecute Trump and company if evidence of their criminality should cross his desk and, no, he won’t decline to prosecute them just because they’re Republicans. All of which is to say, Cruz will almost certainly vote against Garland’s confirmation because he’s human scum and he never seems to get tired of publicly proving it.

washington post logoWashington Post, Ex-aide says Gov. Cuomo sexually harassed her, kissed her and left her ‘nauseous’ at work, Hannah Knowles and Reis Thebault, Feb. 24, 2021. A former aide to New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo made detailed allegations Wednesday that the politician sexually harassed her, describing an unwanted kiss in Cuomo’s office and a pattern of behavior that she says left her “nauseous” going to work.

andrew cuomoLindsey Boylan, who eventually resigned from the Democratic governor’s team, described deep discomfort with Cuomo, right, starting in 2016, when she says her boss told her the governor had a “crush” on her. Boylan said in an online post that Cuomo “would go out of his way to touch me on my lower back, arms and legs,” and shared images of text messages and emails that she said supported her story, an expansion on public allegations she made last year.

“He is a sexist pig and you should avoid being alone with him!” Boylan’s mother texted her at one point about Cuomo, according to pictures of the exchange.

A spokeswoman for the governor, Caitlin Girouard, said Wednesday that Boylan’s “claims of inappropriate behavior are quite simply false.” She focused on the former’s aide’s opening anecdote about the governor allegedly suggesting they “play strip poker” while seated close together on Cuomo’s jet in October 2017.

Four people listed as taking flights with Cuomo and Boylan that month issued a statement through the governor’s office that the conversation Boylan described “did not happen.” Girouard did not comment on other specifics of Boylan’s account.

Palmer Report, Opinion: Ted Cruz has a whole new scandal, Bill Palmer, right, Feb. 24, 2021. Even if Ted Cruz’s Cancun scandal doesn’t end up fully setting his Senate career on fire, it’s finally bill palmerplaced a national spotlight on corruption, derangement, and unfitness for office. That kind of spotlight tends to quickly bring a politician’s other scandals to light as well.

bill palmer report logo headerWe’re already seeing this with Ted Cruz. Salon has uncovered a scheme in which Cruz has apparently been using a PAC to buy a ton of his own books, which just so happens to funnel PAC money into his own pocket through the book royalties. There aren’t nearly enough rules when it comes to PACs, but funneling PAC money into your own pocket is one of the few things you can’t do.

The thing about far right anti-government politicians like Ted Cruz, who spend all their time yelling around about the inherent corruption of the government, is that they nearly always turn out to be financially corrupt themselves. We’ll see how deep this corruption rabbit hole goes for Ted Cruz.

ny times logoNew York Times, Politics Live Updates: Biden Doesn’t Shy From Early Fights to Move His Agenda Forward, Staff reports, Feb. 24, 2021. President Biden’s administration is plunging into battles over his stimulus proposal and cabinet nominees this week. He is also expected to order a review of critical supply chains. Senate committees abruptly postpone votes on Neera Tanden, signaling pessimism on Biden’s nominee.

washington post logoWashington Post, Former senator Perdue won’t run in 2022, kicking off another competitive Republican primary race in Georgia, Reis Thebault and Josh Dawsey, Feb. 24, 2021 (print ed.). Perdue, right, made his decision days after he traveled to Florida to meet with former president Donald Trump and grew concerned he was not focused on helping Republicans win in 2022.

david perdue headshotPerdue’s announcement kick-starts what may be a crowded Republican primary, whose winner will face Democratic incumbent Sen. Raphael G. Warnock, left. The early maneuverings in one of the country’s newest swing states could foreshadow a fraught struggle between Republican candidates allied with Trump and those who would like to see the party move beyond the former president’s divisive rhetoric.

raphael warnockPerdue, a 71-year-old former CEO, competed in a tight race against Jon Ossoff in 2020, losing to Ossoff in one of the state’s two closely watched Senate runoffs on Jan. 5. Warnock won the other; his term expires in January 2023.

The two races were hypercompetitive, with control of the Senate hanging in the balance. Democrats’ historic upsets marked a repudiation of Trump, who narrowly lost the state to President Biden in the November election.

Now, with a wide-open field and Republicans desperate to win back one of the state’s Senate seats — and control of the chamber — Georgia Republicans are seeking a candidate who can be competitive in the primary and general election.

Party strategists considered Perdue a formidable candidate and perhaps the favorite to win the upcoming primary, with the name recognition and fundraising boost that comes from participating in the most expensive congressional election ever.

republican elephant logoBut Perdue had sent mixed signals about whether he was interested in reentering the fray. Last week, he filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission, the first act in launching a campaign. He said then he wanted to “continue to keep all options open.”

He also took a step that has become key for Republicans seeking national office: a pilgrimage to Mar-a-Lago. He traveled to Trump’s private club last week and met with the former president for dinner and golf, said one person briefed on their get-together, who, like others in this article, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private matters.

The two men get along well, but Perdue was reportedly disturbed by Trump’s lack of focus on helping Republicans in 2022 and by his desire to exact revenge on party members he deemed insufficiently loyal, a person with knowledge of Perdue’s thinking said. Perdue feared Trump would create a difficult climate, the person said.

 

U.S. Law, Courts, Crime

washington post logoWashington Post, Oklahoma man accused of triple murder confessed to killing neighbor and cooking her heart ‘with potatoes,’ investigators say, Jaclyn Peiser, Feb. 24, 2021. Lawrence Paul Anderson then allegedly killed his uncle and his uncle’s 4-year-old granddaughter in a gruesome case that has rocked the city of 16,400 about 40 miles southwest of Oklahoma City. Anderson, 42, was charged Tuesday with three counts of first-degree murder and two felony charges of assault and battery with a deadly weapon and maiming, court records show.

newsweek logoNewsweek, Florida Man Aims Shotgun at Neighbor for Flying Joe Biden Flag, Police Say, Rebecca Speare-Cole, Feb. 24, 2021. A man has been arrested in Florida after pointing a shotgun at his neighbor for flying a Joe Biden flag, police have said.

Edward Lacourse, 75 was arrested in Fort Myers on Monday and faces an aggravated assault with a weapon charge, according to Lee County Sheriff's Office records.

edward lacourseHis neighbors, who live next to Lacourse's home at 13505 Marquette Boulevard, told police that he started verbally abusing them after becoming upset about a "Biden Flag" on their property.

The victims reportedly said that in the 18 years they've lived on Marquette Boulevarde, they had never spoken to Lacourse.After the dispute, deputies arrived at the address and knocked on Lacourse's door.

But when he opened his door, he allegedly commanded his collie-mix dog to "kill" the officers. Police later secured the shotgun that Lacourse had aimed at his neighbor, finding a round in the chamber and three rounds in the tube, according to WBBH.

 

World News

ny times logoNew York Times, Israel Gives Vaccine to Far-Off Allies as Palestinians Wait, Patrick Kingsley, Feb. 24, 2021 (print ed.). The donations will go to nations like the Czech Republic and Honduras that pledged to move diplomats to Jerusalem. Critics say Israel has an obligation to inoculate Palestinians under its occupation.

Israel FlagThe Israeli government has pledged to send thousands of spare coronavirus vaccines to foreign allies, reigniting a debate about Israel’s responsibilities to people closer to home: Palestinians living under Israeli occupation.

On Tuesday, the governments of the Czech Republic and Honduras confirmed that Israel had promised them each 5,000 vaccine doses manufactured by Moderna. The Israeli news media reported that Hungary and Guatemala would be sent a similar number, but the Hungarian and Israeli governments declined to comment, while the Guatemalan government did not respond to a request for comment.

The donations are the latest example of a new expression of soft power: vaccine diplomacy, in which countries rich in vaccines seek to reward or sway those that have little access to them.

Jockeying for influence in Asia, China and India have donated thousands of vaccine doses to their neighbors. The United Arab Emirates has done the same for allies like Egypt. And last week, Israel even promised to buy tens of thousands of doses on behalf of the Syrian government, a longtime foe, in exchange for the return of an Israeli civilian detained in Syria.

The vaccines allocated on Tuesday were given without conditions, but they tacitly reward recent gestures from the receiving countries that implicitly accept Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem, which both Israelis and Palestinians consider their capital. Guatemala has moved its embassy to Jerusalem, while Honduras has pledged to do so. Hungary has set up a trade mission in Jerusalem, while the Czech Republic has promised to open a diplomatic office there.

Israel has given at least one shot of the two-dose, Pfizer-manufactured vaccine to just over half its own population of nine million — including to people living in Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories — making it the world leader in vaccine rollouts. That has left the Israeli government able to bolster its international relationships with its surplus supply of Moderna vaccines.

The vaccines will go to nations that pledged to move diplomats to Jerusalem. Critics say Israel must inoculate Palestinians under its occupation.

But the move has angered Palestinians because it suggests that Israel’s allies are of greater priority than the Palestinians living under Israeli control in the occupied territories, almost all of whom have yet to receive a vaccine.

ny times logoNew York Times, Fading Sri Lankan Hopes for Justice Rest on U.N. Rights Council, Mujib Mashal, Feb. 24, 2021. The government, strongly tied to the military, is blocking inquiries into wartime atrocities, undermining efforts to learn the fates of thousands of missing people.

Since Gotabaya Rajapaksa took charge as president in late 2019, the authorities have raided news outlets, harassed and investigated journalists and activists, and dragged human rights lawyers and writers to jail and held them for months without charges, rights watchdogs like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch say.

Investigators looking into wartime abuses have been jailed, forced to flee the country or put under travel bans, in a clear message that the government sees accountability for past crimes as an affront.

That’s no coincidence. Sri Lanka’s new government is led by the same people who brought the three-decade war to a brutal end in 2009, then squelched discussion of it for half a decade after. During the final, brutal phase of the civil war, Mr. Rajapaksa, a former army officer, served as the defense minister.

  

U.S. Media News

washington post logoatt logoWashington Post, Net neutrality law to take effect in California after judge deals blow to telecom industry, Tony Romm, Feb. 24, 2021 (print ed.). California can begin enforcing its first-in-the-nation net neutrality law after a federal judge ruled against broadband providers that had sought to scuttle the open-internet safeguards.comcast logo

The ruling amounts to a major victory for advocates of rules that require AT&T, Comcast, Verizon and other telecom giants to treat all Web traffic equally, potentially setting the stage for states nationwide to follow California’s lead and adopt tough new protections of their own.

washington post logoWashington Post, Lawrence Ferlinghetti (1919–2021): Poet whose San Francisco bookstore catapulted the Beat Generation to fame dies at 101, Emma Brown, Feb. 24, 2021 (print ed.). Lawrence Ferlinghetti became a household name in the 1950s when he stood trial on obscenity charges for publishing Allen Ginsberg’s hallucinatory anti-establishment manifesto “Howl.”

washington post logoWashington Post, One America News clashes again with White House correspondents over Trump-approved camera tent, Paul Farhi, Feb. 24, 2021 (print ed.). The small, right-wing outlet was also banned last year from the briefing room for violating social distancing rules.

One America News, the upstart right-wing cable channel that was granted special status by the Trump White House, is clashing again with its mainstream colleagues on the presidential beat.

Last year, the channel became the first news outlet in history to have its correspondents banned from the briefing room by the organization that represents White House reporters. The board of the White House Correspondents’ Association voted to boot OAN after its reporters repeatedly attended the briefings in violation of social distancing protocols that have severely limited the number of people who can be in the cramped room at once.

Now the San Diego-based network is locked in a turf battle with other TV networks over a spot just outside the briefing room — a patch off the North Lawn known as Pebble Beach. The networks have for many years used the area as the staging ground for their makeshift TV studios, positioning their correspondents in front of cameras and lights with the White House as a backdrop.

OAN won approval from then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows last year to set up its own studio on the site. It was one of several favors granted to OAN by President Donald Trump and his staff, following its favorable coverage of him.

 

Feb. 23

Top Headlines

 

Trump Mob Capitol Riot

 

More On U.S. Law, Courts

 

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Top Storiesjoe biden jill biden resized kamala harris doug emhoff jonathan ernst reusters

U.S. President Joe Biden, his wife Jill Biden, U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris and second gentleman Doug Emhoff attend a moment of silence and candle lighting ceremony to commemorate the grim milestone of 500,000 U.S. deaths from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at the White House in Washington, U.S., Feb. Reuters Photo by Jonathan Ernst.

ny times logoNew York Times, U.S. Surpasses 500,000 Covid-19 Deaths, a Monumental Loss, Lucy Tompkins, Mitch Smith, Julie Bosman and Bryan Pietsch, Feb. 23, 2021 (print ed.). President Biden and Vice President Harris marked the staggering death toll with a moment of silence. In Britain, officials outlined a cautious plan to reopen schools in England.

President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris marked the staggering death toll with a moment of silence. Here’s the latest on Covid-19.

The United States reached a staggering milestone on Monday, surpassing 500,000 known coronavirus-related deaths in a pandemic that has lasted almost a year. The nation’s total virus toll is higher than in any other country in the world. It has far surpassed early predictions of loss by some federal experts. And it means that more Americans have died from Covid-19 than did on the battlefields of World War I, World War II and the Vietnam War combined.

“The magnitude of it is just horrifying,” said Jeffrey Shaman, a professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia University who has modeled the virus’s spread and says that the scale of loss was not inevitable, but a result of the failure to control the virus’s spread in the United States. “It’s been a failure,” he said.

american flag upside down distressThe United States accounts for about 20 percent of the world’s known Covid deaths, but makes up just 4.25 percent of the global population.

About one in 670 Americans has died of Covid-19, which has become a leading cause of death in this country, along with heart disease and cancer, and has driven down life expectancy more sharply than in decades. The losses, monumental for the country, have been searingly personal for the relatives and friends of the 500,000.

“It never goes away,” the Rev. Ezra Jones of Chicago said of his grief for his uncle, Moses Jones, who died of the coronavirus in April.

The harrowing milestone comes amid hopeful news: New +virus cases and deaths have slowed dramatically, and vaccine distribution has gradually picked up pace. But uncertainty remains about emerging variants of the virus, some more contagious and possibly more lethal, so it may be months before the pandemic is contained. Scientists say the trajectory of the U.S. death toll will depend on the speed of vaccinations, the effects of the variants and how closely people stick to guidelines like mask-wearing and social distancing.

In the early days of the pandemic, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the top infectious-disease expert in the country, and Dr. Deborah L. Birx, who was coordinating the coronavirus response at the time, projected last March that even with strict stay-at-home orders, the virus might kill as many as 240,000 Americans, a number that seemed unimaginable at the time.

“As sobering a number as that is, we should be prepared for it,” Dr. Fauci said at the time.

Less than a year later, the virus has killed more than twice that number.

U.S. deaths from Covid-19 came faster as the pandemic wore on. The country’s first known Covid-19 death occurred in Santa Clara County, Calif., on Feb. 6, 2020, and by the end of May, 100,000 people had died. It took four months for the nation to log another 100,000 deaths; the next, about three months; the next, just five weeks.

The virus has reached every corner of America, devastating dense cities and rural counties alike through surges that barreled through one region and then another.

In New York City, more than 28,000 people have died of the virus — or roughly one in 295 people. In Los Angeles County, the toll is about one in 500 people. In Lamb County, Texas, where 13,000 people live scattered on a sprawling expanse of 1,000 square miles, the loss is one in 163 people.

The virus has torn through nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, spreading easily among vulnerable residents: They account for more than 163,000 deaths, about one-third of the country’s total.

Virus deaths also have disproportionately affected Americans along racial lines. Over all, the death rate for Black Americans with Covid-19 has been almost two times higher than for white Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; the death rate for Hispanics was 2.3 times higher than for white Americans. And for Native Americans, it was 2.4 times higher.

By Monday, about 1,900 Covid deaths were being reported, on average, most days — down from more than 3,300 at peak points in January. The slowing came as a relief, but scientists said variants make it difficult to project the future of the pandemic, and historians cautioned against turning away from the scale of the country’s losses.

ny times logoNew York Times, Garland, at Confirmation Hearing, Vows to Fight Domestic Extremism, Katie Benner and Charlie Savage, Feb. 23, 2021 (print ed.). President Biden’s nominee for attorney general told the Senate Judiciary Committee that investigating the Capitol riot would be his first priority.

merrick garlandJudge Merrick B. Garland, right, said he would restore independence to the Justice Department if confirmed as attorney general. Judge Merrick B. Garland, President Biden’s nominee for attorney general, said on Monday that the threat from domestic extremism was greater today than at the time of the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, and he pledged that if confirmed he would make the federal investigation into the Capitol riot his first priority.

Judge Garland, who led the Justice Department’s prosecution of the Oklahoma City bombing, told the Senate Judiciary Committee on the first day of his confirmation hearings that the early stages of the current inquiry into the “white supremacists and others who stormed the Capitol” seemed to be aggressive and “perfectly appropriate.”

Justice Department log circularHe received a largely positive reception from members of both parties on the panel, five years after Senate Republicans blocked his nomination to the Supreme Court by President Barack Obama to fill the vacancy created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

Judge Garland, 68, who was confirmed to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 1997, pledged on Monday to restore the independence of a Justice Department that had suffered deep politicization under the Trump administration.

“I do not plan to be interfered with by anyone,” Judge Garland said. Should he be confirmed, he said, he would uphold the principle that “the attorney general represents the public interest.”

Judge Garland also said he would reinvigorate the department’s civil rights division as America undergoes a painful and destabilizing reckoning with systemic racism.

“Communities of color and other minorities still face discrimination in housing, education, employment and the criminal justice system,” Judge Garland said in his opening statement. But he said he did not support the call from some on the left that grew out of this summer’s civil rights protests to defund the police.

The Trump administration worked to curb civil rights protections for transgender people and minorities. It also barred policies intended to combat systemic racism, sexism, homophobia and other implicit biases.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Merrick Garland lets domestic terrorists know there’s a new sheriff in town, Dana Milbank, right, Feb. 23, 2021 (print ed.). Sen. Josh Hawley, a Missouri dana milbank CustomRepublican, was one of those most responsible for the Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6, which resulted in the deaths of three police officers and the injuries of 140 others.

And now, he has the gall to claim he stands with the police.

On Monday, questioning attorney general nominee Merrick Garland, Hawley declared that a months-long increase in crime has been accompanied by “increasing calls by some activists, including members of the United States Congress, to ‘defund the police.’ ” Hawley, informing Garland that such calls send “the wrong message to law enforcement” and make them feel “under siege,” demanded Garland “tell me your position on defunding the police.”

Hawley, you’ll recall, is the guy who raised a fist of solidarity to the mob before the Capitol attack, and the guy whose home-state Kansas City Star charged that he “has blood on his hands in [the] Capitol coup attempt.”

Garland, who prosecuted the Oklahoma City bombing perpetrators before becoming a federal judge, fixed a steady gaze on Hawley. “As you no doubt know, President Biden has said he does not support defunding the police, and neither do I,” he said. “We saw how difficult the lives of police officers were in the body-cam videos we saw when they were defending the Capitol.”

For four years, President Donald Trump railed about “law and order” while breaking the former and undermining the latter. In Garland, we see a restoration of actual law and order. Timothy McVeigh’s prosecutor has the backing of groups such as the Fraternal Order of Police, but he’s also determined to fight discrimination, as he explained during Monday’s hearing.

“I come from a family,” Garland said, his voice breaking, “where my grandparents fled antisemitism and persecution. The country took us in — and protected us.” With difficulty, he continued: “And I feel an obligation to the country to pay back, and this is the highest, best use of my own set of skills to pay back.” 

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Merrick Garland teaches the country about racism, Jennifer Rubin, Feb. 23, 2021. President Biden’s nominee for attorney general, Merrick Garland, sailed through his jennifer rubin new headshotconfirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday, providing Republicans nary a reason to oppose him (although some will). Along the way, he provided a seminar on race while implicitly revealing the utter cluelessness and intellectual shallowness of Republicans.

In a fascinating conversation with Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Garland explained the phenomenon of systemic bias in the criminal justice system and its impact on scores of other aspects of American life. This moving exchange on Garland’s motives for public service generated the most attention.

 

Trump Mob Capitol Riot

washington post logoWashington Post, Former Capitol security officials blame lapses in intelligence for deadly Jan. 6 riot, Mike DeBonis and Karoun Demirjian, Feb. 23, 2021. “We properly planned for a mass demonstration with possible violence,” said former Capitol Police chief Steven A. Sund, right. “What we got was a military-style, coordinated assault on my officers and a violent steve sund recroppedtakeover of the Capitol Building.”

Top officials responsible for security at the Capitol on Jan. 6 as it was overrun by a mob backing former president Donald Trump blamed wide-ranging intelligence failures for the deadly attack at a Senate hearing Tuesday, pointing to lapses that included a missed email warning of violence and a larger inability to recognize the threat posed by domestic right-wing extremism.

Three officials who have resigned — Capitol Police chief Steven A. Sund, House sergeant-at-arms Paul D. Irving and Senate sergeant-at-arms Michael C. Stenger — each sought to minimize their responsibility for the events on that violent and chaotic day, which resulted in the deaths of a Capitol Police officer and four others and temporarily delayed the congressional certification of President Biden’s victory.

But they each, to varying degrees, detailed how they were caught off-guard by the scale and ferocity of the pro-Trump crowd, which escalated from a relatively peaceful protest to a violent mob in a span of hours while security officials scrambled — and ultimately failed — to respond.

washington post logoWashington Post, FBI alert about possible ‘war’ against Congress reached D.C. and Capitol Police on eve of attack, deepening security questions, Beth Reinhard and Matt Zapotosky, Feb. 23, 2021. A joint hearing by two Senate committees spotlighted the stark warnings issued before the Jan. 6 riot.

Palmer Report, Opinion: Ron Johnson goes completely off the deep end during Senate hearing, James Sullivan, Feb. 23, 2021. Every time new evidence comes to light about the Capitol insurrection, things always look much worse than we were led to believe.

Despite the testimony from the former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund, right, that the insurrectionists showed up on Jan 6 prepared for war, Sen. Ron Johnson is bill palmer report logo headersteve sund recroppednow trying to push a right-wing conspiracy theory that Capitol Police were the ones responsible for the attack. The biggest problem with this is that six officers are no longer alive due to the events of that day, and over 100 of them seriously injured.

Perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that Johnson is now sinking to this low as he spent last week trying to sell a conspiracy promoted by the Federalist that Antifa is somehow to blame for the attacks.

Trumpers themselves have called him out on this one, angrily venting on social media that the non-existent organization is getting credit for what they did themselves. He’s also contradicted himself by lying that the insurrectionists weren’t armed when they showed up at the Capitol, something that any ron johnson palmerbasic Google image search could disprove.

Even as senators are hearing testimony, Johnson is using his seat to amplify right-wing lies that aid and abet dangerous criminals, and it’s not even the first national tragedy he’s using to do this. He did the same thing with promoting hydroxychloroquine earlier this year, long after it was proven to be an ineffective treatment for COVID, and after a number of states want to be reimbursed for their early investment in the drug. Johnson hails from a fairly moderate state that was pivotal to Democrats taking back the White House in 2020.

washington post logoWashington Post, Live Updates: FBI warning of potential violence reached Capitol Police, but leaders say they didn’t see it, John Wagner, Colby Itkowitz, Mike DeBonis and
Karoun Demirjian, Feb. 23, 2021. An FBI warning of potential violence reached the U.S. Capitol Police on the eve of the Jan. 6 attack, but top leaders testified during a Senate hearing Tuesday that they did not see it.

Steven A. Sund, who was chief of the U.S. Capitol Police during the pro-Trump mob assault, said the warning reached headquarters. But Sund and the then-House and Senate sergeants-at-arms testified that they did not see the report warning that extremists were preparing to travel to Washington to commit violence and wage “war.”

The Senate is holding a hearing examining breakdowns in intelligence gathering and security preparations. Among the witnesses: Former House sergeant-at-arms Paul D. Irving and former Senate sergeant-at-arms Michael C. Stenger. Also appearing are Sund and acting D.C. police chief Robert J. Contee III.

  djt resized joe biden

washington post logoWashington Post, Supreme Court refuses to hear GOP challenge in light of Trump’s election loss in Pennsylvania, Robert Barnes, Feb. 23, 2021 (print ed.). The Supreme Court on Monday turned away Republican challenges to the presidential elections results in Pennsylvania, refusing to take up a months-long dispute over extending the deadline in that state for receiving mail-in ballots.

pennsylvania map major citiesIt was part of a purge of sorts. The high court formally dismissed a range of suits filed by Donald Trump and his allies in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, Georgia and Arizona — all states won by Democrat Joe Biden. The court’s intent in most of those had been signaled when Democratic-Republican Campaign logosit refused to expedite consideration of them before Biden was inaugurated as president.

The case about deadlines for receiving mail-in ballots was different, though. Three justices — Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Neil M. Gorsuch — said it deserved the court’s attention, even though the number of votes at issue would not call into question Biden’s victory.

“A decision in these cases would not have any implications regarding the 2020 election,” Alito wrote. “But a decision would provide invaluable wisconsin map with largest cities Customguidance for future elections.”

It takes the votes of four justices to accept a case for review. Although changing election rules because of the pandemic has been a theme of Republican challenges in the wake of Trump’s defeat, the rest of the conservative majority was silent.

Neither Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. nor two of the three justices nominated by Trump signed on to dissents from Thomas and Alito. Besides Gorsuch, Trump chose Justices Brett M. Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett.

The issue is whether state courts or other officials have the right to change voting procedures set by the legislature where federal elections are at stake. In extending the right to a mail-in ballot to all voters, Pennsylvania’s Republican-controlled legislature said the ballots must be received by 8 p.m. on election day to be counted.

But the state’s Democrats challenged that. Citing the pandemic and concerns about the Postal Service’s ability to deliver mail on time, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court extended the receipt deadline until three days after the election. It cited a provision in the state constitution promising fair elections.

In a pre-election challenge, the Supreme Court was deadlocked, meaning the extension applied. In the end, it affected fewer than 10,000 votes, and Biden won by about 80,000.

But the question of who decides voting procedures has become an important one for Republicans, who control more of the state’s legislatures.

Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch and Kavanaugh all endorsed a view that the Constitution’s command that the “legislature” design the rules of elections means that state courts and agencies do not have a free hand in making changes to state laws. They say federal courts have a role in overseeing the state court decisions.

 

More On U.S. Law, Courts

supreme court Custom

washington post logoWashington Post, Supreme Court again rejects Trump’s bid to shield tax returns, other records from Manhattan prosecutor, Robert Barnes, Feb. 23, 2021 (print ed.). The Supreme Court on Monday rejected former president Donald Trump’s last-chance effort to keep his private financial records from the Manhattan district attorney, ending a long and drawn-out legal battle.

After a four-month delay, the court denied Trump’s motion in a one-sentence order with no recorded dissents.

District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. has won every stage of the legal fight — including the first round at the Supreme Court — but has yet to receive the records he says are necessary for a grand jury investigation into whether the president’s companies violated state law.

irs logoVance responded to the court decision with a three-word tweet: “The work continues.”

The current fight is a follow-up to last summer’s decision by the high court that the president is not immune from a criminal investigation while he holds office.

“No citizen, not even the president, is categorically above the common duty to produce evidence when called upon in a criminal proceeding,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote for the majority in that 7 to 2 decision.

supreme court graphicBut the justices said Trump could challenge the specific subpoena, as every citizen may, for being overbroad or issued in bad faith.

Supreme Court says Manhattan prosecutor may pursue Trump’s financial records, denies Congress access for now

A district judge and a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit in New York found neither was the case.

Trump’s complaints “amount to generic objections that the subpoena is wide-ranging in nature,” the unanimous 2nd Circuit panel wrote. “Again, even if the subpoena is broad, the complaint does not adequately allege that it is overbroad. Complex financial and corporate investigations are broad by default.”

Similarly, the panel said, “we hold that none of the president’s allegations, taken together or separately, are sufficient to raise a plausible inference that the subpoena was issued out of malice or an intent to harass.”

Vance is seeking eight years of the former president’s tax returns and related documents as part of his investigation into alleged hush-money payments made ahead of the 2016 election to two women who said they had affairs with Trump years before. Trump denies the claims.

Investigators want to determine whether efforts were made to conceal the payments on tax documents by labeling them as legal expenses.

But Vance says there are other aspects of the investigation that have not been publicly disclosed. Court filings by the prosecutors suggest the investigation is looking into other allegations of impropriety, perhaps involving tax and insurance fraud.

cy vance resized djt

Palmer Report, Opinion: The real prize in Donald Trump’s takedown, Bill Palmer, right, Feb. 23, 2021. When the Supreme Court ruled yesterday that the Manhattan District Attorney, shown above at right, and his grand bill palmerjury would immediately be given Donald Trump’s tax returns, there was a widespread sentiment on social media that this might end up partly righting the wrong that occurred when Trump was acquitted in his impeachment trial. The thing is, that’s 100% backwards.

All along, the impeachment trial had very low odds of convicting Trump. For that matter, even if he had been convicted, the most severe possible punishment would have been to ban him from seeking office again – a mere slap on the wrist. Trump had to be impeached, because it had to be put on the record that his incitement of insurrection was wrong. But that’s all the further it was ever likely to go, and it was never close to being the real prize in all this.

bill palmer report logo headerContrast that with the criminal trial that Trump is going to face in New York. Because the evidence tends to be clear and indisputable, almost no one dodges conviction on the kinds of financial crimes that he’s going to be charged with. To state the obvious, the odds of Trump being convicted on financial crimes by a trial jury are infinitely greater than the odds ever were of him being convicted in an impeachment trial where seventeen Republican Senators would have needed to vote against him. And the punishment in a felony criminal trial isn’t some slap on the wrist, it’s prison.

Yes, that’s right, Donald Trump really is headed for prison. That’s always been the real prize here. As Palmer Report has pointed out for years, Trump was always headed for prison in New York if he lost reelection.

If Trump going to prison sounds like a foreign concept to you, that’s only because most of the media has spent these past few years going as far out of its way as possible to avoid stating the obvious. Sure, the real prize has always been Trump’s criminal prosecution, but that was always going to be down the road. It was easier for the media to get short term ratings by framing the impeachment trial as if it were somehow the most effective or realistic way of taking Trump off the stage.

But there’s a reason you read Palmer Report. It’s because you want to be reminded of the big picture, and the fact that criminal prosecution of Trump was always inevitable, and that it was always the big prize for taking him down.

Based on what’s leaked over the past year, the Manhattan District Attorney already had more than enough to convict Trump; the tax returns will make it a lock. That’s before getting to the criminal cases Trump is facing in Georgia and Washington DC, and anything the Feds might bring against him. This was always about criminal prosecution. Anything else is just noise. Eyes on the prize.

ny times logoNew York Times, Trump’s Tax Returns Aren’t the Only Crucial Records Prosecutors Will Get, Mike McIntire, Feb. 23, 2021 (print ed.). When New York prosecutors finally get to examine the federal tax returns of former President Donald J. Trump, they will discover a veritable how-to guide for getting rich while losing millions of dollars and paying little to no income taxes.

Whether they find evidence of crimes, however, will also depend on other information not found in the actual returns.

The United States Supreme Court on Monday cleared the way for the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., to obtain eight years of Mr. Trump’s federal income tax returns and other records from his accountants. The decision capped a long-running legal battle over prosecutors’ access to the information.

irs logoThe New York Times last year provided more or less a preview of what awaits Mr. Vance, when it obtained and analyzed decades of income tax data for Mr. Trump and his companies. The tax records provide an unprecedented and highly detailed look at the byzantine world of Mr. Trump’s finances, which for years he has simultaneously bragged about and sought to keep secret.

The Times’s examination showed that the former president reported hundreds of millions of dollars in business losses, went years without paying federal income taxes and faces an Internal Revenue Service audit of a $72.9 million tax refund he claimed a decade ago.

Among other things, the records revealed that Mr. Trump had paid just $750 in federal income taxes in his first year as president and no income taxes at all in 10 of the previous 15 years. They also showed he had written off $26 million in “consulting fees” as a business expense between 2010 and 2018, some of which appear to have been paid to his older daughter, Ivanka Trump, while she was a salaried employee of the Trump Organization.

The legitimacy of the fees, which reduced Mr. Trump’s taxable income, has since become a subject of Mr. Vance’s investigation, as well as a separate civil inquiry by Letitia James, the New York attorney general. Ms. James and Mr. Vance are Democrats, and Mr. Trump has sought to portray the multiple inquiries as politically motivated, while denying any wrongdoing.

stormy daniels 2010 83 wMr. Vance’s office has issued subpoenas and conducted interviews in recent months as it scrutinizes a variety of financial matters, including whether the Trump Organization misrepresented the value of assets when obtaining loans or paying property taxes, as well as the payment of $130,000 in hush money during the 2016 campaign to Stephanie Clifford, the pornographic film actress whose stage name is Stormy Daniels, shown in a 2010 photo. Among those interviewed have been employees of Deutsche Bank, one of Mr. Trump’s largest lenders.

deutsche bank logoFor all their revelations, Mr. Trump’s tax records are also noteworthy for what they do not show, including any new details about the payment to Ms. Clifford, which was the initial focus of Mr. Vance’s investigation when it began two years ago.

The Supreme Court cleared the way for prosecutors in New York to obtain former President Trump’s federal income tax returns and other records.
For all that they reveal, tax returns have limitations. Other records from Mr. Trump’s accountants may help give a fuller pict

djt nyt front page on taxes sept 28 2020

ny times logoNew York Times, The President’s Taxes: Long-Concealed Records Show Trump’s Chronic Losses and Years of Tax Avoidance, Russ Buettner, Susanne Craig and Mike McIntire, Sept. 27, 2020. The Times obtained Donald Trump’s tax information extending over more than two decades, revealing struggling properties, vast write-offs, an audit battle and hundreds of millions in debt coming due.

Palmer Report, Opinion: Michael Cohen’s revenge, Robert Harrington, right, Feb. 23, 2021. Architect and Third Reich Minister of Armaments Albert Speer once said words to the effect that if Hitler robert harringtnn portraitever had a friend, he was Hitler’s friend. The same might also be said of Michael Cohen as regards Donald Trump. If Trump ever had a friend it was probably Michael Cohen.

Trump isn’t exactly what you’d call a “friend person.” So we’re lucky to have someone like Mr. Cohen who came so close to being Trump’s friend. Trump betrayed Cohen, of course. Sooner or later Trump betrays everybody. But this time the guy Trump betrayed wrote a book about it. Lucky us, unlucky Trump.

bill palmer report logo headerCohen’s book (Disloyal) is useful in providing insights into what makes the world’s most infamous malignant narcissist tick. Cohen proved to be very good at seeing patterns in Trump’s behavior. It was Cohen, for instance, who warned the House Oversight Committee two whole years ago that Trump would never accept the results of the 2020 election. Cohen understood what very few did, that malignant narcissists don’t admit defeat.

Cohen also keeps abreast of current events via Twitter, and he had some interesting observations about the recent Supreme Court ruling that will lead to Trump releasing his taxes to a New York prosecutor and their impaneled grand jury. “The Supreme Court has now proclaimed that no one is above the law,” Cohen tweeted, “Trump will, for the first time, have to take responsibility for his own dirty deeds.”

Trump must turn over eight years of tax documents. This is the end of the road for Trump’s lawyers. There are no more appeals to file, no more delays to be made. The process of turning over the tax returns has begun and should be completed in the next few days.

The Supreme Court ruling does not necessarily mean that Trump’s taxes will become available to the general public. It depends on what the New York prosecutors do with them. If they find anything inculpatory — and it’s hard to believe they won’t, considering how hard Trump has fought to keep them hidden — then they will almost certainly use Trump’s tax returns against him in a prosecution. And it will be at that point, finally, that the details of Trump’s returns will become public knowledge.

Trump once promised to release his tax returns to the public if he got elected president. Once elected, Trump lied when he said he couldn’t release his taxes because he was under audit by the IRS. However, nothing prevents a taxpayer from releasing his or her own tax returns. The IRS has confirmed that individuals are free to share their own tax information with anyone at any time for any reason, irrespective of whether or not they are under audit. Trump continues to use the lie that he couldn’t release his returns because he’s under audit, bafflingly, because no one has ever confronted him about it.

Well now Trump has no choice but to release them to the New York prosecutor. That should happen in the next few days. Michael Cohen believes this means Trump’s “dirty deeds” will be exposed for all the world to see. Mr. Cohen has been proved right every time so far, it’s doubtful that this time will prove an exception.

washington post logoWashington Post, No officers indicted in death of Daniel Prude, Black man pinned and hooded during mental crisis, Hannah Knowles, Feb. 23, 2021. New York Attorney General Letitia James called for criminal justice reforms to hold police accountable and decried “a system that at its core is broken.”

She said she was disappointed in the outcome of the high-profile case, which thrust Rochester, N.Y., into the national spotlight last fall. Police had covered Prude’s head with a controversial “spit hood” intended to shield officers from bodily fluids, and experts say officers neglected to use known tactics for helping people in crisis. A medical examiner eventually ruled Prude’s death a homicide caused by “complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint.”

 

More On Disaster Victims, Responses

washington post logoWashington Post, Vaccine makers Pfizer and Moderna pledge massive boost to U.S. supply after sluggish rollout, Isaac Stanley-Becker and Christopher Rowland, Feb. 23, 2021. Drug pfizer logocompanies told lawmakers Tuesday they project a major increase in vaccine deliveries that will result in 140 million more doses over the next five weeks, saying they have solved manufacturing challenges and are in a position to overcome scarcity that has hampered the nation’s fight against the coronavirus.

moderna logo“The United States and every other country needs more doses more quickly,” John Young, Pfizer’s chief business officer, told members of the House Energy and Commerce oversight and investigations subcommittee.

But achieving a surge on that scale remains daunting. Pfizer and Moderna, the companies with the only authorized vaccines so far, will need to increase their combined deliveries to date of 80 million doses to reach their promised target of 220 million shots by March 31.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion, How Republicans are about to sabotage themselves on covid relief, Paul Waldman, right, Feb. 23, 2021. This bill is going to pass — by all indications, without a paul waldmansingle Republican vote in the House and perhaps no GOP votes in the Senate either.

Republicans’ political calculation has changed. They think they have nothing to gain from a bill that would help accelerate the country’s recovery from the pandemic. Biden and Democrats are in charge, so that’s where credit will flow.

the bill is hugely popular; depending on how you ask the question, as many as 8 in 10 Americans think it’s a good idea.

Voters might not care much about legislative wrangling, but that simple story — Democrats are getting things done while Republicans are trying to sabotage everything — is something anyone can understand.

Worldometer, World & U.S. Coronavirus Case Totals (updated: Feb. 23, 2021), with some governments reporting slightly lower numbers than the totals here):

World Cases: 112,381,320, Deaths: 2,488,055
U.S. Cases:     28,831,573, Deaths:   512,876

Proof via Substack, Commentary: How Today's Media Asks Us to Both Pay Attention and Forget Everything, Seth Abramson, Feb. 23, 2021. Consider this New York Times article from February 17, in which the Times informs its readers that the accurate COVID-19 death toll in the United States as of that date was likely—if the so-called “undercount” is included—571,000, meaning that on February 22, the day news outlets around the country reported that America had reached the 500,000-death milestone, the actual death toll in the U.S. was, using a combination of New York Times and Worldometers data, approximately 584,000.

Any readers of the Times story linked to above who also tracked daily death-toll data on Worldometers would, on February 22, have rightly treated that 585,000 figure as an established fact. See full commentary below under "U.S. Media News."

washington post logoWashington Post, 44.5 million vaccinated, Staff Reports, Feb. 22, 2021. The number of people who have received at least one dose of the vaccine, covering 36.6% of the prioritized population and 13.4% of the total population.

washington post logoWashington Post, Tiger Woods suffers ‘multiple leg injuries’ in car crash near Los Angeles, Matt Bonesteel and Rick Maese, Feb. 23, 2021. Golf legend Tiger Woods was involved in a single-car crash Tuesday morning in a residential area south of Los Angeles, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department announced Tuesday afternoon. He suffered multiple leg injuries according to his agent, and after being extricated from his vehicle Woods was transferred to an area hospital.

 

White House Transition

 washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: No amount of disaster can shake the GOP loose from Trump, Joe Scarborough, below left, Feb. 23, 2021. Five years ago, Donald Trump seized control of the Republican Party by attacking conservative icons, insulting former GOP presidents and disregarding Ronald Reagan’s 11th commandment that warned against criticizing other party members. Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Jon Meacham told me at the time that Trump was like a hijacker taking control of an airplane while the passengers cheered him on.

joe scarborough headshotNow that flying machine is disintegrating in the air, much like the United Airlines flight that scattered engine parts across Colorado this past weekend. Fortunately, that passenger plane landed safely. I suspect there will be no happy ending for the party of Trump.

The damage inflicted on Republicans since 2016 cannot be overstated. Even before his disastrous handling of the pandemic, Trump’s impulsiveness, ignorance, racist screeds and gratuitous personal attacks offended enough suburban Republicans and swing voters nationwide to cause disastrous election results for the party in the 2018 midterms. In 2018 and 2019, Democrats won gubernatorial races in the bright-red states of Kansas, Louisiana and Kentucky.

Trump’s subsequent loss of the White House in 2020 was made worse for Republicans by his manic promotion of numerous conspiracy theories, all pointing to widespread voter fraud as the cause for Joe Biden’s victory. Trump’s lawyers then spent the next two months having those conspiracy theories tossed out by more than 60 courts, many of those controlled by Trump-appointed judges. And still the failed president pushes the Big Lie, hoping to undermine more Americans’ faith in democracy while keeping his cult-like followers in a constant state of delusion.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: The opposition to confirming Neera Tanden is based on a lie, Greg Sargent, right, Feb. 23, 2021. There are numerous reasons to mock the opposition to greg sargentconfirming Neera Tanden, below at left, as the director of the Office of Management and Budget, which is supposedly rooted in anger over her harsh tweets about Republicans. It’s hypocritical. It has little to do with her qualifications. And there’s nothing wrong with appointing a partisan to begin with.

Neera TandenBut perhaps the biggest flaw in the argument against Tanden is this one: It’s based on a lie.

That lie is the idea that the prospects for bipartisan comity in the Senate, and for good relations between Republicans and the Biden administration, rest in some sense on Tanden’s fate. They simply do not.

Republicans are incentivized to maintain as unified an opposition to Biden’s agenda as they can, because to whatever degree they can deny him bipartisan cooperation, they can cast him as a failed conciliator.

washington post logosteven mnuchin wWashington Post, Steven Mnuchin expected to launch investment fund, seeks backing of Persian Gulf state funds, Jeff Stein and Yeganeh Torbati, Feb. 23, 2021. Former president Trump’s treasury secretary, right, is planning to launch a fund based in Washington, D.C., and would focus on areas including financial technology and entertainment, people familiar with the project said.

 

World News

washington post logoSaudi Arabian flagWashington Post, Pensacola Navy base mass shooter had accomplices, help from Saudi Arabia, victims claim in lawsuit, Spencer S. Hsu, Feb. 23, 2021 (print ed.). Families of 16 people killed or wounded in the 2019 mass shooting said the Trump administration and Saudi government reneged on a vow to compensate victims of longtime al-Qaeda operative and Saudi Air Force officer Ahmed Mohammed al-Shamrani.

 Japanny times logoNew York Times, As the Pandemic Took Hold, Suicide Rose Among Japanese Women, Motoko Rich and Hikari Hida, Updated Feb. 23, 2021. Job losses, urban isolation, household burdens: Covid-19 has compounded the pressures on women, raising alarms in a country that has worked to reduce some of the world’s highest suicide rates. Covid-19 has compounded the pressures on women, raising alarms in a country that has worked to reduce some of the world’s highest suicide rates. 

  • Washington Post, Italy’s ambassador to Congo and two others killed in ambush near Virunga National Park, Max Bearak, Luca Attanasio was traveling with a U.N. peacekeeping mission when unknown assailants attempted to kidnap them.
  • Washington Post, E.U. imposes sanctions on Russian officials after Navalny imprisonment, Michael Birnbaum
  • Washington Post, Myanmar grinds to a halt as hundreds of thousands strike against military coup, Shibani Mahtani

 

U.S. Media News

Proof via Substack, Commentary: How Today's Media Asks Us to Both Pay Attention and Forget Everything, Seth Abramson, left, Feb. 23, 2021. At the heart of the collapse of conventional seth abramson headshotjournalism is a paradox involving memory—a paradox U.S. major media continues to refuse to acknowledge, to its detriment. (Note: This and future Proof essays on journalism in the digital age are inspired by my ongoing work on Citizen Journalist, a journalism textbook to be published by Macmillan in 2022.)

The memory of the internet is limitless and eternal. And because anyone with internet access can access the memory of the internet at any time, humans’ need for steel-trap memories is now exponentially diminished from at any other time in human history. We can just borrow the internet’s memory whenever we need to do so—which is often.

This sea change in how our memories are constructed and powered presents a crisis for news media that is unique to the digital age. And unfortunately, media’s refusal to face this crisis is deeply destructive.

Consider this New York Times article from February 17, in which the Times informs its readers that the accurate COVID-19 death toll in the United States as of that date was likely—if the so-called “undercount” is included—571,000, meaning that on February 22, the day news outlets around the country reported that America had reached the 500,000-death milestone, the actual death toll in the U.S. was, using a combination of New York Times and Worldometers data, approximately 584,000. Any readers of the Times story linked to above who also tracked daily death-toll data on Worldometers would, on February 22, have rightly treated that 585,000 figure as an established fact.

seth abramson proof logoSo how did such news-consumers react to the wall-to-wall coverage of America hitting the 500,000 milestone on February 22? And more to the point, how should they have responded to the New York Times itself repeating the claim that 500,000 people had died as of that date? Neither the Times nor any other major-media outlet treated the 500,000 figure as metaphorical, an approximation, or incomplete; Americans were told that on February 22 the nation was mourning a half a million dead from COVID-19—full stop.

What the Times wanted and needed its consumers to do on February 17 was to read the careful undercount analysis it published that day and then immediately forget it. Indeed, the credibility of the newspaper’s future reporting depended on that forgetting.

The problem, of course, is that today’s highly engaged news readers, even if they were likely to forget (or never see in the first instance) what the Times reported on February 17, would be unlikely to remain in such a state of forgetfulness after the next time they logged on to social media.

Why? Because today’s social media users engage in and witness more curatorial journalism, news aggregation, fact-checking, and media criticism—to name just a few metajournalistic genres of journalism—than ever before. In fact, we might say that one of the most generative components of social media generally and social news websites like Twitter specifically is that they have become, over time, the very best instruments for amplifying major-media reporting. While of course that amplification is at times selective, it is unlikely to miss either a stunning February 17 New York Times investigative report or an equally startling one days later.

So what’s the solution here? Well, it’s likely there isn’t a simple or easy one. But here’s a good start: news organizations should develop flagging systems that denominate certain news reports as institution-wide markers—that is, reports that every reporter or columnist or editor or producer working within the relevant sub-field of news at that organization would as part of their employment be expected to have internalized.

Such a system, which explicitly acknowledges that certain investigative reports include discoveries that must be integrated into future reporting at a given media institution, would function as a consensus reality entrenched at the heart of the institution.

AmericaBlog, Eric Boehlert commentary on Limbaugh’s death and media bias, John Aravosis, Feb. 23, 2021 (podcast). Media critic Eric Boehlert, founder and editor of PressRun.Media, joins us to talk about: Rush Limbaugh’s death, and the fact that the man was truly a blight on our body politic; how the media is no longer covering the daily White House briefings now that a Democrat is back in the White House; and the Washington Post’s recent admission that they should have called Trump a liar a long time ago.

John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. John's article archive.

 

Feb. 22

Guardian, Al Jazeera to launch rightwing media platform targeting US conservatives, Adam Gabbatt, Feb. 23, 2021. Rightly will be led by a former Fox News journalist and is aimed at Republicans who ‘feel left out of conservative media.’

Al Jazeera, the Qatar-based news network that has previously sought to become a liberal media force in the US, is launching a platform to target conservatives, it was revealed on Tuesday.

The new effort, called Rightly, will target Republicans who “feel left out of conservative media”, Politico reported, and will be led by a former Fox News journalist.

Al Jazeera became a significant presence in the US in 2013, when it launched the left-leaning Al Jazeera America news channel and website. The network, which is based in Doha and funded by the state of Qatar, closed down the US-facing TV channel in 2016, but has remained a significant presence online with its AJPlus video network. Its international channel – Al Jazeera English – is popular in the US.

The launch of a conservative effort comes at a time of increasing extremism in existing rightwing US news sources. Fox News, the go-to news channel for the American right, has lurched even further right as it faces threats from new, ultra-conservative TV channels NewsMax and One America News.

 

Feb. 22

Top Headlines

 

More On U.S. Law, Courts


More On Disaster Victims, Responses

 

U.S. Capitol Riots, Courts, Crime

 

U.S. Politics, Governance

 

Biden Transition

 

World News

 

Top Stories

 

joe biden gage skidmore microphone

Reuters via U.S. News & World Report, Biden Leads Americans in Moment of Silence to Mourn 500,000 U.S. COVID-19 Deaths, Jeff Mason, Feb. 22, 2021. President Joe Biden led Americans in observing a moment of silence on Monday to commemorate the grim milestone of more than 500,000 U.S. deaths from COVID-19, urging Americans to set aside partisan differences and fight the pandemic together.

"Today we mark a truly grim, heartbreaking milestone -- 500,071 dead. That's more Americans who have died in one year in this pandemic than in World War One, World War Two and the Vietnam War combined," Biden said in emotional remarks at the White House.

washington post logoWashington Post, At stake in the Capitol riot hearing Tuesday: The story of the attack, and who is responsible, Mike DeBonis and Karoun Demirjian, Feb. 22, 2021. Four law enforcement officials — three of whom resigned their posts and some of whom have never before spoken publicly about the attack — face senators determined to uncover what led to the violence and prevent future unrest.

The public inquest into the deadly Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol begins a new phase Tuesday when four law enforcement officials — three of whom resigned their posts and some of whom have never before spoken publicly about the attack — face lawmakers aiming to uncover what led to the violence and prevent future unrest.

But Tuesday’s hearing before members of two Senate committees could also become a battleground for competing narratives over what prompted the riot and who was responsible for it — a question that has become even more pointed following former president Donald Trump’s acquittal on impeachment changes earlier this month.

Trump’s allies in Congress and beyond have sought to downplay the former president’s role in gathering his supporters in Washington and spreading the false claim that he, not President Biden, won the November election — facts that led to bipartisan impeachment proceedings. Instead, they have sought to blame lapses by Capitol security officials — and the congressional leaders they report to — for the building’s invasion.

  • Washington Post, Timeline: How officials failed to head off the Capitol attack

 

More On U.S. Law, Courts

djt nyt front page on taxes sept 28 2020

ny times logoNew York Times, The President’s Taxes: Long-Concealed Records Show Trump’s Chronic Losses and Years of Tax Avoidance, Russ Buettner, Susanne Craig and Mike McIntire, Sept. 27, 2020. The Times obtained Donald Trump’s tax information extending over more than two decades, revealing struggling properties, vast write-offs, an audit battle and hundreds of millions in debt coming due.

supreme court Custom

bill palmerPalmer Report, Opinion: Michael Cohen says Donald Trump should start getting fitted for his prison jumpsuit, Bill Palmer, right, Feb. 22, 2021. Earlier today the Supreme Court ruled that accounting firm Mazars must immediately turn over Donald Trump’s tax returns to the Manhattan District Attorney and his grand jury. Michael Cohen, who has been a key cooperating witness in those grand jury proceedings, appeared on MSNBC this afternoon to discuss the case.

bill palmer report logo headerCohen pointed specifically to the hush money payments to Stormy Daniels as being a legal problem with regard to Trump’s taxes: “What will ultimately show is that Donald Trump with the hush money payments did not declare it, in whatever way you would declare it.”

Cohen also reminded everyone that the Manhattan DA recently decided to seek records on Trump’s real estate properties from the New York Department of Taxation. msnbc logo CustomCohen previously testified to Congress that Trump liked to falsify the values of his properties in order to fraudulently obtain loans and other similar antics.

Michael Cohen said this about Trump: “He should start maybe speaking to somebody about getting a custom made jumpsuit, because it does not look good for him.” Cohen also stated that the Manhattan DA is also investigating Trump’s kids, Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg, and others.

Former U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance also appeared during the same segment. She was hesitant to make any predictions about Trump being indicted or arrested. But she did make clear that “it’s all over but the shouting” when it comes to the Manhattan DA obtaining Trump’s tax returns.

ny times logoNew York Times, How Democrats Are Already Maneuvering to Shape Biden’s First Supreme Court Pick, Jonathan Martin, Feb. 22, 2021 (print ed.). Party leaders are urging President Biden not only to consider racial diversity in potential Supreme Court nominees, but to look at candidates who don’t come from a traditional Ivy League background.

After meeting in the Oval Office earlier this month with President Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and his fellow senior House Democrats, Representative James E. Clyburn of South Carolina made a beeline to Ms. Harris’s office in the West Wing to privately raise a topic that did not come up during their group discussion: the Supreme Court.

james clyburnMr. Clyburn, left, the highest-ranking African-American in Congress, wanted to offer Ms. Harris the name of a potential future justice, according to a Democrat briefed on their conversation. District Court Judge J. Michelle Childs would fulfill Mr. Biden’s pledge to appoint the first Black woman to the Supreme Court — and, Mr. Clyburn noted, she also happened to hail from South Carolina, a state with political meaning for the president.

There may not be a vacancy on the high court at the moment, but Mr. Clyburn and other lawmakers are already maneuvering to champion candidates and a new approach for a nomination that might come as soon as this summer, when some Democrats hope Justice Stephen Breyer, who is 82, will retire. With Democrats holding the narrowest of Senate majorities, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death still painfully fresh in their minds, these party leaders want to shape Mr. Biden’s appointment, including moving the party away from the usual Ivy League résumés.

democratic donkey logoThe early jockeying illustrates how eager Democratic officials are to leave their mark on Mr. Biden’s effort to elevate historically underrepresented contenders for a landmark Supreme Court nomination. But it also casts a spotlight on discomfiting issues of class and credentialism in the Democratic Party that have been just below the surface since the days of the Obama administration.

Some Democrats like Mr. Clyburn, who have nervously watched Republicans try to repackage themselves as a working-class party, believe that Mr. Biden could send a message about his determination to keep Democrats true to their blue-collar roots by choosing a candidate like Ms. Childs, who attended public universities.

 

More On Disaster Victims, Responses

Worldometer, World & U.S. Coronavirus Case Totals (updated: Feb. 22, 2021), with some governments reporting slightly lower numbers than the totals here):

World Cases: 112,053,654, Deaths: 2,479,747
U.S. Cases:    28,768,619,  Deaths:   511,302

washington post logoWashington Post, 44.1 million vaccinated, Staff Reports, Feb. 22, 2021. The number of people who have received at least one dose of the vaccine, covering 36.2% of the prioritized population and 13.3% of the total population.

ny times logoNew York Times, The Pandemic Is Receding in the Worst Hotspots. Will It Last? Allison McCann, Lauren Leatherby and Josh Holder, Feb. 22, 2021. Fewer patients are going to hospitals in many countries with the highest infection rates. But the positive signs come with caveats and risks. A month ago, the pandemic looked bleak. More than 750,000 coronavirus cases were tallied worldwide in a single day. Infections surged across the entire United States. New variants identified in the United Kingdom, Brazil and South Africa threatened the rest of the world.

But the last month has brought a surprisingly fast, if partial, turnaround. New cases have declined to half their peak globally, driven largely by steady improvements in some of the same places that weathered devastating outbreaks this winter.

Cases are an imperfect measure, and uneven records and testing mask the scope of outbreaks, especially in parts of Africa, Latin America and South Asia. But fewer patients are showing up at hospitals in many countries with the highest rates of infection, giving experts confidence that the decline is real.

“It’s a great moment of optimism, but it’s also very fragile in a lot of ways,” said Wafaa El-Sadr, an epidemiologist at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. “We see the light at the end of the tunnel, but it’s still a long tunnel.”

washington post logoWashington Post, U.S. NEARS GRIM COVID MILESTONE OF 500,000 DEATHS, Marc Fisher, Ariana Eunjung Cha, Annie Gowen, Arelis R. Hernández and Lori Rozsa, Feb. 22, 2021 (print ed.).  Relatively few children die of covid-19, but each death represents a trauma deepened. The children who have died of covid-19 are, even more than among adults, disproportionately children of color — about three-quarters of those who’ve succumbed to covid so far, according to CDC data.

As the nation reaches the milestone of a half-million deaths about a year after the first American succumbed to the coronavirus, the number of children killed by the disease remains relatively small. The necropolis of covid has grown into a city of sorrow the size of Atlanta or Sacramento — a death toll larger than the combined American losses in combat from the Civil War, World War I and World War II, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

In this new national graveyard of virus victims, the section set aside for the young held 271 children as of early February, according to data from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Each death represents a shattered family and a trauma deepened, parents say, by the rampant belief that kids can’t get covid, or that it doesn’t much harm them when they do.

 

U.S. Capitol Riots, Courts, Crime

Jessica Marie Watkins, third from left, and Donovan Ray Crowl, center, were indicted Friday, Feb. 19 on charges relating to the Capitol riot on Jan. 6 (Reuters Photo by Jim Bourg).

Alleged "Oath Keepers" members Jessica Marie Watkins, third from left, and Donovan Ray Crowl, center, were indicted Friday, Feb. 19 on charges relating to the Capitol riot on Jan. 6 (Reuters Photo by Jim Bourg)

 Proof via Substack, Investigative Commentary: Leading Republican Candidate for Governor of Virginia Met with Insurrectionists and Discussed Armed Rebellion the Day Before the January 6 seth abramson headshotInsurrection, Seth Abramson, left, Feb. 22, 2021 (republished from subscription site with permission). Recorded discussion included consideration of Donald Trump raising a personal army of more than a million combat veterans to help him retain control of the White House.

In the Republican gubernatorial primary in Virginia, State Senator Amanda Chase, below right, has a healthy lead of 7% over her nearest competitor. The bad news for Chase is that just 48 hours ago she lost a lawsuit seeking to compel the Republican Party of Virginia to hold a conventional primary rather than—as the party is now considering, and has until Tuesday to decide upon—a state “convention” at which the party’s 2021 gubernatorial candidate would be selected by a committee of just 72 party members.

Chase, who has been called “controversial” by local media, even “the Donald Trump of Virginia politics” by one source, certainly has reason to fear that her party’s leaders, as opposed to amanda chase resizedVirginia’s Trumpist voter base, might not select her to be their standard bearer for the November 2, 2021 gubernatorial election.

And it now appears that there’s very good reason for Virginia’s Republican leaders not to do so.

A no-longer-publicly-available social media thread allegedly depicting a January 5, 2021 Facebook Live event involving Chase and several infamous insurrectionists is now getting renewed attention. In the video (originally posted on a Facebook page that Facebook on January 8 suspended for 60 days) Chase speaks with Stewart Rhodes, founder of the Oath Keepers, and Joshua Macias, head of Vets for Trump. CNN notes that the FBI is investigating many of Rhodes’ associates in the Oath Keepers, and has arrested some of them in a plot detailed by the Wall Street Journal as involving gassing all of Congress to death in the tunnels beneath the United States Capitol. As for Macias, he was arrested on gun charges during the counting of seth abramson proof logovotes in Philadelphia and was later charged with felony election interference in November of 2020.

At one point in the video, with Senator Chase sitting between them, Macias and Rhodes have the following incredible exchange (made all the more harrowing because it comes just hours before Insurrection Day):

MACIAS: “…[t]he most well-trained—crucible-trained—combat veterans this world has ever seen….there are veterans out there that are well-trained, that can immediate [sic] president be brought in as a special group and be utilized—in any way, shape or form—at his [the president’s] disposal. And we have a million just in Vets for Trump right now, standing at the ready, let alone those within one degree of separation, and the six million that didn’t even vote before [in 2016], that now voted in the 2016 [sic] election. So here we sit [on January 5] at a precipice of change, where we have the community that’s ready to step in, do what is needed, we have those that are—the president has all the power and the authority to do so—and he has all the backing of “we the people” and the 80 million that voted for him.

djt handwave fileRHODES: In fact, us veterans, until age 65, under federal statute, still are subject to being called up as a militia. It goes from 17 to 45 if you’re not a veteran; if you’re a veteran, because of our prior experience and training, it goes to age 65. He could call us up right now as a militia—

MACIAS: Right now!

RHODES: —and put us to work.

MACIAS: And he has the ability—with special groups—that he can pull them in in other ways as well, and we can intake all of them, and place them wherever he needs it. So he has, standing at the ready, well-trained—crucible-trained—veteran volunteers that are at the ready right now.

At another point in his comments, Macias spreads anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about George Soros controlling the U.S. criminal justice system and opines that “the Communists have taken over so many places in our country.” At several points in the Vets for Trump leader’s diatribe, Senator Chase visibly nods.

Less than two weeks later, Macias would, alongside Latinos for Trump—whose leader Bianca Gracia not only also appears in the January 5 video alongside Chase, Rhodes, and Macias, but had also appeared at the Stop the Steal/Rally to Save America that day—seek a Temporary Restraining Order in federal court in Texas to try to keep Joe Biden from being inaugurated. {Note: Other speakers at the January 5 rally included Roger Stone and Alex Jones, both of whom say—see the prior articles in Proof on this subject—that they were in touch with Trump or the White House in the days leading up to the insurrection.} 

djt maga hatSenator Chase attended the January 6 Stop the Steal/March to Save America event that incited the armed insurrection that day, and indeed recorded a video from the event in which she confirmed that “everyone” at the event was a Trump supporter and that there were “no counter-protestors”—a statement that, as of February 21, 2021, 58% of Trump voters disagree with (they claim, instead, per a USA Today poll, that it was “mostly an antifa-inspired attack that only involved a few Trump supporters”). In fact, New York Times cell phone tracking data confirms that the same group that attended the Trump rally at the White House Ellipse, which Chase denominated in her video as composed wholly of Trump supporters, thereafter stormed the Capitol.

Chase’s personal Facebook page, which has not yet been suspended by Facebook, includes the January 6 video but not the January 5 video of her discussion with several insurrectionists. In the January 6 video, which Chase closes with the words “stay tuned”, she can be seen wearing a lanyard around her neck that is attached to some sort of identification badge or access pass whose contents can’t readily be determined.

The New York Times calls Amanda Chase a Trump loyalist; Chase has called herself “Trump in heels.” Now that Chase’s hob-knobbing with insurrectionists to discuss—among other matters, like anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and false claims of a Communist takeover in the United States—armed insurrection is publicly known, it becomes a key question in American politics whether Trump will publicly endorse her. Per the Times, Chase called the January 6 insurrectionists “patriots” and “was still arguing with less than a week left in Mr. Trump’s presidency that he could yet be inaugurated for a second term.” At stake, therefore, in Virginia right now is whether Trump plans to make an active play to get insurrectionists into positions of power in America.

rachel powell fbi farrow

Seth Abramson, shown above and at right, is founder of Proof and is a former criminal defense attorney and criminal investigator who teaches digital journalism, seth abramson resized4 proof of collusionlegal advocacy, and cultural theory at the University of New Hampshire. A regular political and legal analyst on CNN and the BBC during the Trump presidency, he is a best-selling author who has published eight books and edited five anthologies.

Abramson is a graduate of Dartmouth College, Harvard Law School, the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and the Ph.D. program in English at University of Wisconsin-Madison. His books include a Trump trilogy: Proof of Corruption: Bribery, Impeachment, and Pandemic in the Age of Trump (2020); Proof of Conspiracy: How Trump's International Collusion Is Threatening American Democracy (2019); and Proof of Collusion: How Trump Betrayed America (2018).

 

washington post logoWashington Post, Garland’s confirmation hearing brings first big political test for AG pick, Matt Zapotosky and Devlin Barrett, Feb. 22, 2021. President Biden’s nominee appears before the Senate Judiciary Committee, hoping to navigate his way to confirmation through bitter partisanship that has consumed the Justice Department in recent years.

merrick garlandAttorney general nominee Merrick Garland, right, is testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee Monday morning, as the federal appellate judge hopes to navigate his way to confirmation amid the bitter partisanship that has consumed the Justice Department in recent years.

Republicans are expected to try to extract promises of specific investigations and prosecutions in politically sensitive cases. Already, GOP members on the panel have called for Garland to pledge to investigate the administration of New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, for his handling of nursing home deaths related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Justice Department log circularRepublicans also are likely to press Garland about the ongoing investigation of President Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, for possible tax or financial crimes. And if confirmed, Garland will inherit special counsel John Durham’s probe into how the FBI and other intelligence agencies investigated former president Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign — a case in which Republicans have repeatedly called for criminal charges to be filed against former officials.

In his opening statement, Sen. Charles E. Grassley (Iowa), the committee’s highest-ranking Republican, called Garland a “good pick to lead the Department of Justice” But he signaled he intended to ask Garland for a public commitment to protect Durham’s probe — which, in a written copy of his remarks, he said Garland had declined to us senate logoprovide in a private conversation. Grassley noted that when then-attorney general nominee William P. Barr appeared before the committee, he had said of Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, “It’s vitally important that the special counsel be allowed to complete his investigation.”

“We should expect the same level of commitment from you to protect Durham, as we expected from Barr to protect Mueller,” Grassley said.

Cabinet nominees often seek to deflect demands for specific actions or policy goals, and Garland’s current job as a federal judge may lead him to be even more circumspect in his answers.

 mike lindell screengrab

washington post logoWashington Post, Dominion files defamation lawsuit against MyPillow CEO over false claims voting machines were rigged against Trump, Emma Brown, Feb. 22, 2021. Dominion Voting Systems is seeking $1.3 billion in damages from Mike Lindell, shown above in a file photo, and his company after he repeatedly echoed former president Donald Trump’s baseless accusations of widespread voter fraud involving Dominion.

Dominion Voting Systems on Monday filed a defamation lawsuit against Mike Lindell, chief executive of MyPillow, arguing that Lindell has refused to stop repeating false claims that the company’s voting machines were manipulated to rig the 2020 election against President Donald Trump.

dominion voting systemsDominion is seeking more than $1.3 billion from Lindell, a staunch Trump supporter. The company says Lindell contributed to a “viral disinformation campaign” about Dominion on social media, in broadcast interviews, at public pro-Trump rallies and in a two-hour documentary about election fraud — entitled “Absolute Proof” — that he created and paid to air on One America News.

The 115-page complaint, filed in federal court in the District, alleges that Lindell, a “talented salesman,” used falsehoods about Dominion to promote MyPillow to fellow Trump supporters. It names both Lindell and his company as defendants and outlines several instances in which Lindell used appearances on conservative media to hawk his products.

On Jan. 16, for example, Lindell claimed without evidence that Dominion machines were “built to cheat” in an interview on Right Side Broadcasting Network. According to the complaint, the host then urged “everyone watching right now to go to MyPillow.com” and offered a code for 66 percent off. “We have 110 products now,” Lindell said, repeating the promotional code for a discount.

In another Lindell media appearance on Feb. 4, the host of the Victory Channel show “FlashPoint” urged viewers to support Lindell by buying from MyPillow. “We’ve got to support patriots, folks,” said the host, Gene Bailey. “I don’t care if you don’t need a pillow. Go order one and give it to somebody else. But we’ve got to support each other because this is the life and death of America.”

Dominion sent multiple letters to Lindell, warning that he was putting himself in legal jeopardy by spreading lies about the company.

“Despite having been specifically directed to the evidence and sources disproving the Big Lie, Lindell knowingly lied about Dominion to sell more pillows to people who continued tuning in to hear what they wanted to hear about the election,” the complaint says.

Reached by phone Monday morning, Lindell said he was “very happy to hear” that Dominion has sued him.

“Now I can get to the evidence faster. It’s going to be amazing,” he said. He added that he plans to continue releasing “more movies, more documentaries” about alleged election fraud.

He scoffed at the notion that he had tried to use his election-fraud claims to market pillows, saying that his efforts have in fact harmed his business. “I’ve lost 22 retailers. It has hit me financially like crazy,” he said.

washington post logoWashington Post, Impeachment is over. But other efforts to reckon with Trump’s post-election chaos have just begun, Rosalind S. Helderman, Feb. 22, 2021 (print ed.). Lawsuits and investigations aimed at holding former president Donald Trump and his allies accountable for their attempts to subvert the election results could go on for years.

The state of Michigan and the city of Detroit have asked a federal judge to sanction attorneys who filed lawsuits that falsely alleged the November vote was fraudulent, the first of several similar efforts expected around the country.

An Atlanta-area prosecutor has launched a criminal investigation into whether pressure that then-President Donald Trump and his allies put on state officials amounted to an illegal scheme to overturn the results of the presidential election.

And defamation lawsuits have been filed against Trump’s allies — the start of what could be a flood of civil litigation related to false claims that the election was rigged and to the subsequent riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

Although Trump was acquitted by the U.S. Senate on a charge that his rhetoric incited the deadly Capitol siege, public officials and private companies are pursuing a multi-front legal effort to hold him and his allies accountable in other ways. The actions target both the former president and numerous others — including elected officials, media pundits and lawyers — who indulged and echoed his falsehoods that Joe Biden did not win the election.

The goal, according to lawyers and others supportive of such efforts, is to mete out some form of punishment for those who helped undermine confidence in the election results and fueled the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. But even more, they said they hope to discourage other public officials from rerunning Trump’s strategy of attempting to overturn an election result by sowing doubt about the legitimacy of the vote.

“There has to be some consequence for telling these lies — because when you lie to people, they take action based on what they think is true,” said Philadelphia City Commissioner Al Schmidt, a Republican who received threats after false allegations of fraud in the counting of the city’s votes. “Because it’s such a dangerous new thing that occurred, there has to be some reconciliation. Moving on isn’t enough.”

 

U.S. Politics, Governance

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: Et Tu, Ted? Why Deregulation Failed, Paul Krugman, right, Feb. 22, 2021. If Cancún Ted is paying royalties to himself through a shadow entity, that could stir the FEC into paul krugmanaction.Even Senator Cruz realizes kilowatt-hours aren’t like avocados.

Texas energy policy was based on the idea that you can treat electricity like avocados. Do people remember the great avocado shortage of 2019? Surging demand and a bad crop in California led to spiking prices; but nobody called for a special inquest and new regulations on avocado producers.

Possibly the most revealing remark of the Texas crisis so far was a tweet by, of all people, Senator Ted Cruz (R-Cancún), who fumed that “no power company should get a windfall because of a natural disaster” and called on “state and local regulators” to “prevent this injustice.”

The senator, not known for self-awareness, may not realize what he did there. But if even Ted Cruz — Ted Cruz! — believes that regulators should prevent power companies from reaping windfall profits in a disaster, that eliminates any private-sector financial incentive to prepare for such a disaster. And that, in turn, destroys the entire premise behind radical deregulation.

In fact, some people see nothing wrong with what happened in Texas in the past week. William Hogan, the Harvard professor widely considered the architect of the Texas system, asserted that drastic price increases, while “not convenient,” were how the system was supposed to work.

But kilowatt-hours aren’t avocados, and there are at least three big reasons pretending that they are is a recipe for disaster.

First, electricity is essential to modern life in a way few other commodities can match. Having to go without avocado toast won’t kill you; having to go without electricity, especially when your house relies on it for heat, can.

ted cruz beard

Salon, Now Ted Cruz may be buying his own books through a mystery company, Roger Sollenberger, Feb. 22, 2021. If Cancún Ted, shown above, is paying royalties to himself through a shadow entity, that could stir the FEC into action.

One day before the Georgia Senate runoff elections — and two days before the Capitol insurrection — a leadership PAC attached to Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to a mystery company that had previously bought copies of Cruz's book, according to recent filings with the Federal Election Commission. The expenses raise questions about whether the controversial conservative senator (and Cancún frequent-flyer) used those political campaigns, and Donald Trump's attempt to subvert the democratic process, to raise money for himself. That could push the FEC to issue a ruling on a pending issue that could have consequences for former President Donald Trump's fundraising.

Over the course of 2020, the Cruz-affiliated Jobs, Freedom, and Security PAC paid $1.2 million — nearly 80% of its operating budget — to a company called Reagan Investments LLC for "sponsorship advertising." The only other committee to register any disbursements to that company was Trump Make America Great Again, for a fundraising promotion for Cruz's books in December, according to The New York Times. However, the Trump group clearly marked the payment for "collateral: books"; campaign finance experts told Salon that the PAC's payment classifications — all of them for "sponsorship advertising" — were unusual and opaque.

On Jan. 4, 2021, the day Cruz traveled to Georgia before the runoff elections, his leadership PAC reported a $240,000 expense for "sponsorship advertising" to Reagan Investments, which appears to correlate with another series of small-dollar donations that poured into the PAC over the next few days. It isn't clear how much of the funds raised, if any, went to Republican runoff campaigns: Cruz's PAC only spent a few thousand dollars in support of former Sen. Kelly Loeffler. In fact, most of the contributions rolled in after the runoffs were over and as the events surrounding the Jan. 6 insurrection were playing out, while Cruz joined a handful of Republican Senators to object to the counting of Electoral College votes.

Legal experts tell Salon that if the money was for promotional book sales, as the filings may suggest, then the leadership PAC could be using Reagan Investments as a pass-through to allow Cruz to keep the royalties, which are generally between 10% and 15% for hardcover books, and about half that for paperbacks. Political candidates are not allowed to do that through their campaign committees. But the identity of Reagan Investments itself poses a mystery.

 

Biden Transition

washington post logoWashington Post, Chart: Who Joe Biden is picking to fill his White House and Cabinet, Staff reports, Feb. 22, 2020. One of President-elect Joe Biden’s very first tasks will be filling the top positions in his White House and Cabinet. In contrast to President Trump’s notably White and male Cabinet, Biden has joe biden kamala harris campaign shotpromised to be “a president for all Americans” and build a Cabinet that reflects its diversity.

In making his selections Biden is looking to appease factions of the Democratic Party from moderates to progressives and longtime allies to newer faces. Cabinet positions — with the exception of the vice president and White House chief of staff — will also require approval from a Republican Senate, unless Democrats can win two Senate race runoffs in early January.

Once confirmed, they will be instrumental in carrying out his goals and setting the tenor his presidency. We’re tracking the people who Biden has already named and the top contenders for unfilled roles.

White House, Biden-Harris Cabinet, The Cabinet’s role is to advise the President on any subject he or she may require relating to the duties of each member’s joe biden orespective office. President Joe Biden’s Cabinet includes Vice President Kamala Harris and the heads of the 15 executive departments — the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Labor, State, Transportation, Treasury, and Veterans Affairs, and the Attorney General.

Additionally, the Cabinet includes the White House Chief of Staff, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, the Director of National Intelligence, and the US Trade Representative, as well as the heads of the Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Management and Budget, Council of Economic Advisers, Office of Science and Technology Policy, and Small Business Administration.

 

World News

washington post logoSaudi Arabian flagWashington Post, Pensacola Navy base mass shooter had accomplices, help from Saudi Arabia, victims claim in lawsuit, Spencer S. Hsu, Feb. 22, 2021. Families of 16 people killed or wounded in the 2019 mass shooting said the Trump administration and Saudi government reneged on a vow to compensate victims of longtime al-Qaeda operative and Saudi Air Force officer Ahmed Mohammed al-Shamrani.

washington post logoIsrael FlagWashington Post, Israel places gag order on probe into oil spill that closed beaches and devastated wildlife, Shira Rubin, Feb. 22, 2021.A suspected offshore oil tanker leak has shuttered Israel’s more than 100-mile coastline and caused an ecological disaster that could require years of cleanup

  • Washington Post, Italy’s ambassador to Congo and two others killed in ambush near Virunga National Park, Max Bearak, Luca Attanasio was traveling with a U.N. peacekeeping mission when unknown assailants attempted to kidnap them.
  • Washington Post, E.U. imposes sanctions on Russian officials after Navalny imprisonment, Michael Birnbaum
  • Washington Post, Myanmar grinds to a halt as hundreds of thousands strike against military coup, Shibani Mahtani

 

Feb. 21

Top Headlines


More On Disaster Victims, Responses

 

U.S. Capitol Riots, Courts, Crime

 

Biden Transition

 

World News

 

Top Stories

washington post logoWashington Post, U.S. economy may have its best chance in years to break from era of subpar growth, David J. Lynch, Feb. 21, 2021 (print ed.). Skeptics warn too much spending could ignite long-dormant inflation.

joe biden twitterAs increasingly widespread covid-19 vaccinations signal a possible return to normal life, the United States is moving toward an unusual experiment that could produce an economy many Americans will not recognize — for better or for worse.

Factories are humming and consumers are spending again, signs that the United States could emerge from the current health crisis with its strongest growth in decades. Goldman Sachs expects the economy to expand this year at an annual rate of 7 percent, the fastest pace since President Ronald Reagan proclaimed “morning again in America” in 1984.

The question is whether that fast-paced rebound can be made to last, freeing the nation from the low-growth rut it has plowed for most of the past 20 years, or will instead ignite the sort of inflation that has not been seen since the 1970s. Prominent economists such as former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers already are warning that potential overheating could end in a new recession.

The Alfred Murtha Federal Building in Oklahoma City following a bombing by right-wing radicals on April 19, 1995, killing 168 people, including 19 infants and toddlers (Photo via ABC News).

The Alfred Murtha Federal Building in Oklahoma City following a bombing by right-wing radicals on April 19, 1995, killing 168 people, including 19 infants and toddlers (Photo via ABC News).

washington post logoWashington Post, How the Oklahoma City bombing case prepared Merrick Garland to take on domestic terrorism, Matt Zapotosky and Ann E. Marimow, Feb. 21, 2021 (print ed.). Advisers say overseeing the investigation of one of the deadliest domestic terrorist attacks in U.S. history shaped President Biden’s attorney general nominee.

The truck bomb leveled a section of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City, killing 168 and injuring hundreds more in one of the deadliest domestic terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. But as Merrick Garland huddled with the lead prosecutor on the case, he urged caution in presenting the massive amount of evidence from the wreckage.

“Do not bury the crime in the clutter,” he said.

merrick garlandGarland, left, then a top Justice Department official, was encouraging prosecutors to speed the trial along and jettison superfluous findings in their case against Timothy McVeigh, below right, who was convicted of carrying out the 1995 attack and executed in 2001, said Joe Hartzler, the team’s lead attorney. Hartzler said he found the advice so compelling that he wrote the words on a sheet of paper and hung it on an office wall as a rallying cry for his team.

More than two decades later, Garland, 68, is preparing to lead the Justice Department as attorney general and facing a domestic terrorism threat that has tim mcveigh.mugmetastasized, with white supremacists and conspiracy-minded anti-government types emboldened by their acknowledgment from former president Donald Trump.

Capitol attack will spur broad crackdown on domestic extremists

Those who worked with Garland on the Oklahoma City case — and the prosecution of another notorious domestic terrorist known as the Unabomber — say the experiences shaped him, and make him well-positioned to confront the current threat.

Justice Department log circular“This almost feels like a precursor. How much more experience could you possibly have in domestic terrorism?” said Donna Bucella, a former Justice Department official who, like Garland, was sent to Oklahoma City in the attack’s aftermath to help manage law enforcement’s response. “He’ll be very methodical. I think he’ll demand it’s being done the right way.”

Garland, who has spent the past two decades as a federal appellate judge in D.C., is scheduled to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Feb. 22 for a confirmation hearing, where he will face tough questions about how he would handle the threat of domestic terrorism and other politically sensitive matters.

As a judge, Garland, who declined to be interviewed for this report, was known as a moderate with a knack for building consensus. Although Senate Republicans famously refused to even consider his nomination for a Supreme Court seat in 2016, he is widely expected to be confirmed as attorney general with bipartisan support.

ny times logoNew York Times, His Lights Stayed on During Texas’ Storm. Now He Owes $16,752, Giulia McDonnell Nieto del Rio, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs and Ivan Penn, Feb. 21, 2021 (print ed.). After a public outcry from people like Scott Willoughby, whose exorbitant electric bill is soon due, Gov. Greg Abbott said lawmakers should ensure Texans “do not get stuck with skyrocketing energy bills” caused by the storm.

As millions of Texans shivered in dark, cold homes over the past week while a winter storm devastated the state’s power grid and froze natural gas production, those who could still summon lights with the flick of a switch felt lucky.

Now, many of them are paying a severe price for it.

“My savings is gone,” said Scott Willoughby, a 63-year-old Army veteran who lives on Social Security payments in a Dallas suburb. He said he had nearly emptied his savings account so that he would be able to pay the $16,752 electric bill charged to his credit card — 70 times what he usually pays for all of his utilities combined. “There’s nothing I can do about it, but it’s broken me.”

Mr. Willoughby is among scores of Texans who have reported skyrocketing electric bills as the price of keeping lights on and refrigerators humming shot upward. For customers whose electricity prices are not fixed and are instead tied to the fluctuating wholesale price, the spikes have been astronomical.

The outcry elicited angry calls for action from lawmakers from both parties and prompted Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, to hold an emergency meeting with legislators on Saturday to discuss the enormous bills.

“We have a responsibility to protect Texans from spikes in their energy bills that are a result of the severe winter weather and power outages,” Mr. Abbott, who has been reeling after the state’s infrastructure failure, said in a statement after the meeting. He added that Democrats and Republicans would work together to make sure people “do not get stuck with skyrocketing energy bills.”

The electric bills are coming due at the end of a week in which Texans have faced a combination of crises caused by the frigid weather, beginning on Monday, when power grid failures and surging demand led to millions being left without electricity.

 

More On Disaster Victims, Responses

Worldometer, World & U.S. Coronavirus Case Totals (updated: Feb. 21, 2021), with some governments reporting slightly lower numbers than the totals here):

World Cases: 111,729,153, Deaths: 2,473,747
U.S. Cases:    28,706,473, Deaths:    509,875

washington post logoWashington Post, Biden’s low-key approach to Texas storm wins praise but courts risks, Cleve R. Wootson Jr. and Eva Ruth Moravec, Feb. 21, 2021 (print joe biden gage skidmore microphoneed.). The president's approach marks a sharp contrast to his predecessor's habit of making himself the often-hostile center of attention during natural disasters.

As the Biden administration faces its first natural disaster, the president himself is taking a notably low-key approach. He has not visited the stricken region or delivered prime-time remarks; he did not mention the disaster at a recent town hall; and he is studiously avoiding the controversy over whether wind fema logo Custom 2energy or fossil fuels are to blame for widespread power failures.

It's a marked contrast to former president Donald Trump's habit of making himself the often-hostile center of attention during natural disasters. He famously tossed paper towels to hurricane victims, excoriated Californians for "gross mismanagement" of forests and called Puerto Rican leaders "corrupt and incompetent" for their handling of aid money.

washington post logoWashington Post, 42.8 million vaccinated, Staff Reports, Feb. 21, 2021. The number of people who have received at least one dose of the vaccine, covering 35.1% of the prioritized population and 12.9% of the total population. 

washington post logoWashington Post, In pandemic, clergy risk illness, even death to minister to the sick and their loved ones, Bruce Alpert, Feb. 21, 2021. Ministering to the ill or dying is a major role of spiritual leaders in all religions. Susan Dunlap, a divinity professor at Duke University, said covid-19 creates an even greater feeling of obligation for clergy because many patients are isolated from family members.

People near death often want to interact with God or make things right, Dunlap said, and a clergy member “can help facilitate that.”

Such spiritual work is key to the work of hospital chaplains, but it can expose them to coronavirus being spread in the air or sometimes through touch. Jayne Barnes, a chaplain at the Billings Clinic in Montana, was diagnosed with covid-19 near Thanksgiving and has since recovered. She tries to avoid physical contact with covid-19 patients, but it can be difficult to resist a brief touch, which is often the best way to convey compassion.

 

U.S. Capitol Riots, Courts, Crime

newsweek logoNewsweek, Peter Stager, Capitol Rioter Accused of Beating Officer With Flag Pole, Faces 40-Year Sentence, Ewan Palmer, Feb 21, 2021. A federal jury has indicted an Arkansas man on a number of charges after he allegedly used a flag pole to beat a police officer during the January 6 attack on the Capitol.

Peter Stager, 41, is accused of using a dangerous or deadly weapon to "forcibly assault, resist, impose, impede, intimidate and interfere with an officer," in Washington, DC, last month, according to an indictment unsealed on Wednesday.

Stager is facing a total of seven charges including entering and remaining in a restricted building or grounds with a deadly or dangerous weapon, and engaging in physical violence in a restricted building or grounds with a deadly or dangerous weapon, in connection to the attack.

Two of the charges against Stager—"obstruction of an official proceeding and aiding and abetting" and "assaulting, resisting, or impeding certain officers using a dangerous weapon"—carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in jail.
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Stager was initially arrested on January 14 in Conway, Arkansas, on one count of obstructing a police officer from his duties during a civil disorder.

According to an FBI criminal complaint, Stager was part of the crowd of hundreds that gathered outside the Capitol building on January 6.

"Some of these individuals were throwing and swinging various objects at the group of law enforcement officers," the affidavit states.

The complaint said that the Metropolitan Police Officer who was beaten by the mob, identified only as B.M, was attempting to stop the crowd from entering the building before they "dragged him down the stairs" of the Capitol.
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"These individuals forced B.M. into a prone position on the stairs and proceeded to forcibly and repeatedly strike B.M. in the head and body with various objects," the complaint said.

washington post logoWashington Post, ‘Front of the pack’: Off-duty Pa. officer charged at police during the Capitol riots, FBI says, Hannah Knowles, Feb. 21, 2021 (print ed.). By taking part in the riots at the U.S. Capitol, Pennsylvania officer Joseph W. Fischer did not just break the laws he was tasked with enforcing, the FBI says — he was allegedly at “the front of the pack pushing against the police.”

joseph fischer resized dauphin county prison“Charge!” yells the person taking a video that Fischer posted Jan. 7, according to the FBI, the day after Trump supporters stormed the building in Washington and halted the democratic process. The recorder “had a physical encounter with at least one police officer,” the agency said.

Now Fischer, a patrolman with the North Cornwall Township Police, is charged with obstructing law enforcement during “civil disorder,” accused of aiding the insurrection that left one police officer dead and many others wounded. More than a dozen off-duty members of law enforcement are suspected of participating in the Jan. 6 riots, raising uncomfortable questions for chiefs and departments around the country. But the allegations against Fischer stand out for how directly they pit him against members of his own profession.

The Washington Post could not reach Fischer on Saturday, and it was not immediately clear whether he has a lawyer.

North Cornwall Township and its police department did not respond to inquiries, but the small community east of Harrisburg said in a statement to local news station WGAL that a member of its police force was “immediately suspended without pay” pending the outcome of charges stemming from the riots.

“While every citizen accused of a crime must be presumed innocent until proven guilty, the Township, its elected officials, its police officers, and its employees wish to make clear that the United States of America is a government of laws which we are sworn to uphold,” the township said in its statement.

The township said that none of its officials had “any knowledge” of the employee’s actions before his arrest Friday, according to WGAL. But the FBI said that, in Facebook messages sent the day after the riot, Fischer recalled defending his actions to his chief.

washington post logoWashington Post, U.S. deports former Nazi guard whose wartime role was noted on card found amid sunken ship, Devlin Barrett, Feb. 21, 2021 (print ed.). The 95-year-old German-born man, who was living in Tennessee, once worked at a concentration camp, U.S. authorities found.

A 95-year-old former German concentration camp guard who made a new life in Tennessee was deported to his home country Saturday after an index card found in a sunken ship helped prove his Nazi ties.

Friedrich Karl Berger was deported to Germany after U.S. authorities determined he once served at a subcamp of the Neuengamme concentration camp system near Hamburg.

The camp held Russian, Dutch and Polish civilians, as well as Jewish prisoners and political opponents from France, Italy and other countries. In the winter of 1945, according to Berger’s removal order, prisoners were forced to live in “atrocious” conditions and work “to the point of exhaustion and death.”

It was not immediately clear whether German authorities would take steps against Berger. Germany dropped its case against him last year because of a lack of evidence, but he will be questioned by German police, and new charges could be possible, according to German media.

In 1945, as British and Canadian forces approached the subcamp, Berger helped guard prisoners forced to evacuate to the main camp, Justice Department officials have said. During the brutal two-week trek, 70 prisoners died.

Hundreds more were killed when they were placed on two ships at anchor in the Bay of Lubeck in the Baltic Sea. The ships were mistakenly bombed by British warplanes in May 1945 during the last week of the war in Europe.

Justice Department historians were able to document Berger’s service at the camp in part with information from an index card found in one of the sunken ships several years after the bombing. The card summarized Berger’s work in the camp system.

Justice Department investigators concluded that Berger worked in the German navy before being detailed to the concentration camp in the final months of the war.

During an immigration court trial last year, Berger acknowledged he guarded prisoners, did not request a transfer from the camp and was still receiving a pension from Germany for work based in part on his wartime service, U.S. officials said.

After the trial, Berger said much of what was determined in court was based on “lies.”

“I was 19 years old,” he said. “I was ordered to go there.”

Justice Department officials said Berger came to the United States legally. The federal law that barred the entry of people who assisted in Nazi persecution had expired in 1957. When he applied to immigrate to the United States, Berger disclosed that he had been a member of the German navy.

Berger was ordered removed under a 1978 law, known as the Holtzman Amendment, that bars anyone who participated in Nazi-sponsored persecution from entering or living in the United States.

 

Biden Transition

washington post logoWashington Post, Chart: Who Joe Biden is picking to fill his White House and Cabinet, Staff reports, Feb. 21, 2020. One of President-elect Joe Biden’s very first tasks will be filling the top positions in his White House and Cabinet. In contrast to President Trump’s notably White and male Cabinet, Biden has joe biden kamala harris campaign shotpromised to be “a president for all Americans” and build a Cabinet that reflects its diversity.

In making his selections Biden is looking to appease factions of the Democratic Party from moderates to progressives and longtime allies to newer faces. Cabinet positions — with the exception of the vice president and White House chief of staff — will also require approval from a Republican Senate, unless Democrats can win two Senate race runoffs in early January.

Once confirmed, they will be instrumental in carrying out his goals and setting the tenor his presidency. We’re tracking the people who Biden has already named and the top contenders for unfilled roles.

 

World News

ny times logoNew York Times, Erik Prince, Trump Ally, Violated Libya Arms Embargo, U.N. Report Says, Declan Walsh, Feb. 20, 2021 (print ed.). Erik Prince, the former head of the security contractor Blackwater Worldwide and a prominent supporter of former President Donald J. Trump, violated a United Nations arms embargo on Libya by sending weapons to a militia commander who was attempting to overthrow the internationally backed government, according to U.N. investigators.

A confidential U.N. report obtained by The New York Times and delivered by investigators to the Security Council on Thursday reveals how Mr. Prince deployed a force of foreign mercenaries, armed with attack aircraft, gunboats and cyberwarfare capabilities, to eastern Libya at the height of a major battle in 2019.

erik princeAs part of the operation, which the report said cost $80 million, the mercenaries also planned to form a hit squad that could track down and kill selected Libyan commanders.

Mr. Prince, left, a former Navy SEAL and the brother of Betsy DeVos, Mr. Trump’s education secretary, became a symbol of the excesses of privatized American military force when his Blackwater contractors killed 17 Iraqi civilians in 2007.

In the past decade he has relaunched himself as an executive who strikes deals — sometimes for minerals, other times involving military force — in war-addled but resource-rich countries, mostly in Africa.

During the Trump administration, Mr. Prince was a generous donor and a staunch ally of the president, often in league with figures like Steve Bannon and Roger Stone as they sought to undermine Mr. Trump’s critics. And Mr. Prince came under scrutiny from the Trump-Russia inquiry over his meeting with a Russian banker in 2017.

Mr. Prince offered to supply weapons, drones and mercenaries to a Libyan militia commander seeking to overthrow the government, according to the report.

 

Feb. 20

Top Headlines

 

U.S. Law, Courts, Crime

 

Disaster Victims, Responses

 

U.S. Capitol Riots, Courts, Crime

 

Biden Transition

 

World News

 

Top Stories

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 ny times logoNew York Times, Republicans Struggle to Derail Increasingly Popular Stimulus Package, Emily Cochrane and Jim Tankersley, Feb. 20, 2021 (print ed.). Polls show that President Biden’s $1.9 trillion pandemic relief plan polls strongly nationwide, including with many Republican voters.

joe biden 2020 button CustomDemocrats who control the House are preparing to approve the package by the end of next week, with the Senate aiming to soon follow with its own party-line vote before unemployment benefits are set to lapse in mid-March. On Friday, the House Budget Committee unveiled the nearly 600-page text for the proposal, which includes billions of dollars for unemployment benefits, small businesses and stimulus checks.

republican elephant logoRepublican leaders, searching for a way to derail the proposal, on Friday led a final attempt to tarnish the package, labeling it a “payoff to progressives.” The bill, they said, spends too much and includes a liberal wish list of programs like aid to state and local governments — which they call a “blue state bailout,” though many states facing shortfalls are controlled by Republicans — and increased benefits for the unemployed, which they argued would discourage people from looking for work.

Those attacks have followed weeks of varying Republican objections to the package, including warnings that it would do little to help the economy recover and grow, that it would add to the federal budget deficit and possibly unleash faster inflation, and that Democrats were violating Mr. Biden’s calls for “unity” by proceeding without bipartisan consensus.

The arguments have so far failed to connect, in part because many of its core provisions poll strongly — even with Republicans.

washington post logoWashington Post, State GOP lawmakers propose voting restrictions to placate Trump supporters, Amy Gardner, Feb. 20, 2021 (print ed.). Some Republicans are trying to head off the measures to prevent being labeled the party of voter suppression.

GOP state lawmakers across the country have proposed a flurry of voting restrictions that they say are needed to restore confidence in U.S. elections, an effort intended to placate supporters of former president Donald Trump who believe his false claims that the 2020 outcome was rigged.

Democratic-Republican Campaign logosBut the effort is dividing Republicans, some of whom are warning that it will tar the GOP as the party of voter suppression and give Democrats ammunition to mobilize their supporters ahead of the 2022 midterms.

georgia mapThe proposals include measures that would curtail eligibility to vote by mail and prohibit the use of ballot drop boxes. One bill in Georgia would block early voting on Sundays, which critics quickly labeled a flagrant attempt to thwart Souls to the Polls, the Democratic turnout effort that targets Black churchgoers on the final Sunday before an election.

States where such legislation is under consideration also include Arizona, Florida, Texas, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.

Proponents say the actions are necessary because large numbers of voters believe Trump’s false assertions that President Biden won the 2020 election through widespread fraud.

“The goal of our process here should be an attempt to restore the confidence of our public in our elections system,” said Barry Fleming, a state lawmaker from Evans, Ga., and the chairman of the newly formed House Special Committee on Election Integrity.

Sister Dianna Ortiz shows portraits of her Guatemalan attackers in a 1996 press conference (Associated Press photo by Ron Edmonds).

Sister Dianna Ortiz shows portraits of her Guatemalan attackers in a 1996 press conference (Associated Press photo by Ron Edmonds).

washington post logoWashington Post, Dianna Ortiz (1958–2021): Nun who alleged U.S. connection to brutal abduction by Guatemalan military dies at 62, Ryan Di Corpo, Feb. 20, 2021 (print ed.). Dianna Ortiz, a slight Catholic nun from New Mexico, arrived in Guatemala in 1987 against a backdrop of devastating violence: a decades-long civil war, pitting Marxist guerrillas against the U.S.-backed military, that would ultimately claim 200,000 lives.

But as a member of the Ursuline teaching order who came to the country’s western highlands to help Mayan grade-school children learn to read and write and understand the Bible, she said she felt relatively insulated from the killings and disappearances.

Over the next two years, she disregarded menacing letters and the male stranger on the street who knew her name and tried to intimidate her into leaving the country.

“I didn’t think that the threats were something that I should have taken seriously, because I was a U.S. citizen, and I assumed that my citizenship would protect me,” she later told NPR. “But what I learned — that was not the case.”

guatemala flagThe Guatemalan military’s subsequent abduction, gang rape and torture of Sister Ortiz — who died Feb. 19 at 62 in Washington of cancer — became a global news story when she claimed an American with ties to the U.S. Embassy had been complicit in her ordeal.

She was forced to defend her credibility, as a U.S. Embassy official at one point described her account as a “hoax” designed to derail an aid package to the government. The State Department eventually acknowledged that there was “no reason not to believe” her.

Settling in Washington, Sister Ortiz became a prominent advocate of survivors of state-sanctioned violence and helped campaign to expose classified U.S. documents showing American links to human-rights abuses in Guatemala. As a plaintiff in a lawsuit against a Guatemalan defense minister, she shared in a $47.5 million judgment in a U.S. court that concluded she had been a victim of his “indiscriminate campaign of terror” against thousands of civilians.

Despite her small frame — at 5-foot-3, she weighed less than 100 pounds — Sister Ortiz exuded what Kerry Kennedy, president of the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights group, called “a combination of absolute, angelic innocence and this indescribable inner strength to stand up again and again every time she was brutalized.”

On Nov. 2, 1989, assailants Sister Ortiz identified as Guatemalan security forces abducted her from a convent retreat-house garden in Antigua and drove her to a detention center in Guatemala City.

Targeted for working with the Indigenous community — which the military had long brutalized for presumed left-wing sympathies — she said she was blindfolded and raped by three captors.

They burned her with cigarettes as they demanded names of Indigenous subversives, she said; a doctor who later examined her counted 111 burn marks. She was lowered into a pit with rats and decomposing bodies and later forced to dismember another captive with a machete. She was told the killing was photographed and videotaped, to be used as blackmail if Sister Ortiz attempted to seek redress, she said.

About a day into her imprisonment, a fourth man, called Alejandro but whose accented Spanish led her to believe that he was American, entered the torture chambers and ordered the others to stop. He said Sister Ortiz’s disappearance was making headlines in the local and American media.

She said Alejandro apologized to her for what he claimed was a case of mistaken identity. During a ride to what he said was a safe haven — and what she assumed would be the place of her execution — the man advised her strongly to forget what had happened. She jumped out at a traffic stop and hid inside a store before calling members of her religious community to rescue her.

Sister Ortiz was credited with other activists in helping to build political pressure that resulted in the release of classified documents about American involvement in Guatemala and the murders, kidnappings and torture committed in some instances by paid CIA informants.

“It was the first time the U.S. government was willing to openly question the way it had used killers in Guatemala to obtain intelligence,” said Kate Doyle, a senior analyst at the anti-secrecy group National Security Archive. (The 36-year conflict officially ended with a United Nations-backed peace accord in 1996, and the head of a subsequent U.N. truth commission report confirmed CIA and other “constituent structures” of the American government lent direct and indirect support to illegal state operations.”)

ny times logoNew York Times, Extreme Cold Killed Texans in Their Bedrooms, Vehicles and Backyards, Giulia McDonnell Nieto del Rio, Richard Fausset and Johnny Diaz, Feb. 20, 2021 (print ed.). Carrol Anderson spent much of his life in Southeast Texas, where the most feared natural disasters spin up from the Gulf of Mexico during the warm months of hurricane season. But last week, Mr. Anderson, a 75-year-old who breathed with the help of oxygen tanks, knew that a different kind of storm was heading his way.

While the final tally could be much higher, Mr. Anderson was among at least 58 people who died in storm-affected areas stretching to Ohio, victims of carbon monoxide poisoning, car crashes, drownings, house fires and hypothermia.

At least 58 people died in storm-affected areas stretching to Ohio, from causes related to carbon monoxide poisoning, car crashes, hypothermia and more.

At its height, about four million Texans were without power this week as temperatures plummeted to the teens and single digits. About 165,000 remained without electricity on Friday, though millions were still without running water or under notices to boil their tap water.

ny times logoNew York Times, His Lights Stayed on During Texas’ Storm. Now He Owes $16,752, Giulia McDonnell Nieto del Rio, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs and Ivan Penn, Feb. 20, 2021. After a public outcry from people like Scott Willoughby, whose exorbitant electric bill is soon due, Gov. Greg Abbott said lawmakers should ensure Texans “do not get stuck with skyrocketing energy bills” caused by the storm.

As millions of Texans shivered in dark, cold homes over the past week while a winter storm devastated the state’s power grid and froze natural gas production, those who could still summon lights with the flick of a switch felt lucky.

Now, many of them are paying a severe price for it.

“My savings is gone,” said Scott Willoughby, a 63-year-old Army veteran who lives on Social Security payments in a Dallas suburb. He said he had nearly emptied his savings account so that he would be able to pay the $16,752 electric bill charged to his credit card — 70 times what he usually pays for all of his utilities combined. “There’s nothing I can do about it, but it’s broken me.”

Mr. Willoughby is among scores of Texans who have reported skyrocketing electric bills as the price of keeping lights on and refrigerators humming shot upward. For customers whose electricity prices are not fixed and are instead tied to the fluctuating wholesale price, the spikes have been astronomical.

The outcry elicited angry calls for action from lawmakers from both parties and prompted Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, to hold an emergency meeting with legislators on Saturday to discuss the enormous bills.

“We have a responsibility to protect Texans from spikes in their energy bills that are a result of the severe winter weather and power outages,” Mr. Abbott, who has been reeling after the state’s infrastructure failure, said in a statement after the meeting. He added that Democrats and Republicans would work together to make sure people “do not get stuck with skyrocketing energy bills.”

The electric bills are coming due at the end of a week in which Texans have faced a combination of crises caused by the frigid weather, beginning on Monday, when power grid failures and surging demand led to millions being left without electricity.

 

U.S. Law, Courts, Crime

Feb. 20

woody allen v farrow hbo poster

CT Post, TV Film Commentary: Susan Campbell: ‘Allen v. Farrow’ will put spotlight back on infamous case, Susan Campbell, right, Feb. 20, 2021. Andy Thibault susan campbellhas spent a lifetime covering courts, cops and corruption, and in the ’90s, as an editor at The Register Citizen, he reported a story involving a shocking accusation that movie director and actor Woody Allen had sexually abused his stepdaughter, Dylan Farrow, then 7.

At the time, the little girl lived in Connecticut with her mother, the actor Mia Farrow (shown above), who had been Allen’s longtime companion.

Like a dog with a bone, Thibault, left, now city editor at the Waterbury Republican-American, continued to pursue the story for his andy thibault new mug Smallnewspaper, and eventually, for Connecticut magazine, and The New York Post, and his blog, Cool Justice.

Allen, who has consistently denied any wrongdoing — including in a recent memoir — was never charged with the crime — in no small part because a Yale New Haven Hospital Child Sexual Abuse Clinic report concluded that Dylan Farrow was not sexually abused, and that she either made up the stories or had been manipulated by her mother to accuse Allen.

The press — mostly — moved on. Allen continued to attract bold-faced names to his projects, and only a few stalwarts — mostly Thibault — remained committed to the story.

That’s about to change with Allen v. Farrow, a four-part documentary that debuts Sunday on HBO. Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering have turned the camera back on, using what “The Hollywood Reporter” calls “explosive” new information to make the case that we shouldn’t have moved on so fast.

The filmmakers have produced other meticulously researched documentaries about sexual abuse in the military and on college campuses, including 2012’s “The Invisible War” and 2015’s “The Hunting Ground,” among others. This docuseries is a natural progression; in an interview with the New York Times, Ziering called the childhood sexual abuse and incest “the third rail,” the topic no one wants to talk about.

Reviews call the docuseries a “horrifying indictment” of Allen (Daily Beast) and “very powerful” (Scott Feinberg, of The Hollywood Reporter, who also wrote on Twitter, “I went in pretty convinced of one thing and came out pretty convinced of another.”

Thibault, the tenacious guardian spirit who kept the light burning, is credited as a research consultant for the docuseries. In fact, in a 2018 Guardian ronan farrowarticle, investigative reporter Ronan Farrow, right, Dylan’s younger brother who won a Pulitzer for his coverage of Hollywood predator Harvey Weinstein, credits Thibault’s reporting around Farrow’s accusations with encouraging him to speak out in support of his sister.

Dylan Farrow, who was born in Texas, was adopted by Mia Farrow in 1985. At the time the family began dealing with her sexual abuse, Allen was discovered in an affair with one of Mia Farrow’s other adopted children, Soon-Yi Previn. Previn and Allen later married and are still together. Previn, too, has continued to protest that her husband is innocent.

(Full disclosure: In April 2018, Dylan Farrow spoke at a sexual assault survivor panel at Quinebaug Valley Community College, where I was also a speaker and Thibault was an organizer. Farrow was the last speaker of the evening, and she began by saying that she didn’t often speak in public, but that for survivors, “even with these truths confirmed or heavily implied with evidence, the assailant still gets the benefit of the doubt.”)

dylan farrow woody allenIn fact, Dylan Farrow, left, has been trying to tell her story for years. She first wrote publicly about the assault in 2014 for the New York Times. Two years later, her brother wrote about it an op-ed in Hollywood Reporter. His essay got far more attention, and as Dylan Farrow said at Quinebaug, “Why did it take a white man repeating my story for it to be believed?”

Thibaut signed a document that doesn’t allow him to talk in detail about his involvement with the documentary, but in a 2015 interview with HuffPost Live, he said that during the ‘90s, he covered Allen and his cadre of lawyers filing complaints against local Connecticut prosecutors. Thibault said in that interview that Allen hired private investigators to dig up dirt on cops and prosecutors, and the Allen team also hired detectives to follow the Farrow children to a local mall to see if they could catch them doing something - like shoplifting -- that would discredit them as witnesses.

He called the Yale study “pathetic malpractice, at best.” Others have questioned the veracity of the study, including a judge in the family’s custody case.

As the docuseries is gaining attention, Elle Magazine recently released its April cover story on Farrow, who is now a 35-year old author of a young adult fantasy novel. She is married, and a mother, and lives near her mother in western Connecticut.

For a journalist, this is the kind of story that could eat you alive. Maybe Thibault has survived by remembering his journalistic tenets. The powerful are no better than the rest of the world. A crime is a crime. When the Huffington reporter asked Thibault how he felt about the case — whose side was he on, in other words, Thibault answered, in true journalist’s fashion, “I’m not on Team Mia or Team Woody,” he said. “I’m on Team Newspaper — or Magazine.”

Susan Campbell is the author of "Frog Hollow: Stories From an American Neighborhood," "Tempest-Tossed: The Spirit of Isabella Beecher Hooker," and "Dating Jesus: A Story of Fundamentalism, Feminism, and the American Girl." She is a distinguished lecturer at University of New Haven, where she teaches journalism.

djt michael cohen disloyal

Palmer Report, Opinion: It’s now clear how New York City is going to put Donald Trump in prison, Bill Palmer, right, Feb. 20, 2021. This week it was revealed that the Manhattan District Attorney bill palmerhired an outside prosecutor with a speciality in white collar cases and organized crime to help bring the criminal case against Donald Trump. Now it’s becoming more clear what that case is going to look like, and how it’s going to put Trump in prison.

bill palmer report logo headerLast night Reuters reported that the Manhattan DA has subpoenaed Trump’s property tax records from the New York City Tax Commission. This is the latest in a string of several mainstream media reports over the past month which are centered around the property values of Trump’s real estate assets.

During his public congressional testimony in 2019, Michael Cohen (shown above right with a copy of his best-selling memoir) revealed that Donald Trump overinflated the value of his real estate properties in order to fraudulently use them as collateral on new bank loans. That’s a particularly easy felony to get a conviction on, because it’s right there in the paperwork. So while we expect the Manhattan DA to bring numerous charges against Trump, his fraudulent property values are what make him a lock for prison.

 

imaad shah zuberi la financier

ny times logoNew York Times, Donor to Trump Inauguration Sentenced to 12 Years in Federal Inquiry, Mike Ives, Feb. 20, 2021 (print ed.). Imaad Zuberi, above left, who donated heavily to Democrats before former President Donald J. Trump’s election, had pleaded guilty to charges related to a $900,000 donation to Mr. Trump’s inaugural committee.

A California venture capitalist was sentenced on Thursday to 12 years in prison after pleading guilty to charges that included obstructing a federal investigation into a nearly $1 million donation to former President Donald J. Trump’s inaugural committee.

The businessman, Imaad Zuberi, was sentenced by a federal judge in California and ordered to pay $1.75 million in criminal fines and $15.7 million in restitution.

Mr. Zuberi, 50, had pleaded guilty to the obstruction of justice charge last year. It stemmed from a federal investigation into the source of $900,000 he had donated through his company, Avenue Ventures, to Mr. Trump’s inaugural committee in December 2016.

A lawyer for Mr. Zuberi declined to comment on Friday. He has acknowledged that his political donations were intended to gain access to politicians, public officials and business executives. “To open doors, I have to donate,” he told The New York Times in 2019. “It’s just a fact of life.”

Mr. Zuberi had donated heavily to Democrats, including committees supporting President Barack Obama and then Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, before abruptly pivoting to Republicans after Mr. Trump’s victory. In Washington political circles, he was notable less for the scale of his giving than for its transactional nature.

Mr. Zuberi said in 2019 that his donation to Mr. Trump’s inaugural fund was at least partly intended to give him access to inaugural events where he hoped to talk business with Trump-backing investors and executives. But he said his attendance at the inaugural events did not yield any business — and backfired after his company’s donation was cited in a subpoena.

Mr. Zuberi was also sentenced on Thursday on a range of other charges to which he had pleaded guilty in 2019, and for which he could have faced a maximum sentence of 15 years in federal prison.

Some of those charges relate to nearly $1 million in illegal campaign donations made from April 2012 through October 2016 as part of a scheme to gain access to American politicians for foreign clients. Some of those donations were funded by foreign sources. Others related to his lobbying work in Washington for the government of Sri Lanka, whose image he was trying to repair in Washington amid concerns about the country’s treatment of Tamil minority groups.

Disaster Victims, Responses

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ny times logoNew York Times, Pfizer’s Vaccine Works Well With 1 Dose and Can Be Stored More Easily, Staff Reports, Feb. 20, 2021 (print ed.). A study in Israel showed that the company's vaccine is robustly effective after the first shot. The F.D.A. did not immediately comment.

Two positive developments this week could potentially expand access to the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at a time when nations around the world are trying to ramp up vaccinations.

A study in Israel showed that the vaccine is robustly effective after the first shot, echoing what other research has shown for the AstraZeneca vaccine and raising the possibility that regulators in some countries could authorize delaying a second dose instead of giving both on the strict schedule of three weeks apart as tested in clinical trials.

pfizer logoAlthough regulators in the United States have held fast to the requirement that people receive two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine three weeks apart, the British government decided to prioritize giving as many people as possible an initial dose, allowing delays of up to 12 weeks before the second dose. The Israeli study could bolster arguments for emulating that approach in other countries.

Published in The Lancet on Thursday and drawing from a group of 9,100 Israeli health care workers, the study showed that Pfizer’s vaccine was 85 percent effective 15 to 28 days after receiving the first dose. Pfizer and BioNTech’s late-stage clinical trials, which enrolled 44,000 people, showed that the vaccine was 95 percent effective if two doses were given three weeks apart.

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci (shown above in a file photo), the nation’s leading expert on infectious diseases and an adviser to President Biden, said at a White House news conference on the pandemic on Friday that the results of the study are not significant enough to change the U.S. recommendations.

He pointed out that the people in the study were on the younger and healthier side and the researchers could not say how long the protection from one shot of the vaccine would last. He also said it was possible that a less-than-optimal dose might not kill the most powerful variants of the virus, theoretically allowing them to spread more quickly in the population.

Worldometer, World & U.S. Coronavirus Case Totals (updated: Feb. 20, 2021), with some governments reporting slightly lower numbers than the totals here):

World Cases: 111,340,871, Deaths: 2,465,593
U.S. Cases:    28,604,719, Deaths:    507,758

washington post logoWashington Post, Biden declares major disaster in Texas after winter storm, opening door for more aid, Marisa Iati, Kim Bellware, Brittney Martin and Amy B Wang, Feb. 20, 2021. The president had already approved states of emergency in Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas after winter weather killed dozens of people and left millions without power, heat or potable water.

 washington post logoWashington Post, Damage in the billions across the South prompts focus on who’s to blame, and who will pay, Sofia Sokolove, Emily Wax-Thibodeaux, Mark Berman and Griff Witte, Feb. 20, 2021 (print ed.). The cold surge may be the most expensive disaster in Texas history. But experts worry its causes won’t be addressed.

Millions of people across a storm-scarred South were bracing for one last night of extreme cold Friday following a devastating week in which dozens of people died, homes and businesses sustained billions of dollars in damage and basic services such as power and water catastrophically failed.

The reckoning over why — and who is to blame — was intensifying Friday, even as residents were still coming to grips with the scale of destruction. Across the region, homeowners who had fled frigid, energy-starved houses or apartments were returning after the lights finally switched back on. But once there, they discovered burst pipes, flooded floors, collapsed ceilings — and no water to drink.

texas mapIn Texas, the epicenter of the disaster, more than 14 million people in 160 counties were still experiencing water-service disruptions, with impacts also being felt in Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee and beyond.

Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city, was under a boil-water advisory. In Austin, Texas’s capital, much of the city was without running water, and officials could not say Friday when it might return. Bottled water had been stripped from the shelves of minimarts and gas stations, and lines were wrapped around some supermarkets, which were imposing purchase limits as residents scrambled for food.

“We know that it’s intolerable,” said Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) during a Friday afternoon news conference.

With a long recovery ahead, the focus was rapidly shifting to who would pay. The Insurance Council of Texas, an organization that represents the state’s home, auto, renters and business insurance agents, said the storm would be the “largest insurance claim event in [Texas] history,” with hundreds of thousands of claims expected.

Some of the costs of recovery will be handled by the federal government. President Biden said Friday that he plans to sign a major disaster declaration for Texas, freeing up funds that can be tapped by individuals who have been impacted, as well as by the state and local governments.

Attention was also shifting Friday to whether the scale of the disaster could have been avoided. Congress is likely to open an investigation next week into what went wrong in Texas, and the state’s legislature is expected to conduct its own hearings.

Abbott, Texas’s governor, has consistently blamed the state’s electric grid operator for a lack of preparation and has called on its leadership to resign.

But the operator — the Electric Reliability Council of Texas ­(ERCOT) — said Friday that it had little control over the power suppliers and could not force them to better prepare for extreme cold.

“We don’t own the generation units. We don’t own the transmission,” said ERCOT chief executive Bill Magness in a video call with journalists. “It’s not really our role to do winterization.”

Independent authorities said it is up to the Public Utility Commission of Texas — which oversees ERCOT — to mandate that suppliers better prepare for extreme cold and penalize those that choose not to do so. Without such costs, experts said, the power suppliers will continue to neglect preparations, with predictable consequences.

“To save millions of dollars, the generators failed to weatherize, and the consequences are that people have died and it’s cost the state many billions of dollars in repairs to our homes and our buildings,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, the former longtime director of the Texas office of Public Citizen.

 

U.S. Capitol Riots, Courts, Crime

 

Jessica Marie Watkins, third from left, and Donovan Ray Crowl, center, were indicted Friday, Feb. 19 on charges relating to the Capitol riot on Jan. 6 (Reuters Photo by Jim Bourg).

Jessica Marie Watkins, third from left, and Donovan Ray Crowl, center, were indicted Friday, Feb. 19 on charges relating to the Capitol riot on Jan. 6 (Reuters Photo by Jim Bourg)

washington post logoWashington Post, U.S. alleges wider Oath Keepers conspiracy, charges six new defendants in Jan. 6 Capitol riot, Spencer S. Hsu and Rachel Weiner, Feb. 20, 2021 (print ed.). U.S. authorities on Friday alleged a broader conspiracy to attack the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 among members and associates of the Oath Keepers, naming six new individuals charged in the case, all of whom appeared to be group members or associates.

One member posted on Facebook that 50 to 100 Oath Keepers planned to attend and that Jan. 6 would be “wild,” echoing then-President Donald Trump’s comment on Twitter rallying supporters to D.C.

A 21-page indictment alleged that the defendants “did knowingly combine, conspire, confederate, and agree with each other and others known and unknown” to force entry to the Capitol and obstruct Congress from certifying the election of Joe Biden as president in riots that led to five deaths and assaults on 139 police.

The nine-person indictment named three already charged military veterans — Jessica Marie Watkins, 38, and Donovan Ray Crowl, 50, both of Woodstock, Ohio, and Thomas E. Caldwell, 66, of Berryville, Va. The six new defendants include siblings Graydon Young, 54, of Englewood, Fla., and Laura Steele, of Thomasville, N.C. It also includes married couples Kelly and Connie Meggs, ages 52 and 59, of Dunnellon, Fla., and Bennie and Sandra Parker, ages 70 and 60, of the Cincinnati area.

On Dec. 22, Kelly Meggs wrote a Facebook message saying that Trump’s comment that Jan. 6 would be “wild” meant he “wants us to make it WILD. . . . He called us all to the Capitol. . . . Gentlemen we are heading to DC,” the indictment alleges.

Meggs added a few days later that there would be “at least” 50 to 100 Oath Keepers in attendance.

Prosecutors allege that the group conspired to attend or schedule paramilitary combat training; recruited supporters online; and “coordinat[ed] . . . and join[ed] forces” with members of Oath Keepers and people from other regions to invade the Capitol in military-style camouflage tactical gear and in a single-file “stack” formation.

washington post logoWashington Post, U.S. investigating possible ties between Roger Stone, Alex Jones and Capitol rioters, Spencer S. Hsu and Devlin Barrett, Feb. 20, 2021 (print ed.). The Justice Department and FBI are investigating whether high-profile right-wing figures — including Roger Stone and Alex Jones — may have played a role in the Jan. 6 Capitol breach as part of a broader look into the mind-set of those who committed violence and their apparent paths to radicalization, according to people familiar with the investigation.

The investigation into potential ties between key figures in the riot and those who promoted former president Donald Trump’s false assertions that the election was stolen from him does not mean those who may have influenced rioters will face criminal charges, particularly given U.S. case law surrounding incitement and free speech, the people said. Officials at this stage said they are principally seeking to understand what the rioters were thinking — and who may have influenced beliefs — which could be critical to showing their intentions at trial.

However, investigators also want to determine whether anyone who influenced them bears enough responsibility to justify potential criminal charges, such as conspiracy or aiding the effort, the officials said. That prospect is still distant and uncertain, they emphasized.

FBI logoNevertheless, while Trump’s impeachment trial focused on the degree of his culpability for the violence, this facet of the case shows investigators’ ongoing interest in other individuals who never set foot in the Capitol but may have played an outsized role in what happened there through their influence, networks or action.

“We are investigating potential ties between those physically involved in the attack on the Capitol and individuals who may have influenced them, such as Roger Stone, Alex Jones and [Stop the Steal organizer] Ali Alexander,” said a U.S. official, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a pending matter.

Stone is a longtime adviser to Trump, while Jones is a radio and web-streaming host behind Infowars.com. Both are frequent purveyors of conspiracy theories: Stone wrote a book suggesting Lyndon B. Johnson was behind John F. Kennedy’s assassination; Jones has spread and retracted claims that the Sandy Hook school shooting was a “hoax.”

All three amplified and intensified Trump’s incendiary claims that the 2020 election was illegitimate in the weeks leading up to the riot. But Stone and Alexander have directly credited each other with inspiring and planning the pro-Trump Stop the Steal campaign, with Alexander saying he came up with the idea and helped organize the Jan. 6 rally that drew Trump supporters to Washington. Stone and Jones also promoted the extremist groups Proud Boys and Oath Keepers and had preexisting business or personal ties with members the government has charged with coordinating and planning certain parts of the breach or with violence at an earlier Trump rally, records and documents show.

A key task for prosecutors and agents is to sift through the multitude of motives and intentions of the roughly 800 people in the mob that descended upon the Capitol — from those who came as individuals drawn to the idea of derailing Joe Biden’s presidency before it began, to those who allegedly began organizing immediately after the election to show up in Washington in large numbers to use force to try to keep Trump in power.

The U.S. official and others familiar with the investigation cautioned that the role of firebrands like Stone and Jones may be important mostly to painting a complete picture of that day’s events, regardless of whether they ultimately rise to the level of conspiracy or other crimes.

roger stone hands waving no credit from stone cold Custom

Palmer Report, Opinion: I wouldn’t want to be Roger Stone right now, Bill Palmer, Feb. 20, 2021. Last month the news broke that Roger Stone, shown above in a file photo, was coordinating with the Oath Keepers domestic terrorist group on the eve of the U.S. Capitol attack. At the time we predicted that this could end up being bad news for him. Now it’s gotten uglier.

bill palmer report logo headerYesterday the Feds not only indicted a bunch of additional Oath Keepers, it also hit them with conspiracy charges. This is a big deal, because it means the government isn’t just alleging that these arrested individuals each committed crimes on January 6th; it’s alleging that there was a criminal conspiracy in and around the Oath Keepers to carry out the attack.

This opens the door for people to be criminally charged who didn’t actually participate in the attack, and don’t even belong to the Oath Keepers group, so long as they conspired with these arrested individuals to carry out this attack.

And now today the Washington post says that Roger Stone, Alex Jones, and others are indeed being investigated for precisely this. This doesn’t yet mean that Roger Stone will necessarily be charged as part of the conspiracy. But I wouldn’t want to be him right now. His federal pardon, issued in late December, doesn’t cover crimes he committed after he was pardoned.

washington post logoWashington Post, Perspective: His pastors tried to steer him away from social media rage. He stormed the Capitol anyway, Peter Manseau, Michael Sparks struggled with his desire to be an upstanding Christian and his anger over the election, covid restrictions and protests for racial justice.

Facebook was making him angry.

For weeks last spring and summer, Michael Sparks, shown circled at right in an FBI portrayal in an affidavit, had watched video of protests for racial justice around the country with growing unease. He could not turn away from his phone, even as he feared it was changing him. He posted his outrage. He posted that he hated seeing what was happening to his country. He posted that it made him want to kill people.

Tmichaels sparks riot fbi affidavithe 43-year-old husband and father didn’t believe that he actually would, but he knew even just saying so fell short of the Christian witness he wanted to bring to the world. His pastor at Franklin Crossroads Baptist Church in Cecilia, Ky., advised him to leave Facebook. He considered it. Instead, the rage that had begun online led him to Washington, D.C., not long after the new year.

According to the FBI, Sparks was the first to enter the Capitol through a smashed window near the Ohio Clock Corridor. Wearing jeans, a light black jacket and eyeglasses, he crawled over broken glass to overturn a presidential election. In his booking photo from Kentucky’s Oldham County Detention Center taken 13 days later, he is wearing a T-shirt that reads “Armor of God” and cites a Bible verse, Ephesians 6:11: “Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.”

The attack on the Capitol was for many involved a Christian insurrection, urged along by passages of scripture and culminating with prayers intoned in the occupied Senate. But as Sparks’s story shows, his faith played a more complicated role in his journey to Jan. 6. While his social media posts make clear he connected the election and his religious beliefs, his church community had also been a force cautioning him against letting online resentment take over his life. That tension — religious rhetoric as a goad to extremism on the one hand; community accountability as a safeguard against it on the other — highlights the complex influence some churches have had through the past tumultuous months, and may yet in the future.

‘I’m not showing the love of Christ’

This account of one alleged rioter’s path to the Jan. 6 insurrection is based on his extensive Facebook posts, court documents, and the recollections and social media messages of several people who know him. Reached by phone this week, Sparks, who was released after his Jan. 19 arrest, declined to comment on anything related to his presence at the Capitol.

He has been charged with nine counts of knowingly entering or remaining in any restricted building or grounds without lawful authority, violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds, and obstructing law enforcement. Each violation carries fines and anywhere from a maximum of one to five years in prison.

Not long after he was charged, he took his Facebook page down. Until then, his increasingly agitated comments, preserved in screenshots before the account went dark, mapped the mental landscape of someone falling ever more deeply down rabbit holes of groundless claims.

Peter Manseau is the curator of American religious history at the Smithsonian and the author most recently of "The Jefferson Bible: A Biography."

 

Biden Transition

World Crisis Radio, Opinion: Signs of Positive Turn in Direction of World Events, Webster G. Tarpley, Feb. 20, 2021. As Post-Trump Era Begins, Signs of Positive Turn in Direction of World Events Away webster tarpley 2007from Fascist Nihilism, Pessimism, and Despair Towards Rationality. World Affairs Starting to Stabilize under Biden as US Abandons Wrecking Role of Last Administration; Russian and Chinese Designs for International Anarchy Can Now Be Checked; Claims by Totalitarian Powers of Decline and Decadence of US Democracy Refuted.

US Economic Recovery Now within Reach as Biden Shows Determination to Pass $1.9 Billion Rescue Bill despite GOP Sabotage; $15 Minimum Wage is Now Central Issue;Republican Party in Crisis as Trump Attacks Mitch, Who Embodies GOP’s Vital Money Pipeline from Reactionary Megadonor Billionaires to Candidates and Advertising; Texas-Cruz Debacle Is Case Study of Bankruptcy of Anti-Government, pro-Speculation Thinking Under Globalization;

washington post logoWashington Post, Biden’s surgeon general nominee made more than $2 million doing pandemic consulting, speeches, Dan Diamond, Feb. 20, 2021 (print ed.). As Vivek H. Murthy advised Joe Biden on the pandemic during the 2020 presidential campaign, culminating in Murthy’s nomination as surgeon general, he also maintained a lucrative side business: coronavirus consultant to the private sector.

vivek murtha o obamaMurthy, right, was paid millions of dollars last year in coronavirus-related consulting for Carnival Corporation’s cruise lines, Airbnb’s rental properties and other firms, in addition to collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars in speaking fees from dozens of organizations, according to ethics documents that Murthy filed this month. The disclosure caught the attention of longtime health policy hands — saying that Murthy has the most financial entanglements of any surgeon general pick in recent history — and of watchdogs who raise questions about how credible he would be as a spokesperson on the pandemic response and presidential adviser.

“We didn’t have a full window into how enmeshed he was in the selling-advice process,” said Jeff Hauser, who leads the Revolving Door Project, part of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a progressive think tank. “There are large questions in the minds of the public about the health and safety risks that might exist in areas like the cruise industry, and we want the surgeon general to give people completely impartial advice.”

Murthy, whose Senate confirmation hearing is scheduled for Thursday, is expected to narrowly win confirmation to return to the role of surgeon general, six years after his first grueling confirmation battle as President Barack Obama’s nominee — and four years after President Donald Trump abruptly fired him, shortly after taking office. Murthy’s financial disclosures could complicate his candidacy given strong conservative opposition to him on other grounds — such as his longtime advocacy of treating gun violence as a public health problem. But Republicans have thus far stayed away from his finances and it’s unclear whether Democrats will raise the issue, despite repeatedly chastising Trump’s health nominees for their corporate ties.

But Murthy is unlikely to be confirmed if Democrats suffer a single defection — and Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), who supports gun rights and voted against Murthy in 2014 citing his political activism, “has not decided how he will vote on Dr. Murthy’s nomination,” said Sam Runyon, the senator’s spokesperson.

Murthy declined to comment on his financial disclosures, and Biden administration officials defended the nomination.

“If confirmed to serve for a second time as Surgeon General, Dr. Murthy will provide the public with clear, accurate health information to keep them safe, rooted only in facts and science,” a Department of Health and Human Services official said in a statement, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss a nominee in advance of his confirmation. “The Biden administration has committed to the highest level of ethics for all nominees, which is critical to earn and keep the public trust, and he has signed a strict and thorough ethics agreement.”

While the surgeon general serves as the nation’s public health spokesperson and traditionally has a limited voice in policymaking, Biden has pledged that the Harvard- and Yale-educated doctor — who advised Biden for years in the Obama administration, on the board of the Biden Institute at the University of Delaware, and most recently, during the presidential campaign and transition — will have an expanded role.

washington post logoWashington Post, Manchin to oppose Biden’s pick for budget director, possibly sinking nomination, Jeff Stein and Colby Itkowitz, Feb. 20, 2021 (print ed.). Neera Tanden has emerged as a lightning rod for criticism over her prior attacks against Republican lawmakers and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), left, on Friday announced his opposition to President Biden’s choice to lead the White House budget office, imperiling her nomination in a narrowly divided U.S. Dick ShelbySenate.

Neera Tanden, below right, tapped to be director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, has emerged as a lightning rod for criticism over her prior attacks against Republican lawmakers and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

If all Republicans vote against her nomination, Manchin’s opposition would prevent Tanden from being confirmed through the Senate, where each party only controls 50 votes. Biden has so far secured approval for seven of his cabinet nominees, and Tanden was widely expected to prove among his most controversial choices.

“I believe her overtly partisan statements will have a toxic and detrimental impact on the important working relationship between members of Congress and the next director of the Office of Neera TandenManagement and Budget," Manchin said. "For this reason, I cannot support her nomination. As I have said before, we must take meaningful steps to end the political division and dysfunction that pervades our politics. At a time of grave crisis, it is more important than ever that we chart a new bipartisan course that helps address the many serious challenges facing our nation.”

The White House budget office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A White House spokeswoman also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

At her contentious confirmation hearings earlier this month, Senate Republicans repeatedly brought up Tanden’s prior attacks on GOP lawmakers and Sanders. Tanden posted more than 80,000 tweets, more often than President Trump, and she repeatedly apologized for her prior comments in front of Senate committees.

robert portmanSen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), left, cited tweets from Tanden calling Sen. Susan Collins (R-Me.) “the worst” and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) a “fraud,” while also citing a Tanden tweet that said, “Vampires have more heart than Ted Cruz,” referring to the Republican Senator from Texas.

Tanden has also compared Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to “Voldemort,” the villain in the Harry Potter series, and “Moscow Mitch.”

A loyal Democrat and close ally of former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, Tanden most recently led the Center for American Progress (CAP), a left-leaning think tank. Several Democratic Senators, including Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), forcefully defended her tweets and past actions in committee hearings this month.

“A lot of people have said a lot of things on social media -- probably people in this room -- that they regret," Klobuchar said.

washington post logoWashington Post, Chart: Who Joe Biden is picking to fill his White House and Cabinet, Staff reports, Feb. 20, 2020. One of President-elect Joe Biden’s very first tasks will be filling the top positions in his White House and Cabinet. In contrast to President Trump’s notably White and male Cabinet, Biden has joe biden kamala harris campaign shotpromised to be “a president for all Americans” and build a Cabinet that reflects its diversity.

In making his selections Biden is looking to appease factions of the Democratic Party from moderates to progressives and longtime allies to newer faces. Cabinet positions — with the exception of the vice president and White House chief of staff — will also require approval from a Republican Senate, unless Democrats can win two Senate race runoffs in early January.

Once confirmed, they will be instrumental in carrying out his goals and setting the tenor his presidency. We’re tracking the people who Biden has already named and the top contenders for unfilled roles.

White House, Biden-Harris Cabinet, The Cabinet’s role is to advise the President on any subject he or she may require relating to the duties of each member’s joe biden orespective office. President Joe Biden’s Cabinet includes Vice President Kamala Harris and the heads of the 15 executive departments — the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Labor, State, Transportation, Treasury, and Veterans Affairs, and the Attorney General.

Additionally, the Cabinet includes the White House Chief of Staff, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, the Director of National Intelligence, and the US Trade Representative, as well as the heads of the Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Management and Budget, Council of Economic Advisers, Office of Science and Technology Policy, and Small Business Administration.

 

World News

ny times logoNew York Times, Erik Prince, Trump Ally, Violated Libya Arms Embargo, U.N. Report Says, Declan Walsh, Feb. 20, 2021 (print ed.). Erik Prince, the former head of the security contractor Blackwater Worldwide and a prominent supporter of former President Donald J. Trump, violated a United Nations arms embargo on Libya by sending weapons to a militia commander who was attempting to overthrow the internationally backed government, according to U.N. investigators.

A confidential U.N. report obtained by The New York Times and delivered by investigators to the Security Council on Thursday reveals how Mr. Prince deployed a force of foreign mercenaries, armed with attack aircraft, gunboats and cyberwarfare capabilities, to eastern Libya at the height of a major battle in 2019.

erik princeAs part of the operation, which the report said cost $80 million, the mercenaries also planned to form a hit squad that could track down and kill selected Libyan commanders.

Mr. Prince, left, a former Navy SEAL and the brother of Betsy DeVos, Mr. Trump’s education secretary, became a symbol of the excesses of privatized American military force when his Blackwater contractors killed 17 Iraqi civilians in 2007.

In the past decade he has relaunched himself as an executive who strikes deals — sometimes for minerals, other times involving military force — in war-addled but resource-rich countries, mostly in Africa.

During the Trump administration, Mr. Prince was a generous donor and a staunch ally of the president, often in league with figures like Steve Bannon and Roger Stone as they sought to undermine Mr. Trump’s critics. And Mr. Prince came under scrutiny from the Trump-Russia inquiry over his meeting with a Russian banker in 2017.

Mr. Prince offered to supply weapons, drones and mercenaries to a Libyan militia commander seeking to overthrow the government, according to the report.

New York Magazine, Commentary: An Ex-KGB Agent Says Trump Was a Russian Asset Since 1987. Does it Matter? Jonathan Chait, Feb. 20, 2021. In 2018, I became either famous or notorious — depending on your point of view — for writing a story speculating that Russia had secret leverage over Trump (which turned out to be correct). The story’s most controversial suggestion was that it was plausible, though hardly certain, that Russia’s influence over Trump might even date back as far as 1987.

I conceded it was probably just a coincidence that Trump came back from his trip to Russia and started spouting themes that happened to dovetail closely with Russia’s geopolitical goal of splitting the United States from its allies. But there was a reasonable chance — I loosely pegged it at 10 or 20 percent — that the Soviets had planted some of these thoughts, which he had never expressed before the trip, in his head.

If I had to guess today, I’d put the odds higher, perhaps over 50 percent. One reason for my higher confidence is that Trump has continued to fuel suspicion by taking anomalously pro-Russian positions. He met with Putin in Helsinki, appearing strangely submissive, and spouted Putin’s propaganda on a number of topics including the ridiculous possibility of a joint Russian-American cybersecurity unit. (Russia, of course, committed the gravest cyber-hack in American history not long ago, making Trump’s idea even more self-defeating in retrospect than it was at the time.) He seemed to go out of his way to alienate American allies and blow up cooperation every time they met during his tenure.

A second reason is that reporter Craig Unger, left, got a former KGB spy to confirm on the record that Russian intelligence had been working Trump for decades. In his new book, “American craig unger twitterKompromat,” Unger interviewed Yuri Shvets, who told him that the KGB manipulated Trump with simple flattery. “In terms of his personality, the guy is not a complicated cookie,” he said, “his most important characteristics being low intellect coupled with hyperinflated vanity. This makes him a dream for an experienced recruiter.”

craig unger resized american kompromatThat’s quite similar to what I suggested in my story:

Russian intelligence gains influence in foreign countries by operating subtly and patiently. It exerts different gradations of leverage over different kinds of people, and uses a basic tool kit of blackmail that involves the exploitation of greed, stupidity, ego, and sexual appetite. All of which are traits Trump has in abundance.

This is what intelligence experts mean when they describe Trump as a Russian “asset.” It’s not the same as being an agent. An asset is somebody who can be manipulated, as opposed to somebody who is consciously and secretly working on your behalf.

Shvets told Unger that the KGB cultivated Trump as an American leader, and persuaded him to run his ad attacking American alliances. “The ad was assessed by the active measures directorate as one of the most successful KGB operations at that time,” he said, “It was a big thing — to have three major American newspapers publish KGB soundbites.”

To be clear, while Shvets is a credible source, his testimony isn’t dispositive. There are any number of possible motives for a former Soviet spy turned critic of Russia’s regime to manufacture an indictment of Trump. But the story he tells is almost exactly the possibility I sketched out. And it fits the known facts about how Russian intelligence works and what Trump has done pretty tightly.

One thing I have changed my mind on since my story ran is the effect any this would have on the American public even if it were proven.

If something like the most sinister plausible story turned out to be true, how much would it matter? Probably not that much. Don’t get me wrong: Russia having secret channels of leverage over an American president isn’t good. I have merely come to think that even if we could have confirmed the worst, to the point that even Trump’s supporters could no longer deny it, it wouldn’t have changed very much. Trump wouldn’t have been forced to resign, and his Republican supporters would not have had to repudiate him. The controversy would have simply receded into the vast landscape of partisan talking points — one more thing liberals mock Trump over, and conservatives complain about the media for covering instead of Nancy Pelosi’s freezer or antifa or the latest campus outrage.

One reason I think that is because a great deal of incriminating information was confirmed and very little in fact changed as a result. In 2018, Buzzfeed reported, and the next year Robert Mueller confirmed, explosive details of a Russian kompromat operation. During the campaign, Russia had been dangling a Moscow building deal that stood to give hundreds of millions of dollars in profit to Trump, at no risk. Not only did he stand to gain this windfall, but he was lying in public at the time about his dealings with Russia, which gave Vladimir Putin additional leverage over him. (Russia could expose Trump’s lies at any time if he did something to displease Moscow.)

Mueller even testified that this arrangement gave Russia blackmail leverage over Trump. But by the time these facts had passed from the realm of the mysterious to the confirmed, they had become uninteresting.

We don’t know what other sources of leverage Russia had, or how far back it went. Ultimately, whatever value Trump offered to Russia was compromised by his incompetence and limited ability to grasp firm control even of his own government’s foreign policy. It was not just the fabled “deep state” that undermined Trump. Even his own handpicked appointees constantly undermined him, especially on Russia. Whatever leverage Putin had was limited to a single individual, which meant there was nobody Trump could find to run the State Department, National Security Agency, and so on who shared his idiosyncratic Russophilia.

Feb. 14

ny times logoNew York Times, 5 Reader Comments Just Cost a News Website $124,000, Richard C. Paddock, Feb. 20, 2021 (print ed.). A panel of judges found the online outlet, Malaysiakini, guilty of contempt of court for the comments about Malaysia’s judiciary.

Like many online news outlets, the Malaysian news site Malaysiakini allows readers to post comments at the bottom of articles. That proved expensive on Friday, when a Malaysian court ruled that the news site was legally responsible for reader comments deemed insulting to the judiciary.

malaysia flagA seven-judge appeals court panel found Malaysiakini guilty of contempt of court and ordered it to pay a fine of nearly $124,000, more than double the amount sought by prosecutors, for five comments left by readers.

The news outlet’s co-founder and editor in chief, Steven Gan, who was acquitted of the same charge, said the hefty penalty appeared to be an attempt to drive Malaysiakini out of business.

 

Feb. 19

Top Headlines

 

Virus Victims, Responses

 

U.S. Capitol Riots, Courts, Crime

 

U.S. Politics, Governance

 

Biden Transition

 

Media News

 

World News

 

Top Stories

ny times logoNew York Times, Republicans Struggle to Derail Increasingly Popular Stimulus Package, Emily Cochrane and Jim Tankersley, Feb. 19, 2021. Polls show that President Biden’s $1.9 trillion pandemic relief plan polls strongly nationwide, including with many Republican voters.

joe biden 2020 button CustomDemocrats who control the House are preparing to approve the package by the end of next week, with the Senate aiming to soon follow with its own party-line vote before unemployment benefits are set to lapse in mid-March. On Friday, the House Budget Committee unveiled the nearly 600-page text for the proposal, which includes billions of dollars for unemployment benefits, small businesses and stimulus checks.

republican elephant logoRepublican leaders, searching for a way to derail the proposal, on Friday led a final attempt to tarnish the package, labeling it a “payoff to progressives.” The bill, they said, spends too much and includes a liberal wish list of programs like aid to state and local governments — which they call a “blue state bailout,” though many states facing shortfalls are controlled by Republicans — and increased benefits for the unemployed, which they argued would discourage people from looking for work.

Those attacks have followed weeks of varying Republican objections to the package, including warnings that it would do little to help the economy recover and grow, that it would add to the federal budget deficit and possibly unleash faster inflation, and that Democrats were violating Mr. Biden’s calls for “unity” by proceeding without bipartisan consensus.

The arguments have so far failed to connect, in part because many of its core provisions poll strongly — even with Republicans.

washington post logoWashington Post, Live Politics: Biden warns global leaders ‘democratic progress is under assault,’ John Wagner, Felicia Sonmez and Colby Itkowitz, Feb. 19, 2021. What can a member of Congress do to help during an emergency, anyway? Deb Haaland’s nomination to lead Interior is a historic first for Native Americans. The GOP wants Biden to cancel it.

joe biden oPresident Biden on Friday pledged that the United States is “fully committed” to NATO after four years of President Donald Trump railing against the alliance. During a major address to the Munich Security Conference, Biden also warned that “democratic progress is under assault” in many parts of the world, including the United States and Europe.

Earlier, Biden participated in a virtual Group of Seven meeting of leaders of the world’s largest economies. Later, Biden plans to travel to Michigan to tour a coronavirus vaccine manufacturing plant and deliver remarks as his administration continues to push for a $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package pending in Congress.

deb haaland oSeparately, as Rep. Deb Haaland, right, prepares for a Senate hearing Tuesday that could make her the first Native American in history to lead the Interior Department, her supporters are listening to Republican opposition to her nomination with worry — and anger.

Haaland, a New Mexico Democrat, is expected to face sharp questioning from GOP members on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee regarding her opposition to new oil and gas drilling leases on federal land — a position she shares with President Biden. Her lifetime score on environmental issues with the League of Conservation Voters is 98 percent.

In addition to breaking a barrier at Interior, Haaland would be the first Native American Cabinet secretary. In a letter to Biden last month, congressional Republicans asked him to revoke her historic nomination over their concerns.

washington post logoWashington Post, Many in Texas get power back, but water crisis grows as storm damage spreads, Arelis R. Hernández, Ken Hoffman, Abigail Hauslohner and Griff Witte, Feb. 19, 2021. Public infrastructure has proved unequal to the extreme winter weather, leaving at least 47 dead.

texas mapA damaging deep freeze that has plagued the South all week showed no sign of relenting Thursday, with frigid temperatures and a fresh line of snowstorms conspiring to inflict more pain on a region already crippled by widespread power outages, contaminated water supplies and treacherously slick roadways.

Through it all, public infrastructure has proved unequal to the challenge of extreme winter weather, leaving millions of people in peril — and at least 47 dead. The imbalance has been most dramatically on display in Texas, where residents have huddled for days in homes lacking heat, while pipes burst around them and food supplies dwindled.

The state’s struggles led House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Thursday to signal the start of a congressional inquiry into the causes for the prolonged outage. Texas officials, meanwhile, indicated that the impact could have been far worse, while acknowledging they were unprepared for the severity of nature’s fury.

  • Washington Post, The go-it-alone state is rattled by the failure to keep the lights on

 ny times logoNew York Times, Extreme Cold Killed Texans in Their Bedrooms, Vehicles and Backyards, Giulia McDonnell Nieto del Rio, Richard Fausset and Johnny Diaz, Feb. 19, 2021. Carrol Anderson spent much of his life in Southeast Texas, where the most feared natural disasters spin up from the Gulf of Mexico during the warm months of hurricane season. But last week, Mr. Anderson, a 75-year-old who breathed with the help of oxygen tanks, knew that a different kind of storm was heading his way.

While the final tally could be much higher, Mr. Anderson was among at least 58 people who died in storm-affected areas stretching to Ohio, victims of carbon monoxide poisoning, car crashes, drownings, house fires and hypothermia.

At least 58 people died in storm-affected areas stretching to Ohio, from causes related to carbon monoxide poisoning, car crashes, hypothermia and more.

At its height, about four million Texans were without power this week as temperatures plummeted to the teens and single digits. About 165,000 remained without electricity on Friday, though millions were still without running water or under notices to boil their tap water.

Law&Crime, Biden’s New ICE Guidance Completely Backtracks from 100-Day Deportation Moratorium Promise, Expands Enforcement Priorities, Colin Kalmbacher, Feb. 19, 2021. The Biden administration has deported several hundred immigrants since taking power of the federal government. Those deportations are ongoing. On Thursday, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) formally backtracked from President Joe Biden’s pledge to halt deportations during his first 100 days in office.

ICE logoActing ICE Director Tae Johson told ICE employees on Thursday that recently-confirmed DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas would issue new enforcement guidelines within the next 90 days “after consultation with Department personnel and external stakeholders.”

Thursday’s guidance solidifies deportation discretion granted by the administration to ICE and significantly expands the agency’s ability to effectuate detentions and deportations.

us dhs big eagle logo4Under the memo, ICE is directed to focus on three tiers of “enforcement and removal” (deportation) priorities: (1) undocumented immigrants who are deemed to be or who are suspected of being a national security threat; (2) undocumented immigrants who entered or attempted to enter the country “on or after November 1, 2020;” and (3) undocumented immigrants convicted of certain felony and gang-related offenses.

Under Trump, enforcement priorities all-but vanished as ICE was essentially given carte blanche and encouraged to deport as many undocumented immigrants as agency staff saw fit.

There are also a few key differences between Biden’s enforcement priorities and those under Obama. Whereas Biden’s crime-focused deportation guidance (priority number three) calls for the deportation of those with “aggravated felonies” (a broad suite of federal crimes in the context of non-U.S. citizens), Obama called for the deportation of people with a “significant misdemeanor” as the baseline.

Still, immigration rights advocates and activists are livid about the about face from the nascent Biden administration.

“The memo is a disappointing step backward from the Biden administration’s earlier commitments to fully break from th

Under the new guidance, ICE agents are on alert that “no preapproval [is] required for presumed priority cases.” So, if any undcocumented immigrants fall into any of the three above-noted enforcement priority groupings, ICE agents and officers “need not obtain preapproval for enforcement or removal actions that meet the [outlined] criteria for presumed priority cases, beyond what existing policy requires and what a supervisor instructs.” This means that ICE agents do, in fact, have the authority to pursue non-priority cases that fall outside of the three main categories—but such enforcement and deportation actions must be signed off on by a superior.

 

Virus Victims, Responses

anthony fauci graphic Custom

covad 19 photo.jpg Custom 2

ny times logoNew York Times, Live Updates: Pfizer’s Vaccine Works Well With 1 Dose and Can Be Stored More Easily, Staff Reports, Feb. 19, 2021. A study in Israel showed that the company's vaccine is robustly effective after the first shot. The F.D.A. did not immediately comment.

Two positive developments this week could potentially expand access to the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at a time when nations around the world are trying to ramp up vaccinations.

A study in Israel showed that the vaccine is robustly effective after the first shot, echoing what other research has shown for the AstraZeneca vaccine and raising the possibility that regulators in some countries could authorize delaying a second dose instead of giving both on the strict schedule of three weeks apart as tested in clinical trials.

Although regulators in the United States have held fast to the requirement that people receive two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine three weeks apart, the British government decided to prioritize giving as many people as possible an initial dose, allowing delays of up to 12 weeks before the second dose. The Israeli study could bolster arguments for emulating that approach in other countries.

Published in The Lancet on Thursday and drawing from a group of 9,100 Israeli health care workers, the study showed that Pfizer’s vaccine was 85 percent effective 15 to 28 days after receiving the first dose. Pfizer and BioNTech’s late-stage clinical trials, which enrolled 44,000 people, showed that the vaccine was 95 percent effective if two doses were given three weeks apart.

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci (shown above in a file photo), the nation’s leading expert on infectious diseases and an adviser to President Biden, said at a White House news conference on the pandemic on Friday that the results of the study are not significant enough to change the U.S. recommendations.

He pointed out that the people in the study were on the younger and healthier side and the researchers could not say how long the protection from one shot of the vaccine would last. He also said it was possible that a less-than-optimal dose might not kill the most powerful variants of the virus, theoretically allowing them to spread more quickly in the population.

Worldometer, World & U.S. Coronavirus Case Totals (updated: Feb. 19, 2021), with some governments reporting slightly lower numbers than the totals here):

World Cases: 110,952,337, Deaths: 2,454,722
U.S. Cases:    28,526,513, Deaths:    505,325

 

U.S. Capitol Riots, Courts, Crime

cy vance resized djt

ny times logoNew York Times, Manhattan D.A. Recruits Top Prosecutor for Trump Inquiry, William K. Rashbaum, Ben Protess and Jonah E. Bromwich, Feb. 19, 2021 (print ed.). The district attorney, shown above at right, has enlisted a former federal prosecutor who is an expert on white-collar crime to join the team investigating the Trump Organization.

mark pomerantzThe former prosecutor, Mark F. Pomerantz, right, has deep experience investigating and defending white-collar and organized crime cases, bolstering the team under District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. that is examining Mr. Trump and his family business, the Trump Organization.

The investigation by Mr. Vance, a Democrat, is focused on possible tax and bank-related fraud, including whether the Trump Organization misled its lenders or local tax authorities about the value of his properties to obtain loans and tax benefits, the people with knowledge of the matter said, requesting anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the investigation. Mr. Trump has maintained he did nothing improper and has long railed against the inquiry, calling it a politically motivated “witch hunt.”

In recent months, Mr. Vance’s office has broadened the long-running investigation to include an array of financial transactions and Trump properties — including Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, various Trump hotels and the Seven Springs estate in Westchester County — as prosecutors await a ruling from the United States Supreme Court that could give them access to Mr. Trump’s tax returns.

The prosecutors have also interviewed a number of witnesses and have issued more than a dozen new subpoenas, including to one of Mr. Trump’s top lenders, Ladder Capital, the people with knowledge of the matter said.

 

Jessica Marie Watkins, third from left, and Donovan Ray Crowl, center, were indicted Friday, Feb. 19 on charges relating to the Capitol riot on Jan. 6 (Reuters Photo by Jim Bourg).

Jessica Marie Watkins, third from left, and Donovan Ray Crowl, center, were indicted Friday, Feb. 19 on charges relating to the Capitol riot on Jan. 6 (Reuters Photo by Jim Bourg)

 washington post logoWashington Post, U.S. alleges wider Oath Keepers conspiracy, charges six new defendants in Jan. 6 Capitol riot, Spencer S. Hsu and Rachel Weiner, Feb. 19, 2021. U.S. authorities on Friday alleged a broader conspiracy to attack the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 among members and associates of the Oath Keepers, naming six new individuals charged in the case, all of whom appeared to be group members or associates.

One member posted on Facebook that 50 to 100 Oath Keepers planned to attend and that Jan. 6 would be “wild,” echoing then-President Donald Trump’s comment on Twitter rallying supporters to D.C.

A 21-page indictment alleged that the defendants “did knowingly combine, conspire, confederate, and agree with each other and others known and unknown” to force entry to the Capitol and obstruct Congress from certifying the election of Joe Biden as president in riots that led to five deaths and assaults on 139 police.

The nine-person indictment named three already charged military veterans — Jessica Marie Watkins, 38, and Donovan Ray Crowl, 50, both of Woodstock, Ohio, and Thomas E. Caldwell, 66, of Berryville, Va. The six new defendants include siblings Graydon Young, 54, of Englewood, Fla., and Laura Steele, of Thomasville, N.C. It also includes married couples Kelly and Connie Meggs, ages 52 and 59, of Dunnellon, Fla., and Bennie and Sandra Parker, ages 70 and 60, of the Cincinnati area.

On Dec. 22, Kelly Meggs wrote a Facebook message saying that Trump’s comment that Jan. 6 would be “wild” meant he “wants us to make it WILD. . . . He called us all to the Capitol. . . . Gentlemen we are heading to DC,” the indictment alleges.

Meggs added a few days later that there would be “at least” 50 to 100 Oath Keepers in attendance.

Prosecutors allege that the group conspired to attend or schedule paramilitary combat training; recruited supporters online; and “coordinat[ed] . . . and join[ed] forces” with members of Oath Keepers and people from other regions to invade the Capitol in military-style camouflage tactical gear and in a single-file “stack” formation

Law&Crime, Proud Boy Accused of Breaking U.S. Capitol Window Expresses Willingness to Cop a Plea Deal, Adam Klasfeld, Feb. 19, 2021. Less than a week after losing his bid to await trial outside of jail, a Proud Boy associate seen smashing through a U.S. Capitol window with a police riot shield submitted a court filing distancing himself from the group and signaling willingness to enter into plea negotiations.

dominic spaz pezzola mug resized“Although the court can play no role in disposition negotiations, via counsel, Pezzola has indicated his desire to begin disposition negotiations and acceptance of responsibility for his actions,” Dominic Pezzola’s lawyer Jonathan Zucker wrote in a footnote at the end of an 11-page motion. “He seeks to make amends.”

On Feb. 15, U.S. District Judge Robin Meriweather described the evidence against Pezzola as “overwhelming” in reaching the determination that he should not be released before trial. One of the videos appeared to show him using a pilfered police shield to gain entry to the Capitol and lighting up a “victory smoke” once inside the building. That footage, widely circulated across social media, made Pezzola one of the most visible figures of the Jan. 6th siege.

“In addition, the United States proffered that it has spoken to a witness who informed law enforcement that Mr. Pezzola was in a group of people discussing what they had done on January 6 and expressing a willingness to harm anyone they had come across,” Meriweather noted in the order.

Prosecutors describe him as part of a group that wanted to kill House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Mike Pence. The group wished to return to D.C. on Inauguration Day to kill every “m-fer” they could, that witness told authorities.

In arguing against his pre-trial release, prosecutors pointed to have found a thumb drive in his house filled with do-it-yourself bomb recipes and weapons-making instructions.

Hoping to reverse the pre-trial detention ruling in a new motion on Thursday, Pezzola’s counsel presented a sharply different portrait of his client as a previously law-abiding citizen, Marine Corps veteran, and a married father of two daughters who briefly fell in with the wrong crowd.

“Pezzola’s alleged contact with the ‘Proud Boys’ was minimal and short lived,” the motion states, claiming that their association began this past November and amounted to meeting for drinks in a bar.

Now distancing himself from the group, Pezzola also claims to repudiate the ideas they espoused and claims the convictions that drove him to the Capitol were “honorable but misguided.”

“At the time he was motivated by honorable intentions, believing he was protecting his country from a ‘stolen election’ by corrupt powers,” his motion states. “Since his arrest, having time to reflect and see how things have revealed themselves, he now realizes he was duped into these mistaken beliefs.”

A man describing himself as Pezzola’s friend of more than 20 years attested to this change in his behavior in an letter to the court.

“The last few months he has been influenced by a shady group of people,” the letter states. “They were just manipulating him and using him to carry out their agenda. I can tell you, that this behavior is not the normal behavior of my long-time friend. It is not the lifestyle that he has been living. I know that he is riddled with remorse over his latest actions.”

As for the bomb-making tutorial found in the thumb drive, Pezzola claims that was an unopened copy of what his counsel identified as the “Anarchist Handbook,” a tome commercially available since the 1970s. (This appears to be a reference to the “Anarchist Cookbook,” which dated back to counterculture in opposition to the Vietnam War and included instructions on how to throw a Molotov cocktail, among other things.)

Zucker, who did not respond to an email requesting comment, says in his motion that Pezzola never put those instructions to use. The U.S. Attorney’s office for the District of D.C. did not immediately respond to a press inquiry.

Law&Crime, Days After Devin Nunes’ Aide Failed in Court Against CNN, Nunes Himself Came Up Empty Against the Network, Adam Klasfeld, Feb. 19, 2021. Two days after CNN successfully booted a lawsuit by Rep. Devin Nunes’s top aide Derek Harvey, the network notched another federal court victory against the Trump loyalist from California himself on Friday.

As the impeachment inquiry swirled in Dec. 2019, Nunes, right, sued over CNN’s reporting on allegations that the congressman met with Ukraine’s former prosecutor general Victor Shokin in Austria to get dirt on then-private citizen Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden. Reporter Vicky Ward attributed the claim to an attorney for Rudy Giuliani’s indicted associate Lev Parnas. It was one of a number of lawsuits that the hard-right Republican filed in Virginia, before a federal judge there transferred the case out of “significant concerns about forum shopping” to take advantage of the state’s permissive libel laws.

After the case transferred to the Southern District of New York, CNN argued that California law should apply, as the state that Nunes calls home. The Golden State’s press freedom protections doomed the payday that Nunes hoped for: $435 million for what he described as “insult, pain, embarrassment, humiliation, mental suffering, injury to his reputation, special damages, costs, and other out-of-pocket expenses.”

Under California law, Nunes would have needed to demand a retraction for Ward’s article and later appearance on Chris Cuomo’s show in writing, but that never happened.

cnn logo“The [amended complaint], which was filed over two months after the original release of the Ward Article and the Cuomo Prime Time interview, does not allege that any written request was served upon CNN, much less a request that identified the statements that Nunes may have considered defamatory,” U.S. District Judge Laura Taylor Swain, a Bill Clinton appointee, wrote in her ruling. “Nor is there any allegation or proffer that such a demand was served at any time within the twenty-day period after Plaintiff became aware of the article and television program.”

Counsel for Nunes and CNN, the sole defendant in this case, did not immediately respond to emails requesting comment.

The ruling fell on the heels of Harvey’s failed lawsuit against CNN over similar reporting in the District of Maryland, where a judge found the Nunes aide failed to state claim against CNN and picked the wrong court as to defendants Parnas and his attorney Joseph Bondy.

“Congressman Nunes has developed a strong record in courts throughout the United States—of losing,” Bondy told Law&Crime, reacting to the new ruling. “Today’s outcome continues that trend. One can only hope that, finally, the Congressman has worn himself out.”

In a footnote, the judge rejected the congressman’s allegations acted in cahoots with Bondy and Parnas, in any way other than a journalist-source relationship.

“Plaintiff has not pleaded any facts from which the Court may reasonably infer that CNN entered into an agreement with Joseph Bondy, Lev Parnas, and others, in order to defame and injure Nunes,” the ruling states, setting aside the “conclusory” allegations of the complaint.

Like those of his aide, Nunes’s attempts to avoid California law failed.

“Nunes is a citizen of California and was born, raised, and educated there,” Swain noted. “He has represented California citizens as an elected Member of Congress since 2003.”

Last year, the non-partisan watchdog Campaign Legal Center called for a congressional investigation into how Rep. Nunes managed to pay for his flurry of litigation against McClatchy, The Washington Post, Hearst, CNN, Fusion GPS and famously, a cartoon cow.

washington post logoWashington Post, Biden administration and Pelosi lawyers at odds in Don McGahn subpoena lawsuit, Ann E. Marimow, Feb. 19, 2021 (print ed.). Biden lawyers want to postpone the federal appeals court hearing to try to reach a compromise with House Democrats to end the litigation.

Lawyers for the Biden administration and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), below left, are at odds over how to proceed with the House lawsuit seeking to enforce dan mcgahn djta subpoena for testimony from ex-president Donald Trump’s former White House counsel Donald McGahn, shown at right in a file photo.

Nancy Pelosi Justice Department officials told the federal appeals court in Washington this week that the new administration wants to try to strike a compromise with House Democrats to end the litigation. The change in position comes less than a week before the House lawsuit is set for argument before a full panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

“Discussions among the relevant parties have begun, and the new Administration believes the parties would benefit from additional time to pursue these discussions,” Justice Department lawyers told the court in a filing late Wednesday.

A central question in the case is whether a congressional committee can compel testimony of a close presidential adviser. While the Biden administration may not be inclined to block testimony from Trump’s former legal counsel, it is possible that the White House hopes to preserve an ability to shield close advisers from being forced to testify before Congress.

douglas letter cspan CustomPelosi’s general counsel Douglas Letter, right, told the court that McGahn’s testimony related to the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election is still “essential” to lawmakers’ oversight responsibilities. McGahn was a key witness, Letter wrote, “to several of the most serious instances of President Trump’s misconduct” detailed in the report from former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.

“We appreciate the Biden Administration’s efforts to settle this case, and we have actively participated in those efforts. But we do not believe that postponing the argument will improve the prospect of a settlement,” Letter responded in a court filing.

Letter said he expects that the Biden administration will consult with McGahn and Trump as part of the negotiations — discussions that he said would complicate a possible agreement and further delay McGahn’s testimony.

Argument before the court scheduled for Feb. 23 could instead provide “momentum for further productive discussions among the parties,” Letter said.

This is the second time the case has reached the full D.C. Circuit since the House Judiciary Committee initially subpoenaed McGahn in 2019 before the start of the first impeachment investigation of Trump. At the time, Trump directed McGahn to disregard the subpoena and said that key presidential advisers are “absolutely immune from compelled congressional testimony.”

In August, the full appeals court sided 7 to 2 with House Democrats in finding that lawmakers have standing to sue and that the “effective functioning of the Legislative Branch critically depends on the legislative prerogative to obtain information, and constitutional structure and historical practice support judicial enforcement of Congressional subpoenas when necessary.”

The court sent the case back to a three-judge panel, which promptly dismissed the lawsuit because Congress had not passed a law expressly authorizing it to sue to enforce its subpoenas.

The initial appeal followed a decision from U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, who rejected the White House’s blanket claim of immunity, finding that witnesses instead can invoke executive privilege in person, question by question, after answering subpoenas.

Salon, Roger Stone-connected "Stop the Steal" group hasn't filed IRS reports — and its agent disappeared, Roger Sollenberger, Feb. 19, 2021. Pro-Trump group's registered agent no longer works at her law firm, and her LinkedIn page has been deactivated.

A political nonprofit with ties to longtime Trump associate Roger Stone, which was supposedly created to challenge the 2020 election results, has missed two federal deadlines to disclose how much money it spent and received before and after the election. Furthermore, the law firm that employed the group's registered agent told Salon that she no longer works there, and her LinkedIn page appears deactivated.

"Committee to Stop the Steal" was registered with the federal government as a 527 tax-exempt political organization on Oct. 16, a few weeks before the election, by a clerk at a Southern California personal injury firm called Jensen & Associates. The IRS does not require 527 groups to disclose their donors, but it does mandate that they publicize how much money they raise and spend, including in post-election and year-end reports. Committee to Stop the Steal has missed the deadlines for both.

Jensen & Associates is led by Paul Rolf Jensen, a friend of Stone's who has represented the right-wing provocateur in an array of matters for at least two decades. The firm's website appears to have been unattended in recent months, but an archived version from last February does not mention political work. While Jensen himself isn't listed on the IRS registration for the Committee to Stop the Steal, the group's listed address is a UPS Store mailbox located near the firm's physical address, and its custodian of records, Ashley Maderos, worked at Jensen for a time as a post-bar law clerk.

When Salon called to inquire about the missed deadlines, an unidentified employee of the firm said that Maderos no longer worked there, but would not say when she left, where she went or what had become of the nonprofit. Maderos also appears to have taken down her LinkedIn profile, which has not been archived but was active as recently as Jan. 29. Multiple attempts to contact her went unanswered.

Maderos' LinkedIn page also noted that she had worked for a time as an intern for former Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican notorious for being "Putin's best friend in Congress." Rohrabacher reportedly worked with Stone in an attempt to get former President Trump to pardon WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, and upon retirement from Congress took up lobbying for a biotech firm run by a Republican fundraiser who worked with one of Stone's super PACs. Jensen & Associates is located in California's 48th congressional district, which Rohrabacher represented for many years.

In 2016, Jensen represented Stone when his earlier incarnation of Stop the Steal was sued for voter intimidation. Stone created that group in April 2016, and registered it at another UPS dropbox in the same area. Jensen was also on the payroll for Stone's Committee to Restore American Greatness, which ultimately became a target of former special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in that same election.

The precise whereabouts of Ashley Maderos could well be of interest to federal investigators now seeking to untangle the roots of the Jan. 6 insurrection. In recent weeks prosecutors have expanded the scope of indictments to include conspiracy charges. Details are still unclear about who bankrolled the effort, which in part required coordinating numerous loosely affiliated conservative and militia groups from across the country.

Stone's first Stop the Steal nonprofit raised and spent tens of thousands of dollars in anticipation of defending Trump through a contested 2016 GOP primary, and then, after he won the nomination, challenging a possible Hillary Clinton victory in the general election, neither of which proved necessary. The group was accused of suppressing minority votes in that election and terminated its registration with the IRS in early 2017. But Stone, a Florida resident, reactivated the movement in 2018 to protect then-Florida Gov. Rick Scott's narrow victory in his midterm U.S. Senate race against Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson. Stone got help at the time from fellow convicted felon Ali Alexander (formerly Ali Akbar), an itinerant provocateur who helped recruit for that effort and went on to play a central role in organizing the 2020 Stop the Steal movement. Alexander went into hiding after the riot and has so far not been accused of a crime.

The night before a mob of thousands of Trump diehards laid siege to the Capitol, Stone gave a pump-up speech at a rally hosted by Alexander, who noted early in the evening that "It was Roger Stone who coined the term first: Stop the Steal," but laid claim to being the "founder of the movement." But when Stone, escorted by bodyguards from the Oath Keepers anti-government militia group, delivered his keynote address a few hours later, he clarified that Alexander had only "revived the Stop the Steal movement." It was, at its heart, a Roger Stone production.

Palmer Report, Opinion: Former prosecutor: it’s now a “certainty” that Donald Trump will be charged and arrested in New York, Bill Palmer, Feb. 19, 2021. Last night the news broke that the bill palmerManhattan District Attorney has hired an outside prosecutor, with expertise in white collar crime and mob boss trials, to help with the criminal case against Donald Trump. Palmer Report’s interpretation of this news was that it means Trump will definitely stand criminal trial in New York. It turns out we’re not the only ones.

Richard Signorelli is a former Assistant U.S. Attorney at the SDNY. He now believes it’s a “certainty” that the Manhattan District Attorney will bring criminal charges against Donald Trump and others in the Trump Organization, based on the appointment of the new outside prosecutor.

bill palmer report logo headerEveryone wants to know when Trump will be criminally charged. Here at Palmer Report, we don’t have any way of predicting this. Signorelli also believes that the timing is an open question. He’s pointing out that no one knows whether the Manhattan DA will wait until the Supreme Court turns over Trump’s tax returns, or if the initial indictments will be brought before that. He also points to the possibility that the DA will bring some charges sooner than others, due to the statute of limitations.

In any case, it’s more clear than ever that Donald Trump is going to be indicted and arrested in New York, and that he’ll stand trial. You can read Richard Signorelli’s entire informative thread here.

 

U.S. Politics, Governance

ny times logoNew York Times, Bob Dole, Republicans’ 1996 presidential nominee, has advanced lung cancer, Maggie Astor, Feb. 19, 2021 (print ed.). Bob Dole, the former senator and 1996 Republican presidential nominee, announced on Thursday that he had advanced lung cancer.

ak bob dole“Recently, I was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer,” Mr. Dole said in a statement. “My first treatment will begin on Monday. While I certainly have some hurdles ahead, I also know that I join millions of Americans who face significant health challenges of their own.”

Mr. Dole, 97 (shown in a file photo with the Justice Integrity Project's editor in 1996), represented Kansas in the Senate for more than 25 years, including 11 years as the chamber’s Republican leader. He gave up his position as majority leader to run for the White House in 1996, only to lose to President Bill Clinton by a large margin, 379 electoral votes to 159.

He has faced health challenges for decades, starting with a battlefield injury during World War II, in which he served as an Army second lieutenant. He was hit by machine-gun fire, which almost killed him and permanently limited his use of his right arm. He went on to support the Americans with Disabilities Act, passed in 1990, and later pushed for the United States to join the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities.

Mr. Dole — the oldest living former presidential nominee or president, one year older than former President Jimmy Carter — disclosed his lung cancer diagnosis a day after the conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh died of the same disease.

washington post logoWashington Post, Manchin to oppose Biden’s pick for budget director, possibly sinking nomination, Jeff Stein and Colby Itkowitz, Feb. 19, 2021. Neera Tanden has emerged as a lightning rod for criticism over her prior attacks against Republican lawmakers and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), left, on Friday announced his opposition to President Biden’s choice to lead the White House budget office, imperiling her nomination in a narrowly divided U.S. Dick ShelbySenate.

Neera Tanden, below right, tapped to be director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, has emerged as a lightning rod for criticism over her prior attacks against Republican lawmakers and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

If all Republicans vote against her nomination, Manchin’s opposition would prevent Tanden from being confirmed through the Senate, where each party only controls 50 votes. Biden has so far secured approval for seven of his cabinet nominees, and Tanden was widely expected to prove among his most controversial choices.

“I believe her overtly partisan statements will have a toxic and detrimental impact on the important working relationship between members of Congress and the next director of the Office of Neera TandenManagement and Budget," Manchin said. "For this reason, I cannot support her nomination. As I have said before, we must take meaningful steps to end the political division and dysfunction that pervades our politics. At a time of grave crisis, it is more important than ever that we chart a new bipartisan course that helps address the many serious challenges facing our nation.”

The White House budget office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A White House spokeswoman also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

At her contentious confirmation hearings earlier this month, Senate Republicans repeatedly brought up Tanden’s prior attacks on GOP lawmakers and Sanders. Tanden posted more than 80,000 tweets, more often than President Trump, and she repeatedly apologized for her prior comments in front of Senate committees.

robert portmanSen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), left, cited tweets from Tanden calling Sen. Susan Collins (R-Me.) “the worst” and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) a “fraud,” while also citing a Tanden tweet that said, “Vampires have more heart than Ted Cruz,” referring to the Republican Senator from Texas.

Tanden has also compared Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to “Voldemort,” the villain in the Harry Potter series, and “Moscow Mitch.”

A loyal Democrat and close ally of former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, Tanden most recently led the Center for American Progress (CAP), a left-leaning think tank. Several Democratic Senators, including Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), forcefully defended her tweets and past actions in committee hearings this month.

“A lot of people have said a lot of things on social media -- probably people in this room -- that they regret," Klobuchar said.

Hartford Courant, Profane anti-Biden flag causing controversy in Connecticut, around the nation, Jesse Leavenworth, Feb. 19, 2021. Flags flying outside two homes in Plymouth proclaim in stark — and some have complained, vulgar and inappropriate language — the residents’ rejection of the November election results and President Joe Biden.

About a half mile apart in the town’s Terryville section, both banners hang below American flags and state in bold, white letters on blue background, “F---- BIDEN,” and below that, in smaller type, “And ... you for voting for him!”

Plymouth police Capt. Edward Benecchi said residents have complained, saying neighborhood kids and students passing on school buses should not have to see such profanity.

But Benecchi said police consulted with the state’s attorney’s office in New Britain and found “we are unable to intercede as it would violate (the residents’) First Amendment right to free speech.”
[Related] Tom Anischik, who spent his career at The Courant making sure your paper was delivered every day, dies at 63 »

Michael Stoto, who raised one of the anti-Biden flags, said no one has complained to him directly, but he has heard that at least one neighbor was upset. He bought the flag, Stoto said, because, “I hate Biden. I think he’s an ignorant fool.” As for children in the neighborhood, he said, “It’s not anything they haven’t seen or heard before.”

“It’s the best $9 I ever spent on Amazon,” Stoto said, “because it’s (ticking) people off and opening their eyes.”

Widely available, the anti-Biden flags have raised neighbors’ ire around the nation, news reports show. In New Hyde Park on Long Island, an elementary school principal urged parents to complain about the profane banner posted on a front yard fence.

In Bay City, Michigan, Sheriff Troy Cunningham told a reporter that he also had consulted with a prosecutor and learned the flag was a Constitutionally protected statement.

And in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, a homeowner who would only give her first name as Kimberly, told a reporter she had been getting harassing emails “that I am teaching our children words and that I am traumatizing children with freedom of speech, basically.” She said she took the flag down because she feared for her children’s safety.

washington post logoWashington Post, Judge tosses suit brought by Republican contender for Virginia governor, Laura Vozzella, Feb. 19, 2021. A Richmond judge on Friday dismissed a lawsuit brought by a Republican contender for governor who argued the Virginia GOP's plan to pick its gubernatorial nominee at a convention would run afoul of coronavirus restrictions.

State Sen. Amanda F. Chase (Chesterfield) asserted in her suit that a traditional convention — a day-long gathering of about 10,000 delegates — would be illegal under Virginia’s current pandemic rules that limit groups to 10 people.

After an hour-long hearing, retired Circuit Court Judge Margaret P. Spencer ruled from the bench that Chase lacked standing to sue. Spencer also found the case “envisions future facts” related to virus restrictions and the convention’s format that might not be true when the event takes place May 1.

It was unclear whether Chase, who did not attend the hearing because the Senate was in session, would appeal. Her attorney, Tim Anderson, said he would have to consult with her.

Chris Marston, the party’s legal counsel, said the decision eliminates any chance that the GOP will abandon the convention plan and opt instead for a state-run primary. The deadline for requesting a primary is Tuesday. The State Central Committee, the party’s governing board, will not meet before then, Marston said, despite a petition brought by 31 members calling for a meeting Saturday.

 

More On Disaster Politics In Texas

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: Texas, Land of Wind and Lies, Paul Krugman, Feb. 19, 2021 (print ed.). When post-truth politics meets energy policy. Republican politicians and right-wing media, not paul krugmancontent with run-of-the-mill blame-shifting, have coalesced around a malicious falsehood instead — the claim that wind and solar power caused the collapse of the Texas power grid, and that radical environmentalists are somehow responsible for the fact that millions of people are freezing in the dark, even though conservative Republicans have run the state for a generation.

This isn’t normal political malfeasance. It’s the energy-policy equivalent of claiming that the Jan. 6 insurrection was a false-flag Antifa operation — raw denial of reality, not just to escape accountability, but to demonize one’s opponents. And it’s another indicator of the moral and intellectual collapse of American conservatism.

 

Biden Transition

washington post logoWashington Post, Biden picks another Obama veteran to oversee Medicare, Medicaid, Dan Diamond and Amy Goldstein, Feb. 18, 2021 (print ed.).  If confirmed, Chiquita Brooks-LaSure would lead $1 trillion agency in second-most powerful post at Health and Human Services Department

President Biden has selected Chiquita Brooks-LaSure to lead the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, filling a major role in his health-care leadership team, according to four people who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the decision.

Health-and-human-services-logo.pngBrooks-LaSure served in the Obama administration as a senior CMS official who helped implement the Affordable Care Act’s coverage expansion and insurance-market reforms. She also worked on Capitol Hill as a Democratic staff member for the House Ways and Means Committee, building ties with then-Rep. Xavier Becerra, right, Biden’s choice to lead the Health and Human Services department and who sat on Xavier Becerra twitterthe committee at the time.

Brooks-LaSure’s selection has not yet been announced. If confirmed by the Senate, she would run the $1 trillion agency that oversees Medicare and Medicaid — vast public health insurance programs for older Americans and for the poor. The agency also is responsible for large parts of the Affordable Care Act, including the insurance marketplaces through which millions of Americans buy coverage.

As a result of that broad reach and enormous budget, the administrator of CMS is regarded as the second-most powerful position within the Department of Health and Human Services after the HHS secretary.

washington post logoWashington Post, Chart: Who Joe Biden is picking to fill his White House and Cabinet, Staff reports, Feb. 18, 2020. One of President-elect Joe Biden’s very first tasks will be filling the top positions in his White House and Cabinet. In contrast to President Trump’s notably White and male Cabinet, Biden has joe biden kamala harris campaign shotpromised to be “a president for all Americans” and build a Cabinet that reflects its diversity.

In making his selections Biden is looking to appease factions of the Democratic Party from moderates to progressives and longtime allies to newer faces. Cabinet positions — with the exception of the vice president and White House chief of staff — will also require approval from a Republican Senate, unless Democrats can win two Senate race runoffs in early January.

Once confirmed, they will be instrumental in carrying out his goals and setting the tenor his presidency. We’re tracking the people who Biden has already named and the top contenders for unfilled roles.

White House, Biden-Harris Cabinet, The Cabinet’s role is to advise the President on any subject he or she may require relating to the duties of each member’s joe biden orespective office. President Joe Biden’s Cabinet includes Vice President Kamala Harris and the heads of the 15 executive departments — the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Labor, State, Transportation, Treasury, and Veterans Affairs, and the Attorney General.

Additionally, the Cabinet includes the White House Chief of Staff, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, the Director of National Intelligence, and the US Trade Representative, as well as the heads of the Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Management and Budget, Council of Economic Advisers, Office of Science and Technology Policy, and Small Business Administration.

 

Media News

washington post logoWashington Post, Amazon, Facebook and Google-backed groups sue Maryland over new online advertising tax, Tony Romm, Feb. 19, 2021 (print ed.). The lawsuit argues the first-in-the-nation tax is unfair and illegal. State lawmakers adopted the tax last week — despite an earlier veto from Gov. Larry Hogan (R) — to fund local education projects.

amazon logo smallTop lobbying groups backed by Amazon, Facebook, Google and other technology giants sued Maryland on Thursday, seeking to scuttle a new state tax on their massive online-advertising revenue — and stop other local governments from following its lead.

facebook logoThe legal challenge contends that Maryland’s first-in-the-nation tax is unfair, unconstitutional and incompatible with federal laws that prohibit state policymakers from instituting levies specifically targeting online services.

The lawsuit is backed by a broad coalition of businesses nationwide through a series of trade groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Internet Association, a Washington-based organization that counts Silicon Valley’s most prominent companies among its members. It carries great legal and political significance at a time when lawmakers well beyond Maryland’s borders are starting to eye the tech industry’s eye-popping pandemic profits as a potential source of much-needed new revenue.

 

World News

washington post logoWashington Post, In G-7 meeting, Biden to reassert U.S. leadership in global diplomacy and welcome talks with Iran, Anne Gearan, Feb. 19, 2021.  In his first major foreign policy address, the president will try to rebuild an agreement that Donald Trump renounced, aiming to reassure allies that the United States will stick to its commitments.

washington post logoWashington Post, Release of intelligence report on Khashoggi killing could push already strained U.S.-Saudi relations to new lows, Karen DeYoung, Feb. 19, 2021 (print ed.). The Biden administration had promised to release a summary of intelligence findings that conclude that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

mohammed bin salman al saudFacing court cases and its own promises of transparency, the Biden administration is about to release a long-sought U.S. intelligence report concluding that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, right, ordered the 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The report, an unclassified summary of findings across the intelligence community produced by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, will be made public as early as next week, according to people familiar with the matter.

Plans for the release come as U.S.-Saudi relations have tumbled to a new low in recent weeks, with the administration canceling arms sales, criticizing human rights abuses and the harassment of dissidents, and pledging to “recalibrate” ties with the kingdom.

 

Feb. 18

Top Headlines

 

Virus Victims, Responses

 

U.S. Law, Politics, Governance

 

More On Disaster Politics In Texas


Media News

 

World News

 

Top Stories

washington post logoWashington Post, Trump attacks McConnell as ‘political hack,’ says he will back pro-Trump candidates, Mike DeBonis, Feb. 18, 2021 (print ed.). The lengthy and personal diatribe escalated a growing rift in the GOP about whether it will be controlled by pro-Trump forces or those viewed as more traditional Republicans.

Donald TrumpFormer president Donald Trump lashed out at Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday for a “lack of political insight, wisdom, skill, and personality,” just days after the Senate — with McConnell’s help — acquitted Trump on the impeachment charge that he incited the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

The lengthy and personal diatribe, issued through an affiliated super PAC, confirmed that Trump plans to be an active combatant in the battle for the direction of the Republican Party that threatens to play out in the months and years to come.

It escalated that growing rift in the party about whether it will be controlled by pro-Trump forces unwilling to question the actions and record of the former president or those viewed as more traditional Republicans focused on building the party around a political philosophy that will resonate with more voters.

Mitchell_McConnellTrump’s statement came after McConnell (R-Ky.), right, voted to acquit Trump but harshly criticized him for being “practically and morally responsible for provoking” the Capitol attack, and indicated that the party needed to turn away from Trumpism to win back its majority in the Senate. McConnell also suggested that there could be legal consequences for Trump’s conduct on the day of the riot.

Trump said he would fight head-on McConnell’s focus on “electability” in GOP candidates and would back pro-Trump Republicans in congressional primaries where “necessary and appropriate.”

washington post logoWashington Post, As millions remain without power amid more snow and ice, blame and questions mount, Arelis R. Hernández, Ken Hoffman, Griff Witte and Annie Gowen, Feb. 18, 2021.  Water supplies in several Texas cities are at risk, officials said, and it could be days or weeks until power is restored.

washington post logoWashington Post, Texas mayor tells residents to fend for themselves during power outage: ‘Only the strong will survive,’ Antonia Noori Farzan, Feb. 18, 2021 (print ed.). Tim Boyd’s tirade, which also suggested that “lazy” residents find their own ways of procuring water and electricity, immediately drew backlash. Later, he announced his resignation.

By Tuesday morning, the residents of Colorado City, Tex., were getting anxious. More than 24 hours had passed since a deadly Arctic blast knocked out power across the state, leaving them without heat or electricity in below-freezing temperatures. To make matters worse, many also lacked running water, forcing them to haul in heavy buckets of snow each time they needed to flush their toilets.

tim boydResidents turned to a community Facebook group to ask whether the small town planned to open warming shelters, while others wondered if firefighters could do their job without water. But when Colorado City’s mayor chimed in, it was to deliver a less-than-comforting message: The local government had no responsibility to help out its citizens, and only the tough would survive.

“No one owes you [or] your family anything,” Tim Boyd, left, wrote on Tuesday in a now-deleted Facebook post, according to KTXS and KTAB/KRBC. “I’m sick and tired of people looking for a damn handout!”

Boyd’s tirade, which also demanded that “lazy” residents find their own ways of procuring water and electricity, immediately drew backlash. Later on Tuesday, Boyd announced his resignation and admitted that he could have “used better wording.”

The controversy highlighted how one of the worst winter storms in decades is testing the limits of the embrace of self-sufficiency and rugged individualism in Texas. The state’s decision to skirt federal oversight by operating its own power grid is one of the main reasons that close to 3.3 million residents in Texas still lacked electricity by early Wednesday morning, while outages in other hard-hit states had dwindled to less than one-tenth of that size. As of late Tuesday, grid operators still couldn’t predict when the lights might turn on, and advocates were warning that Texas’s poorest and most vulnerable residents were at risk of freezing to death. At least 10 deaths in Texas have been linked to the winter storm since Monday, according to the Houston Chronicle.

Colorado City, home to roughly 4,000 people, is located between Abilene and the twin cities of Midland and Odessa, in a part of West Texas that’s best known for high school football and oil field jobs. Below-freezing temperatures aren’t uncommon in winter as winds sweep across the plains, but losing heat, power, water and the ability to cook at the same time was an unpleasant new experience for many in the area.

ny times logoNew York Times, How a Hardcore Liberal Lawyer Joined the Pro-Trump Mob, Richard Fausset and Campbell Robertson, Feb. 18, 2021. W. McCall Calhoun Jr., who ran for office in Georgia as a Democrat, is a walking embodiment of his state’s political contradictions.

mcCall calhoun via TwitterOver the past three decades, as the state around him turned ever more resolutely Republican, W. McCall Calhoun Jr., shown at right in his Twitter photo, remained an outspoken and unwavering liberal. He gave money to Democrats, ran for office as a Democrat and zealously championed Democratic policies in social circles that were far from sympathetic. If friends admitted they voted for Donald J. Trump, his reaction could be blistering.

“He was hard core, there’s no doubt about it,” said Dr. Michael Busman, a physician who has known Mr. Calhoun for years. “He wouldn’t even want to talk to you if you were Republican.”

But last year, as the progressive movement in Georgia was on the cusp of historic electoral triumph, Mr. Calhoun, a small-town lawyer whose family had long roots in the state, suddenly abandoned the Democrats. And not only that, he pledged to kill them.

“I have tons of ammo,” Mr. Calhoun wrote on Twitter three months before storming the U.S. Capitol with a pro-Trump mob. “Gonna use it too — at the range and on racist democrat communists. So make my day.”

The sudden conversion of Mr. Calhoun, who is now in federal custody, was baffling to many who knew him. Indeed, Mr. Calhoun’s story seemed a walking embodiment of Georgia’s contradictions: a state where a rising multiracial coalition of voters sent two Democrats — a Black preacher and a Jewish millennial — to the Senate in January, but where thousands of voters also elected Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, vanguard of an incendiary brand of hard-right politics.

​Some Black residents of Americus, Mr. Calhoun’s hometown, were not shocked that a person so worldly could end up doing something like this.

“The Jekyll and Hyde effect,” said the Rev. Mathis Kearse Wright Jr., the head of the local N.A.A.C.P. chapter. He knew Mr. Calhoun, who gave donations and regularly bought tickets to the group’s annual banquet. But Rev. Wright suggested that the racism deep at the root of Georgia’s history was still very much alive, even if white people, including some of those who saw themselves as progressive, did not want to admit it. “What President Trump did was allow it to bud and to grow,” he said. “A lot of people who had been suppressing it no longer felt that they had to suppress it.”

Related story: Above the Law, Another Lawyer Freely Admits That He Stormed The Capitol — And His Parler Posts Are Cringeworthy, Staci Zaretsky, Jan 11, 2021. He says all he did was a little 'trespassing.'

 

rush limbaugh medal feb 4 2020 slate Custom

Radio host Rush Limbaugh, above, is shown receiving from then-President Trump the Trump the Presidential Medal of Freedom during the State of the Union speech last year.

washington post logoWashington Post, Conservative provocateur and nation’s most popular radio talk-show host dies at 70, Marc Fisher, Feb. 18, 2021 (print ed.). Rush Limbaugh deployed comic bombast and relentless bashing of liberals, feminists and environmentalists to become a cultural phenomenon and lead the Republican Party into a politics of anger and obstruction. His domination of the airwaves helped shape a generation of conservative politicians.

 

Virus Victims, Responses

covad 19 photo.jpg Custom 2Worldometer, World & U.S. Coronavirus Case Totals (updated: Feb. 18, 2021), with some governments reporting slightly lower numbers than the totals here):

World Cases: 110,537,847, Deaths: 2,443,145
U.S. Cases:     28,454,533, Deaths:   502,555

ny times logoNew York Times, The C.D.C. needs to set air guidelines now for workplaces, scientists say, Apoorva Mandavilli, Feb. 18, 2021 (print ed.). Scientists are urging the Centers for Disease cdc logo CustomControl and Prevention to swiftly set standards to limit the airborne transmission of the coronavirus in high-risk settings like meatpacking plants and prisons.

The push comes nearly a year after research showed that the virus can be spread through tiny droplets called aerosols that linger indoors in stagnant air and can be inhaled.

Action on air standards is even more urgently needed now because vaccination efforts are off to a slow start, more contagious virus variants are circulating in the

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: The reality-show president has been replaced by one grounded in reality, Karen Tumulty, Feb. 18, 2021 (print ed.). That a reality-show president has been replaced by one grounded in reality was apparent Tuesday night, when President Biden had his first extended conversation with average Americans since his election.

“I don’t want to overpromise anything here,” Biden said, speaking frankly about vaccinations, covid relief and more.

It was quite a contrast from last March when, as the U.S. coronavirus death toll rose toward 600, then-President Donald Trump blithely promised that happier times were just around the corner. “I think Easter Sunday, and you’ll have packed churches all over our country. I think it would be a beautiful time. And it’s just about the timeline that I think is right,” Trump declared, mentioning a holiday that was less than three weeks away.

That “timeline” turned out to be a fantasy. The pandemic has gone on to kill nearly 490,000 Americans and disrupt almost every aspect of everyday life for almost a year.

At Tuesday’s CNN town hall in Milwaukee, Biden got a glimpse of the anxieties and frustrations people are feeling.

washington post logoWashington Post, New unemployment claims climb to 861,000, Eli Rosenberg, Feb. 18, 2021. Jobless claims have been trending downward until mid-February. The number of new us labor department logounemployment claims filed last week rose slightly, to 861,000, according to data released by the Department of Labor, as the pandemic continues to drain the energy from the economy.

That was an increase of about 68,000 from a previous tally, which included an updated jobless claim figure from the previous week. Another 516,000 claims were filed last week for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, the program for gig and self employed workers.

The unemployment claims have fallen sharply from record peaks in the earliest months of the pandemic, but they remain well above the highs from previous economic crises, nearly a year into the pandemic. Jobless claims reflect a recovery that has flatlined since the end of the summer, with about 833,000 people filing for unemployment insurance the last four weeks in adjusted data.

Wayne Madsen Report, Commentary, WHO assessment of Wuhan initial COVID cases supports natural cause, Wayne Madsen, Feb. 18, 2021. After a recent study conducted at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in the Chinese city that served as ground zero for the initial deadly world health organization logo Customstrain of Covid-19, a World Health Organization team all but ruled out a leak from an institute laboratory as the cause for the pandemic.

The head of the WHO team, Dr. Peter Ben Embarek, said that while bats may have provided a "natural reservoir" for the virus, the transmission of the virus from bats to humans did not likely occur in Wuhan.

washington post logoWashington Post, Fury in Peru after officials secretly received vaccine before health workers, Simeon Tegel, Feb. 18, 2021 (print ed.). Martín Vizcarra got his vaccination in October, shortly before he was ousted as president. Hundreds of high officials and other well-connected VIPs also jumped the vaccination line.

 

U.S. Law, Politics, Governance

ICE logo

washington post logoWashington Post, Democrats to formally introduce Biden citizenship bill, Maria Sacchetti, Feb. 18, 2021. The measure is the first significant attempt at a bill since 2013 but faces steep odds in the Senate.

Democrats will formally file President Biden’s immigration bill on Thursday, facing steep odds as they attempt to create the first major path to U.S. citizenship for undocumented immigrants in nearly 35 years.

The bill is the centerpiece of Biden’s broad strategy to forge a more humane immigration system, and it would grant legal status to approximately 11 million people, mostly from Mexico and Central America.

joe biden oThe legislation faces significant hurdles in a divided Senate still reeling from the impeachment trial of former president Donald Trump, who often tapped into anti-immigration rhetoric to fire up his campaign rallies.

Biden has expressed hope for passing a bipartisan measure, and the U.S. Citizenship Act marks the first major effort since the Senate passed a massive immigration overhaul in 2013 and that effort died in the House. But it is unclear how aggressively he will court Republicans needed to pass the Senate.

The U.S. government has not passed a major citizenship bill since 1986, when amnesty legislation signed by Republican President Ronald Reagan legalized nearly 3 million undocumented immigrants.

“If Republicans want to come forward and work on immigration, I think the president is open to working with anyone who wants to get something done and get a bill to his desk,” said a senior administration official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity Wednesday to discuss the early negotiations. “We’re open to a conversation with anyone about this, but we think this is a much more comprehensive way to deal with this issue than just simply a wall.”

Biden seeks to restore ‘badly damaged’ refugee resettlement program

Biden indicated at a CNN town hall Tuesday night that he is open to alternate routes to citizenship — such as stand-alone bills that would legalize smaller groups of immigrants such as farmworkers — but he called the bill “a reasonable path to citizenship.”

Republicans have signaled little support for Biden’s approach. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a backer of the 2013 bill, called the latest measure a “blanket amnesty.” Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who voted with Democrats to convict Trump, touted his own measure this week that would increase the minimum wage “while ensuring businesses cannot hire illegal immigrants.”

“We must protect American workers,” Romney said in a tweet Tuesday.

Biden’s bill includes some enforcement provisions such as increased border technology to interdict drug traffickers and smugglers, higher penalties for employers who exploit undocumented laborers in the United States, and increased funding for immigration courts.

But E-Verify, which checks a person’s legal status to work in this country, “will not be mandatory” for U.S. employers, and Biden has said he would not expand the border wall.

washington post logoWashington Post, Trump-McConnell clash threatens to settle into a cold war as GOP eyes midterms, Mike DeBonis and Josh Dawsey, Feb. 18, 2021 (print ed.). Were it up to former president Donald Trump, Republicans would spend the next two years purging their ranks and reshaping themselves in his own image — a process he moved to jump-start Tuesday with a searing attack on the party’s most powerful elected leader, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

McConnell (R-Ky.) has other ideas. Having held Trump responsible for both the loss of his Senate majority in the Jan. 5 Georgia runoffs and the deadly attack on the Capitol a day later, he has moved to chart a different path — one that steers clear of the former president’s personal grievances and conspiratorial rhetoric to put the GOP back in power as soon as possible.

djt mouth openThe clash between the two men stands to define the Republican Party for years to come and was sketched out in a recent series of dramatic public attacks — with McConnell labeling Trump as “practically and morally responsible” for the Capitol riot in a Saturday speech, followed by Trump lashing into McConnell in a Tuesday statement as a “dour, sullen, and unsmiling political hack” who should be stricken from GOP leadership.

But 10 Republican operatives interviewed Wednesday said the conflict is likely to quickly settle into a cold war, with major battles over the direction of the party to be avoided or deferred for months as leaders hope to train their fire on Democrats rather than each other.

Multiple Republicans close to McConnell said he has little interest in carrying on a back-and-forth with the former president. Having said his piece about Trump’s conduct after the election, McConnell has signaled he plans to focus his attention on opposing Democratic policies and ensuring the most electable Republicans emerge from Senate primaries next year.

Democratic-Republican Campaign logosIt remains unsettled, however, just how far Trump will pursue his vendetta against McConnell — one that descended into baseless attacks on McConnell’s family finances and his political standing in his home state of Kentucky. Many Trump advisers believe he is wise to target McConnell as a wildly unpopular symbol of the GOP establishment — and some believe Trump can push McConnell from power.

McConnell has not spoken with Trump since Dec. 14 — the day McConnell acknowledged President Biden won the November election — and he does not plan to ever speak with him again, people close to him say. Like others, they spoke on the condition of anonymity to disclose internal details. Even the back channel the two men once had — between McConnell’s former top aide Josh Holmes and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner — is now cold.

washington post logoWashington Post, Retropolis: The 150-year-old Ku Klux Klan Act being used against Trump in Capitol attack, Erick Trickey, Feb. 18, 2021. The Klan Act, passed in 1871, protects Americans from political intimidation.

Violent attempts to overturn an election aren’t new in American politics. After the Civil War, the Ku Klux Klan launched white-supremacist insurrections all across the South to stop Black ulysses grant matthew bradypeople and their allies from voting. And 150 years ago, President Ulysses S. Grant (shown at left in a Matthew Brady photo) and Congress responded to those vigilante attacks with a groundbreaking law. Known as the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, it still protects Americans from political intimidation today.

This week, the Klan Act was cited in a federal lawsuit aimed at those involved in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. Filed by House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), the lawsuit accuses former president Donald Trump, his lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, and members of the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers of conspiring in violation of the Klan Act to prevent Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 election.

House Homeland Security chairman sues Trump and Giuliani, accusing them of inciting Capitol riot

The Klan, founded in Tennessee in 1865 by Confederate veterans, grew by 1867 into an armed paramilitary force that pledged to restore “a white man’s government” in the South. In disguises to shield their identities, Klansmen intimidated and murdered Black and White members of the Republican Party after Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. Klan violence peaked just before the 1868 and 1870 elections.

“We have just passed through an Election which, for rancour and virulence on the part of the opposition, has never been excelled in any civilized community,” South Carolina’s Republican governor, Robert K. Scott, wrote to Grant in fall 1870. “Colored men and women have been dragged from their homes at the dead hour of night and most cruelly and brutally scourged,” Scott reported, “for the sole reason that they dared to exercise their own opinions upon political subjects.”

Grant, elected president in 1868, had led the Union Army to victory in the Civil War. But as letters from his Southern supporters beseeched him for help, Grant realized that the Klan threatened to undo the U.S. government’s postwar efforts to create a multiracial democracy.

ny times logoNew York Times, After Capitol Riots, Billionaire’s ‘Scholars’ Confront Their Benefactor, Kate Kelly, Feb. 18, 2021. More than 160 participants in a master’s program funded by the Blackstone founder Stephen Schwarzman have urged him to stop donating to election objectors. He has declined.

The private equity billionaire Stephen A. Schwarzman has spent many years financing educational programs, from his old high school to the Ivy League.

But the Blackstone chief executive’s largess hasn’t always bought good will: There was swift opposition to his proposal to put his name on Abington Senior High School in Pennsylvania, and his close ties to former President Donald J. Trump contributed to opposition to having his name on a campus center he funded at Yale.

And now, some participants in the Schwarzman Scholars program — a master’s course he established at Tsinghua University in Beijing to be a Chinese analogue to the Rhodes Scholarships — are speaking out against their benefactor.

They say Mr. Schwarzman is failing to live up to his own values and harming the program’s reputation by not cutting off money to lawmakers who opposed certifying President Biden’s electoral victory.

In a letter emailed to Mr. Schwarzman on Feb. 10, 161 current and past Schwarzman Scholars and two program professors urged Mr. Schwarzman to cut off those politicians and groups. “You espoused integrity, honesty and courage,” they wrote. “Now, we ask that you demonstrate those values by refusing to financially support those who would overturn the results of a free and fair election for their own political gain.”

About an hour later, Mr. Schwarzman — who with his wife was the third-largest donor to the objecting lawmakers, according to an analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics — refused.

Although the election certification vote would be “one of the major factors” in determining whom he supported in the future, Mr. Schwarzman wrote, “I value my constitutional right to carefully determine who I vote for and support.”

The rift centers on one of Mr. Schwarzman’s fondest achievements, a one-year graduate program started with a $100 million donation from him and augmented with $450 million he raised from others. Up to 200 students take part each year, living and learning in a building designed by Robert A.M. Stern Architects — called Schwarzman College — with coursework focused on Chinese history, leadership and global affairs.

A quarter of the more than 600 students who have participated in the program since 2016 signed the letter, including 18 anonymously. Some scholars supported the letter, organizers said, but feared repercussions in their professional lives if they signed.

washington post logoWashington Post, L. Brent Bozell IV, descendant of prominent conservative family, charged in Capitol breach, Spencer S. Hsu, Feb. 18, 2021 (print ed.). The son of a prominent conservative activist who denounced the Jan. 6 breach of the Capitol but has claimed that Democrats stole the 2020 presidential election has been charged with participating in the riot.

Leo Brent Bozell IV, the son of L. Brent Bozell III, was charged with trespassing and obstruction of an official proceeding in the assault that left five dead, injured more than 100 police officers and delayed the electoral-vote confirmation of President Biden’s victory.

Justice Department log circularCharging papers made public Tuesday allege that the younger Bozell, 41, appeared on video on the Senate chamber floor during the event wearing a Hershey Christian Academy hooded sweatshirt. Online tipsters identified him as “Zeek” or “Zeeker Bozell” and traced his work as a girls’ basketball coach in Hershey, Pa., the FBI said.

An FBI agent alleged that Bozell pointed a video camera that was mounted in the Senate chamber at the floor so that it would not record rioters entering.

Bozell made an initial appearance Wednesday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Robin M. Meriweather, who released him ahead of his trial on the condition that he stay away from the District.

Bozell did not enter a plea. His next hearing date is April 21.

Bozell’s father is the founder of a group of right-wing news outlets, including the Media Research Center, NewsBusters and CNSNews. Bozell’s grandfather L. Brent Bozell Jr. was a speechwriter for Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R-Wis.) and ghostwriter of 1964 GOP presidential nominee Barry Goldwater’s book, “The Conscience of a Conservative.”

Bozell is also the grandnephew of William F. Buckley Jr., founder of the National Review and a leading conservative intellectual, who once described his greatest achievement as purging the conservative movement in the latter part of the 20th century of “extremists­, bigots, kooks, anti-Semites and racists.”

Bozell III told a meeting of leading conservatives and donors in August that he believed the left planned to “steal this election.”

ny times logoNew York Times, U.S. Charges 3 North Koreans With Hacking and Stealing Millions of Dollars, Katie Benner, Feb. 18, 2021 (print ed.). The Justice Department unsealed charges against three intelligence officers, revealing more details about incursions on Sony Pictures and the National Health Service in Britain, and other attacks.

The Justice Department on Wednesday unsealed charges against three North Korean intelligence officials accused of hacking scores of companies and financial institutions to thwart U.S. sanctions, illegally fund the North Korean government and control American corporations deemed enemies of the state, including Sony Pictures Entertainment.

North Korean flagThe charges are the government’s latest effort to show that North Korea has engaged in a brazen, yearslong effort to undermine and attack institutions around the world and steal millions of dollars even as the United States and its allies intensify efforts to rein in the country and its nuclear ambitions.

One of the officials, Park Jin-hyok, a member of North Korea’s military intelligence agency, was accused by the Justice Department in 2018 of participating in the Sony hacking that crippled the company, as well as the WannaCry cyberattack on Britain’s National Health Service, and an attack on the Bangladeshi central bank and financial institutions around the world.

Building on that investigation, the Justice Department indicted Mr. Park and two more North Korean spies, Jon Chang-hyok and Kim Il, on charges related to those attacks, as well as new accusations that they tried to steal more than $1.3 billion in money and digital currencies from financial institutions and companies.

washington post logoWashington Post, Groups ask Supreme Court to declare the all-male military draft unconstitutional, Robert Barnes, Feb. 18, 2021. The case, which has the backing of several retired generals, bears similarities to the lawsuits that helped to launch Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s legal career decades ago.

President Jimmy Carter called for including women in the military draft more than 40 years ago. The Defense Department decades later agreed the change would improve military readiness and national security.

And a special commission set up by Congress to specifically study the issue came to a similar conclusion last year. Requiring women — not just men — to register when they turn 18, it said, would make it “possible to draw on the talent of a unified nation in a time of national emergency.”

Now the Supreme Court, in a case reminiscent of the lawsuits that brought fame to a feminist lawyer named Ruth Bader Ginsburg, is being asked to force the hand of a reticent Congress by declaring the male-only military draft unconstitutional.

“The registration requirement is one of the last sex-based classifications in federal law,” says a petition from the American Civil Liberties Union, which represents a group called the National Coalition for Men. “It imposes selective burdens on men, reinforces the notion that women are not full and equal citizens, and perpetuates stereotypes about men’s and women’s capabilities.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Wisconsin wildlife officials ate $20,000 of illegal caviar, prosecutors say, Antonia Noori Farzan, Feb. 18, 2021 (print ed.). Now the ‘sturgeon general’ faces charges. Deep in the frozen heart of Wisconsin, state wildlife officials allegedly dined like oligarchs, feasting on tens of thousands of dollars worth of caviar and passing around jars of the prized delicacy at team meetings.

wisconsin map with largest cities CustomMeanwhile, some of their colleagues were working undercover to expose the long-running scheme responsible for the lavish spread, and tipping off federal authorities to a world of clandestine after-hours meetings at state laboratories and five-gallon buckets filled with gleaming fish roe.

The extensive three-year investigation resulted in the arrest of the state’s top sturgeon expert last week. Ryan P. Koenigs, nicknamed the “sturgeon general” by local television stations, allegedly obtained at least $20,000 worth of caviar in a single year while holding down an otherwise unglamorous post as a biologist for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. He faces charges of misdemeanor theft for illegally trading sturgeon eggs, as well as obstructing an investigation by a conservation warden.

Caviar is made from curing the eggs of wild sturgeon, a threatened species in many parts of the world. Typically, harvesting the massive, prehistoric fish is off-limits for recreational anglers — with one major exception. During the month of February, Wisconsin allows a limited number of residents to build makeshift shanties on frozen Lake Winnebago, near Oshkosh, where they plunge spears into the icy depths and pull up lake sturgeon that can weigh more than 100 pounds and yield hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of caviar.

Under state law, spear fishermen are entitled to keep any caviar from their catch, but can’t sell it. And many prefer the thrill of the hunt to the taste of briny fish eggs. But DNR staffers had developed a taste for the pricey appetizer, and according to a criminal complaint, Wisconsin game wardens had a long-standing directive to collect eggs for “research purposes” whenever anglers said they didn’t plan to process and eat them.

ap logoAssociated Press via Miami Herald, Florida man who flew massive Confederate flag found dead, Feb. 18, 2021. A man who bragged of tricking local Florida officials into letting him fly a massive Confederate flag at the corners of two busy interstates has died, authorities said.

Police said officers found 73-year-old Marion Lambert dead on his small farm in Tampa on Wednesday. WFLA first reported the news. Officials said foul play is not suspected.

In 2017, Lambert told The Associated Press during an interview that he tricked the county several years ago, when he bought a sliver of land near Interstates 4 and 75. When he asked county officials for a permit, he said he planned to build “a memorial to American veterans.”

“I tricked them,” he said. “If they had done any research they would have known who I was.”

Lambert and others raised $250,000 in donations and labor to erect granite slabs engraved with soldiers’ names. In 2008, he unfurled a 30-by-50-foot (9-by-15-meter) flag — at the time it was the biggest Confederate flag in the nation — much to the disgust of many.

Confederate symbols have come under increased scrutiny in recent years as critics argue they symbolize racism, slavery and division.

But Lambert was unrepentant about the flag. “Am I sorry I put up the flag where I put it up? Not at all," he said in 2017. "I enjoyed waking up the mind of the public.” It's unclear what will happen to the sliver of land.

 

More On Disaster Politics In Texas

washington post logoWashington Post, Live Updates: Biden authorizes FEMA to provide generators, supplies to hard-hit states, Brittany Shammas, Derek Hawkins, Mark Berman, Abigail Hauslohner, Reis Thebault, Paulina Villegas and Hannah Knowles, Feb. 18, 2021.While the rest of the Lower 48 shivers, Florida hogs all the warmth; In Mississippi, ‘flashbacks to Hurricane Katrina;’ Houston authorities face deluge of calls related to carbon monoxide poisoning and accidents.

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: Texas, Land of Wind and Lies, Paul Krugman, Feb. 18, 2021. When post-truth politics meets energy policy. Republican politicians and right-wing media, not paul krugmancontent with run-of-the-mill blame-shifting, have coalesced around a malicious falsehood instead — the claim that wind and solar power caused the collapse of the Texas power grid, and that radical environmentalists are somehow responsible for the fact that millions of people are freezing in the dark, even though conservative Republicans have run the state for a generation.

This isn’t normal political malfeasance. It’s the energy-policy equivalent of claiming that the Jan. 6 insurrection was a false-flag Antifa operation — raw denial of reality, not just to escape accountability, but to demonize one’s opponents. And it’s another indicator of the moral and intellectual collapse of American conservatism.

Palmer Report, Opinion: The deranged insanity continues, Bill Palmer, right, Feb. 18, 2021. This week a catastrophic winter storm hit Texas. It was a reminder that 1) climate change is r+eal and bill palmergetting more severe, 2) the deregulation and overall corruption of Republican leaders in Texas is devastating to the people who live there, and 3) those same Republicans are more brazen with their crazed lies than ever.

bill palmer report logo headerTexas Governor Greg Abbott, below right, and other Republican officials in the state tried to blame their own corrupt and negligent lack of preparedness on – of all things – renewable energy. Yeah, that’s it. Some of them even tried to blame it on the Green New Deal, which hasn’t even been passed into law, and therefore couldn’t possibly have been involved.

Greg Abbott CustomMore and more in America, the battle isn’t about whether liberal or conservative ideas are better. It’s about whether a majority of the public is more likely to believe the truth being told by the Democrats and their allies, or the deranged lies being peddled by the Republicans and their allies.

It’s also a reminder that even with Donald Trump gone from the picture, the Republican Party is merely back to being what it’s been for a generation: a lie factory aimed at deceiving the American public into mistakenly supporting corrupt people and terrible ideas. It’s why the factual truth is more important than ever.

washington post logoWashington Post, Editorial: Texas Republicans lied about the power crisis. We need more investment in renewables — not less, Editorial Board, Feb. 18, 2021 (print ed.). The Texas fiasco offers many lessons about keeping the lights on — lessons that Congress and state leaders must act on in the coming months. Not among them is the need to cancel a transition to cleaner sources of energy.

Frozen wind turbines represent only a small fraction of the problem in Texas. The real failure was a lack of preparation. Wind power generally slumps during the Texas winter, so state regulators do not assume they will get much from that power source. Rather, their plans rely heavily on natural gas power plants — and they are the predominant culprits in the current emergency. Across the state, the deep freeze shut down equipment to supply and burn natural gas for electricity, just as demand for electric heating surged and as demand for natural gas for home heating spiked. Freezing also forced one of the state’s nuclear power plants offline. If the state had been more reliant on coal power, as it was a decade ago, frozen coal piles could well have led to similar power plant failures.

Natural gas plants, fuel pipelines, nuclear power stations and, yes, wind turbines can all operate in frigid temperatures. They failed in Texas because they were not hardened to withstand the sort of severe weather that struck the state this week. This was avoidable. The state saw freezing temperatures that challenged the power grid in 2011, after which the need for system upgrades and better planning was obvious. The state did too little over the next decade, and millions of Texans are now paying the price. Blaming renewables is a dishonest way to score political points and divert blame.

washington post logoWashington Post, Perspective: Texas seceded from the nation’s power grid. Now it’s paying the price, Julie A. Cohn (Texas-based energy historian), The state’s unique electrical system worked well for decades — but it wasn’t ready for unexpected cold.

Writing from in front of my gas fireplace, wearing multiple layers of clothing and sipping a hot beverage, I await the end of this week’s apocalyptic winter storm and the return of reliable electric power. I am contemplating the grid — the term we use to describe a collection of generating plants, transmission lines, substations, and sometimes even the smaller distribution texas maplines and electric meters that transform gas, coal, falling water, uranium, wind and sunlight into usable electricity and bring it to our homes and workplaces. When asking how the Texas grid operator happened to fail so miserably at keeping people here warm and well-lit for the past couple of days, though, we get so much wrong. There’s a big picture, and a Texas picture, and both illuminate some of what is happening.

First, the big picture: The grid is shorthand for a collection of technologies owned and operated by thousands of entities — from government agencies to homeowners with rooftop solar panels. There are, in the contiguous United States, three major interconnected systems — one covering everything east of the Rocky Mountains, one for everything west of the Rocky Mountains, one for Texas. The Eastern Interconnection and the Western Interconnection are made up of multiple grid operators and dozens of smaller networks that serve power needs through continuous coordination, across state lines when necessary. In Texas, we have one grid operator, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), one control area, hundreds of infrastructure owners and lots of coordination to make it work. So the casual use of the term “the grid” results in the common misconception that everything is under the control of, say, an electricity czar. But in the United States, even the federal government does not have that role. When something goes wrong, as happened here this week, it is a mistake to look in one direction for one culpable party.

Then there’s the Texas picture. There are three things to remember: The power system that serves 95 percent of the state is intentionally isolated from the rest of the country; our competitive wholesale power market offers scant incentives for investment in backup power, and Texas generally does not have winter storms like this one.

 Julie A. Cohn is a historian of energy, technology and the environment, affiliated with both the Center for Energy Studies at Rice University’s Baker Institute and the University of Houston’s Center for Public History.ted cruz beard

ny times logoNew York Times, Senator Ted Cruz left Texas for Cancún as the state was battered by a brutal winter storm, Shane Goldmacher and Nicholas Fandos, Feb. 18, 2021. As Texas was battered by an icy storm and widespread power losses that left millions of residents freezing and fearing for their safety, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas left the state on Wednesday and traveled to Mexico for a previously planned family vacation, according to a person with direct knowledge of the trip.

Photos of Mr. Cruz (shown above in a file photo) and his wife boarding a flight from Houston to Cancún, Mexico sparked a fierce outcry on social media late Wednesday. The person familiar with his trip, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss Mr. Cruz’s personal travel, said the senator planned to return to Texas on Thursday.

As Mr. Cruz left the country, his home state was gripped by crisis: millions of people without power, many without running water and a deep freeze so severe that the Federal Emergency Management Agency had been activated to send supplies. Gov. Greg Abbott declared that, “Every source of power that the state of Texas has has been compromised.”

While the city of Houston was gripped by the freezing weather, a member of Mr. Cruz’s staff contacted the Houston Police Department personnel at George Bush Intercontinental Airport on Wednesday afternoon requesting “assistance upon arrival,” according to Jodi Silva, a department spokeswoman.

Ms. Silva said they had “monitored his movements” before he departed. Ms. Silva said she did not have any information about Mr. Cruz’s potential return to the city on Thursday.

Mr. Cruz himself had posted updates throughout Wednesday on Twitter about the intensity of the winter storm from the National Weather Service. “Stay safe and please continue to follow the warnings and updates provided by state and local officials,” he wrote on Wednesday morning.

With Mr. Cruz’s office silent as the photos spread on social media, some spotted an “CRU, R.” on a public standby list for a 4:44 p.m. flight from Houston to Cancún on Wednesday. Those same initials briefly appeared on a standby list for a return flight on Thursday afternoon. Both eventually disappeared. Mr. Cruz’s formal full name is Rafael Edward Cruz.

Mr. Cruz’s decision to leave his state in the middle of a crisis was an especially confounding one for a politician who has already run for president once, in 2016, and widely seen as wanting to run again in 2024 or beyond.

Mr. Cruz, 50, narrowly won re-election in 2018 against Beto O’Rourke, a former representative, with less than 51 percent of the vote. In that race, Mr. Cruz aggressively touted his efforts in a past emergency, Hurricane Harvey. He is not up for re-election again until 2024.

ny times logoNew York Times, No, Wind Farms Aren’t the Main Cause of the Texas Blackouts, Dionne Searcey, Feb. 18, 2021 (print ed.). The state’s widespread electricity failure was largely caused by freezing natural gas pipelines. That didn’t stop advocates for fossil fuels from trying to shift blame.

As his state was racked with a huge electricity blackout crisis that left millions of people without heat in frigid temperatures, the governor of Texas took to the television airwaves to start placing blame.

His main target was renewable energy, suggesting that when wind and solar power failed, it led to a systemwide collapse.

Greg Abbott Custom“It just shows that fossil fuel is necessary for the state of Texas as well as other states to make sure we will be able to heat our homes in the winter times and cool our homes in the summer times,” said Gov. Greg Abbott, right, speaking on Sean Hannity’s show on Fox News. Other conservative talk-show hosts had already picked up the theme.

texas mapHowever, wind power was not chiefly to blame for the Texas blackouts. The main problem was frigid temperatures that stalled natural gas production, which is responsible for the majority of Texas’ power supply. Wind makes up just a fraction — 7 percent or so, by some estimates — of the state’s overall mix of power generation

As frigid weather grips the center of the nation, causing widespread power outages, freezing temperatures, slippery roads and weather-related deaths, Governor Abbott’s voice was among the most prominent in a chorus of political figures this week to quickly assert that green energy sources such as wind and solar were contributing to the blackouts. The talking points, coming largely from conservatives, reinvigorated a long-running campaign to claim that emissions-spewing fossil fuels are too valuable a resource to give up.

The efforts came despite the fact that the burning of fossil fuels — which causes climate change by releasing vast amounts of planet-warming carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere — is helping to drive the phenomenon of increasingly dangerous hurricanes and other storms, as well as unusual weather patterns.

“Green energy failure” read the banner on the bottom of the screen of Fox News stories about power outages. Social media posts mocked renewable energy as “unreliables.” A Wall Street Journal editorial called for more reliance on coal to help endure frigid temperatures. Some politicians and analysts spread lies and disinformation to advance their defense of fossil fuels.

“Every time we have challenges with the grid, whether it’s in California this past summer or Texas right now, people try to weaponize this for their pet project, which is fossil fuels,” said Leah Stokes, an assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Santa Barbara, whose work has focused on battles over energy policy. “Our infrastructure cannot handle extreme weather events, which these fossil fuels are ironically causing.”

The politicization of the cold weather gripping huge swaths of the country is playing out as President Joseph R. Biden Jr. has made combating climate change a key tenet of his administration. With a sweeping set of executive orders in his initial days in office, Mr. Biden rejoined the Paris Agreement among nations to fight climate change, canceled the Keystone XL pipeline and issued a moratorium on drilling for fossil fuels on federal land, among other things.

“Building resilient and sustainable infrastructure that can withstand extreme weather and a changing climate will play an integral role in creating millions of good paying, union jobs, creating a clean energy economy, and meeting the President’s goal of reaching a net zero emissions future by 2050,” said Vedant Patel, a White House assistant press secretary.
Climate Fwd: What on earth is going on? Get the latest news about climate change, plus tips on how you can help.

Scientists are still analyzing what role human-caused climate change may have played in the current round of winter storms, but it is clear that global warming poses future threats to power systems nationwide with predictions of more intense heat waves and shortages of water. Many electric grids aren’t equipped to handle those extreme conditions, putting them at risk for widespread failure.

 

Media News

washington post logoWashington Post, Amazon, Facebook and Google-backed groups sue Maryland over new online advertising tax, Tony Romm, Feb. 18, 2021. The lawsuit argues the first-in-the-nation tax is unfair and illegal. State lawmakers adopted the tax last week — despite an earlier veto from Gov. Larry Hogan (R) — to fund local education projects.

amazon logo smallTop lobbying groups backed by Amazon, Facebook, Google and other technology giants sued Maryland on Thursday, seeking to scuttle a new state tax on their massive online-advertising revenue — and stop other local governments from following its lead.

facebook logoThe legal challenge contends that Maryland’s first-in-the-nation tax is unfair, unconstitutional and incompatible with federal laws that prohibit state policymakers from instituting levies specifically targeting online services.

The lawsuit is backed by a broad coalition of businesses nationwide through a series of trade groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Internet Association, a Washington-based organization that counts Silicon Valley’s most prominent companies among its members. It carries great legal and political significance at a time when lawmakers well beyond Maryland’s borders are starting to eye the tech industry’s eye-popping pandemic profits as a potential source of much-needed new revenue.

Proof, Investigative Commentary: Twelve Things You Need to Know About Metajournalism, Seth Abramson (editor of "Proof," author, professor, lawyer, investigative reporter, shown below right with a cover of one of his recent trilogy of books about Donald Trump, Feb. 18, 2021. It's not what you think it is. You've been lied to about it. And it might save journalism.

seth abramson proof logoProof is one of the first media outlets in the U.S. explicitly devoted to metajournalism. That means that this site, its author, and its supporters will — for a while yet — at times face attacks from those who are hostile to metajournalism largely because they don’t understand it. The purpose of this article is to offer a brief introduction to the term by identifying the twelve things you most need to know about this emerging genre of digital journalism. There are others worth noting, but these twelve will do for a start. (If seth abramson resized4 proof of collusionyou appreciate what you read here, I hope you will consider subscribing to Proof and encouraging others to subscribe (at just $5/month, Proof is tied for the least-expensive website on Substack).

As is outlined in more detail below, the primary intention of today’s highly diverse metajournalistic enterprise is no less than to save journalism by collaborating with — not replacing or dishonoring — conventional journalism and journalists. But this can only happen if the anxiety some are experiencing surrounding this term (particularly those who work full-time as reporters) is assuaged. I hope this essay will help do that.

Twelve Things About Metajournalism You Need to Know

(1) It is journalism and it is reportage — but it is not conventional reportage. Recently some reporters, including some who practice journalism without being much engaged by the theory or the history of the practice, have wrongly implied that all journalism is reportage, and that indeed “journalism” is essentially synonymous with “reporting.” The result of this needless confusion is that many average news-readers believe that no one who is not a hard-news reporter can ever denominate themselves a “journalist.”

I hope you’ll listen to this journalism professor when he tells you that this is poppycock.

As I write in my forthcoming journalism textbook (Macmillan, 2022), journalism is a research, writing, communications, and ethical practice that was professionalized and institutionalized only in the recent past — under two hundred years ago — and is only confused with one of its many genres, hard-news reportage, because it benefits individuals who practice journalism as “reporters” to confuse the public in this way. It would be more accurate to say that reportage is to journalism as rock music is to music.

Among the dozens of other genres of journalism — all of which I teach as a professor at University of New Hampshire, along with, of course, hard-news reportage in its many varieties (e.g., sports reporting, which I used to practice, and fashion reporting, which I could not possibly be less qualified to practice )— are the following: video journalism, photojournalism, immersive journalism, community journalism, New Journalism, data journalism, convergence journalism, service journalism, “gonzo” journalism, explanatory journalism, interactive journalism, citizen journalism, op-eds, advocacy journalism, XR journalism, investigative journalism, entertainment journalism (to be distinguished from entertainment reporting), feature writing, news aggregation, curatorial journalism (a type of metajournalism) and many others. There are also some genres of journalism that more than 90% of the time don’t deserve the appellation but can on very rare occasions, if certain preconditions are met, slip over the line into the hinterlands of the journalistic: for instance churnalism, gossip, and yellow journalism.

The four key principles of the writing, research, communications, and ethical practice we know as “journalism” are (O)bjectivity, (A)ccuracy, (T)ransparency, and (H)onesty. Taken together we can refer to these — and I will hereafter — as the “OATH” principles. When these principles are applied in the systematized transfer of information between persons with an eye toward first determining the “newsworthiness” of the information to be transferred—“newsworthiness” being measured by one or more of uniqueness, timeliness, proximity, public interest, impact, utility, trend circumscription, conflict circumscription and entertainment—there’s a good chance that what you’re observing is “journalism” in some variety.

It is unfortunate that these basic principles governing the landscape of public activity known as “journalism” have been so distorted by deliberately misleading disputes over who is or is not a “legitimate” journalist — battles whose aggressors are often scions of the Old Guard, like, in my own recent experience, Maggie Haberman of the New York Times or the editors of the Columbia Journalism Review. It’s reached the point at which many Americans are comfortable jeering at anyone who claims to be a journalist but is not a reporter — denominating such persons “frauds” under an entirely invented sense of what journalism is now, and has been historically.

Certain genres of journalism are still emerging, which is no surprise given that the comparatively recent development of journalistic practices being professionalized and institutionalized has now been interrupted — while it is still, relatively speaking, in its infancy — by one of the major inventions in the history of humankind: the digital computer.

With the digital computer has come a network of interconnected innovations like the internet, augmented reality, virtual reality, mixed reality, artificial intelligence, blockchain, bioengineering, haptics, wearable technology, and nanotechnology that have changed the face of journalism forever. Nevertheless, despite institutionalized and professionalized journalism being less than two hundred years old, practitioners of several new, conspicuously technology-enabled genres within the ancient writing, research, communications, and ethical practice known as journalism find themselves confronted by peers who believe — because they have known nothing else of journalism in their blink-of-an-eye lifespans — that any method of systematically and ethically transferring newsworthy data between persons besides “reportage” is illegitimate.

Among the emerging genres of journalism that are enabled by the new technologies mentioned above are curatorial journalism, news aggregation, immersive journalism, data journalism, convergence journalism, interactive journalism, and XR journalism.

Of these emerging modes, the one least like conventional hard-news reportage in its various iterations (e.g., science reporting, sports reporting, entertainment reporting, fashion reporting, tech reporting, and the crime beat) is curatorial journalism, a type of metajournalism. It’s for this reason that curatorial journalism, like metajournalism generally, often comes in for attack, rebuke, and distortion by conventional reporters like Haberman or academics like Daniel Drezner who don’t understand what they’re trying to end — and arguably don’t understand the history of journalism as a practice that for over 99.9% of its lifespan was neither professionalized nor institutionalized.

So what is curatorial journalism?

Curatorial journalism is the compilation, curation, and collation of major-media reporting from around the world and going back decades. Its purposes include: (1) to rescue from the “archive” stories that have been wrongly forgotten or abandoned because their relevance to events now occurring could not be known at the time they were published; (2) to network reports, whether new or old and from anywhere in the world, that address the same metanarratives, narratives, or subnarratives but are not currently in conversation with one another for benign reasons (e.g. memory-, time-, or process-related) or malicious ones (e.g. corporate-competition, transnational-bias, or archive-erasure ones); (3) to amplify the idiosyncratically newsworthy components of individual reports (that is, components that are not replicated in other reports on the same subject released at approximately the same time); (4) to encourage and aid “horizontal” news-gathering rather than merely “vertical” news-gathering (by which horizontal process institutions reach across the boundaries of their brands to work collaboratively with competitors and provide new context to the reports of each; (5) to add a much-needed “past-focus” and “future-focus” to a news ecosystem that is currently, for profit-motive reasons, present-oriented in an unhealthy, unsustainable way; and (6) to find in the gaps between published reports unmistakable, inarguable, inextricable metanarratives, narratives, and subnarratives robustly supported by their “tether” reports.

At is best, curatorial journalism invigorates existing reporting, exponentially increases its reach, honors it authors, permits a more robust understanding of the past and a more reliable contemplation of possible future events, and breaks down obstacles to the ethical and reliable mass transfer of information that are the result of journalism’s recent move toward professionalization, institutionalization, and centralization. It may also bring to light new narratives previously unseen, ones of such accuracy and significant probative value that their utility could not help but be recognized by even the most traditional investigative reporter.

Follow link to read the rest of the essay.

 

World News

TRT World, Commentary: Israel’s role in war crimes committed during the Guatemalan civil war, Staff Report, Feb. 18, 2021. The Jewish state not only sold weapons to the right-wing Guatemalan government but also provided military advice that contributed to the war crimes it committed against its indigenous population.

The Guatemalan civil war ended in 1996, but its repercussions over the country’s indigenous population, which has suffered more than other ethnic and political groups, continues.

In late 2019, a Jerusalem-based human rights defender, Itay Mack, demanded an inquiry from Israel’s chief prosecutor over the state’s role in the civil war, which killed more than 200,000 people over decades.

But since then, the Israeli prosecutor’s investigation slowed as the country’s defence ministry stalled the disclosure of sensitive documents. This may prove the country’s illicit connections with right-wing Guatemalan generals.

guatemala flag“A citizen who makes a request to a public authority, even if he received a preliminary reply to his request, doesn't need to wait for months on end before receiving an update regarding the status of the handling of the request, certainly when the public authority is aware of the prolonged delay in handling it and the importance of the issues arising from it,” said David Rosen, the ombudsman for the State’s prosecutor office in response to the defence ministry’s delay tactics.

The Israeli military’s scorched earth campaign against the Palestinians inspired the Guatemalan right-wing military to replicate the tactic against the country’s rebellious indigenous Maya population through a brutal process of their "Palestinianisation" with its forced “integrated nationalism”, according to experts.

Enabling a coup and also genocide

In the early 1980s, the Guatemalan military under General Jose Efrain Rios Montt, who came to power via a military coup in 1982, backed by former US President Ronald Reagan, conducted a village massacre in Dos Erres, killing everyone except four.

In 1999, a UN-sanctioned Truth Investigation Committee found that “All ballistic evidence recovered (from the village scene) corresponded to bullet fragments from firearms and pods of Galil rifles, made in Israel.”

Montt was also thankful to the Israel military for its training of Guatemalan soldiers for the success of his military coup, which was central to the conduct of the genocide against the Maya population. Experts have pointed out that “at least 300 Israeli advisers'' were in Guatemala during the coup.

“Israel is known to have intelligence teams, security and communications specialists, and military training personnel in Guatemala,” reported the New York Times at the time.

Montt’s brutal campaign against the country’s Maya also carried remarkably similar themes to some Israeli policies against the Palestinians.

Montt’s “guns and beans” campaign, which offered "If you are with us, we’ll feed you, if not, we’ll kill you”, was almost identical to the current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s economic peace plan to the Palestinians under the Deal of the Century, promoted by the former US President Donald Trump.

According to the plan, Palestinians would be offered economic benefits when giving up their claims, many of which are enshrined in international law, over occupied territories.

In 2012, Montt was finally convicted for genocide and crimes against humanity after escaping prosecution over the accounts of parliamentary immunity. But he could not be jailed due to his old age. The ICC is now seeking to prosecute Netanyahu.

 

Feb. 17

Top Headlines

 

Virus Victims, Responses

 

Post-1/6 Insurrection Probes

 

U.S. Law, Politics, Governance

 

World News

 

Media News

 

Top Stories

joe biden

washington post logoWashington Post, Biden’s trip to swing state marks new stage in push for stimulus plan, Matt Viser, Feb. 17, 2021 (print ed.). President Biden took his message to Milwaukee, attempting to move past former president Donald Trump’s impeachment and sell his own agenda. But even as he tries a return to normalcy, Biden’s events are heavily restricted by the pandemic.

President Biden arrived in Milwaukee on Tuesday for his first major trip since taking office, kicking off a new phase of his presidency that attempts to move past the impeachment of his predecessor and toward a more aggressive selling of his coronavirus relief plan.

Speaking at a CNN town hall, Biden pledged that any American who wants a vaccine will have access to one by the end of July. He said he wanted many elementary and middle schools to be open five days a week by the end of April. And he said that "by next Christmas, I think we'll be in a very different circumstance."

Still, the timeline in many ways remains unclear, with Biden hedging on some commitments and openly stating uncertainty about some goals. There can be a gap between when vaccine doses are distributed and when they are administered; restrictions might be in place long after they are available; and the precise meaning of schools being "open" has sometimes been murky.

washington post logoWashington Post, Trump attacks McConnell as ‘political hack,’ says he will back pro-Trump candidates, Mike DeBonis, Feb. 17, 2021. The lengthy and personal diatribe escalated a growing rift in the GOP about whether it will be controlled by pro-Trump forces or those viewed as more traditional Republicans.

Donald TrumpFormer president Donald Trump lashed out at Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday for a “lack of political insight, wisdom, skill, and personality,” just days after the Senate — with McConnell’s help — acquitted Trump on the impeachment charge that he incited the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

The lengthy and personal diatribe, issued through an affiliated super PAC, confirmed that Trump plans to be an active combatant in the battle for the direction of the Republican Party that threatens to play out in the months and years to come.

It escalated that growing rift in the party about whether it will be controlled by pro-Trump forces unwilling to question the actions and record of the former president or those viewed as more traditional Republicans focused on building the party around a political philosophy that will resonate with more voters.

Mitchell_McConnellTrump’s statement came after McConnell (R-Ky.), right, voted to acquit Trump but harshly criticized him for being “practically and morally responsible for provoking” the Capitol attack, and indicated that the party needed to turn away from Trumpism to win back its majority in the Senate. McConnell also suggested that there could be legal consequences for Trump’s conduct on the day of the riot.

Trump said he would fight head-on McConnell’s focus on “electability” in GOP candidates and would back pro-Trump Republicans in congressional primaries where “necessary and appropriate.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Texas mayor tells residents to fend for themselves during power outage: ‘Only the strong will survive,’ Antonia Noori Farzan, Feb. 17, 2021. Tim Boyd’s tirade, which also suggested that “lazy” residents find their own ways of procuring water and electricity, immediately drew backlash. Later, he announced his resignation.

By Tuesday morning, the residents of Colorado City, Tex., were getting anxious. More than 24 hours had passed since a deadly Arctic blast knocked out power across the state, leaving them without heat or electricity in below-freezing temperatures. To make matters worse, many also lacked running water, forcing them to haul in heavy buckets of snow each time they needed to flush their toilets.

tim boydResidents turned to a community Facebook group to ask whether the small town planned to open warming shelters, while others wondered if firefighters could do their job without water. But when Colorado City’s mayor chimed in, it was to deliver a less-than-comforting message: The local government had no responsibility to help out its citizens, and only the tough would survive.

“No one owes you [or] your family anything,” Tim Boyd, left, wrote on Tuesday in a now-deleted Facebook post, according to KTXS and KTAB/KRBC. “I’m sick and tired of people looking for a damn handout!”

Boyd’s tirade, which also demanded that “lazy” residents find their own ways of procuring water and electricity, immediately drew backlash. Later on Tuesday, Boyd announced his resignation and admitted that he could have “used better wording.”

The controversy highlighted how one of the worst winter storms in decades is testing the limits of the embrace of self-sufficiency and rugged individualism in Texas. The state’s decision to skirt federal oversight by operating its own power grid is one of the main reasons that close to 3.3 million residents in Texas still lacked electricity by early Wednesday morning, while outages in other hard-hit states had dwindled to less than one-tenth of that size. As of late Tuesday, grid operators still couldn’t predict when the lights might turn on, and advocates were warning that Texas’s poorest and most vulnerable residents were at risk of freezing to death. At least 10 deaths in Texas have been linked to the winter storm since Monday, according to the Houston Chronicle.

Colorado City, home to roughly 4,000 people, is located between Abilene and the twin cities of Midland and Odessa, in a part of West Texas that’s best known for high school football and oil field jobs. Below-freezing temperatures aren’t uncommon in winter as winds sweep across the plains, but losing heat, power, water and the ability to cook at the same time was an unpleasant new experience for many in the area.

 

rush limbaugh medal feb 4 2020 slate Custom

Radio host Rush Limbaugh, above, is shown receiving from then-President Trump the Trump the Presidential Medal of Freedom during the State of the Union speech last year.

washington post logoWashington Post, Conservative provocateur and nation’s most popular radio talk-show host dies at 70, Marc Fisher, Feb. 17, 2021. Rush Limbaugh deployed comic bombast and relentless bashing of liberals, feminists and environmentalists to become a cultural phenomenon and lead the Republican Party into a politics of anger and obstruction. His domination of the airwaves helped shape a generation of conservative politicians.

washington post logoWashington Post, Millions of jobs unlikely to come back, even after pandemic, economists warn, Heather Long, Feb. 17, 2021. Businesses are planning for a future of less business travel, more automation and more people working from home.

Millions of jobs that have been shortchanged or wiped out entirely by the coronavirus pandemic are unlikely to come back, economists warn, setting up a massive need for career changes and retraining in the United States.

The coronavirus pandemic has triggered permanent shifts in how and where people work. Businesses are planning for a future where more people are working from home, traveling less for business, or replacing workers with robots. All of these modifications mean many workers will not be able to do the same job they did before the pandemic, even after much of the U.S. population gets vaccinated against the deadly virus.

We’ve been cooped up with our families for almost a year. This is the result.

Microsoft founder-turned-philanthropist Bill Gates raised eyebrows in November when he predicted that half of business travel and 30 percent of “days in the office” would go away forever. That forecast no longer seems far-fetched. In a report coming out later this week that was previewed to The Washington Post, the McKinsey Global Institute says that 20 percent of business travel won’t come back and about 20 percent of workers could end up working from home indefinitely. These shifts mean fewer jobs at hotels, restaurants and downtown shops, in addition to ongoing automation of office support roles and some factory jobs.

 

Virus Victims, Responses

covad 19 photo.jpg Custom 2Worldometer, World & U.S. Coronavirus Case Totals (updated: Feb. 17, 2021), with some governments reporting slightly lower numbers than the totals here):

World Cases: 110,137,899, Deaths: 2,432,192
U.S. Cases:     28,384,461, Deaths:   500,038

ny times logoNew York Times, Covid-Linked Syndrome in Children Is Growing and Cases Are More Severe, Pam Belluck, Feb. 17, 2021 (print ed.). The condition, which usually emerges several weeks after infection, is still rare, but can be dangerous. “A higher percentage of them are really critically ill,” one doctor said.

 

Post-1/6 Insurrection Probes

bennie thompson horizontal

ny times logoNew York Times, N.A.A.C.P. Sues Trump and Giuliani Over Election Fight and Jan. 6 Riot, Annie Karni, Feb. 17, 2021 (print ed.). The civil rights group brought the suit on behalf of Representative Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, above, with other Democrats in Congress expected to join as plaintiffs.

The N.A.A.C.P. on Tuesday morning filed a federal lawsuit against former President Donald J. Trump and his personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani, claiming that they violated a 19th century statute when they tried to prevent the certification of the election on Jan. 6.

The civil rights organization brought the suit on behalf of Representative Bennie Thompson, Democrat of Mississippi. Other Democrats in Congress — including Representatives Hank Johnson of Georgia and Bonnie Watson Coleman of New Jersey — are expected to join as plaintiffs in the coming weeks, according to the N.A.A.C.P.

The lawsuit contends that Mr. Trump and Mr. Giuliani violated the Ku Klux Klan Act, an 1871 statute that includes protections against violent conspiracies that interfered with Congress’s constitutional duties; the suit also names the Proud Boys, the far-right nationalist group, and the Oath Keepers militia group. The legal action accuses Mr. Trump, Mr. Giuliani and the two groups of conspiring to incite a violent riot at the Capitol, with the goal of preventing Congress from certifying the election.

The suit is the latest legal problem for Mr. Trump: New York prosecutors are investigating his financial dealings; New York’s attorney general is pursuing a civil investigation into whether Mr. Trump’s company misstated assets to get bank loans and tax benefits; and a Georgia district attorney is examining his election interference effort there.

Jason Miller, an adviser to Mr. Trump, noted in response to the lawsuit that the Senate had acquitted the former president of the article of impeachment on inciting an insurrection. The Senate voted 57-43, falling short of the two-thirds majority required to convict.

“President Trump did not plan, produce or organize the Jan. 6 rally on the Ellipse. President Trump did not incite or conspire to incite any violence at the Capitol on Jan. 6,” Mr. Miller said in a statement on Tuesday.

In the lawsuit, Mr. Thompson said he was forced to wear a gas mask and hide on the floor of the House gallery for three hours while hearing “threats of physical violence against any member who attempted to proceed to approve the Electoral College ballot count.” Mr. Thompson also heard a gunshot, according to the suit, which he did not learn until later had killed Ashli Babbitt, one of the rioters in the Capitol lobby.

Mr. Thompson is seeking compensatory and punitive damages in the lawsuit filed in Federal District Court in Washington. The suit does not include a specific financial amount.

Mr. Thompson, 72, claims he was put at an increased health risk by later being required to shelter in place in a cramped area that did not allow for social distancing. The lawsuit notes that Mr. Thompson shared confined space with two members of Congress who tested positive for the coronavirus shortly after the attack at the Capitol.

In an interview on Monday, Mr. Thompson said he would not have brought the suit against Mr. Trump if the Senate had voted to convict him in last week’s impeachment trial.

“I feared for my life,” Mr. Thompson said. “Not a day passes that I don’t think about this incident. I was committed to seeing justice brought to this situation.”

washington post logoWashington Post, L. Brent Bozell IV, descendant of prominent conservative family, charged in Capitol breach, Spencer S. Hsu, Feb. 17, 2021. The son of a prominent conservative activist who denounced the Jan. 6 breach of the Capitol but has claimed that Democrats stole the 2020 presidential election has been charged with participating in the riot.

Leo Brent Bozell IV, the son of L. Brent Bozell III, was charged with trespassing and obstruction of an official proceeding in the assault that left five dead, injured more than 100 police officers and delayed the electoral-vote confirmation of President Biden’s victory.

Justice Department log circularCharging papers made public Tuesday allege that the younger Bozell, 41, appeared on video on the Senate chamber floor during the event wearing a Hershey Christian Academy hooded sweatshirt. Online tipsters identified him as “Zeek” or “Zeeker Bozell” and traced his work as a girls’ basketball coach in Hershey, Pa., the FBI said.

An FBI agent alleged that Bozell pointed a video camera that was mounted in the Senate chamber at the floor so that it would not record rioters entering.

Bozell made an initial appearance Wednesday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Robin M. Meriweather, who released him ahead of his trial on the condition that he stay away from the District.

Bozell did not enter a plea. His next hearing date is April 21.

Bozell’s father is the founder of a group of right-wing news outlets, including the Media Research Center, NewsBusters and CNSNews. Bozell’s grandfather L. Brent Bozell Jr. was a speechwriter for Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R-Wis.) and ghostwriter of 1964 GOP presidential nominee Barry Goldwater’s book, “The Conscience of a Conservative.”

Bozell is also the grandnephew of William F. Buckley Jr., founder of the National Review and a leading conservative intellectual, who once described his greatest achievement as purging the conservative movement in the latter part of the 20th century of “extremists­, bigots, kooks, anti-Semites and racists.”

Bozell III told a meeting of leading conservatives and donors in August that he believed the left planned to “steal this election.”

“And if they get away with that, what happens?” he said. “Democracy is finished because they usher in totalitarianism.”

On Jan. 6, Bozell III told Fox Business that the riot was “an explosion of pent-up outrage from middle America.”

“Look, they are furious that they believe this election was stolen,” he said. “I agree with them.”

He continued, “I am heartsick about that element that has been so destructive and has done so much damage to a very noble cause, but the damage they have done to conservatives like me is profound.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Capitol Riot Exposed Long-Running Problem of Extremists in the Police, Neil MacFarquhar, Feb. 17, 2021 (print ed.). At least 30 law enforcement officers from around the country took part in the rally on Jan. 6 that preceded the riot. Many are now being investigated.

For more than three decades, Sheriff Chris West of Canadian County, Okla., a large man whose uniform often includes a Stetson hat, a vest and a gold star badge, devoted his life to law enforcement.

A U.S. Marine Corps veteran, he spent 28 years as a highway patrolman in Oklahoma, working his way up to captain before being elected sheriff of his native county in 2017. He earned the accolade “Oklahoma Sheriff of the Year” in 2019, and won a second term last fall, after running unopposed.

Then came Jan. 6.

Mr. West said he set his badge and his official role aside when he drove to Washington to support President Donald J. Trump. “I went as a citizen, as Chris West, the individual,” he told a news conference in El Reno, the county seat, after he returned.

By his own account, he marched on the Capitol waving a Trump flag and hollering slogans like “Stop the Steal!” and “We love Trump!” But he said that he did not participate in the storming of the Capitol, and he condemned the attack.

His actions have divided Canadian County, which includes parts of Oklahoma City and the rural areas to its west, with several thousand people signing a petition demanding his removal and even more endorsing a counterclaim supporting him.

He is one of at least 30 police or other law enforcement officers who attended the demonstration on Jan. 6. Many are now facing internal investigations and three have thus far been arrested on federal charges related to breaching the Capitol.

 

U.S. Law, Politics, Governance

washington post logoWashington Post, Trump-McConnell clash threatens to settle into a cold war as GOP eyes midterms, Mike DeBonis and Josh Dawsey, Feb. 17, 2021. Were it up to former president Donald Trump, Republicans would spend the next two years purging their ranks and reshaping themselves in his own image — a process he moved to jump-start Tuesday with a searing attack on the party’s most powerful elected leader, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

McConnell (R-Ky.) has other ideas. Having held Trump responsible for both the loss of his Senate majority in the Jan. 5 Georgia runoffs and the deadly attack on the Capitol a day later, he has moved to chart a different path — one that steers clear of the former president’s personal grievances and conspiratorial rhetoric to put the GOP back in power as soon as possible.

The clash between the two men stands to define the Republican Party for years to come and was sketched out in a recent series of dramatic public attacks — with McConnell labeling Trump as “practically and morally responsible” for the Capitol riot in a Saturday speech, followed by Trump lashing into McConnell in a Tuesday statement as a “dour, sullen, and unsmiling political hack” who should be stricken from GOP leadership.

But 10 Republican operatives interviewed Wednesday said the conflict is likely to quickly settle into a cold war, with major battles over the direction of the party to be avoided or deferred for months as leaders hope to train their fire on Democrats rather than each other.

Multiple Republicans close to McConnell said he has little interest in carrying on a back-and-forth with the former president. Having said his piece about Trump’s conduct after the election, McConnell has signaled he plans to focus his attention on opposing Democratic policies and ensuring the most electable Republicans emerge from Senate primaries next year.

It remains unsettled, however, just how far Trump will pursue his vendetta against McConnell — one that descended into baseless attacks on McConnell’s family finances and his political standing in his home state of Kentucky. Many Trump advisers believe he is wise to target McConnell as a wildly unpopular symbol of the GOP establishment — and some believe Trump can push McConnell from power.

McConnell has not spoken with Trump since Dec. 14 — the day McConnell acknowledged President Biden won the November election — and he does not plan to ever speak with him again, people close to him say. Like others, they spoke on the condition of anonymity to disclose internal details. Even the back channel the two men once had — between McConnell’s former top aide Josh Holmes and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner — is now cold.

ny times logoNew York Times, No, Wind Farms Aren’t the Main Cause of the Texas Blackouts, Dionne Searcey, Feb. 17, 2021. The state’s widespread electricity failure was largely caused by freezing natural gas pipelines. That didn’t stop advocates for fossil fuels from trying to shift blame.

As his state was racked with a huge electricity blackout crisis that left millions of people without heat in frigid temperatures, the governor of Texas took to the television airwaves to start placing blame.

His main target was renewable energy, suggesting that when wind and solar power failed, it led to a systemwide collapse.

Greg Abbott Custom“It just shows that fossil fuel is necessary for the state of Texas as well as other states to make sure we will be able to heat our homes in the winter times and cool our homes in the summer times,” said Gov. Greg Abbott, right, speaking on Sean Hannity’s show on Fox News. Other conservative talk-show hosts had already picked up the theme.

texas mapHowever, wind power was not chiefly to blame for the Texas blackouts. The main problem was frigid temperatures that stalled natural gas production, which is responsible for the majority of Texas’ power supply. Wind makes up just a fraction — 7 percent or so, by some estimates — of the state’s overall mix of power generation

As frigid weather grips the center of the nation, causing widespread power outages, freezing temperatures, slippery roads and weather-related deaths, Governor Abbott’s voice was among the most prominent in a chorus of political figures this week to quickly assert that green energy sources such as wind and solar were contributing to the blackouts. The talking points, coming largely from conservatives, reinvigorated a long-running campaign to claim that emissions-spewing fossil fuels are too valuable a resource to give up.

The efforts came despite the fact that the burning of fossil fuels — which causes climate change by releasing vast amounts of planet-warming carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere — is helping to drive the phenomenon of increasingly dangerous hurricanes and other storms, as well as unusual weather patterns.

“Green energy failure” read the banner on the bottom of the screen of Fox News stories about power outages. Social media posts mocked renewable energy as “unreliables.” A Wall Street Journal editorial called for more reliance on coal to help endure frigid temperatures. Some politicians and analysts spread lies and disinformation to advance their defense of fossil fuels.

“Every time we have challenges with the grid, whether it’s in California this past summer or Texas right now, people try to weaponize this for their pet project, which is fossil fuels,” said Leah Stokes, an assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Santa Barbara, whose work has focused on battles over energy policy. “Our infrastructure cannot handle extreme weather events, which these fossil fuels are ironically causing.”

The politicization of the cold weather gripping huge swaths of the country is playing out as President Joseph R. Biden Jr. has made combating climate change a key tenet of his administration. With a sweeping set of executive orders in his initial days in office, Mr. Biden rejoined the Paris Agreement among nations to fight climate change, canceled the Keystone XL pipeline and issued a moratorium on drilling for fossil fuels on federal land, among other things.

“Building resilient and sustainable infrastructure that can withstand extreme weather and a changing climate will play an integral role in creating millions of good paying, union jobs, creating a clean energy economy, and meeting the President’s goal of reaching a net zero emissions future by 2050,” said Vedant Patel, a White House assistant press secretary.
Climate Fwd: What on earth is going on? Get the latest news about climate change, plus tips on how you can help.

Scientists are still analyzing what role human-caused climate change may have played in the current round of winter storms, but it is clear that global warming poses future threats to power systems nationwide with predictions of more intense heat waves and shortages of water. Many electric grids aren’t equipped to handle those extreme conditions, putting them at risk for widespread failure.

 ny times logoNew York Times, Fearing Trump’s Reaction, Pentagon Delayed Female Generals’ Promotions, Eric Schmitt and Helene Cooper, Feb. 17, 2021. Under a Biden administration, the nominations are expected to go from the Pentagon to the White House within weeks and then to the Senate for approval.

Last fall, the Pentagon’s most senior leaders agreed that two top generals should be promoted to elite, four-star commands.

Department of Defense SealFor then-Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper and Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the tricky part was that both of the accomplished officers were women. In 2020 America under President Trump, the two Pentagon leaders feared that any candidates other than white men for jobs mostly held by white men might run into turmoil once their nominations got to the White House.

mark esperMr. Esper, left, and General Milley worried that if they even raised their names — Gen. Jacqueline D. Van Ovost of the Air Force and Lt. Gen. Laura J. Richardson of the Army — the Trump White House would replace them with their own candidates before leaving office.

So the Pentagon officials agreed on an unusual strategy: They held back their recommendations until after the November elections, betting that if Joseph R. Biden Jr. won, he and his aides would be more supportive of the Pentagon picks than Mr. Trump, who had feuded with Mr. Esper and has a history of disparaging women. They stuck to the plan even after Mr. Trump fired Mr. Esper six days after the election.

“They were chosen because they were the best officers for the jobs, and I didn’t want their promotions derailed because someone in the Trump White House saw that I recommended them or thought D.O.D. was playing politics,” Mr. Esper said in an interview, referring to the Department of Defense. “This was not the case. They were the best qualified. We were doing the right thing.”

The strategy may soon pay off. In the next few weeks, Mr. Esper’s successor, Lloyd J. Austin III, and General Milley are expected to send the delayed recommendations to the White House, where officials are expected to endorse the nominations and formally submit them to the Senate for approval.

washington post logoWashington Post, Chart: Who Joe Biden is picking to fill his White House and Cabinet, Staff reports, Feb. 17, 2020. One of President-elect Joe Biden’s very first tasks will be filling the top positions in his White House and Cabinet. In contrast to President Trump’s notably White and male Cabinet, Biden has joe biden kamala harris campaign shotpromised to be “a president for all Americans” and build a Cabinet that reflects its diversity.

In making his selections Biden is looking to appease factions of the Democratic Party from moderates to progressives and longtime allies to newer faces. Cabinet positions — with the exception of the vice president and White House chief of staff — will also require approval from a Republican Senate, unless Democrats can win two Senate race runoffs in early January.

Once confirmed, they will be instrumental in carrying out his goals and setting the tenor his presidency. We’re tracking the people who Biden has already named and the top contenders for unfilled roles.

White House, Biden-Harris Cabinet, The Cabinet’s role is to advise the President on any subject he or she may require relating to the duties of each member’s joe biden orespective office. President Joe Biden’s Cabinet includes Vice President Kamala Harris and the heads of the 15 executive departments — the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Labor, State, Transportation, Treasury, and Veterans Affairs, and the Attorney General.

Additionally, the Cabinet includes the White House Chief of Staff, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, the Director of National Intelligence, and the US Trade Representative, as well as the heads of the Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Management and Budget, Council of Economic Advisers, Office of Science and Technology Policy, and Small Business Administration.

 

World News

washington post logoWashington Post, Navalny dismisses libel case against him as ‘nonsense’ in third day of Russian trial, Robyn Dixon, Feb. 17, 2021 (print ed.). The prosecutor asked that the Russian opposition leader be fined just under $13,000 for allegedly libeling an elderly World War II veteran. The court adjourned and will deliver its judgment Friday afternoon.  

 

Media News

 tribune publishing logo

Chicago Tribune, Hedge fund Alden to buy Tribune Publishing in deal valued at $630 million, Robert Channick, Feb. 17, 2021 (print ed.). Tribune Publishing, publisher of the Chicago Tribune and other major newspapers, has agreed to be acquired by Alden Global Capital in a deal valued at $630 million.

Announced Tuesday after the stock market closed, the deal would create one of the largest newspaper operators in the United States. It follows weeks of negotiations between a special committee of Tribune Publishing’s board and Alden, a hedge fund with a history of deep cost-cutting at its other newspaper properties.

alden global capital logoAlden, already Tribune Publishing’s largest shareholder with a 31.6% stake, is offering $17.25 a share for the remainder of the company in a transaction that would take Tribune Publishing private. That amounts to Alden paying about $431 million for the 68% of shares it doesn’t already own.

The agreed-upon price is $3 a share higher than a nonbinding proposal Alden presented in December. Since its interest in buying all of the company was made public in late December, shares of Tribune Publishing have steadily moved higher. On Tuesday, shares closed at $15.97 a share, giving the company a market capitalization of $583.4 million.

In addition to the Chicago Tribune, Tribune Publishing owns the Baltimore Sun; the Hartford (Connecticut) Courant; the Orlando (Florida) Sentinel; the South Florida Sun Sentinel; New York Daily News; the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland; The Morning Call in Allentown, Pennsylvania; the Daily Press in Newport News, Virginia; and The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Virginia.

As part of the deal, Alden signed a nonbinding agreement to sell the Baltimore Sun to Sunlight for All Institute, a public charity formed by Stewart Bainum Jr. In a Dec. 31 regulatory filing, Alden said it had a “brief conversation” with Bainum, chairman of Choice Hotels International, a Rockville, Maryland-based hotel chain, who expressed interest in “certain assets” of Tribune Publishing.

The deal, which the companies said should close in the second quarter, requires the approval of two-thirds of shareholders not affiliated with Alden and must pass regulatory scrutiny. It already has been approved by Tribune’s board. Three of the seven board seats are held by Alden representatives.

“Over the past year, the Company has taken a number of actions to adapt to an ever-changing business and industry environment, including the impact of COVID-19,” Philip Franklin, Tribune Publishing board chair and a member of the special committee, said in a news release. “These actions included strengthening the Company’s financial position, driving digital growth and investing in high-quality content to better serve customers, employees and communities. This positioning enabled the special committee to negotiate a premium, all-cash price, which the committee concluded was superior to the available alternatives.”

The deal’s success hinges on securing the votes of California biotech billionaire and Los Angeles Times owner Patrick Soon-Shiong, who owns about 24% of Tribune Publishing, and shareholder Mason Slaine, a former media executive who owns roughly 8%.

Soon-Shiong has not spoken publicly about Alden’s interest in buying the rest of the company or his intentions. Soon-Shiong, who built his initial stake in Tribune Publishing at $15 per share in 2016, owns about 8.7 million shares of the company.

ny times logoNew York Times, Can This Man Save The Baltimore Sun? Marc Tracy, Feb. 17, 2021. Stewart Bainum, a hotel magnate and former politician, has swooped in with a plan to run it and other papers in Maryland as part of a nonprofit. With the announcement on Tuesday that he had agreed to establish a nonprofit to buy The Baltimore Sun and other Maryland newspapers, the hotel magnate Stewart W. Bainum Jr. is set to go the route of Jeff Bezos, who went into the struggling newspaper business in 2013 by buying The Washington Post after making his fortune in another industry.

Journalists in Maryland, where Mr. Bainum, 74, was born and raised, have cheered his decision to go into newspaper publishing. Not only did he agree to take the papers away from their current owner, Tribune Publishing, a chain that has struggled for more than a decade, but he is poised to save them from being part of a deal that will give full ownership of Tribune to Alden Global Capital, a hedge fund known for slashing costs at the newspapers it controls.

“I think he’s going to try to use The Sun to show people newspapers can be successful even in this media environment,” Timothy F. Maloney, a Maryland lawyer and longtime friend, said in an interview.

Mr. Bainum (pronounced BAY-num), who declined to comment for this article, is the chairman of Choice Hotels International, one of the largest hotel chains in the world. A onetime family business now traded publicly, it has 12 brands, including Comfort Inn, Rodeway Inn, Quality Inn and MainStay Suites.

Middletown Press, Commentary: Lawmakers move to examine Courant's ownership after cuts, newsroom closing, Dan Haar, Feb. 17, 2021 (print ed.). State Rep. Matthew Lesser wants the General Assembly to examine ownership at the Hartford Courant, a company chartered by the state legislature.

Two months after The Hartford Courant closed its newsroom in the capital city, a legislative committee brought forward a bill Tuesday that would examine the newspaper’s ownership — with the possibility of barring a hedge fund from acquiring Tribune Publishing, the Courant’s corporate parent.

As it happened, Tribune and the hedge fund, Alden Capital, announced a deal hours later for Alden, already Tribune’s largest shareholder, to take over 100 percent of the Chicago-based newspaper company.

That put a sharp point on the bill — which is, to say the least, a highly unusual legal tack. Unlike the overwhelming majority of companies in Connecticut, The Hartford Courant Co. operates under a special act of the legislature, dating at least to 1887, and has been amended several times.

That fact, insists Sen. Matthew Lesser, D-Middletown, gives the General Assembly authority to apply sharp scrutiny to the ownership of the Courant, the oldest continuously published newspaper in the nation, dating to 1764.

Lesser is co-chairman of the legislature’s insurance and real estate committee, which raised the bill. The measure is so far just a concept and doesn’t have specific language. Its goal is to blunt the effects of newsroom cutbacks by Tribune.

New York-based Alden controls more than 50 U.S. newspapers through its ownership interest in Digital First Media, and has slashed spending dramatically, paring jobs by 90 percent in some places.

“We should step in before Alden, which has a really bad track record of operating newspapers, drives them out of business,” Lesser said. “What I want whoever owns the Courant to do is to care about The Hartford Courant…They were chartered by the legislature for a purpose.”

Amid steady cutbacks in staffing, civic and political leaders in central Connecticut, starting with Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin, have wondered aloud what, if anything, they can do to help the Courant. The best answer is a sale to local owners, perhaps a nonprofit, as was announced Tuesday for the Baltimore Sun, another Tribune-owned newspaper. Or at least, a sale to a newspaper chain that’s investing.

Pressure from the legislature could help make that happen. “We’re glad it’s something they’re looking at,” said Rebecca Lurye, a Courant reporter and chair of the 42-member union, the Hartford Courant Guild. “We’re losing people by the day and if the legislature sees a way that they can at the very least raise awareness of this issue...then we would love to see that.”

The closing of the newsroom at 285 Broad St., home of The Courant since it was converted from an auto sales location in the ’40s, was not directly related to staff cuts but was viewed by many reporters at the Courant as part of the same trend.

 

Feb. 16

Top Headlines

 

Virus Victims, Responses

 

Post-1/6 Insurrection Probes

 

U.S. Law, Politics, Governance

 

World News

 

Media News

 

Top Stories

 

nancy pelosi mask

washington post logoWashington Post, Pelosi says there will be a 9/11-style commission to examine Capitol riot, Meryl Kornfield, Karoun Demirjian and Mike DeBonis, Feb. 16, 2021 (print ed.). The House Speaker (shown in a file photo) signaled in a letter to Democrats that the House would soon consider legislation to form a commission to “investigate and report” on the attack and interference in election proceedings, as well as an appropriation to pay for enhanced security features on the Capitol grounds.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Monday that the House would move to establish an independent commission to investigate what led to a mob storming the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 — one similar to the body that studied the 9/11 attacks for 15 months before issuing a sweeping 585-page report.

U.S. House logoTwo days after former president Donald Trump was acquitted by the Senate of inciting the deadly attack, Pelosi (D-Calif.) signaled in a letter to Democratic colleagues that the House would soon consider legislation to form a commission to “investigate and report” on the attack and interference in election proceedings, as well as an appropriation to pay for enhanced security features on the Capitol grounds.

Retired Army Gen. Russel Honoré, who was tapped by Pelosi to assess security after the attack, indicated in his “interim reporting” the necessity for improved safety measures, Pelosi said.

“It is clear from his findings and from the impeachment trial that we must get to the truth of how this happened,” she wrote.

‘We have to move on’: Why Democrats decided to fast-track Trump’s second impeachment trial

Pelosi’s letter also arrived as multiple congressional committees are in the process of scheduling hearings in which they will question the heads of agencies involved in preparing for and responding to the attack.

Supporters of the commission say such an initiative will have broader authority than those committees to pursue testimony from those in Trump’s orbit — voices that were not part of the impeachment inquiry. The commission will not be under the time constraints of those committee investigations as it produces its findings.

Lawmakers in both parties speaking on Sunday news shows endorsed the idea for an independent investigation modeled after the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, established in 2002 by Congress and President George W. Bush, which published a report with recommendations to guard against future attacks.

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), who voted for Trump’s acquittal, said he wants to know more about the timeline of the president’s actions at the time and what congressional leaders knew about the potential threat.

“We need a 9/11 Commission to find out what happened and make sure it never happens again‚” he told Chris Wallace of “Fox News Sunday,” even as he castigated Democrats and bill cassidy oSenate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) over the impeachment.

Although the House voted to impeach Trump a week after the violent attack, the Senate acquitted him on a 57-to-43 vote, 10 votes short of the two-thirds needed to convict.

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), left, who along with six other Republicans voted to convict Trump, said many questions remain unanswered after the trial.

“Why was there not more law enforcement, National Guard already mobilized, what was known, who knew it, and when they knew it, all that, because that builds the basis so this never happens again in the future,” Cassidy said on ABC News’s “This Week.”

madeleine dean oHours after the Senate’s verdict, the Louisiana Republican Party voted to censure Cassidy.

Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-Pa.), right, a House impeachment manager, who also spoke on “This Week,” alluded to the partisanship of Saturday’s vote, saying a commission could avoid political infighting.

“Of course, there must be a full commission, an impartial commission, not guided by politics, but filled with people who would stand up to the courage of their conviction, like Dr. Cassidy,” she said.

donald trump money palmer report Custom

washington post logoWashington Post, Donations for a voter fraud probe shed light on how baseless claims led to hundreds of millions in gifts, Shawn Boburg and Jon Swaine, Feb. 16, 2021 (print ed.). The Trump campaign and the Republican Party collected $255 million in two months, saying the money would support legal challenges to an election marred by fraud. Financier Fred Eshelman gave $2.5 million to True the Vote, a group seeking to press the case in court. Now he wants his money back.

Like many Trump supporters, conservative donor Fred Eshelman awoke the day after the presidential election with the suspicion that something wasn’t right. His candidate’s apparent lead in key battleground states had evaporated overnight.

The next day, the North Carolina financier and his advisers reached out to a small conservative nonprofit group in Texas that was seeking to expose voter fraud. After a 20-minute talk with the group’s president, their first-ever conversation, Eshelman was sold.

“I’m in for 2,” he told the president of True the Vote, according to court documents and interviews with Eshelman and others.

“$200,000?” one of his advisers on the call asked.

“$2 million,” Eshelman responded.

Democratic-Republican Campaign logosOver the next 12 days, Eshelman came to regret his donation and to doubt conspiracy theories of rampant illegal voting, according to court records and interviews.

The story behind the Eshelman donation — detailed in previously unreported court filings and exclusive interviews with those involved — provides new insights into the frenetic days after the election, when baseless claims led donors to give hundreds of millions of dollars to reverse President Biden’s victory.

djt hands up mouth open CustomTrump’s campaign and the Republican Party collected $255 million in two months, saying the money would support legal challenges to an election marred by fraud. Trump’s staunchest allies in Congress also raised money off those false allegations, as did pro-Trump lawyers seeking to overturn the election results — and even some of their witnesses.

True the Vote was one of several conservative “election integrity” groups that sought to press the case in court. Though its lawsuits drew less attention than those brought by the Trump campaign, True the Vote nonetheless sought to raise more than $7 million for its investigation of the 2020 election.

Documents that have surfaced in Eshelman’s litigation, along with interviews, show how True the Vote’s private assurances that it was on the cusp of revealing illegal election schemes repeatedly fizzled as the group’s focus shifted from one allegation to the next. The nonprofit sought to coordinate its efforts with a coalition of Trump’s allies, including Trump attorney Jay Sekulow and Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), the documents show.

Eshelman has alleged in two lawsuits — one in federal court has been withdrawn and the other is ongoing in a Texas state court — that True the Vote did not spend his $2 million gift and a subsequent $500,000 donation as it said it would. Eshelman also alleges that True the Vote directed much of his money to people or businesses connected to the group’s president, Catherine Engelbrecht.

washington post logoWashington Post, Live updates: Biden to hold televised town hall; Trump lashes out at McConnell over post-acquittal critique, Colby Itkowitz, Felicia Sonmez and John Wagner, Feb. 16, 2021. President Biden is seeking Tuesday to return the nation’s attention to addressing the coronavirus as he travels to Milwaukee to participate in a nationally televised town hall that is expected to focus heavily on the pandemic and a $1.9 trillion relief bill he is pushing Congress to pass.

The trip follows a week when Washington was consumed by the historic second impeachment trial of former president Donald Trump, who was acquitted Saturday of a charge of inciting the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.

Trump, meanwhile, lashed out at Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday afternoon in a lengthy statement through his “Save America PAC.” McConnell voted Saturday to acquit Trump but said in a statement after the vote that Trump was responsible for the Jan. 6 attack.

ny times logoNew York Times, Live: Millions of Americans Without Power From Sprawling Winter Storm, Staff Reports, Feb. 16, 2021.  Rain and snow moved into the Northeast as frigid temperatures gripped parts of the United States that are unaccustomed to slick roads and a deep freeze. At least 20 people have died in the storm or its aftermath.

 

Virus Victims, Responses

covad 19 photo.jpg Custom 2Worldometer, World & U.S. Coronavirus Case Totals (updated: Feb. 16, 2021), with some governments reporting slightly lower numbers than the totals here):

World Cases: 109,676,360, Deaths: 2,418,768
U.S. Cases:    28,317,703, Deaths:    498,203

ny times logoNew York Times, Cuomo acknowledges his administration mishandled data from virus-related nursing home deaths, Jesse McKinley, Feb. 16, 2021 (print ed.). andrew cuomoAdmitting a degree of fault for the first time, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said on Monday that his administration’s lack of transparency about the scope of virus-related deaths in nursing homes in New York was a mistake.

By failing to answer questions from state lawmakers and the news media, Mr. Cuomo, right, acknowledged that the state created a void that was “filled with skepticism, cynicism, and conspiracy theories which furthered confusion.”

Speaking in the State Capitol, Mr. Cuomo made his first remarks since a top aide to the governor, Melissa DeRosa, privately told some state lawmakers last week that the state had withheld data from the Legislature because it feared that the Trump administration would use the information to begin a federal investigation into the state’s handling of nursing homes.

The governor said on Monday that he had not delivered information because his office was busy with the federal request, which was made in late August, and conceded that he did not answer questions about the total toll from lawmakers or the press.

“There was a delay,” Mr. Cuomo, a third-term Democrat.

The governor’s explanation was quickly criticized by legislative leaders, who said they were not informed about the possibility of the federal inquiry at the time and that Mr. Cuomo’s administration could have released data as soon as it had handled the federal request in early September.

More than 15,000 people have died from the coronavirus in New York’s nursing homes and long-term care facilities. But as recently as late January, the state was reporting only about 8,500 fatalities, excluding virus-related deaths that occurred physically outside of those facilities, such as in hospitals.

About two weeks ago, the state’s attorney general, Letitia James, accused the Cuomo administration of severely undercounting those deaths connected to nursing homes. Hours later, the state updated those numbers, adding thousands of deaths to the toll. Since then, a court order has resulted in more updates, further increasing the number of official deaths.

Ms. James’s assertion of an undercount of total deaths of nursing home residents fueled accusations that the Cuomo administration may have artificially depressed the number of those deaths to try to deflect blame for a policy set early in the pandemic: sending nursing home residents who had been hospitalized with the coronavirus back to the nursing homes. The governor has said the state was following federal guidelines in returning the residents and trying to increase hospital capacity, assertions that he repeated on Monday.

Mr. Cuomo’s comments came as he tried to contain the political fallout from Ms. DeRosa’s remarks, which prompted lawmakers from both parties to call for stripping the governor of the emergency powers that he has exercised during the pandemic. A roster of Republicans and at least one Democratic member of the state’s congressional delegation, Representative Antonio Delgado, have asked for investigations into the Cuomo administration.

time logo ogTime Magazine, Commentary: Even if You Feel Like This Was a Lost Year, That Might Not Be True, Joanne Lipman (author of That’s What She Said: What Men and Women Need to Know About Working Together), Feb. 16, 2021. The first anniversary of the coronavirus quarantine is fast approaching, and for many of us, it’s felt like a lost year. “It’s OK to Feel Overwhelmed and Be Unproductive,” Psychology Today assured its readers. “You’re not lazy: Why it’s hard to be productive right now,” read a recent CNET headline.

When the Washington Post asked readers to describe 2020 in a word, among their top suggestions were “fallow,” “limbo” and “lost.” The New York Times suggested “Blursday,” for its repetitive “Groundhog Day-esque quality.” My daughter calls it a collective “gap year.”

Yet this year may not have been as lost as we fear. While researching a book on reinvention, I’ve interviewed dozens of experts on transformation in all its forms. I’ve spoken to neuroscientists who study creativity, psychologists who work with trauma survivors, cognitive scientists who study “aha” moments and business-school professors focused on innovation and career reinvention. The types of transformations they study vary. Yet I’ve been struck by the one step that every type of reinvention has in common: it’s preceded by an in-between time, a seemingly fallow period much like the one we find ourselves in now.

 

Post-1/6 Insurrection Probes

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: Impeachment’s Over. Bring On the Criminal Investigations, Michelle Goldberg, right, Feb. 16, 2021 (print ed.). The 57-to-43 verdict michelle goldberg thumbagainst Trump was the biggest bipartisan majority for conviction in a presidential impeachment trial. And it seems to me that if Mitch McConnell couldn’t behave honorably, he did the next best thing with the speech he gave after voting to acquit.

“There is no question, none, that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events” of Jan. 6, McConnell said.

The attack on the Capitol, he argued, was an effect of the “intensifying crescendo of conspiracy theories, orchestrated by an outgoing president who seemed determined to either overturn the voters’ decision or else torch our institutions on the way out.” Once it began, said Mitchell_McConnellMcConnell, left, Trump “watched television happily, happily, as the chaos unfolded.”

The senator’s excoriation could have doubled as the House managers’ closing summation.

McConnell signaled openness to Trump’s prosecution in other forums. “He didn’t get away with anything yet — yet,” said McConnell. “We have a criminal justice system in this country. We have civil litigation. And former presidents are not immune from being accountable by either one.”

Should Trump actually face legal jeopardy, plenty of Republicans will still howl about a witch hunt. McConnell might even join them. But his words can’t easily be taken back.

brian sicknick

Substack, Opinion: The False and Exaggerated Claims Still Being Spread About the Capitol Riot, Glenn Greenwald, Feb 16, 2021. Insisting on factual accuracy does not make one an apologist for the protesters. False reporting is never justified, especially to inflate threat and fear levels. What took place at the Capitol on January 6 was undoubtedly a politically motivated riot. As such, it should not be controversial to regard it as a dangerous episode. Any time force or violence is introduced into what ought to be the peaceful resolution of political conflicts, it should be lamented and condemned.

But none of that justifies lying about what happened that day, especially by the news media. Condemning that riot does not allow, let alone require, echoing false claims in order to render the event more menacing and serious than it actually was. There is no circumstance or motive that justifies the dissemination of false claims by journalists. The more consequential the event, the less justified, and more harmful, serial journalistic falsehoods are.';'696

Yet this is exactly what has happened, and continues to happen, since that riot almost seven weeks ago. And anyone who tries to correct these falsehoods is instantly attacked with the cynical accusation that if you want only truthful reporting about what happened, then you’re trying to “minimize” what happened and are likely an apologist for if not a full-fledged supporter of the protesters themselves.

One of the most significant of these falsehoods was the tale — endorsed over and over without any caveats by the media for more than a month — that Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick (shown above) was murdered by the pro-Trump mob when they beat him to death with a fire extinguisher. That claim was first published by The New York Times on January 8 in an article headlined “Capitol Police Officer Dies From Injuries in Pro-Trump Rampage.” It cited “two [anonymous] law enforcement officials” to claim that Sicknick died “with the mob rampaging through the halls of Congress” and after he “was struck with a fire extinguisher.”

It took on such importance for a clear reason: Sicknick’s death was the only example the media had of the pro-Trump mob deliberately killing anyone. In a January 11 article detailing the five people who died on the day of the Capitol protest, the New York Times again told the Sicknick story: “Law enforcement officials said he had been ‘physically engaging with protesters’ and was struck in the head with a fire extinguisher.”

The problem with this story is that it is false in all respects. From the start, there was almost no evidence to substantiate it. The only basis were the two original New York Times articles asserting that this happened based on the claim of anonymous law enforcement officials.

Despite this alleged brutal murder taking place in one of the most surveilled buildings on the planet, filled that day with hundreds of cellphones taping the events, nobody saw video of it. No photographs depicted it. To this day, no autopsy report has been released. No details from any official source have been provided.

Not only was there no reason to believe this happened from the start, the little that was known should have caused doubt. On the same day the Times published its two articles with the “fire extinguisher” story, ProPublica published one that should have raised serious doubts about it.

ny times logoNew York Times, North Carolina Republicans Censure Richard Burr Over Impeachment Vote, Mike Ives, Feb. 16, 2021 (print ed.). The senator, who is retiring, is one of seven Republicans who voted with Democrats to find Donald J. Trump guilty of inciting an insurrection at the Capitol. The North Carolina Republican Party voted unanimously on Monday to censure Senator Richard M. Burr for voting to convict former President Donald J. Trump in his second impeachment trial.

The rebuke was the latest fallout for the seven Republicans who sided with Democrats in an unsuccessful effort to find Mr. Trump guilty of inciting an insurrection on Jan. 6, when a mob of Trump supporters rampaged through the Capitol.

The vote by Mr. Burr, 65, right, who will retire after three terms in the Senate, came as a surprise after he had earlier voted against moving forward with the impeachment trial because of a Republican challenge that the Senate lacked jurisdiction to try a former president.

The North Carolina Republican Party said in a statement on Monday that the decision to censure Mr. Burr had been made by its central committee.

The party “agrees with the strong majority of Republicans in both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate that the Democrat-led attempt to impeach a former president lies outside the United States Constitution,” the statement said.

Mr. Burr released a brief statement in response saying that it was a “truly sad day” for Republicans in his state.

ny times logoNew York Times, Censured by His Party and Shunned by Family for Breaking With Trump, Reid J. Epstein, Feb. 16, 2021 (print ed.). Adam Kinzinger, an Illinois congressman, is trying to press Republicans to leave former President Trump behind — and is risking his career doing so.

As the Republican Party censures, condemns and seeks to purge leaders who aren’t in lock step with Donald J. Trump, Adam Kinzinger, the six-term Illinois congressman, stands as enemy No. 1 — unwelcome not just in his party but also in his own family, some of whom recently disowned him.

adam kinzinger twitterTwo days after Mr. Kinzinger, right, called for removing Mr. Trump from office following the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol, 11 members of his family sent him a handwritten two-page letter, saying he was in cahoots with “the devil’s army” for making a public break with the president.

“Oh my, what a disappointment you are to us and to God!” they wrote. “You have embarrassed the Kinzinger family name!”

The author of the letter was Karen Otto, Mr. Kinzinger’s cousin, who paid $7 to send it by certified mail to Mr. Kinzinger’s father — to make sure the congressman would see it, which he did. She also sent copies to Republicans across Illinois, including other members of the state’s congressional delegation.

“I wanted Adam to be shunned,” she said in an interview.

A 42-year-old Air National Guard pilot who represents a crescent-shaped district along the Chicago’s suburbs, Mr. Kinzinger is at the forefront of the effort to navigate post-Trump politics. He is betting his political career, professional relationships and kinship with a wing of his sprawling family that his party’s future lies in disavowing Mr. Trump and the conspiracy theories the former president stoked.

washington post logoWashington Post, Analysis: Ron Johnson and the emerging hoax-ification of the Capitol riot, Aaron Blake, Feb. 16, 2021. In 2017, a white supremacist who attended a rally in Charlottesville drove a car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing one of them. President Donald Trump leaped into controversy by saying there were good people on both sides of a rally organized by racist groups. The remarks drew condemnation from many Republicans and even a high-profile White House aide, Gary Cohn.

In the months and years that followed, though, something happened: Trump’s allies sought to rewrite the history of Charlottesville to fit Trump’s claims. It didn’t happen instantly, but eventually a conventional wisdom emerged among his most devoted supporters that the official Charlottesville narrative had been wrong all along — that there were indeed good people on both sides because this rally organized by racist groups included a significant number of non-racists who simply wanted to preserve Confederate history. They have come to label it the “Charlottesville hoax.” I debunked it here, as did The Post’s Fact Checker.

ron johnson oA similar effort is afoot regarding the Jan. 6 Capitol riot — except it’s emerging much faster.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), right, who joined 42 other Republicans on Saturday in voting to acquit Trump at his impeachment trial, spent a fair amount of the rest of the holiday weekend downplaying the events of Jan. 6.

“This didn’t seem like an armed insurrection to me,” Johnson said on WISN. “When you hear the word ‘armed,’ don’t you think of firearms? Here’s the questions I would have liked to ask: How many firearms were confiscated? How many shots were fired?”

washington post logoWashington Post, Trump attacks McConnell in lengthy statement, calls him ‘dour, sullen, and unsmiling political hack,’ Colby Itkowitz, Feb. 16, 2021. Former president Donald Trump unleashed a torrent of insults at Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who just a few days ago voted to acquit Trump, but also said the former president bore responsibility for inciting the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

In a lengthy statement, Trump eviscerates McConnell, claiming the Kentucky Republican “begged” Trump for his support in his 2020 reelection to the Senate while threatening to back primary challengers to lawmakers who aren’t aligned with Trump.

“Where necessary and appropriate, I will back primary rivals who espouse Making America Great Again and our policy of America First. We want brilliant, strong, thoughtful, and compassionate leadership,” Trump warns.

Trump hits McConnell on everything from his intellect to his looks, saying the leader lacks “political insight, wisdom, skill, and personality” and describing him as a “dour, sullen, and unsmiling political hack.”

The former president says he “regrets” giving McConnell his endorsement last year and claims the veteran politician would have lost had it not been for Trump. McConnell easily won another term by nearly 20 percentage points over Democrat Amy McGrath.

Trump blamed McConnell for Republicans losing two Senate seats in Georgia, where Trump continued to perpetuate the unfounded claims that the presidential election was rigged. He McConnell did nothing about the unfair elections in that state; there was no evidence of widespread voter fraud in Georgia.

“He doesn’t have what it takes, never did, and never will,” Trump said in the statement, hinting at his role going forward.

“This is a big moment for our country, and we cannot let it pass by using third rate ‘leaders’ to dictate our future!” Trump said.

ny times logoNew York Times, Don’t Care for This Impeachment? Wait Until Next Year, Mark Leibovich, Feb. 16, 2021. In recent days, former President Donald J. Trump’s defenders have darkly accused Democrats of opening a “Pandora’s box” of partisan retribution — leading to a kind of anything-goes future in politics, where impeachments get volleyed back and forth between the two parties like a tennis match, depending on which side controls Congress.

“Partisan impeachments will become commonplace,” said Bruce L. Castor Jr., one of Mr. Trump’s lawyers, as he argued the former president’s case before the Senate on Tuesday.

There’s an element of plausibility here, given the hyperpartisan fervor that’s gripped American politics. But in the ensuing environment, Republicans seem to be saying that even the most outlandish accusations against a president — such as those hurled at President Biden by Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican of Georgia in her first days in Congress — should be treated the same as what Democrats impeached Mr. Trump over.

In a broader sense, officials of both parties have suggested that regular impeachments may just become one of several regular features of a new and bitter normal in our politics. Previously rare or unthinkable measures could simply start happening all the time

Democrats argue that, in fact, Republicans have opened several Pandora’s boxes in recent years. They have taken unprecedented actions, led by Mr. Trump, that have abused certain norms to a degree that has destabilized a set of once-reliable government traditions. Senate Republicans’ blockade of President Barack Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick B. Garland to the Supreme Court in 2016, for instance, cast doubt on any future president’s ability to fill a Supreme Court vacancy when the opposing party controlled the Senate.

 

bruce castor senate

ny times logoNew York Times, Stumbles, Clashes and Egos: Behind the Scenes With Trump’s Legal Team, Maggie Haberman and Michael S. Schmidt, Feb. 16, 2021. The lawyers assembled by the former president to represent him in his Senate impeachment trial hardly knew one another. They prevailed in the end, but it wasn’t pretty.

Last Wednesday afternoon, when former President Donald J. Trump’s legal team gathered in a conference room in a special suite at the Trump hotel in Washington, a longtime adviser to Mr. Trump, Justin Clark, had an announcement to make.

Mr. Clark told one of the lawyers, Bruce L. Castor Jr., shown above in action, that after his widely panned performance a day earlier, Mr. Trump did not want him appearing on television any more during the impeachment trial.

Mr. Castor rose from his chair, and began angrily shouting at Mr. Clark, arguing that Mr. Trump was wrong to demote him. The back and forth became so heated that Mr. Castor left the conference room in a huff.

He later apologized to Mr. Clark. But the tense exchange was just one example of how Mr. Trump’s hastily assembled legal team — a mash-up of political hands, a personal-injury lawyer, a former prosecutor and a longtime defense lawyer, most of whom did not particularly like or trust one another — clashed, stumbled and regrouped throughout the impeachment proceeding under the watchful and sometimes wrathful eye of its client.

david schoenThe result was an airplane held together with duct tape as it tried to land.

This article is based on interviews with a half-dozen members of the legal team and others involved in the process, which ultimately led to Mr. Trump’s acquittal.

“You have to remember that we had literally one week and one day to prepare the defense and we were all people who never had met each other before,” one of the lawyers, David I. Schoen, left, said in a statement after he was approached for this article.

 

U.S. Law, Politics, Governance

pennsylvania map major cities

ny times logoNew York Times, Pennsylvania G.O.P.’s Push for More Power Over Courts Raises Alarms, Nick Corasaniti, Feb. 16, 2021 (print ed.). Outraged Democrats and good government groups see Republicans’ attempt to increase their control of Pennsylvania courts as a new kind of gerrymandering.

When the Pennsylvania Supreme Court unanimously rejected a Republican attempt to overturn the state’s election results in November, Justice David N. Wecht issued his own pointed rebuke, condemning the G.O.P. effort as “futile” and “a dangerous game.”

“It is not our role to lend legitimacy to such transparent and untimely efforts to subvert the will of Pennsylvania voters,” wrote Justice Wecht, a Democrat who was elected to a 10-year term on the bench in 2016. “Courts should not decide elections when the will of the voters is clear.”

Now Pennsylvania Republicans have a plan to make it less likely that judges like Justice Wecht get in their way.

republican elephant logoG.O.P. legislators, dozens of whom supported overturning the state’s election results to aid former President Donald J. Trump, are moving to change the entire way that judges are selected in Pennsylvania, in a gambit that could tip the scales of the judiciary to favor their party, or at least elect judges more inclined to embrace Republican election challenges.

The proposal would replace the current system of statewide elections for judges with judicial districts drawn by the Republican-controlled legislature. Those districts could empower rural, predominantly conservative areas and particularly rewire the State Supreme Court, which has a 5-to-2 Democratic lean.

Democrats are now mobilizing to fight the effort, calling it a thinly veiled attempt at creating a new level of gerrymandering — an escalation of the decades-old practice of drawing congressional and state legislative districts to ensure that political power remains in one party’s hands. Democrats are marshaling grass-roots opposition, holding regular town hall events conducted over Zoom, and planning social media campaigns and call-in days to legislators, as well as an enormous voter education campaign. One group, Why Courts Matter Pennsylvania, has cut a two-minute infomercial.

Republicans in Pennsylvania have historically used gerrymandering to maintain their majority in the legislature, despite Democratic victories in statewide elections. Republicans have controlled the State House of Representatives since 2011 and the State Senate since 1993.

Palmer Report, Opinion: Donald Trump’s world is collapsing right now, Bill Palmer, Feb. 16, 2021. Here’s a list of things that have happened in the past twenty-four hours alone:

Donald Trump got into an ugly war of words with his recent former ally Mitch McConnell. Trump felt compelled to announce he’d parted ways with his longtime lawyer Rudy Giuliani, whose legal troubles are mounting by the day. It leaked that Trump’s former loyalist Steve Bannon saw signs of dementia in Trump dating back to 2017. Trump got sued by a Congressman and the NAACP. And it turns out New York’s criminal case against Trump is further along than we thought.

bill palmer report logo headerIt’s difficult for one person to have a more comprehensively ugly twenty-four hour stretch than what Donald Trump has just faced. Trump’s civil war with McConnell threatens to quickly erode the remaining influence that Trump has over the Republican Party. Trump’s financial situation is more tenuous than ever. And it’s clear that the criminal cases against Trump are beginning to close in on him.

In fact Trump’s whole world is caving in on him. Most Americans won’t be satisfied until Trump is arrested or forced to file for bankruptcy or both, but that’s all coming. Trump spent four years burning the country to the ground, and now those burning embers are landing squarely on his doorstep. As ugly as these past twenty-four hours have been for him, Trump is about to face far uglier stretches coming up.

washington post logoWashington Post, Ambassador sweepstakes underway as the well-heeled and well-connected jockey for plum posts, Matt Viser and Anne Gearan, Feb. 16, 2021 (print ed.). The competition is under more scrutiny than usual as President Biden stresses a desire to repair international relationships that frayed under then-President Trump.

Harry M. Reid’s phone has been ringing a lot lately, with calls from interest groups, friends and potential candidates themselves, all craving one thing: an ambassadorship. The former Senate majority leader then picks up the phone and dials Steve Ricchetti, one of President Biden’s top advisers, who for months has been fielding requests for plum positions.

“There’s very few political jobs that bring the dignity of being an ambassador for the United States to a country. It’s a very prestigious position,” Reid said. But he suggested the would-be envoys shouldn’t hold their breath: “I think with the impeachment going on and trying to get the Cabinet filled, I think people should be understanding that things are more important than the ambassadorship right now with the president.”

It is a sweepstakes that comes along every four or eight years — intense jockeying in public and private as the well-heeled and well-connected seek coveted positions that come with lavish housing, a staff of chefs and an expectation that the U.S. envoy will put the digs to use for parties.

With its mix of famous figures and exotic locales, the competition always attracts interest. But it is under more scrutiny than usual this year as Biden stresses his desire to repair international relationships that frayed under Trump, with ambassadors likely to play a key role in that effort.

jeff flake oThe only ambassador Biden has named so far is Linda Thomas-Greenfield, to the United Nations, which is a unique post. High-profile names such as Cindy McCain, Jeff Flake, right, and Rahm Emanuel have been mentioned, but it is unclear how seriously the Biden administration is considering them.

“There has not been a conversation with the president at this point about who he would like to name for any ambassadorship roles,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Friday. “That may be tough news to hear for people who are interested in ambassadorship roles, but he has not had a conversation about that.”

ny times logoNew York Times, David Perdue Files to Run Against Raphael Warnock for Georgia Senate Seat, Stephanie Saul, Feb. 16, 2021 (print ed.). Mr. Perdue, who lost a runoff election last month against Senator Jon Ossoff, is taking the first step in the Republican Party’s effort to try to win back a Senate seat in 2022.

david perdue headshotDavid Perdue, right, the one-term U.S. senator from Georgia who lost a runoff election last month against Senator Jon Ossoff, filed paperwork on Monday night indicating that he plans a comeback effort — this time against Georgia’s other new senator, Raphael Warnock.

Mr. Perdue, a former businessman who first ran for office as an outsider, and later became one of former President Donald Trump’s closest allies in the Senate, filed documents with the Federal Election Commission to establish a “Perdue for Senate” campaign committee.

The move, first reported by Fox News, was viewed as a first step in the Republican Party’s effort to try to reclaim one of the Senate seats lost in Georgia’s historic runoff elections on Jan. 5.

georgia mapraphael warnockMr. Warnock, left, and Mr. Ossoff prevailed in those runoffs — not only the first time a Democrat had won a Georgia Senate seat since 2000, but also a victory that handed Democrats control of the Senate. The two parties have 50 seats each in the chamber, with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tiebreaking vote.

Mr. Perdue’s loss to Mr. Ossoff followed a bitter campaign and that ended with Mr. Perdue forced off the trail following a coronavirus exposure. An election eve appearance in the state by Mr. Trump failed to ignite sufficient Republican turnout, leaving questions about whether it was depressed by Mr. Trump’s repeated allegations of fraud in the election there.

Mr. Ossoff received 50.6 percent of the vote to 49.4 percent for Mr. Perdue, who waited two days to concede, prompting speculation that he might contest the outcome.

Mr. Warnock prevailed over Senator Kelly Loeffler in their runoff, 51 percent to 49 percent. The two were running in a special election to fill a six-year term; the winner of the 2022 Senate race will serve a full term.

ny times logoNew York Times, Kathleen Ham, Who Met Her Rapist Twice in Court, Dies at 73, Katharine Q. Seelye, Feb. 15, 2021. “He’s been out there for 32 years,” she said in a voice turned gravelly by years of chain-smoking. “And I’ve been in my own private jail.”

She saw something moving on her fire escape. In the next instant, a man smashed through her window and raped her at knifepoint. A neighbor heard her screams and called the police, who caught the assailant near her apartment in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan. At his trial in 1974, the jury deliberated for eight days without reaching a verdict, and he was let go.

More than three decades later, in 2005, the man was retried; the woman testified again, and this time, he was found guilty and sent to jail.

In the interim, the criminal justice system and society had undergone major changes regarding rape. One was improved DNA technology. Another was that the victim was no longer ashamed to be identified in public.

Her name was Kathleen Ham. At the time of the crime she was 26, a young professional who had come to New York from California to make her mark in the publishing industry.

Instead, she made legal history. After the man’s conviction, the notoriety of her case — backed by the lobbying muscle of the Manhattan district attorney, Robert Morgenthau, and the National Organization for Women — helped persuade New York State to drop its five-year statute of limitations for first-degree rape, making it easier to prosecute old cases. (Hers could be prosecuted a second time so many years later because the first prosecution fell within the five years.)

Ms. Ham died on Jan. 20 at her home in Santa Monica.

ny times logoNew York Times, Amy Cooper, Who Falsely Accused Black Bird-Watcher, Has Charges Dismissed, Jonah E. Bromwich, Feb. 16, 2021. The case against Amy Cooper, the white woman who called the police on a Black bird-watcher in Central Park and falsely told them that he had threatened her, was dismissed on Tuesday after Ms. Cooper completed a therapeutic educational program that included instruction about racial biases.

At a hearing in Manhattan Criminal Court, a senior prosecutor asked a judge to dismiss the single misdemeanor charge against Ms. Cooper — falsely reporting an incident — and the judge immediately did so. She had faced up to a year in jail if convicted.

The prosecutor, Joan Illuzzi-Orbon, said Ms. Cooper had participated in five therapy sessions that focused on how racial identities shape people’s lives. Her therapist had reported that the sessions were “a moving experience” and that Ms. Cooper “learned a lot,” Ms. Illuzzi-Orbon said.

Ms. Cooper, a white woman, called 911 on the bird-watcher in Central Park. The prosecution asked a judge to drop the case after she finished an education program about racial bias. Ms. Cooper had been offered the program, part of an alternative solution that falls under the rubric of restorative justice, partially based on her lack of criminal background, Ms. Illuzzi-Orbon said. Asked about the dismissal of the charge, Mr. Cooper said there were more important issues for people concerned about racial justice to take on, like the battle to make Washington, D.C., a state.

Ms. Cooper’s dispute with the bird-watcher, Christian Cooper, rocked New York City last spring after video of an inconsolable Ms. Cooper calling the police and falsely telling them that “an African-American man is threatening my life” went viral. The video of their encounter, posted by Mr. Cooper’s sister on Twitter, has been watched more than 45 million times.

The dismissal of the charge against Ms. Cooper — who is not related to Mr. Cooper — provoked some anger online, where some people asserted that the criminal justice system had dealt more leniently with Ms. Cooper because she was white.

“I am far more outraged by the U.S. Congress, which continues to deny the mostly Black and brown people of the District of Columbia statehood, and the representation every American deserves, than by anything Amy Cooper did,” he said. “That gross racial injustice could be fixed by Congress now, today, and that is what people should be focused on, not last year’s events in Central Park.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Marriott CEO Arne M. Sorenson dies at 62, Hannah Denham and Abha Bhattarai, Feb. 16, 2021. The hotel chain leader had been battling pancreatic cancer since 2019. the chief executive who oversaw Marriott International’s global expansion and transformed it into the world’s largest hotelier, has died. He was 62.

Arne M. Sorenson, the chief executive who oversaw Marriott International’s global expansion and transformed it into the world’s largest hotelier, has died. He was 62.

Sorenson had continued to work after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2019. Earlier this month, the company announced he would cut back on his schedule to undergo more rigorous medical treatment.

The Bethesda, Md.-based hotel giant announced his death in a news release on Tuesday. The company also said that executives Stephanie Linnartz and Tony Capuano, who have been overseeing day-to-day operations since early February, would remain in those roles until Marriott’s board of directors appoints a new CEO in the next two weeks.

“Arne was an exceptional executive — but more than that — he was an exceptional human being,” executive chairman J.W. Marriott, Jr. said in the release. “On behalf of the Board and Marriott’s hundreds of thousands of associates around the world, we extend our heartfelt condolences to Arne’s wife and four children. We share your heartbreak, and we will miss Arne deeply.”

Born Oct.13, 1958, Sorenson started his career as a lawyer with the Washington, D.C.-based firm Latham and Watkins, and met then-chief executive J.W. Marriott, Jr. while representing Marriott in a shareholder case. He joined Marriott in 1996, quickly climbing the company’s ranks until he became the company’s third chief executive, and the first person outside of the Marriott family to run the business.

 

World News

ny times logoNew York Times, Turkey Erupts as Kurds Kill 13 Prisoners of War, Carlotta Gall, Feb. 15, 2021. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blamed the United States and opposition Kurdish politicians in an effort to deflect responsibility for a failed rescue operation.

Flag of TurkeyTurks reacted with shock and anger Monday to the news that Kurdish guerrillas had executed 13 Turkish soldiers and police officers held captive in a cave in the mountains of northern Iraq.

The men were being held hostage by members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or P.K.K., a Maoist guerrilla movement that has been fighting the Turkish state for more than three decades. Turkish soldiers discovered their bodies in a cave during a military operation in Iraq’s Gara region, the government said Sunday. All of the hostages had been executed, all but one with gunshots to the head, it said.

The death toll, and the manner in which the men were killed, landed like a bombshell in Turkey’s tense and divided politics. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his political allies condemned the attack, as opposition parties questioned why the government had failed to negotiate the men’s release and had risked a military operation to rescue them.

The P.K.K. said the deaths were caused by airstrikes during the Turkish military operation that began on Feb. 10. The Turkish minister of defense, Hulusi Akar, said the P.K.K. commander in charge had executed the men as soon as the operation began.

Twelve of the hostages who have been identified were junior members of the army and military police. All had been captured five or six years ago by the P.K.K. in a period after peace negotiations between the Turkish government and the Kurdish guerrillas had broken down.

 

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Chicago Tribune, Hedge fund Alden to buy Tribune Publishing in deal valued at $630 million, Robert Channick, Feb. 16, 2021. Tribune Publishing, publisher of the Chicago Tribune and other major newspapers, has agreed to be acquired by Alden Global Capital in a deal valued at $630 million.

Announced Tuesday after the stock market closed, the deal would create one of the largest newspaper operators in the United States. It follows weeks of negotiations between a special committee of Tribune Publishing’s board and Alden, a hedge fund with a history of deep cost-cutting at its other newspaper properties.

alden global capital logoAlden, already Tribune Publishing’s largest shareholder with a 31.6% stake, is offering $17.25 a share for the remainder of the company in a transaction that would take Tribune Publishing private. That amounts to Alden paying about $431 million for the 68% of shares it doesn’t already own.

The agreed-upon price is $3 a share higher than a nonbinding proposal Alden presented in December. Since its interest in buying all of the company was made public in late December, shares of Tribune Publishing have steadily moved higher. On Tuesday, shares closed at $15.97 a share, giving the company a market capitalization of $583.4 million.

In addition to the Chicago Tribune, Tribune Publishing owns the Baltimore Sun; the Hartford (Connecticut) Courant; the Orlando (Florida) Sentinel; the South Florida Sun Sentinel; New York Daily News; the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland; The Morning Call in Allentown, Pennsylvania; the Daily Press in Newport News, Virginia; and The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Virginia.

As part of the deal, Alden signed a nonbinding agreement to sell the Baltimore Sun to Sunlight for All Institute, a public charity formed by Stewart Bainum Jr. In a Dec. 31 regulatory filing, Alden said it had a “brief conversation” with Bainum, chairman of Choice Hotels International, a Rockville, Maryland-based hotel chain, who expressed interest in “certain assets” of Tribune Publishing.

The deal, which the companies said should close in the second quarter, requires the approval of two-thirds of shareholders not affiliated with Alden and must pass regulatory scrutiny. It already has been approved by Tribune’s board. Three of the seven board seats are held by Alden representatives.

“Over the past year, the Company has taken a number of actions to adapt to an ever-changing business and industry environment, including the impact of COVID-19,” Philip Franklin, Tribune Publishing board chair and a member of the special committee, said in a news release. “These actions included strengthening the Company’s financial position, driving digital growth and investing in high-quality content to better serve customers, employees and communities. This positioning enabled the special committee to negotiate a premium, all-cash price, which the committee concluded was superior to the available alternatives.”

The deal’s success hinges on securing the votes of California biotech billionaire and Los Angeles Times owner Patrick Soon-Shiong, who owns about 24% of Tribune Publishing, and shareholder Mason Slaine, a former media executive who owns roughly 8%.

Soon-Shiong has not spoken publicly about Alden’s interest in buying the rest of the company or his intentions. Soon-Shiong, who built his initial stake in Tribune Publishing at $15 per share in 2016, owns about 8.7 million shares of the company.

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ny times logoatlantic logo horizontalNew York Times, Vox Finds Its Next Top Editor at The Atlantic, Marc Tracy, Feb. 16, 2021. Swati Sharma, 34, prepares to take over the 90-person newsroom of a digital outlet known for its clearsighted articles on knotty issues in the news.

ny times logoNew York Times, Analysis: Why the Morality Plays Inside The Times Persist, Ben Smith, Feb.16, 2021 (print ed.). Other news organizations have their own personnel dramas. But none attract the spotlight the way The Times does. In 2012, when The New York Times was panicked about its financial future, this newspaper went into the travel business. It began selling “Times Journeys,” on which an expert beat reporter would be your guide to Berlin or the Galápagos Islands.

The trips brought in some money, but were expensive to run and complicated to manage — particularly in the summer of 2019, after The Times began hosting teenagers.

Nor were the reporters always ready for the confident, hothouse politics of elite American high school students.

And then there was the trip to Peru that summer. The parents of adventurous young meritocrats paid $5,490 (plus airfare) for two weeks studying “Public Health and Development in the Andes.” On that trip, the reporter, Donald G. McNeil Jr., got into a series of heated arguments with students, none of them Black, on the charged question of race. Their complaints would ultimately end his career as a high-profile public health reporter for The Times, and again put The Times at the center of the national argument over journalism and racism and labor. The comments were first reported in The Daily Beast and covered in The Washington Post, Vanity Fair, CNN, Slate, The New York Post and others. The exhaustive coverage led The New Republic last week to ask, “Can We Stop Obsessing Over Every Personnel Decision Made by The New York Times?”

Not just yet.

The Times is an object of obsession because of its unusual, perhaps unhealthy, central place in American news, culture and politics. Its actions — and those of its internal factions — carry huge symbolic weight. That’s the thing that struck me most when I got here a year ago, and wrote that “because The Times now overshadows so much of the industry, the cultural and ideological battles that used to break out between news organizations now play out inside The Times.” The Times’s media ambitions have also intensified its status as a cultural lightning rod. It is no longer just a source of information. It seeks to be the voice whispering in your ear in the morning, the curriculum in your child’s history class and the instructions on caramelizing shallots for the pasta you’re making for dinner.

washington post logoWashington Post, The Pizzagate gunman is out of prison. Conspiracy theories are out of control, Michael E. Miller, Feb. 16, 2021. Edgar Maddison Welch gave D.C. its first glimpse of what would become QAnon.

He slipped out of bed before sunrise and started driving, spurred by the conspiracy theory he would soon help make famous. As he sped the 350 miles from his hometown in North Carolina to the nation’s capital, Edgar Maddison Welch tilted his cellphone camera toward himself and pressed record.

“I can’t let you grow up in a world that’s so corrupt by evil,” he told the two young daughters he had left sleeping back in Salisbury, “without at least standing up for you and for other children just like you.”

So on he drove, to the supposed center of that corruption: Comet Ping Pong, a popular pizzeria in Northwest Washington where, according to the false conspiracy theory known as Pizzagate, powerful Democrats were abusing children. And Welch, a struggling 28-year-old warehouse worker, intended to rescue them.

Pizzagate was an early warning of how misinformation can lead to violence, said Joan Donovan, a scholar of media manipulation, social movements and extremism.

“The big difference between 2016 and Pizzagate and QAnon [now] isn’t the themes … it’s the scale,” said Donovan, research director of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. “Four years later it has reached so many more people.”

Welch was alone on Dec. 4, 2016, when he parked in front of Comet Ping Pong, where children were playing table tennis while their parents enjoyed a slow Sunday afternoon of pizza and beer.

Then he walked into the restaurant with a loaded assault rifle.

 

Feb. 15

Top Headlines

 

Virus Victims, Responses

 

Potential Next Steps On 1/6 Probes

 

U.S. Law, Politics, Governance

 

Media News

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ny times logoNew York Times, As Impeachment Trial Ends, Biden Takes Center Stage With Stimulus Bill, Michael D. Shear, Feb. 15, 2021 (print ed.). President Biden will now push to pass a $1.9 trillion relief plan and then move on to immigration, infrastructure and other issue.

President Biden’s allies say that with the distraction of the impeachment trial of his predecessor now over, he will quickly press for passage of his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan before moving on to an even bigger agenda in Congress that includes infrastructure, immigration, criminal justice reform, climate change and health care.

Mr. Biden has so far succeeded in pushing his agenda forward even amid the swirl of the impeachment, trial and acquittal of former President Donald J. Trump. House committees are already debating parts of the coronavirus relief legislation he calls the American Rescue Plan. Several of the president’s cabinet members have been confirmed despite the Trump drama. And Mr. Biden’s team is pressing lawmakers for quick action when senators return from a weeklong recess.

Without the spectacle of a constitutional clash, the new president “takes center stage now in a way that the first few weeks didn’t allow,” said Jennifer Palmieri, who served as communications director for President Barack Obama. She said the end of the trial means that “2021 can finally start.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Trump’s acquittal widens GOP divide, Amy B Wang, Feb. 15, 2021 (print ed.). Republicans continued to diverge on what the future of their party should be, with a chasm widening between those who want nothing to do with the former president and those who openly embrace him.

washington post logoWashington Post, Biden is winning GOP support for his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan. Just not in Washington, Griff Witte, Feb. 15, 2021 (print ed.). GOP mayors and governors say the spending is urgently needed to help struggling cities and states.

ny times logoNew York Times, First They Guarded Roger Stone. Then They Joined the Capitol Attack, Christiaan Triebert, Ben Decker, Derek Watkins, Arielle Ray and Stella Cooper, Feb. 15, 2021 (print ed.). We combed through hundreds of videos and photos and drew on research from an online monitoring group to track the six men who protected Mr. Stone.

 

Virus Victims, Responses

ny times logoNew York Times, Live Updates: Vaccine Supplies Fall Short as U.S. States Increase Access, Staff Reports, Feb. 15, 2021. States have opened mass inoculation sites and expanded eligibility, but they don’t have enough doses of the coronavirus vaccine. Britain has begun quarantining some international travelers in government-sanctioned hotels. Here’s the latest pandemic news.

  • States are expanding access to vaccines. The supply isn’t keeping up.
  • Britain begins quarantining travelers in hotels, seeking to keep out new virus variants.
  • Italy halts plans to reopen its ski slopes, and other news from around the world.
  • Scientists are trying to spot new viruses before they become pandemics.
  • What the mayor of Chicago learned from her fight to reopen schools.
  • I’d like to hang out at my friend’s house. When can I do that?
  • As chain stores founder in New York, indie shops in Brooklyn are surviving.

covad 19 photo.jpg Custom 2Worldometer, World & U.S. Coronavirus Case Totals (updated: Feb. 15, 2021), with some governments reporting slightly lower numbers than the totals here):

World Cases: 109,463,123, Deaths: 2,412,950
U.S. Cases:    28,262,355, Deaths:    497,175

washington post logoWashington Post, In Philadelphia, a mass vaccination clinic opened with fanfare, then closed amid rifts of trust, Frances Stead Sellers, Feb. 15, 2021 (print ed.). The evolving crisis reflects challenges facing cities and states as they seek to expedite distribution of coronavirus shots.

ny times logoNew York Times, Cuomo acknowledges his administration mishandled data from virus-related nursing home deaths, Jesse McKinley, Feb. 15, 2021.  andrew cuomoAdmitting a degree of fault for the first time, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said on Monday that his administration’s lack of transparency about the scope of virus-related deaths in nursing homes in New York was a mistake.

By failing to answer questions from state lawmakers and the news media, Mr. Cuomo, right, acknowledged that the state created a void that was “filled with skepticism, cynicism, and conspiracy theories which furthered confusion.”

Speaking in the State Capitol, Mr. Cuomo made his first remarks since a top aide to the governor, Melissa DeRosa, privately told some state lawmakers last week that the state had withheld data from the Legislature because it feared that the Trump administration would use the information to begin a federal investigation into the state’s handling of nursing homes.

The governor said on Monday that he had not delivered information because his office was busy with the federal request, which was made in late August, and conceded that he did not answer questions about the total toll from lawmakers or the press.

“There was a delay,” Mr. Cuomo, a third-term Democrat.

The governor’s explanation was quickly criticized by legislative leaders, who said they were not informed about the possibility of the federal inquiry at the time and that Mr. Cuomo’s administration could have released data as soon as it had handled the federal request in early September.

More than 15,000 people have died from the coronavirus in New York’s nursing homes and long-term care facilities. But as recently as late January, the state was reporting only about 8,500 fatalities, excluding virus-related deaths that occurred physically outside of those facilities, such as in hospitals.

About two weeks ago, the state’s attorney general, Letitia James, accused the Cuomo administration of severely undercounting those deaths connected to nursing homes. Hours later, the state updated those numbers, adding thousands of deaths to the toll. Since then, a court order has resulted in more updates, further increasing the number of official deaths.

Ms. James’s assertion of an undercount of total deaths of nursing home residents fueled accusations that the Cuomo administration may have artificially depressed the number of those deaths to try to deflect blame for a policy set early in the pandemic: sending nursing home residents who had been hospitalized with the coronavirus back to the nursing homes. The governor has said the state was following federal guidelines in returning the residents and trying to increase hospital capacity, assertions that he repeated on Monday.

Mr. Cuomo’s comments came as he tried to contain the political fallout from Ms. DeRosa’s remarks, which prompted lawmakers from both parties to call for stripping the governor of the emergency powers that he has exercised during the pandemic. A roster of Republicans and at least one Democratic member of the state’s congressional delegation, Representative Antonio Delgado, have asked for investigations into the Cuomo administration.

 

Potential Next Steps On 1/6 Probes

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Could Trump be disqualified through other means? Jennifer Rubin, right, Feb. 15, 2021. Having witnessed the unflinching partisanship jennifer rubin new headshotof Senate Republicans, the American people have two avenues left to hold the disgraced former president accountable for inciting insurrection.

Both Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who whiffed when presented with the chance to disqualify former president Donald Trump, recognized that criminal prosecution is still in the cards. Cheney noted in an interview recently that a “massive criminal investigation” was underway that could provide answers as to the extent of his involvement. McConnell practically invited a prosecutor with the spine he lacks to take on the case. “President Trump is still liable for everything he did while he was in office, as an ordinary citizen, unless the statute of limitations has run. … Didn’t get away with anything yet,” he said.

The benefit of a criminal trial is that witnesses can be subpoenaed (e.g., former vice president Mike Pence). House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) under penalty of perjury could be required to recall his conversation pleading for help. The venue of the trial, Washington, might be favorable to the prosecution. Lawyers who behaved as defense counsel did in the impeachment would be held in contempt. The jury will not be “fixed” in advance.

Beyond a criminal prosecution (and an investigation in Georgia is already underway into Trump’s alleged effort to intimidate the Georgia secretary of state), there is another means of holding him accountable. Democrats could bring a bill or a concurrent resolution (which cannot be filibustered) to affirm that, according to the 14th Amendment, Section 3, the former president is ineligible to hold office. That provision states that someone who engaged in “insurrection” or had “given aid or comfort” to those who did cannot hold federal office. That Civil War provision prohibited Confederate officials and military officers from serving in the Union unless granted a reprieve by a two-thirds vote.

McConnell has already confirmed on the floor that the former president was responsible for a violent insurrection. While there is scant precedent, it is almost certainly true that the presidency from which he would be disqualified is covered by “any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State” in Section 3. (It would be bizarre if one could be excluded from running for the House but not the presidency.)

Congress could go even further and, as one lawyer exploring this avenue told me, “expressly authorize the Attorney General to bring an action to enforce Section Three against President Trump before the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals (or a three-judge federal district court panel) and allow for immediate and expedited appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.”

  • Olberman Versus.... In Action via YouTube, Commentary: Pelosi Righly calls for 9/11 Commission Style Investigation of Insurrection riot, Keith Olberman, Feb. 15, 2021 (2:07 min. video). Democratic leadership must endorse and enact a 9/11 style investigation in the House and/or the Senate of the Jan. 6 coup and indeed of the entire Trump presidency. What he 'shot in the middle of Fifth Avenue' was American democracy.

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: Lawyers Enabled Trump’s Worst Abuses, Sherrilyn A. Ifill (Ms. Ifill is a lawyer and author. She is president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc., a civil rights legal organization), Feb. 12, 2021. The legal profession must reckon with its complicity in Trump’s attack on democracy.

Every day, we learn more about the concerted attack on American democracy perpetuated to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. But the violent storming of the Capitol was only its most visible and ugly climax. What has become disturbingly and abundantly clear is that whether through former President Donald Trump’s relentless and meritless lawsuits, the plot in the Department of Justice to remove the acting attorney general, or a congressional plan in which members — including two former Supreme Court clerks — perpetuated false unsubstantiated claims of massive voter fraud, lawyers played a central role in enabling the most dangerous assault on American democracy in more than a century.

The appalling conduct of the lawyers at the highest levels of government who behaved so shamelessly in seeking to maintain Mr. Trump in office was not an aberration, but a continuation. Throughout his presidency, lawyers were centrally involved in perpetuating some of its most repugnant excesses. Attorney General Jeff Sessions helped develop the concept of family separation as a migration deterrent. His deputy, Rod Rosenstein, reportedly signed off on applying the policy no matter the age of the child. Sessions’s successor, Bill Barr, misrepresented the Mueller team’s findings and interfered with the sentencing of the Trump advisers Paul Manafort and Roger Stone.

Despite this, there was little condemnation from the leadership institutions of our profession. The American Law Institute invited Mr. Barr to speak just months after his hijacking of the Mueller report, and ensured that there was no opportunity for questions from the audience. And neither judicial nor prosecutors’ associations ever issued condemnatory statements when Mr. Trump incited threats against the Black jury forewoman in Mr. Stone’s case.

The upending of norms and standards carried into the legislative and judicial branches as well. Many cabinet and judicial nominees, beginning with Mr. Sessions himself, made a mockery of the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation process by providing misleading information on their confirmation questionnaires — which are submitted under penalty of perjury. Neither Mr. Sessions nor other nominees were held accountable for these misrepresentations. Instead, almost all were confirmed.

The Judiciary Committee — principally made up of lawyers — split along party lines, with many Republican lawyer members recommending the confirmation of Federal District Court nominees who had no discernible litigation experience, and of appellate court and District Court nominees who received rare “not qualified” ratings by the American Bar Association.

During their confirmation hearings, over two dozen Trump administration nominees to the federal bench refused to say that the landmark school desegregation case, Brown v. Board of Education, was correctly decided — despite universal acceptance that Brown is fundamental to the rule of law itself.

Just as the president, members of Congress, and insurrectionists must be held accountable for their actions, the legal profession must urgently take collective stock of why so many prominent legal institutions and leaders were embroiled in supporting one of the most corrupt and destructive presidencies in our history.

There is precedent for this kind of institutional reckoning. The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (T.R.C.) hearings were a wrenching confrontation with the brutal reality of apartheid. These hearings — which unfolded before a global audience — were remarkable for their frank, honest, and terrifying accounts of abuses committed by the white supremacist apartheid regime. The T.R.C. hearings were regarded as a necessary confrontation with the full measure of widespread complicity with apartheid, as the country set a new course toward a democratic future.

One of the most important, but less well-known, efforts of the T.R.C. was its institutional hearings, which examined civil society’s role in perpetuating the apartheid regime’s abuses. The three days of legal system-focused proceedings were the most riveting of the institutional hearings — and among the most controversial.

The T.R.C.’s legal hearings offer a useful way of thinking about how our legal system might confront actions taken during the Trump administration. Rather than a government-created tribunal, though, our profession should be prepared to examine its own conduct in this period that has brought us to the brink of democratic collapse — and make bold changes to strengthen the legal profession’s foundations.

This begins with a recognition that in a world in which raw power has come to transcend the unspoken code of civility and integrity among political lawyers, more is needed than the mere expectation that lawyers in government will behave honorably. The tenure of Bill Barr makes clear that the presumption that the Department of Justice will maintain an appropriate measure of independence from the White House can simply no longer be left to the personal ethics of individual attorneys general. We need a revision of the rules that govern recusal by lawyers in the Department of Justice. An independent nonpartisan tribunal of ethics experts should be empaneled to issue recusal advisories and orders for the department’s leadership.

The Model Rules of Professional Conduct bar lawyers from abusing the legal process, and yet for weeks on end a cohort of lawyers — including attorneys general from 17 states who supported the Texas lawsuit seeking to delay the election certification — did just that on the president’s behalf following his electoral loss in November. Is it enough that nearly every judge they faced booted out their cases unceremoniously? Is that sufficient deterrence to other lawyers to refrain from the egregious conduct that unnecessarily expended court resources but that also kept alive a fraudulent narrative advanced by the president that the election had been “stolen,” which ultimately led to the violent attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6? Obviously not. Lawyers must face professional censure for such conduct, and the law firms where these lawyers serve as partners should be compelled to review their own standards for leadership.

tom kean lee hamilton

washington post logoWashington Post, 9/11 commission leaders call for bipartisan probe into Capitol attack, Dan Balz, Feb. 15, 2021 (print ed.). A traumatic moment for the country will not quickly fade, nor should it, not after an attack on the symbol of democracy and democracy itself.

Saturday’s 57-to-43 vote brought an end to Congress’s formal effort to hold former president Donald Trump accountable for the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol. But that traumatic moment for the country will not quickly fade, nor should it, not after an attack on the symbol of democracy and democracy itself.

The Senate vote left multiple questions still to be answered, including some that the president’s legal team deflected during the trial. Chief among them: Exactly what did Trump know as the attacks were unfolding, and why he didn’t he do anything to protect Vice President Mike Pence or order immediate reinforcements to the beleaguered law enforcement officers at the Capitol? Trump could yet face judgment in court, whether criminal or civil, but the full story of what happened and how it happened remains untold.

One vehicle for fact finding that could lead to protecting the Capitol, those who work there and the democratic institutions they are sworn to defend is the kind of commission that Tom Kean, above left, the former Republican governor of New Jersey, and Lee Hamilton, above right, the former Democratic House member from Indiana, headed after 9/11 and now are advocating to investigate the Jan. 6 events.

On Friday, Kean and Hamilton sent a letter to President Biden and to the bipartisan leaders in the House and Senate urging the establishment of a commission that would be both independent and bipartisan. In a time of partisanship and, among most Republicans tribal loyalty to Trump, it will be a challenge to assemble a group that meets those criteria, but the two leaders say it is, nonetheless, essential to try.

In the letter, the two wrote, “The shocking and tragic assault of Jan. 6th on the U.S. Capitol requires thorough investigation, to ensure that the American people learn the truth of what happened that day. An investigation should establish a single narrative and set of facts to identify how the Capitol was left vulnerable, as well as corrective actions to make the institution safe again.”

Neither Kean nor Hamilton sought to make a direct comparison with the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and those of Jan. 6. But as Kean put it in an interview: The Capitol attack “was a wound to democracy itself. . . . If the people we elect cannot be safe when they’re trying to do their work, then the country’s in trouble and will remain in trouble, and we’ve got to therefore get to the bottom of it.”

The police officer Eugene Goodman is shown also holding off the pro-Trump mob on Jan. 6 (Photo by Igor Bobic of HuffPost via Storyful).

The police officer Eugene Goodman is shown also holding off the pro-Trump mob on Jan. 6 (Photo by Igor Bobic of HuffPost via Storyful).

ny times logoNew York Times, Calls Grow for Commission to Investigate Capitol Riot, Emily Cochrane, Feb. 15, 2021 (print ed.). Lawmakers are increasingly pushing for a 9/11-style panel that would examine failures and make recommendations. It could also be a final chance for Congress to hold Donald J. Trump to account.

Lawmakers fresh off the impeachment acquittal of former President Donald J. Trump are issuing growing calls for a bipartisan commission to investigate the administrative and law enforcement failures that led to the mob attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6 and recommend changes to prevent another siege.

Such a commission appears to be the primary remaining option for Congress to try to hold Mr. Trump to account for his role in the assault. Top lawmakers have quashed the idea of a post-impeachment censure of the former president, and the possibility of barring him from future office under the 14th Amendment, which prohibits any official involved in “insurrection or rebellion” from holding office, seems remote.

madeleine dean oLawmakers in both parties have called for a commission modeled on the bipartisan panel established after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Representative Madeleine Dean, right, Democrat of Pennsylvania and an impeachment manager, described it on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday as “an impartial commission, not guided by politics, filled with people who would stand up to the courage of their conviction.”

President George W. Bush signed a law establishing the 9/11 Commission in 2002, mandated to investigate what caused the attack and what might have stopped it, and to outline how to prevent a similar attack. After a 20-month investigation, the commission offered three dozen recommendations for how to reshape intelligence coordination and congressional oversight.

“We need a 9/11 Commission to find out what happened and make sure it never happens again, and I want to make sure that the Capitol footprint can be better defended next time,” Senator Lindsey Graham, left, Republican of South Carolina, said on “Fox News Sunday.”

In the House, rank-and-file lawmakers in both parties have introduced legislation that would establish a commission, with some Democrats proposing a broader examination of the federal government’s response to domestic terrorism and violent extremism.

Nancy Pelosi “We will have an after-action review,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, left, told reporters late last month. “There will be a commission.” She has since been briefed repeatedly by retired Gen. Russel L. Honoré, who has been tapped to examine security on Capitol Hill, which remains surrounded by fences lined with razor wire and under the watch of National Guard troops.

“In the near future, Congress needs to smartly transition to a more sustainable security presence,” Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, said in late January. “Keeping the Capitol safe cannot and will not require huge numbers of uniformed troops and vast systems of emergency fencing to remain in place forever.”

Democrats, who abruptly dropped what had been a successful demand for witnesses during the final day of the trial on Saturday, framed a possible commission on Sunday as a way to not only understand the failures that had led to the breach of the Capitol but also to underscore Mr. Trump’s role in the events.

chris coons o“There’s still more evidence that the American people need and deserve to hear,” Senator Chris Coons, right, Democrat of Delaware, said on “This Week,” adding that a commission would “make sure that we secure the Capitol going forward and lay bare the record of just how responsible” Mr. Trump was for the attack.

Before the impeachment proceedings, there had been discussion of a bipartisan censure resolution in lieu of a trial. But lawmakers quickly abandoned the idea as the trial moved forward, in part because Democrats had demanded stronger language than what Republicans were comfortable with. Asked about the chances for a resolution intended to keep Mr. Trump from running for office again, Senator John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 2 Republican, said, “I don’t think that’ll go anywhere.”

“Every senator has had the opportunity to express his or her views,” said Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, who had been involved in the discussions.

Ms. Pelosi, speaking a news conference on Saturday, declared such a resolution to be “a slap in the face of the Constitution.”

“We censure people for using stationery for the wrong purpose,” she said. “We don’t censure people for inciting insurrection that kills people in the Capitol.”

Proof via Substack, Investigative Commentary: Some Say the Criminal Justice System Will Save Us From Trump — But Can It? Seth Abramson, left, Feb. 14, 2021. The "New Big Lie" is a bait-and-switch involving the indictment of Donald Trump.
seth abramson headshot

Having spent nearly a decade working in state and federal criminal justice systems — including as a criminal investigator in the federal justice system in D.C. and a criminal defense attorney in Massachusetts and New Hampshire — I have as many opinions as everyone else about what our justice system is equipped to handle and what it is not.

Right now we have many D.C. politicians, particularly powerful Republicans like Sens. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Marco Rubio (R-FL), telling us the appropriate forum for disqualifying a politician from future office is the federal criminal justice system. They sagely aver that if we will just accept that the proper jurisdiction for litigating a President of the United States inciting armed insurrection against the government in the waning days of his administration is the federal courthouse in D.C. — not, say, the chambers of Congress—all will be well. America will be rid of the scourge of Trump.

Except, per usual, they’re lying. But this lie is far more pernicious than many realize.

seth abramson proof logoFirst, understand while our justice systems can indict, prosecute, and incarcerate citizens for countless statutory crimes, they struggle to do so in a timely fashion — sometimes at all — if a defendant is rich, particularly if he’s also powerful and famous. There are many reasons for this, perhaps foremost among them that prosecutors in the United States are not apolitical. In fact, for reasons passing understanding, we created state and federal justice systems in which the most politically oriented prosecutors flourish — those who avoid pushing cases that are or may become politically unpopular, corner a defendant with powerful allies, or lead to a precedent that disadvantages the already advantaged.

Donald Trump is almost the Platonic case of a prospective federal defendant who, if disposed of in the same way any of the rest of us would be, could destroy not just the professional futures but also the personal lives of anyone who takes him on. Why should an ambitious prosecutor hoping to leverage that career track into some future political office take the risk of becoming a pariah to about half of the voters they may ultimately need to rely upon? Why risk losing a high-profile case someone above you in the hierarchy believes should have been won, and therefore losing your job rather than being vaulted even higher into the ranks of high-visibility public servants? And why do any of this when the very scions of public service you most wish to impress — the folks who work in D.C. and, in that group, particularly those in the White House — have already publicly decided not to pursue any action against Donald Trump, even a slam-dunk campaign finance case in which he remains an unindicted co-conspirator?

Second, the simple fact is that our criminal justice systems have no authority at all to bar someone from future office. Their only option, instead, is to incarcerate people for such a long period of time that they will die before they can run for office again. Is this what McConnell and Rubio would have us think they believe may happen here? That Trump — a seventy-something with no prior record; enough money to delay any case almost indefinitely through frivolous legal action (and a track record of always doing so successfully); at least 74 million supporters who wanted him to be the most powerful man in America not 120 days ago, many of whom (more than half) think he’s currently America’s rightful president; and access to legions of domestic terrorists likely to threaten and perhaps harm any prosecutor who juror who takes any adverse action against him—is going to be not just indicted and prosecuted and caged but for so long his political career will be effectively over? At a moment his popularity within the Republican Party remains well over 70%?

It won’t happen. It would be a miracle surpassing human understanding — and defying hundreds of years of history within the federal justice system—if, in prospective cases in Washington and Georgia, Trump were to be charged at all, let alone successfully prosecuted and then imprisoned. America has no track record of incarcerating a man of Trump’s notoriety, stature, and authority, let alone in a way that incapacitates him for a long period of time. Even the friends of men as powerful as Trump — think Roger Stone, Paul Manafort, or Steve Bannon — consider themselves immune from any long-term consequences for their actions; history has proven their presumption to be correct.

Donald Trump has recourses no other federal defendant would have, for instance to convincingly claiming that any prosecution of him is “political,” or having legions of powerful Republicans with ready access to the media saying as much at all hours of the day; he has civilian supporters he can effortlessly marshal to so intimidate any federal prosecutors, investigators, law enforcement officials, judges, or juries pursuing him as to make successfully convicting him (let alone caging him) so distant a possibility that only the most devout left-wing wish-casters can fathom it. Do I wish it were otherwise? Have I argued daily for years that it should be otherwise? Did I and millions of others work in the justice system at various points in our lives in part as an effort to ensure that all defendants are treated fairly, no matter their resources? Yes, yes, and again yes. Which is why I can report that anyone in D.C. now claiming that Trump will be dealt with properly by our legal system is lying to you. Our system isn’t equipped to do it.

Third, we must understand that the only reason men like McConnell and Rubio are pointing toward federal courts in D.C. and Georgia, or the state courts in New York, as the appropriate venues for disposing of Trump post-impeachment, is because they want to (a) distract us, (b) move the goalposts of accountability, (c) remove themselves from responsibility for whatever happens.

Per the Constitution, the body with the power to disqualify an elected official from holding future office is Congress — not the federal courts. We find this power enshrined, in both of its two instances frustratingly vaguely, in both the Impeachment Clause and Section 3 of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. In the former case, the disqualification vote requires only a majority of members of Congress, but it remains unclear whether this vote can be taken, during an impeachment proceeding, whether or not the respondent in such a proceeding is convicted. While the issue hasn’t been litigated in the past, to date both Democrats and Republicans have seemed to presume that you can’t be disqualified from future office until you’ve been convicted of having committed malfeasance in your present (or recent) office. It’s an argument that doesn’t explain why the vote threshold required is different in the two instances, or for that matter why senators are allowed to use whatever standard of proof they wish in either of the two inquiries.

Even though we know the Constitution is silent on the standard of proof in an impeachment proceeding, politicians have — perhaps to better protect themselves—decided a senator can’t deem the bar for conviction to be higher than the bar for disqualification from future office.

Seth Abramson, shown above and at right, is founder of Proof and is a former criminal defense attorney and criminal investigator who teaches digital journalism, seth abramson resized4 proof of collusionlegal advocacy, and cultural theory at the University of New Hampshire. A regular political and legal analyst on CNN and the BBC during the Trump presidency, he is a best-selling author who has published eight books and edited five anthologies.

Abramson is a graduate of Dartmouth College, Harvard Law School, the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and the Ph.D. program in English at University of Wisconsin-Madison. His books include a Trump trilogy: Proof of Corruption: Bribery, Impeachment, and Pandemic in the Age of Trump (2020); Proof of Conspiracy: How Trump's International Collusion Is Threatening American Democracy (2019); and Proof of Collusion: How Trump Betrayed America (2018).

washington post logoWashington Post, Chaos before Trump’s acquittal: Inside Democrats’ 11th-hour witness dilemma, Mike DeBonis and Tom Hamburger, Feb. 14, 2021 (print ed.). House impeachment managers backed away from a final push to call witnesses and extend the trial of former president Donald Trump, but not before exposing long-simmering tensions among Democrats over how aggressively to hold him accountable.

washington post logoWashington Post, Analysis: 9 witnesses who would give important testimony at Trump’s impeachment trial, Aaron Blake, Feb. 14, 2021 (print ed.). Trump won't testify in his impeachment trial; Former president Donald Trump's lawyers on Feb. 4 rejected a request from Democrats for Trump to testify at his impeachment trial.

The second impeachment trial of Donald Trump might include witnesses after all. Shortly after the trial began Saturday, lead House impeachment manager Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) said he would like to subpoena Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.).

Beutler, who was one of 10 House Republicans to vote to impeach Trump last month, confirmed overnight that Trump declined House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) request to more forcefully call off his supporters who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6.

“When McCarthy finally reached the president on Jan. 6 and asked him to publicly and forcefully call off the riot, the president initially repeated the falsehood that it was antifa that had breached the Capitol,” Beutler said. “McCarthy refuted that and told the president that these were Trump supporters. That’s when, according to McCarthy, the president said, ‘Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.’”

For more than a week, it has been reported that it was unlikely the trial would include any witnesses. It’s still not clear that it will. Witnesses are subject to votes of the Senate, and Trump’s team has threatened to call many witnesses in response. Trump lawyer Michael van der Veen angrily responded to Raskin’s call by suggesting he would need depositions of more than 100 people. He mentioned House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Vice President Harris specifically.

But with the prospect of witnesses suddenly very real, it’s worth going through who could shed light.

1. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler
2. Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.)
3. The Capitol rioters who cited Trump
4. The Trump aides involved in planning the rally

 

U.S. Law, Politics, Governance

washington post logoWashington Post, Chart: Who Joe Biden is picking to fill his White House and Cabinet, Staff reports, Feb. 15, 2020. One of President-elect Joe Biden’s very first tasks will be filling the top positions in his White House and Cabinet. In contrast to President Trump’s notably White and male Cabinet, Biden has joe biden kamala harris campaign shotpromised to be “a president for all Americans” and build a Cabinet that reflects its diversity.

In making his selections Biden is looking to appease factions of the Democratic Party from moderates to progressives and longtime allies to newer faces. Cabinet positions — with the exception of the vice president and White House chief of staff — will also require approval from a Republican Senate, unless Democrats can win two Senate race runoffs in early January.

Once confirmed, they will be instrumental in carrying out his goals and setting the tenor his presidency. We’re tracking the people who Biden has already named and the top contenders for unfilled roles.

washington post logoWashington Post, Snow blankets parts of Texas, Andrew Freedman, Matthew Cappucci, Kim Bellware and Meryl Kornfield, Feb. 15, 2021. Power outages widespread in Texas, Oklahoma amid winter storms, with coldest temperatures yet to come.

A severe cold snap has turned the central and southern parts of the country into an extension of the Arctic, with dangerously low temperatures not seen in decades and a blast of snow and ice which has shut down population centers in multiple states. The excessive cold has sent energy demand skyrocketing. In Texas, 2.8 million customers were without electricity as of 1:30 p.m. Eastern amid the punishing cold, according to poweroutage.us.

 

Media News

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: ‘A moment of truth’? After years of Trump’s lies, amplified by MAGA media, that proved impossible for most Republicans, margaret sullivan 2015 photoMargaret Sullivan, right, Feb. 15, 2021 (print ed.). The words spoken on the Senate floor over the past few days were almost innumerable. But the ones that stayed with me through the second impeachment trial of Donald Trump were among the very first ones uttered.

“Democracy needs a ground to stand upon — and that ground is the truth,” House impeachment lead manager Jamie Raskin said in his opening statement, quoting his father, the political activist Marcus Raskin.

This Senate trial would not be a contest among lawyers, or between political parties, said the Maryland Democrat, who led the prosecuting team trying to make the case that the 45th president had incited the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

No, the trial would be, and should be, “a moment of truth for America.”

As it turned out, truth was perfectly well served in the trial, at least on one side. Raskin and the other House managers made an irrefutable case. It was so irrefutable that even the former president’s greatest enabler, Mitch McConnell, admitted what the facts were: that Trump was “practically and morally responsible” for the insurrection.

washington post logoWashington Post, Social media site Parler is back online, more than a month after tangle with Amazon knocked it offline, Rachel Lerman, Feb. 15, 2021.
Parler is back online following several weeks of darkness after the social media site popular with supporters of former president Donald Trump was knocked offline.

parler logoParler effectively fell off the Internet in January when Amazon refused to provide technical cloud computing support to the site after the tech giant determined Parler was not doing enough to moderate and remove incitements to violence.

The site was not fully functional on Monday, and some users reported technical glitches as they tried to log in and refresh feeds. Private messaging was disabled, but the basic outline of the site was live.

“We’re in for a little bit of a bumpy ride for the next day or two, there’s been a ton of backend work we’ve completed over the last couple of weeks,” Parler Chief Technology Officer Alexander Blair posted on the site Monday morning.

Parler, which said it had more than 12 million users when it was knocked offline, became especially popular with pro-Trump supporters last year and emerged as a common place to discuss baseless election fraud claims after Trump lost the November 2020 election. The tipping point for many of its apple logo rainbowpartners to pull technical support came after the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, when users on Parler glorified the riot.

Apple and Google both removed the app from their app stores, making it nearly impossible for new users to download the app. Then Amazon severed its amazon logo smallhosting service from Parler, effectively turning off the lights. The companies cited Parler’s lax moderation policies against calls for violence.

Parler did not immediately respond to a request for comment about its return or its hosting service.

Parler appeared to be using a Los Angeles-based cloud hosting company called SkySilk to return online. Hackers on Twitter, including the user who orchestrated a large-scale scrape of Parler’s public data as it fell offline, identified SkySilk as the host. John Jackson, founder of hacking group Sakura Samurai, confirmed the technical footprint points to SkySilk via public records.

Columbia Journalism Review, Opinion: Thread Man: Seth Abramson’s viral meta-journalism unreality, Lyz Lenz, Published eletronically on Feb. 11, 2021, with a dateline of Feb. 15). For four years, America has been ruled by the tyranny of tweets, and the news media has been tangled in threads. Twitter threads are a way for journalists to gather information and to promote their work; Virginia Heffernan wrote in Politico that they have become the “literary form of the Trump era.”

One of the most prominent Twitter-thread stars is Seth Abramson, who came to the fore around 2017, as the American press was choking on news about Russian interference in the presidential election.

Every story was cloaked in subterfuge: The hacking of the Democratic National Committee. That time Ivanka Trump sat in Vladimir Putin’s chair. When Donald Trump grabbed an interpreter’s notes and crumpled them up. The Miss Universe pageant. Cable news anchors sputtered out names: Maria Butina, George Papadopoulos, Paul Manafort. What did it all mean? If the frenzy of scoops presented a vast evidence board of clues and suspects, we needed someone to connect all the pieces into some kind of meta-narrative.

Enter Abramson, on Twitter, arguing that out in the open was all the proof required to see the truth about our wildest fears and hopes: crimes had been committed, and the evidence was already being reported on by major media outlets. He was the man uniquely capable of pulling the loose threads together.

Lyz Lenz is a writer based in Iowa. Her writing has appeared in Pacific Standard, Marie Claire, Jezebel, and the Washington Post.

seth abramson resized4 proof of collusionTwitter, @SethAbramson via Twitter response, Feb. 15, 2021. Seth Abramson—author, professor, lawyer, investigative reporter—responded on Feb. 15 to the article excerpted above with an extended Twitter thread describing the piece as defamatory and biased. That 31-part Twitter thread's top few items are excerpted below.

Abramson, shown at right in a photo showing the cover of one of his three recent books about Donald Trump, also rebuked New York Times White House reporter Maggie Haberman for retweeting the CJR piece, also as excerpted below. Additionally, he published on Feb. 18 via Substack a lengthy overview of the changing media industry, entitled, Twelve Things You Need to Know About Metajournalism,. This previewed a book on the topic planned for publication in 2022.

@SethAbramson via Twitter:

Feb 15:

(THREAD) On February 11, CJR published a piece on me by Lyz Lenz (@LyzL. It had been informed in writing months earlier—before Lenz began her work—that Lenz felt malice toward me. I requested a different interviewer. The request was ignored. This is the story of what came next.
·
1/ I tell this story not just because it's shocking, but for three other reasons. Columbia University wishes for me to itemize my complaints with the piece—having already declared it will make no changes to it—and I see no reason why I should do so privately rather than publicly.

2/ Second, what happened to me at the hands of CJR—defamation—has happened to many other independent journalists at the hands of other media outlets. Right now there is a needless war between Old Media and New Media, and Old Media is fighting dirty. It has to stop, and right now.

3/ Third—and this is impossible to explain fully if you've never had a major-media hit-piece about you filled almost exclusively with provable lies go viral—it's traumatic and scary and one of the worst things to happen in the life of those it happens to. Folks need to know this.

4/ The bulk of this thread hereafter will be screenshots of my response to the Office of the General Counsel at Columbia University. I apologize in advance that the text will be small. You will need to (a) read it on a desktop computer, and (b) click on the image to enlarge it.

5/ If you want to know what really lies behind the hit-pieces you see in major media that convince you to unfollow someone or never again respect them, please read this thread. You will understand that these publications are lying to you about their standards and their practices.

6/ Those who want to know my personal and professional background—which includes being a journalism professor, a lawyer, and someone who's been in journalism as a practitioner for 27 years—can read my bio below to get a better sense of my view/experience.

7/ Before we get to the screenshots, I want to close this part of the thread by saying that this thread will cost this feed thousands of subscribers. That's how it works. I'm willing to pay the price for telling the truth about a hit-piece many in major media gleefully retweeted.

8/ Now to the letter....

 

Feb. 14

Top Headlines

 capitol gallows color

A crowd of Trump supporters surrounded a newly erected set of wooden gallows outside the Capitol Building on Jan. 6. "Hang Mike Pence!" members of the crowd shouted at times about the Republican Vice President who had announced that he could not comply with the president's call to block election certification that day. The wooden gallows near the Capitol Reflecting Pool was just one example of the racist and anti-Semitic imagery on display at the riot. The noose is a racist symbol of the lynching of Black Americans. (Photo by Shay Horse  via NurPhoto / Getty).

 

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Potential News Steps On 1/6 Probes

 

U.S. Politics, Governance

 

U.S. Law, Courts