Dec. 2021 News, Views

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Editor's Choice: Scroll below for our monthly blend of mainstream and alternative news and view in December, 2021

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

 
 

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To our readers, thank you for your interest and warmest regards for a Happy New Year!

(Photo: Flower collage at the Botanical Gardens in Washington, DC.)

 

Dec. 31

Top Stories

 

Radical Changes In U.S. Law, Elections

 

Virus Victims, Responses

 

U.S. Politics, Elections, Governance

 

World News, Human Rights

 

U.S. Law, Courts, Crime, Race

 

Top Stories

washington post logoWashington Post, As omicron spreads, New York City is once again a center of the pandemic, Emmanuel Felton, Dec. 31, 2021. Officials struggled to provide basic services this week, with scores of transit workers, police officers and paramedics now sick.

In recent weeks, the highly contagious omicron variant of the novel coronavirus has quickly spread through the city, which now has one of the highest rates of new cases in the country despite taking more precautions than many communities and having a vaccination rate higher than the national average.

So far, hospitalizations have remained comparatively low, given the high number of infections, although the number of children hospitalized with covid-19 has increased dramatically this month.

washington post logoWashington Post, Hundreds of homes burned, tens of thousands evacuated in fire said to be most destructive in Colorado history, Ari Schneider, María Luisa Paúl, Christine Armario and Andrew Jeong, Dec. 31, 2021 (print ed.). A wind-fueled grass fire in Colorado burned hundreds of homes in a matter of hours and forced thousands to quickly evacuate Thursday, officials said, an extreme weather event in a region that has seen an unusually dry December.

washington post logoWashington Post, Putin warns Biden of ‘complete rupture’ in relations if sanctions proceed, Robyn Dixon and Paul Sonne, Dec. 31, 2021 (print ed.). Russia’s president has demanded swift acceptance of a proposed security deal that would bar Ukraine from ever joining NATO and rule out any other eastward expansion by the military alliance.

Russian FlagRussian President Vladimir Putin warned in a phone call with President Biden late Thursday that any new sanctions on Russia as a result of the Ukraine crisis could lead to “a complete rupture of relations” between Moscow and Washington that their descendants would come to regret, according to Putin’s foreign policy aide.

Putin issued the warning during his second phone call this month with Biden, after the U.S. president reiterated how Russia would face unprecedented and punishing sanctions from Washington and its allies if Putin were to proceed with a new invasion of Ukraine, according to Russian presidential foreign policy aide Yuri Ushakov.

Putin told Biden that such actions would be a mistake, “which our descendants will later appreciate as a huge one,” Ushakov said, according to the Interfax news agency. “Many such mistakes have already been made over the past 30 years. Therefore, it is advisable not to make such mistakes in this situation.”

 

James Wolf and Ali WatkinsYahoo News, Investigation: CBP launches review of secretive division that targeted journalists, lawmakers and other Americans, Jana Winter, Dec. 31, 2021. U.S. Customs and Border Protection is conducting a review of a secretive division that uses some of the country’s most sensitive databases to investigate the travel and financial records and personal connections of journalists, members of Congress and other Americans not suspected of any crime.

“A review is underway to ensure that the activities in question during the prior Administration remain an isolated incident and that proper safeguards are in place to prevent an incident like this from taking place in the future,” Luis Miranda, a spokesperson for CBP, told Yahoo News.

CBP’s internal probe was prompted by Yahoo News’ reporting earlier this month on Operation Whistle Pig, a leak investigation targeting reporter Ali Watkins and her then boyfriend, James Wolfe, a Senate staffer (shown above). The investigation was launched by Jeffrey Rambo, a border patrol agent assigned to CBP’s Counter Network Division who was looking at whether Wolfe provided classified information to Watkins and other reporters.

us dhs big eagle logo4As many as 20 national security reporters were also investigated during this time, according to an FBI counterintelligence memo included in the Department of Homeland Security inspector general report obtained by Yahoo News.

The DHS inspector general investigation was launched in response to an article in the Washington Post identifying Rambo as a border patrol agent who used a fake name to meet with Watkins, then a reporter for Politico. During the meeting, he questioned her about her sources and about her relationship with Wolfe, and also discussed leak investigations.

At the end of their two-year probe, investigators referred Rambo, his supervisor Dan White and a colleague Charles Ratliff for potential criminal charges including conspiracy and misuse of government computers. White was also referred for multiple potential counts of making false statements. Federal prosecutors declined prosecution, citing, among other reasons, the lack of policies and procedures governing their work.

Rambo told Yahoo News he was authorized every step of the way, and records included in the DHS investigative report show that his supervisor Dan White ordered him to expand his probe into journalists. White is still working at the Counter Network Division, and Rambo is currently employed as a border patrol agent in San Diego.

The Counter Network Division regularly investigated potential contacts, including journalists, as part of a process it referred to as “vetting.” As part of this process, the subject would be run through multiple databases, including a terrorism watch list.

The division regularly conducts database checks on reporters “to determine personal connections,” Rambo’s supervisor Dan White told investigators, according to the DHS investigation report obtained by Yahoo News.

Charles Ratliff, another CBP employee brought in to assist Operation Whistle Pig, used the vast resources and databases available to the division to build what investigators later described as a phone tree of contacts — mapping out connections between people to identify a hidden network. Such work, which was used to track terrorists, was also directed at Americans, including congressional members and staffers and journalists..

U.S. House logo“When Congressional “Staffers” schedule flights, the numbers they use get captured and analyzed by CBP,” Rambo’s supervisor, White, told investigators.

“White stated that Ratliff “does this all the time –inappropriate contacts between people.”

Ratliff regularly compiled reports on members of Congress with alleged ties to someone in the Terrorist Screening Database, according to the investigative report obtained by Yahoo News.

CBP marshaled those same resources to identify journalists' confidential sources, which was then passed to the FBI.

Pulitzer Prize-winning Associated Press reporter Martha Mendoza was one of the journalists vetted by the Counter Network Division — targeted only because she’d reported on forced labor, one of the issues related to CBP’s work. Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington was also swept up in its dragnet.

“There is no specific guidance on how to vet someone,” Rambo later told investigators. “In terms of policy and procedure, to be 100 percent frank there, there’s no policy and procedure on vetting.”

The Counter Network Division also investigated NGOs, members of Congress and their respective staffs. Enough Project, a nonprofit named by CBP as one of those organizations investigated by Rambo’s team, told Yahoo News it was troubled by the revelations.

“If the Enough Project was in fact targeted for ‘extreme vetting’ by a United States government agency for our work to improve mineral supply chains originating in the Democratic Republic of Congo and investigate corruption that robs the Congolese people of their country’s natural resource wealth, it would be deeply troubling,” the organization said in a statement to Yahoo News. “Such invasive and arbitrary targeting of human rights defenders would be a violation of privacy, a hindrance to this important work, and a waste of public resources.”

A CBP official who asked not to be named told Yahoo News that the National Targeting Center has put in place new procedures and training designed to bennie thompson headshotensure that the First and Fourth amendments are not being violated. The official declined, however, to specify what those measures were.

Congressional oversight committees have also begun looking into the division’s activities.

carolyn maloney oRep. Benny Thompson, left, chair of the House Homeland Security Committee and Carolyn Maloney, right, chair of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, sent a letter to the DHS inspector general requesting the report.

“We write you regarding disturbing reports that the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Counter Network Division used government databases to “vet” journalists, government officials, congressional members and their staff, NGO workers, and others by obtaining travel records as well as financial and personal information,” they wrote in a Dec. 14 letter to the DHS inspector general.

“The Office of Inspector General (OIG) investigated at least one Counter Network Division employee, Mr. Jeffrey Rambo, who used government databases to gather information on an American journalist Ali Watkins,” Thompson and Maloney wrote the DHS, citing reporting by Yahoo News.

Chairs Thompson and Maloney requested a copy of the Office of the Inspector General report for its investigation into Rambo and any other reports related to conduct by the Counter Network Division by Dec. 21, 2021. The DHS inspector general has to date not provided the committees with the requested information, according to congressional sources.

Sen. Ron Wyden, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, which has oversight over CBP, has also requested a copy of the inspector general report, but a spokesman for Wyden said he has still not received a copy.

The inspector general did not respond to a request for comment from Yahoo News about the congressional requests.

The DHS has declined to answer any questions posed by Yahoo News about Operation Whistle Pig and the activities of the Counter Network Division. However, in a statement, the department said that DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas “is deeply committed to ensuring the protection of First Amendment rights and has promulgated policies that reflect this priority.”

“We do not condone the investigation of reporters in response to the exercise of First Amendment rights,” the statement continued. “CBP and every component agency and office in the Department will ensure their practices are consistent with our values and our highest standards.”

 

Radical Changes In U.S. Law, Elections

 

The five most radical right Republican justices on the U.S. Supreme Court are shown above, with the sixth Republican, Chief Justice John Roberts, omitted in this view.

The five most radical right Republican justices on the Supreme Court are shown above, with the sixth Republican, Chief Justice John Roberts, omitted in this photo array.

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: Do We Have the Supreme Court We Deserve? Linda Greenhouse (shown at right on the cover of her memoir), Dec. 31, 2021 (print ed.). When I left the daily Supreme linda greenhouse cover just a journalistCourt beat back in 2008, the Week in Review, as The Times’s Sunday Review section was then called, invited me to offer some reflections on nearly 30 years of writing about the court, its cases and its members. The long essay ran under the headline “2,691 Decisions,” a number based on an editor’s calculation of how many decisions the court had issued during my time on the beat. I ended it with an observation about the “vital dialogue” between the court and the country. This was my conclusion:

“The court is in Americans’ collective hands. We shape it; it reflects us. At any given time, we may not have the Supreme Court we want. We may not have the court we need. But we have, most likely, the Supreme Court we deserve.”

A friend who recently came upon that article challenged me. “Do you still think we have the Supreme Court we deserve?” she asked.

Actually, sadly, my answer now is no.

It’s not that I think the country simply deserves a Supreme Court that happens to agree with me; I was finding plenty to disagree with back in 2008. Justice Samuel Alito had taken Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s place in early 2006, wrenching the closely divided court to the right. In June 2007, Justice Stephen Breyer, during an impassioned oral dissent in a highly charged case on what measures public school systems can take to maintain racial diversity, lamented that “it is not often in the law that so few have so quickly changed so much.”

Nonetheless, Justices John Paul Stevens, Anthony Kennedy and David Souter were still on the bench in 2008, proving every day that to be a Republican-nominated Supreme Court justice was not necessarily to be a handpicked conservative spear-carrier in the country’s culture wars. (The three were chosen by Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush respectively.) It had not occurred to anyone then that a hostile Senate in 2016 might keep a president’s Supreme Court nomination bottled up for 11 months without even a hearing, nor that a supine Senate would do a subsequent president’s bidding four years later and bludgeon a nomination through to confirmation while millions of Americans were already casting early ballots for president.

In short, we are in a different place now than we were in 2008, and the current term finds the court in a danger zone as a willing — and willful — participant in a war for the soul of the country. Last term’s cavalier treatment, in a case from Arizona, of what remains of the Voting Rights Act sent a frightening signal about whether the court can be counted on to protect democracy from the Republican-led assault now taking place before our eyes. We now have justices apparently untroubled by process and precedent, let alone appearances: Let’s not forget that two of Donald Trump’s three appointments arrived under debatable circumstances, with Justice Neil Gorsuch taking a seat in 2017 that was Barack Obama’s to fill and Justice Amy Coney Barrett being jammed through to confirmation late in 2020.

Palmer Report, Opinion: Bernard Kerik of all people may have just given up Donald Trump to the January 6th Committee, Bill Palmer, right, Dec. 31, 2021. bill palmerThere are no magic wands for Donald Trump’s people when it comes to trying to get the January 6th Committee to leave them alone. We’ve seen various Trump people try to find magic wands, ranging from “executive privilege” (ask Steve Bannon how that one worked out, as he prepares for his scheduled criminal trial) to pleading the fifth to every question (which doesn’t work either). Then there’s the Mark Meadows strategy of providing some cooperation but getting rung up for contempt anyway.

bill palmer report logo headerNow Trump associate Bernard Kerik appears to be trying a new variation of the partial cooperation strategy. According to Politico he’s provided the January 6th Committee with a large number of documents, while withholding other more damning documents under the nonsensical claim of executive privilege. Here’s the catch, though: he’s provided a list of the documents he’s refusing to turn over. No, really.

Kerik has given the committee what he’s calling a “privilege log” of the withheld documents, including one that he says is titled “DRAFT LETTER FROM POTUS TO SEIZE EVIDENCE IN THE INTEREST OF NATIONAL SECURITY FOR THE 2020 ELECTIONS.” In other words, Kerik just gave the committee a heads-up that such a document exists. So now the committee can try to obtain that document through other means, perhaps from other more cooperative witnesses who may not have known they had access to it.

Kerik could be purposely tipping off the committee as to the existence of this key evidence, in the hope that it decides not to ring him up for contempt, because at least he gave them a solid lead on what to go hunt down. Or it could be that Kerik stupidly didn’t realize that his “privilege log” drew a roadmap that told the committee precisely what to go hunt down.

It’s not clear if Bernard Kerik has done something clever or stupid here. That’s going to depend on whether his goal is to try to find a novel way to get himself off the hook at Trump’s expense, or if he’s trying (and failing) to protect Trump. On the one hand, Trump did give Kerik a symbolic pardon (long after Kerik was released from prison), so Kerik does “owe” Trump. On the other hand, Kerik has spent several years in prison and thus probably doesn’t want to go back. We’ll see where this leads. But keep in mind that if Kerik’s partial cooperation turns out to be useless, the committee will simply ring him up for contempt, and he will in fact end up back in prison.

 

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Wayne Madsen Report, Investigative Commentary, 2022 will be a year of book burning, history re-writing, and election nullification, Wayne Madsen, left, Dec. 29-31, wayne madsen may 29 2015 cropped Small2021. One way to stick it to the Republican Party and its current Nazi penchant for nullifying elections is to celebrate February 9th as President Samuel Tilden Day. Tilden was born on February 9, 1814.

In 1876, Tilden, the reformist Democratic presidential candidate and governor of New York, who had broken the back of New York City's corrupt Tammany Hall political machine and William "Boss" Tweed, won the popular vote but lost the Electoral Vote tally because of a backroom deal samuel tilden campaignmade between southern Democrats favoring an end to Reconstruction and Republican supporters of Rutherford B. Hayes. Hayes was the lackluster governor of Ohio whose dubiously-attained presidency is now only dimly recalled in trivia contests.

In the infamous "Compromise of 1877," the Commission decided to award the 20 disputed electors to Hayes in return for the Hayes administration agreeing to ending Reconstruction in the South. This was the same template that Donald Trump and his congressional supporters planned to use to deny the presidency to Democratic victor Joe Biden.

If Trump supporters want to insist that Trump won the election of 2020, Democrats can honor the legacy of "President" Tilden, the Democratic candidate robbed of the presidency some 145 years ago. The Republican Party has been the party of election cheating and fraud since 1876 and that fact should be hammered home in public school classrooms across the nation.

To this day, Tilden remains the only presidential candidate to lose the presidency while commanding a majority of the popular vote. Although Andrew Jackson, Grover Cleveland, Al Gore, and Hillary Clinton also lost their respective electoral vote counts, they did so while winning a plurality, not an overall majority, of the popular vote.

Recent Headlines

 

Virus Victims, Responses

ny times logoNew York Times, Studies Suggest Why Omicron Is Less Severe: It Spares the Lungs, Carl Zimmer and Azeen Ghorayshi, Dec. 31, 2021. Suggesting Why It’s Less Severe, Compared with other variants, Omicron appears to cause less damage to the lungs. In trials on animals, infections were limited largely to the nose and throat. While the studies help explain why the variant causes milder disease, they don’t answer why it’s so highly transmissible. Scientists say more research is needed.

A spate of new studies on lab animals and human tissues are providing the first indication of why the Omicron variant causes milder disease than previous versions of the coronavirus.

In studies on mice and hamsters, Omicron produced less damaging infections, often limited largely to the upper airway: the nose, throat and windpipe. The variant did much less harm to the lungs, where previous variants would often cause scarring and serious breathing difficulty.

“It’s fair to say that the idea of a disease that manifests itself primarily in the upper respiratory system is emerging,” said Roland Eils, a computational biologist at the Berlin Institute of Health, who has studied how coronaviruses infect the airway.

In November, when the first report on the Omicron variant came out of South Africa, scientists could only guess at how it might behave differently from earlier forms of the virus. All they knew was that it had a distinctive and alarming combination of more than 50 genetic mutations.

ny times logoNew York Times, Ahead of the New Year’s weekend, airlines have been canceling more than 1,000 flights a day, Niraj Chokshi and Heather Murphy, Updated Dec. 31, 2021. Airlines and passengers are ending the year with many of their plans upended. And New Year’s weekend may be bumpy, too.

ny times logoNew York Times, Medicare Officials’ Decision on Alzheimer’s Drug Could Determine Its Fate, Pam Belluck, Dec. 31, 2021. The preliminary decision over Medicare coverage for Aduhelm is expected in January. The F.D.A. approved the drug despite unclear evidence that it helps patients.

Federal officials are wrestling with a decision that could go a long way toward determining the future of the controversial new Alzheimer’s drug, Aduhelm, and whether significant numbers of patients use it.

In January, Medicare, the federal health insurance program for people 65 and over, plans to issue a preliminary decision on whether it will cover the expensive medication. The Food and Drug Administration’s approval of Aduhelm in June has drawn fierce criticism because clinical trials showed the drug had significant safety risks and unclear benefit to patients.

Roughly 80 percent of potential Aduhelm patients are old enough to receive Medicare, making the program’s coverage decision crucial. Private insurers often follow Medicare’s lead.

washington post logoWashington Post, Omicron surge could reach its U.S. peak in mid-January, experts say, Joel Achenbach, Dec. 31, 2021 (print ed.). The idea of a rapid peak and swift decline of the coronavirus variant’s spread has a precedent in South Africa. Columbia University researchers estimate infections in the United States could top out during the week of Jan. 9.

“Omicron will likely be quick. It won’t be easy, but it will be quick. Come the early spring, a lot of people will have experienced covid,” William Hanage, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said in an email Thursday.

But this has always been an unpredictable virus, going back to when it first appeared two years ago, on Dec. 31, 2019. The virus had probably been spreading for a month or more, but that was the day infectious-disease experts around the world began hearing by email and text about an outbreak of a mysterious pathogen causing pneumonia-like respiratory infections in Wuhan, China.

No one on that day could have known that this pathogen, initially called the “novel coronavirus” and later named SARS-CoV-2, would trigger the most brutal pandemic in a century. And no one today knows when it will be over.

Forecasts of how the pandemic will play out have repeatedly been incorrect, to the point that some modelers have stopped trying to make caseload projections four weeks out, instead limiting their forecasts to one week ahead.

washington post logoWashington Post, Biden administration tells Supreme Court it has the authority to impose vaccine-or-testing mandate, Robert Barnes, Dec. 31, 2021 (print ed.). The Biden administration told the Supreme Court Thursday that federal law gives it the authority to impose a nationwide vaccine-or-testing requirement for large employers, and the court should not stand in the way of a program that will save thousands of lives.

“The nation is facing an unprecedented pandemic that is sickening and killing thousands of workers around the country, and any further delay in the implementation of the [requirement] will result in unnecessary illness, hospitalizations, and deaths because of workplace exposure” to the coronavirus, Solicitor General Elizabeth B. Prelogar wrote in a filing.

The Supreme Court has announced a special hearing on Jan. 7 to consider challenges to the rules from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. It was upheld by a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit earlier this month, but is being challenged by a coalition of business groups and Republican-led states.

Supreme Court sets special hearing on Biden administration vaccine policies

Also that day, the high court will hear a similar challenge to a vaccine mandate imposed by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services; it requires shots for health-care workers at facilities that receive federal funds tied to those programs.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Most evangelical objections to vaccines have nothing to do with Christianity, Michael Gerson, right, Dec. 31, 2021 (print ed.). As the michael gerson file photoUnited States ends the year with the highest levels in new infections of the covid pandemic, the historical question naturally arises: Were a hefty portion of Americans entirely out of their senses?

In the grab bag of reasons for vaccine resistance, the religious exemption claimed by evangelicals is perhaps the most perplexing. The default ethical stance of Christianity is the Golden Rule: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” This principle was developed in a variety of other religious and moral traditions. (See the Babylonian Talmud: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah.”) In the New Testament, the Golden Rule is the moral culmination of the Sermon on the Mount. And it is clear from the text that Jesus is not encouraging a calculating ethic of reciprocity. His goal is to inspire a kind of aggressive, preemptive generosity. “If anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.”

The proper application of this principle can be difficult, particularly when it comes to Christian participation in a just war. But the case of vaccination is not really a hard one. Here the tunic is the prick of a needle and a minuscule risk of a bad reaction. The result is a significant benefit for the vaccinated and the community they live in.

Many have come to a very different view. White evangelical Christians have resisted getting vaccinated against the coronavirus at higher rates than other religious groups in the United States. Some initial resistance came in the context of a familiar ethical debate: Did the creation of coronavirus vaccines involve cell lines produced from aborted fetuses?

The short answer is: no. A slightly longer answer is that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is grown in fetal cell line PER.C6, which was derived from an elective abortion in 1985. “But contrary to social media claims,” Francis Collins, former director of the National Institutes of Health, told me, “there are no fetal cells or fetal DNA in the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.” The Vatican has indicated that Catholics can take the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.gage in what amounts to judicial euthanasia, the brief asserts that the act has been so disfigured over the years that it should be put out of its misery.

 ny times logoNew York Times, Live Updates: F.D.A. Expected to Allow Pfizer Boosters for 12- to 15-Year-Olds, Sharon LaFraniere and Noah Weiland, Dec. 31, 2021 (print ed.). The agency also plans to allow boosters five months after a second dose, instead of six, according to people familiar with the talks. The move comes as the highly contagious Omicron is infecting a record number of people, putting more pressure on already deluged hospitals.

Here’s the latest. The U.S. set a one-day record of nearly half a million cases, a staggering figure, although hospitalizations are not rising as fast. A study shows that a booster shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine provides strong protection against Omicron.

fda logoThe Food and Drug Administration is planning to broaden eligibility for coronavirus vaccine booster doses on Monday, allowing 12- to 15-year-olds to receive third doses of Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine, according to people familiar with the agency’s deliberations.

Regulators also plan to allow both adolescents and adults to seek an extra shot of Pfizer’s vaccine five months after receiving a second dose instead of the current period of six months. A booster shot is also expected to be authorized for younger children, pfizer logoages 5 to 11, with immune deficiencies.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s vaccine advisory committee is planning to meet by the middle of next week to vote on whether to recommend the changes. If the committee agrees with the F.D.A.’s authorizations, Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, left, the C.D.C. director, is expected to promptly endorse the revisions.

rochelle walensky 2The move to expand boosters comes as the highly contagious Omicron variant is infecting a record number of Americans with the coronavirus, putting more pressure on hospitals already deluged by Covid-19 patients from the Delta variant.

More than 70 percent of people in the United States 12 years and older are fully vaccinated, according to the C.D.C. At least 1.8 million adolescents between 12 and 15 years old have tested positive for the virus, according to the C.D.C. Children can better withstand coronavirus infections, but in rare instances still can get very sick and even die.

  • New York Times, More than 1,100 flights have been canceled in the U.S. as Omicron roils staff and storms hit the West, Dec. 30, 2021.

washington post logoWashington Post, Risk calculations get harder amid altered guidance, new research on rapid tests, Joel Achenbach and Yasmeen Abutaleb, Dec. 31, 2021 (print ed.). Fauci draws a line on New Year’s Eve parties — no big crowd, and moderate the “hugging and kissing.”

The changed guidance on isolation, ambiguous research findings and continuing unknowns about omicron — and the desire to return to normal life — have left people again making what may not be much better than wild guesses.

As the coronavirus spawns a record-breaking wave of infections, new research suggests that rapid tests widely used to identify potential covid-19 cases might be less effective at identifying illness caused by the swiftly spreading omicron variant.

The finding is the latest complication for anyone trying to strike a common-sense balance between being vigilant and returning to normalcy as the country approaches the third year of the pandemic.

The research, issued Tuesday by the Food and Drug Administration and produced by the National Institutes of Health, said the rapid antigen tests — which have been in high demand and often hard to find this holiday season — “do detect the omicron variant but may have reduced sensitivity.”

Although rapid tests showed reduced sensitivity to omicron compared with earlier variants in a lab study, the real-world implications are not clear and are still under investigation, said Bruce J. Tromberg, director of NIH’s National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering and lead of RADx Tech, an effort to assess and speed up the development of tests in cooperation with the FDA. The findings do not necessarily mean the tests will be less sensitive in the real world.

ny times logoNew York Times, New daily cases topped one million globally. See where they are rising the fastest, Lazaro Gamio, Albert Sun and Alexandria Symonds, Dec. 31, 2021 (print ed.). As the Omicron variant sweeps across the planet, the global tally of new coronavirus cases has for the first time passed one million per day on average. The previous global case record set last April has already been broken three times this week.

The United States, Canada and much of Western Europe are leading the surge, with both regions seeing record-breaking levels of new coronavirus cases. The daily average number of new cases in the United States on Tuesday was more than 267,000, exceeding the previous all-time peak set in January; Wednesday’s average was higher still, at more than 300,000.

covad 19 photo.jpg Custom 2New cases in at least 11 European countries — Britain, Cyprus, Denmark, France, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Malta, Spain and Switzerland — also passed their previous all-time peaks on Tuesday or Wednesday. In France, the daily case average passed 100,000.

Cases in Canada have also seen a steep increase in recent days, more than doubling in a week to an average of more than 25,000. And Australia’s cases climbed to an average of more than 12,600 on Wednesday — eight times higher than just three weeks earlier.

As dramatic as these case counts are, they are also likely an undercount because of asymptomatic cases, reporting lags due to the holiday season, lack of test availability in many places and at-home tests whose results may not be reported.

In the United States, where Omicron is spreading quickly, 16 states and Puerto Rico are at their all-time case records. These include states with comparatively high vaccination rates: Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island, all of which are at least 70 percent fully vaccinated. In addition to being more transmissible generally, Omicron also appears to give rise to more breakthrough infections.

ny times logoNew York Times, Eric Adams, mayor-elect of New York City, will keep the city’s private-sector vaccine mandate in place, Dana Rubinstein and Joseph Goldstein, Dec. 31, 2021 (print ed.). Following weeks of silence, Mayor-elect Eric Adams vowed on Thursday to keep New York City’s vaccine mandate for private-sector employees in place. The requirement, which was enacted by Mayor Bill de Blasio and is the first of its kind in the nation, went into effect on Monday, during Mr. de Blasio’s last week in office.

“Our focus is vaccine and testing, vaccine and testing, vaccine and testing,” Mr. Adams said, before turning to Dr. Dave A. Chokshi, Mr. de Blasio’s health commissioner, who will stay on as Mr. Adams’s health commissioner until March.

“The private sector employer mandate will stay in effect in the New Year, with a focus on compliance, not punishment,” Dr. Chokshi announced.

Epidemiologists applauded the mandate, but its timing at the tail end of Mr. de Blasio’s tenure sowed confusion among some business owners, who were unsure whether to abide by the mandate, or to just wait until Mr. Adams took office and announced his own policy. Some also see it as a bureaucratic headache and worry that some workers might quit rather than comply.

Mr. Adams’s silence on the matter had also fostered hope among some business owners that he planned to allow the mandate to lapse.

But in the weeks since Mr. de Blasio announced the policy on Dec. 6, the Omicron variant has rampaged through New York City and driven a sharp increase in coronavirus cases.

On Wednesday, the city set a one-day case record for the third time in a week, and a subway line connecting Queens and Manhattan shut down, because so many transit workers had called in sick. Life in the city, in some ways, has slowed to a crawl. The Westminster Kennel Club postponed its January dog show, in deference to Omicron.

ny times logoNew York Times, Coronavirus vaccines rarely lead to problems in younger children, the C.D.C. reported, Benjamin Mueller and Andrew Jacobs, Dec. 31, 2021 (print ed.). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released two studies on Thursday that underscored the importance of vaccinating children against the coronavirus.

cdc logo CustomOne study found that serious problems among children 5 to 11 who had received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine were extremely rare. The other, which looked at hundreds of pediatric hospitalizations in six cities last summer, found that nearly all of the children who became seriously ill had not been fully vaccinated.

More than eight million doses of the Pfizer vaccine have been given to children 5 to 11 in the United States so far. But concerns about the unknowns of a new vaccine caused some parents to hesitate in allowing their children to be inoculated, including those who said they preferred to wait for the broader rollout to bring any rare problems to the surface.

By Dec. 19, roughly six weeks into the campaign to vaccinate 5- to 11-year-olds, the C.D.C. said that it had received very few reports of serious problems. The agency evaluated reports received from doctors and members of the public, as well as survey responses from the parents or guardians of roughly 43,000 children in that age group.

Worldometer, World & U.S. Coronavirus Case Totals (updated Dec. 31, 2021), with some governments reporting lower numbers than the totals here and some experts saying the numbers are far higher:

World Cases: 287,156,806, Deaths: 5,449,239
U.S. Cases:     55,252,823, Deaths:    845,745
Indian Cases:   34,838,804, Deaths:    481,080
Brazil Cases:   22,277,239, Deaths:    619,024

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U.S. Politics, Elections, Governance

 

Ted Koppel, right, interviews Randy Collins, the president of the Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce, for a piece on “CBS Sunday Morning.” (CBS Sunday Morning)Ted Koppel, right, interviews Randy Collins, the president of the Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce, for a piece on “CBS Sunday Morning.” (CBS Sunday Morning)

washington post logoWashington Post, How Ted Koppel’s trip to ‘Mayberry’ turned into one of 2021’s most striking moments of TV, Emily Yahr, Dec. 31, 2021 (print ed.).The veteran newsman and “CBS Sunday Morning” contributor explains how a seeming puff piece about “The Andy Griffith Show” turned into an unsettling snapshot of an angry America

At the height of the coronavirus pandemic lockdowns, veteran journalist Ted Koppel was working out on the treadmill when he came across an episode of “The Andy Griffith Show” — it caught his attention because of something he heard earlier that day while listening to WMAL, a Virginia-based conservative talk radio station. A listener had called in to explain that they used to live in the Washington area, but couldn’t stand how “woke” it had become, so they fled to the South. They said something along the lines of, “We moved down here to the Carolinas, and boy, life is just wonderful. People are so lovely. They’re so neighborly. Everything is so nice.”

Koppel, 81, started thinking about how “The Andy Griffith Show” was also set in the Carolinas, in the fictional town of Mayberry, N.C. After his workout, he went online and discovered that the CBS comedy was an even bigger hit than he remembered; the series, starring Griffith as the good-natured sheriff and Ron Howard as his adorable young son, was one of the most-watched shows from its debut in 1960 until it went off the air in 1968. And, more intriguingly, while Mayberry was not real, the city of Mount Airy, N.C., claims to be the prototype on which it was based, and still draws thousands of tourists every year looking to relive their beloved show.

So Koppel, the former ABC “Nightline” host and now a senior contributor to “CBS Sunday Morning,” called his producer, Dustin Stephens, and suggested that they travel down to Mount Airy. Koppel was curious: What made the show so popular? And what was it about this community that makes people want to come visit decades later?

What started with those general questions wound up evolving into one of the most striking TV segments of the year, as Koppel was visibly taken aback by the fierce nostalgia for a time and place that literally never existed — and how it connects to the misinformation that has infiltrated America’s politics.

ny times logoNew York Times, Navy Fires Warship’s Top Two Officers, Citing ‘Loss of Confidence,’ Eric Schmitt, Dec. 31, 2021 (print ed.). The Navy has fired the commander and the second in charge of the littoral combat ship Montgomery because of “a loss of confidence in their ability to command,” the service said on Thursday. Cmdr. Richard J. Zamberlan, the ship’s skipper, and Cmdr. Phillip Lundberg, the vessel’s executive officer, were relieved by Capt. Marc Crawford, the commander of the Navy’s Surface Division 11, the Navy said in a statement.

The Navy did not elaborate on the circumstances of the firings, but two Navy officials said the officers’ removal had resulted from their handling of a sexual harassment investigation. It is unusual for the Navy to relieve a ship’s commander, much less its two top officers, for any reason. In April, the Navy removed Cmdr. Kathryn J. Dawley as the skipper of the Hawaii-based guided-missile destroyer Hopper for what officials said was a poor command climate and bad crew morale.

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World News, Human Rights

ny times logoNew York Times, A Digital Manhunt: How Chinese Police Track Critics on Social Media, Muyi Xiao and Paul Mozur, Dec. 31, 2021. Authorities in China use advanced software to silence criticism on overseas social media. Their targets include students and non-Chinese nationals.

  • New York Times, France promised normalcy. But Omicron is challenging whether it, or any other country, can deliver on that right now.

ny times logoNew York Times, Former Afghan President Says He Fled Nation to ‘Save Kabul,’ Sharif Hassan, Dec. 31, 2021 (print ed.). In his first interview since escaping as the Taliban advanced, Ashraf Ghani defended himself against charges that he abandoned Afghanistan in its hour of need.

Former President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan said he fled the country to prevent the destruction of Kabul as Taliban fighters advanced on the capital, offering the most detailed defense of his actions since the government’s collapse in August.

Mr. Ghani, speaking on the BBC in an interview broadcast on Thursday — his first interview since he fled — said his sudden departure was the “hardest” decision he made. He said that even in the hours before he boarded a helicopter and was spirited out of the country, he did not know it would be his last day in his homeland.

The Taliban had largely surrounded Kabul and panic gripped the city when Mr. Ghani, along with his wife and close associates, fled on the afternoon of Aug. 15.

Mr. Ghani told BBC’s Radio 4 that if he had taken “a stand,” the presidential palace security guards would have been killed.

 

U.S. Law, Courts, Crime, Race

 

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: Do We Have the Supreme Court We Deserve? Linda Greenhouse, Dec. 31, 2021 (print ed.). When I left the daily Supreme Court beat back in 2008, the Week in Review, as The Times’s Sunday Review section was then called, invited me to offer some reflections on nearly 30 years of writing about the court, its cases and its members. The long essay ran under the headline “2,691 Decisions,” a number based on an editor’s calculation of how many decisions the court had issued during my time on the beat. I ended it with an observation about the “vital dialogue” between the court and the country. This was my conclusion:

“The court is in Americans’ collective hands. We shape it; it reflects us. At any given time, we may not have the Supreme Court we want. We may not have the court we need. But we have, most likely, the Supreme Court we deserve.”

A friend who recently came upon that article challenged me. “Do you still think we have the Supreme Court we deserve?” she asked.

Actually, sadly, my answer now is no.

It’s not that I think the country simply deserves a Supreme Court that happens to agree with me; I was finding plenty to disagree with back in 2008. Justice Samuel Alito had taken Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s place in early 2006, wrenching the closely divided court to the right. In June 2007, Justice Stephen Breyer, during an impassioned oral dissent in a highly charged case on what measures public school systems can take to maintain racial diversity, lamented that “it is not often in the law that so few have so quickly changed so much.”

Nonetheless, Justices John Paul Stevens, Anthony Kennedy and David Souter were still on the bench in 2008, proving every day that to be a Republican-nominated Supreme Court justice was not necessarily to be a handpicked conservative spear-carrier in the country’s culture wars. (The three were chosen by Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush respectively.) It had not occurred to anyone then that a hostile Senate in 2016 might keep a president’s Supreme Court nomination bottled up for 11 months without even a hearing, nor that a supine Senate would do a subsequent president’s bidding four years later and bludgeon a nomination through to confirmation while millions of Americans were already casting early ballots for president.

In short, we are in a different place now than we were in 2008, and the current term finds the court in a danger zone as a willing — and willful — participant in a war for the soul of the country. Last term’s cavalier treatment, in a case from Arizona, of what remains of the Voting Rights Act sent a frightening signal about whether the court can be counted on to protect democracy from the Republican-led assault now taking place before our eyes. We now have justices apparently untroubled by process and precedent, let alone appearances: Let’s not forget that two of Donald Trump’s three appointments arrived under debatable circumstances, with Justice Neil Gorsuch taking a seat in 2017 that was Barack Obama’s to fill and Justice Amy Coney Barrett being jammed through to confirmation late in 2020.

ny times logoNew York Times, What It’s Like to Leave Prison During a Pandemic, Hannah Yoon and David Gonzalez, Dec. 31, 2021 (interactive). For most people, patching together a life after prison is a daunting task. Even getting an ID can be tricky. We spent a year with Richard, Genisis and Mychal as they navigated the transition.

washington post logoWashington Post, Roberts says federal judiciary has some issues but doesn’t need congressional intervention, Robert Barnes, Dec. 31, 2021. In his year-end report, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. acknowledged concerns about ethical conflicts among judges and workplace discrimination within the judiciary.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. acknowledged in a report released Friday that the federal judiciary has work to do in ensuring that judges live up to their ethical responsibilities and in creating a harassment-free workplace.

But he politely told Congress it is work that judges can do on their own.

In his 2021 Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary, the chief justice did not mention President Biden’s commission on reforming the Supreme Court or react to nascent congressional proposals to make drastic changes, such as expanding the number of justices or ending their lifetime tenure.

But he said the judiciary’s independence is best maintained by remaining free of interference from the political branches.

“The Judiciary’s power to manage its internal affairs insulates courts from inappropriate political influence and is crucial to preserving public trust in its work as a separate and co-equal branch of government,” Roberts wrote.

In the report, Roberts addressed “topics that have been flagged by Congress and the press over the past year.” Those included the failure of some judges to recuse themselves from cases in which they had a financial interest, and concerns about how the judiciary handles allegations of workplace harassment and discrimination.

Roberts referred to articles in the Wall Street Journal that said “between 2010 and 2018, 131 federal judges participated in a total of 685 matters involving companies in which they or their families owned shares of stock.”

He said that was “inconsistent” with a federal ethics statute that requires a judge to recuse in any matter in which he or she knows of a personal financial interest.

“Let me be crystal clear: the Judiciary takes this matter seriously,” Roberts wrote. “We expect judges to adhere to the highest standards, and those judges violated an ethics rule.”

But, he said, in context, that meant the judiciary had a “99.97% compliance rate.”

“For most of the judges involved (a total of 83 of the 131), the Journal reported one or two lapses over the nine-year period,” Roberts wrote. “Those sorts of isolated violations likely entailed unintentional oversights in which the judge’s conflict-checking procedures failed to reveal the financial conflict.”

Roberts said congressional intervention was not needed. The Judicial Conference and the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts will dedicate themselves in the coming months to increasing ethics training for judges and researching new computer programs to detect potential conflicts in the cases that come before judges.

“The bottom line is that the Conference is taking the concerns seriously and has committed itself to the careful labor of addressing them,” he wrote. The Journal reported that Roberts said he had “serious constitutional concerns” about proposed accountability legislation in 2018.

Roberts defends colleagues on recusal issues

Supreme Court justices are not covered by the same ethics policies, although the justices have said they voluntarily comply with them. Roberts is one of three justices — Stephen G. Breyer and Samuel A. Alito Jr. are the others — who own individual stocks. They recuse from cases, or sometimes sell the stock in order to participate, but they too have missed some cases.

The chief justice also acknowledged concerns about how the federal judiciary handles allegations of harassment and discrimination. He detailed steps that the judiciary’s leaders have taken to improve its reporting system, including the expansion of the Office of Judicial Integrity and the hiring of workplace relations directors in each of the federal circuits.

washington post logoWashington Post, Prosecutors break down charges, convictions for 725 arrested so far in Jan. 6 attack on U.S. Capitol, Keith L. Alexander, Dec. 31, 2021. Federal prosecutors in the District have charged more than 725 individuals with various crimes in connection with the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection, when hundreds of rioters forced their way into the U.S. Capitol, the U.S. attorney’s office said Friday.

As the country nears the first anniversary of the storming of the Capitol, the U.S. attorney’s office in the District, the largest office of federal prosecutors in the nation, released a breakdown of the arrests and convictions associated with the attack.

Of those arrested, 225 people were charged with assault or resisting arrest. More than 75 of those were charged with using a deadly or dangerous weapon against police officers. The office said 140 police officers, including Capitol officers and members of the D.C. police department, were victimized during the attack.

The office said about 10 individuals were charged with assaulting members of the media or destroying their equipment.

Some 640 people were charged with entering a restricted federal building or its grounds. And another 75 were charged with entering a restricted area with a deadly weapon.

Prosecutors in the office have been working with the FBI as well as prosecutors in various locations around the nation. The office said the individuals arrested come from nearly all 50 states.

One person, 35-year-old Ashli Babbitt of California, was fatally shot by a Capitol Police officer as she tried to breach a set of doors deep in the Capitol during the riot. Federal prosecutors later cleared the officer of any wrongdoing in Babbitt’s death.

According to a May estimate by the Architect of the Capitol, the attack caused about $1.5 million worth of damage to the building.

About 165 individuals, the office said, have pleaded guilty to a variety of federal charges, from misdemeanors to felony obstruction.

So far, 70 defendants have received some kind of sentence from a judge. Of those, 31 people were ordered jailed, and 18 were sentenced to home detention. The remaining 21 defendants were placed on probation.

In early December, Robert Scott Palmer, 54, of Largo, Fla., received the longest prison sentence to date among those convicted in the attack. A U.S. District Court judge sentenced him to more than five years in prison.

In October, Palmer pleaded guilty to resisting arrest and assaulting officers with a dangerous weapon. Prosecutors said Palmer broke into the Capitol building and, while inside, threw a wooden plank at police officers; then, they said, while he was on the front line of the riot, he sprayed police officers with a fire extinguisher and hurled the emptied extinguisher at the officers. No officers, prosecutors said, were injured.

The FBI is continuing to identify suspects in the case and is collecting tips at fbi.gov/wanted/capitol-violence, 1-800-CALL-FBI (800-225-5324) or tips.fbi.gov.

ny times logoNew York Times, Pharmaceutical Company Is Found Liable in Landmark Opioid Trial, Sarah Maslin Nir, Jan Hoffman and Lola Fadulu, Dec. 31, 2021 (print ed.). The case was the first of its kind, targeting every point of the prescription opioid supply chain, from manufacturers to pharmacy chains.

A jury on Thursday ruled that an opioid manufacturer and distributor contributed to a public nuisance by inundating New York with pills that killed thousands of people.

Teva Pharmaceuticals USA Inc. and a handful of its subsidiary companies were found liable in a sprawling, six-month trial that sought to reckon with the role that the pharmaceutical industry played in the opioid epidemic in two hard-hit New York counties and across the state.

New York State was also determined to be partially responsible.

The trial began in June and was argued jointly by New York State and Suffolk and Nassau counties. The case began with more than two dozen defendants, and was the first of its kind to target the entirety of the opioid supply chain: the pharmaceutical companies that manufactured pain pills, the distributors of the drugs and the pharmacy chains that filled the prescriptions. By the time jury deliberations began, it had been whittled down to a handful of defendants, all part of Teva Pharmaceuticals.

“The trial itself has touched four seasons. We started in the spring, summer and of course now we’re into the winter,” said New York State Supreme Court Justice Jerry Garguilo before the verdict was announced. “It was an ultra marathon.”

The case was so vast initially that the trial was to be held in the auditorium of a local law school on Long Island. There was not a courtroom in Central Islip large enough to fit all the defendants and their legal teams.

The six-member jury was asked to determine whether the companies played a role in perpetuating an ongoing public nuisance, a specific type of legal claim used in many opioid lawsuits to describe the crisis that in the last decade has killed hundreds of thousands of Americans.

Last year, more than 100,000 people — a record number — died of overdoses of opioids, particularly black-market fentanyl, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s provisional 2020 data.

Days before the New York trial began, Johnson & Johnson agreed to pay $230 million, and as the months wore on, almost all defendants in the sweeping case agreed to multimillion-dollar settlements.

They included three major drug distributors, who settled in July for more than $1 billion combined. That settlement was part of a larger $26 billion agreement to which companies facing lawsuits for their role in the opioid crisis agreed to settle the raft of more than 3,000 lawsuits filed against them by counties, states and tribes across the country.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Mitch McConnell’s un-conservative plea to the Supreme Court, Ruth Marcus, right, Dec. 31, 2021 (print ed.). Spare me the ruth marcusRepublican pieties about the horror of activist judges legislating from the bench. These days, judicial activism in the service of conservative causes is not just acceptable — it’s openly encouraged. Witness a new Supreme Court brief from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

The brief comes in a case involving Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), challenging an obscure provision of federal election law that bars candidates who lend their campaigns funds to get elected from raising more than $250,000 after the election to pay themselves back — the theory being that post-election fundraising is less about engaging in political speech and more about currying political favor.

The day before his 2018 Senate election, Cruz lent his campaign $260,000 — not because it needed the money (it had more than $2 million cash on hand) but because, he openly acknowledges, he wanted to set up a challenge to the repayment provision. Cruz argues that the law violates the First Amendment, stifling candidates’ political speech by deterring them from lending to their own campaigns.

The Federal Election Commission, defending the provision, contends that Cruz has no standing to contest it because, among other things, he created the problem himself. “Senator Cruz’s injury is self-inflicted, since he and his campaign deliberately arranged their transactions so as to create a legal barrier to full repayment of the loan,” Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar told the court. In any event, she said, “the loan-repayment limit imposes at most a modest burden on the right to make and accept contributions.”

The case, to be argued Jan. 19, offers a particularly vivid illustration of the conservative mania to undo even the most inoffensive campaign finance restrictions. But the McConnell brief, authored by former Trump White House counsel Donald McGahn and former Trump administration solicitor general Noel Francisco, is notable for a different and more alarming reason: There is, it seems, no argument too extreme for this crowd in their effort to reshape the law to their liking.

They urge the court to use this case not simply to strike down the loan repayment provision but also to junk what is left of the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA), also known as McCain-Feingold. Encouraging the court to en

 washington post logoWashington Post, He was waterboarded at VMI. His tormentors still got into the military, Ian Shapira, Dec. 31, 2021 (print ed.). A lawsuit against five graduates of the Virginia Military Institute highlights a controversial component of the college’s culture: its century-plus-old “rat line.”

The former Virginia Military Institute cadet was scrolling Facebook when he saw a trio of photos that made him seethe.

The images showed a graduating VMI student being sworn in as a Marine officer on a December day in 2019 at the school’s historic Memorial Hall.

virginia military institute logoThe former cadet knew the freshly commissioned Marine second lieutenant in a way he’d never forget. Just across the street from Memorial Hall, that same student had helped waterboard him and another VMI freshman inside the barracks as part of an unauthorized initiation ritual, according to two lawsuits, a VMI police report and the transcript of a VMI disciplinary hearing.

One VMI official testified that the January 2018 incident, though brief, was one of the worst episodes of abuse against a freshman he could remember at the nation’s oldest state-supported military college, where hazing is prohibited by state law and VMI policy.

The room had been darkened, the feet of the two freshmen were bound with duct tape, and an Islamic call to prayer was played on a speaker to invoke the Abu Ghraib prison torture scandal, the police report and the VMI disciplinary hearing transcript show.

Waterboarding is designed to simulate the feeling of being drowned and became the subject of heated debate when the CIA used it to interrogate al-Qaeda detainees after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Why, the former cadet wondered, did VMI suspend his tormentor and two other upperclassmen instead of expelling them, allowing them to return to school and graduate? And why was the military commissioning any of them as officers, including two cadets who were in the room and did nothing to stop it?

The Facebook photos made the former cadet so irate that he decided to sue.

Daily Beast, Early-Morning Fire Completely Destroys Abortion Clinic in Tennessee, Kelly Weill, Dec. 31, 2021. The same Planned Parenthood clinic in Knoxville had previously been targeted by a gunman.

A Planned Parenthood clinic in Knoxville, Tennessee, is a “total loss” after a devastating fire broke out early on New Year’s Eve morning, local officials say. The clinic, which provides abortions, was reported ablaze around 6:30 a.m., the Knoxville Fire Department said in a 9:30 statement.

'On arrival companies found a large single story commercial building fully involved with fire through the roof,” the department statement read. “Crews initially attacked the fire defensively from the exterior. Currently the fire is under control and should be declared out shortly. The building was being renovated at the time of the fire. The building is a total loss. The fire is currently under investigation. Further information will be released as the investigation continues.”

No injuries were reported in the incident, the department said. The clinic, the East Knoxville Planned Parenthood, had been closed for renovations, Knoxville’s WBIR reported. The location was still offering telehealth appointments. Knoxville Police told The Daily Beast that the fire department's arson investigators were still taking the lead on the case as of Friday morning.

The East Knoxville clinic came under attack earlier this year, when a gunman opened fire on its glass doors, shattering them. No one has been arrested in the attack. The clinic has also spent a year and a half in the crosshairs of a religious group, “The Church At Planned Parenthood,” that holds regular protests outside the women’s health facility.

The catastrophic New Year’s Eve blaze comes amid an all-out assault on abortion rights in the U.S. Websites for abortion providers list the Knoxville clinic as one of fewer than ten abortion-providing locations in the state. And a conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court recently hinted at overturning the seminal Roe v. Wade decision enshrining abortion rights in America.

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Dec. 30

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Virus Victims, Responses

 

Media News

 

Jan. 6 Insurrection, Justice

 

U.S. Politics, Elections, Governance

 

World News, Human Rights

 

U.S. Law, Courts, Crime, Race

 

Top Stories

ny times logoNew York Times, Live Updates: F.D.A. Expected to Allow Pfizer Boosters for 12- to 15-Year-Olds, Sharon LaFraniere and Noah Weiland, Dec. 30, 2021. The agency also plans to allow boosters five months after a second dose, instead of six, according to people familiar with the talks. The move comes as the highly contagious Omicron is infecting a record number of people, putting more pressure on already deluged hospitals.

Here’s the latest. The U.S. set a one-day record of nearly half a million cases, a staggering figure, although hospitalizations are not rising as fast. A study shows that a booster shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine provides strong protection against Omicron.

fda logoThe Food and Drug Administration is planning to broaden eligibility for coronavirus vaccine booster doses on Monday, allowing 12- to 15-year-olds to receive third doses of Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine, according to people familiar with the agency’s deliberations.

Regulators also plan to allow both adolescents and adults to seek an extra shot of Pfizer’s vaccine five months after receiving a second dose instead of the current period of six months. A booster shot is also expected to be authorized for younger children, pfizer logoages 5 to 11, with immune deficiencies.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s vaccine advisory committee is planning to meet by the middle of next week to vote on whether to recommend the changes. If the committee agrees with the F.D.A.’s authorizations, Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, left, the C.D.C. director, is expected to promptly endorse the revisions.

rochelle walensky 2The move to expand boosters comes as the highly contagious Omicron variant is infecting a record number of Americans with the coronavirus, putting more pressure on hospitals already deluged by Covid-19 patients from the Delta variant.

More than 70 percent of people in the United States 12 years and older are fully vaccinated, according to the C.D.C. At least 1.8 million adolescents between 12 and 15 years old have tested positive for the virus, according to the C.D.C. Children can better withstand coronavirus infections, but in rare instances still can get very sick and even die.

  • New York Times, More than 1,100 flights have been canceled in the U.S. as Omicron roils staff and storms hit the West, Dec. 30, 2021.

washington post logoWashington Post, Risk calculations get harder amid altered guidance, new research on rapid tests, Joel Achenbach and Yasmeen Abutaleb, Dec. 30, 2021. Fauci draws a line on New Year’s Eve parties — no big crowd, and moderate the “hugging and kissing.”

The changed guidance on isolation, ambiguous research findings and continuing unknowns about omicron — and the desire to return to normal life — have left people again making what may not be much better than wild guesses.

As the coronavirus spawns a record-breaking wave of infections, new research suggests that rapid tests widely used to identify potential covid-19 cases might be less effective at identifying illness caused by the swiftly spreading omicron variant.
FAQ: What to know about the omicron variant of the coronavirus

The finding is the latest complication for anyone trying to strike a common-sense balance between being vigilant and returning to normalcy as the country approaches the third year of the pandemic.

The research, issued Tuesday by the Food and Drug Administration and produced by the National Institutes of Health, said the rapid antigen tests — which have been in high demand and often hard to find this holiday season — “do detect the omicron variant but may have reduced sensitivity.”

Although rapid tests showed reduced sensitivity to omicron compared with earlier variants in a lab study, the real-world implications are not clear and are still under investigation, said Bruce J. Tromberg, director of NIH’s National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering and lead of RADx Tech, an effort to assess and speed up the development of tests in cooperation with the FDA. The findings do not necessarily mean the tests will be less sensitive in the real world.

 

ghislaine maxwell jeffrey epstein smiling young trial

ny times logoNew York Times, Live Updates: Ghislaine Maxwell Found Guilty of All But One Charge in Sex Trafficking Case, Benjamin Weiser and Rebecca Davis O’Brien, Dec. 30, 2021 (print ed.). After deliberating for several days, jurors delivered their decision Wednesday afternoon in federal court in Manhattan.

Ghislaine Maxwell, the daughter of a British media mogul and the former companion to the disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein, was convicted on Wednesday of conspiring with him over a decade to recruit, groom and sexually abuse underage girls.

A federal jury in Manhattan found Ms. Maxwell, 60, guilty of sex trafficking and the four other charges against her. She was acquitted of one count of enticing a minor to travel across state lines to engage in an illegal sexual act.

As the verdict was read, Ms. Maxwell -- seated next to one of her lawyers, Jeffrey Pagliuca -- appeared to look straight ahead, without moving. Once it was done, she leaned in, poured some water from a bottle into a paper cup, and drank it.

The jury acquitted Maxwell of one count -- No. 2 -- which charged her with enticing a minor to travel with the intent to engage in illegal sexual activity. This count also related to the accuser referred to in court only as Jane, the first of four accusers who testified for the government.

The three other counts for which Maxwell was found guilty were all conspiracy counts, which carry a potential maximum sentence of 5 years each.

Another of the counts on which Maxwell was convicted, No. 4 -- transportation of a minor with intent to engage in illegal sexual activity -- carries a potential maximum of 10 years in prison. This count applied to an accuser known only as Jane.

Of the five counts of which Maxwell was convicted, Count six is the most serious, carrying a potential maximum sentence of 40 years in prison.

Count 6, the most serious, charged sex trafficking of a minor, in this case of Carolyn, who testified using only her first name. The judge has just adjourned court for the day. No sentencing date has been set yet.

 

Virus Victims, Responses

ny times logoNew York Times, New daily cases topped one million globally. See where they are rising the fastest, Lazaro Gamio, Albert Sun and Alexandria Symonds, Dec. 30, 2021. As the Omicron variant sweeps across the planet, the global tally of new coronavirus cases has for the first time passed one million per day on average. The previous global case record set last April has already been broken three times this week.

The United States, Canada and much of Western Europe are leading the surge, with both regions seeing record-breaking levels of new coronavirus cases. The daily average number of new cases in the United States on Tuesday was more than 267,000, exceeding the previous all-time peak set in January; Wednesday’s average was higher still, at more than 300,000.

New cases in at least 11 European countries — Britain, Cyprus, Denmark, France, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Malta, Spain and Switzerland — also passed their previous all-time peaks on Tuesday or Wednesday. In France, the daily case average passed 100,000.

Cases in Canada have also seen a steep increase in recent days, more than doubling in a week to an average of more than 25,000. And Australia’s cases climbed to an average of more than 12,600 on Wednesday — eight times higher than just three weeks earlier.

As dramatic as these case counts are, they are also likely an undercount because of asymptomatic cases, reporting lags due to the holiday season, lack of test availability in many places and at-home tests whose results may not be reported.

In the United States, where Omicron is spreading quickly, 16 states and Puerto Rico are at their all-time case records. These include states with comparatively high vaccination rates: Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island, all of which are at least 70 percent fully vaccinated. In addition to being more transmissible generally, Omicron also appears to give rise to more breakthrough infections.

Democracy Now! via Truthout, Chomsky: Rising Anti-Science Rhetoric Feeds the Pandemic and Climate Crisis, Amy Goodman & Nermeen Shaikh, Dec. 30, 2021. Today, a special broadcast: an hour with Noam Chomsky, the world-renowned political dissident, linguist and author, who just turned 93 years old.

Chomsky spoke to Democracy Now! prior to the discovery of the Omicron coronavirus variant, but he predicted new variants would emerge. “If you let the virus run rampant in poor countries, everyone understands that mutation is likely, the kind of mutation that led to the Delta variant, now the Delta Plus variant in India, and who knows what will develop,” Chomsky said.

ny times logoNew York Times, Eric Adams, mayor-elect of New York City, will keep the city’s private-sector vaccine mandate in place, Dana Rubinstein and Joseph Goldstein, Dec. 30, 2021. Following weeks of silence, Mayor-elect Eric Adams vowed on Thursday to keep New York City’s vaccine mandate for private-sector employees in place. The requirement, which was enacted by Mayor Bill de Blasio and is the first of its kind in the nation, went into effect on Monday, during Mr. de Blasio’s last week in office.

“Our focus is vaccine and testing, vaccine and testing, vaccine and testing,” Mr. Adams said, before turning to Dr. Dave A. Chokshi, Mr. de Blasio’s health commissioner, who will stay on as Mr. Adams’s health commissioner until March.

“The private sector employer mandate will stay in effect in the New Year, with a focus on compliance, not punishment,” Dr. Chokshi announced.

Epidemiologists applauded the mandate, but its timing at the tail end of Mr. de Blasio’s tenure sowed confusion among some business owners, who were unsure whether to abide by the mandate, or to just wait until Mr. Adams took office and announced his own policy. Some also see it as a bureaucratic headache and worry that some workers might quit rather than comply.

Mr. Adams’s silence on the matter had also fostered hope among some business owners that he planned to allow the mandate to lapse.

But in the weeks since Mr. de Blasio announced the policy on Dec. 6, the Omicron variant has rampaged through New York City and driven a sharp increase in coronavirus cases.

On Wednesday, the city set a one-day case record for the third time in a week, and a subway line connecting Queens and Manhattan shut down, because so many transit workers had called in sick. Life in the city, in some ways, has slowed to a crawl. The Westminster Kennel Club postponed its January dog show, in deference to Omicron.

ny times logoNew York Times, Coronavirus vaccines rarely lead to problems in younger children, the C.D.C. reported, Benjamin Mueller and Andrew Jacobs, Dec. 30, 2021. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released two studies on Thursday that underscored the importance of vaccinating children against the coronavirus.

One study found that serious problems among children 5 to 11 who had received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine were extremely rare. The other, which looked at hundreds of pediatric hospitalizations in six cities last summer, found that nearly all of the children who became seriously ill had not been fully vaccinated.

More than eight million doses of the Pfizer vaccine have been given to children 5 to 11 in the United States so far. But concerns about the unknowns of a new vaccine caused some parents to hesitate in allowing their children to be inoculated, including those who said they preferred to wait for the broader rollout to bring any rare problems to the surface.

By Dec. 19, roughly six weeks into the campaign to vaccinate 5- to 11-year-olds, the C.D.C. said that it had received very few reports of serious problems. The agency evaluated reports received from doctors and members of the public, as well as survey responses from the parents or guardians of roughly 43,000 children in that age group.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Americans should be learning to ‘live’ with covid-19. The unvaccinated are making that impossible, Jennifer Rubin, right, Dec. 30, jennifer rubin newest circular2021. So long as red-state governors and other MAGA cultists attempt to obstruct vaccination for the coronavirus, and so long as they encourage risky behavior, more people will become seriously ill and die.

That’s not exactly what members of President Biden’s covid-19 response team said as they discussed the spread of the omicron variant at their news briefing on Wednesday. But the message was unmistakable.

Omicron, administration officials explained, spreads more easily than previous variants but is much less severe than the earlier delta variant. That means the goal should be devising a public health strategy to “live” with the virus, rather than simply reducing the number of cases.

As Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and Biden’s chief medical adviser, explained, “We’re never going to stop counting tests.” But, ultimately, the country will have to accept that the virus “very likely would not be eliminated but can actually be at such a lower level of control.” He also reiterated that “boosters bring back up that degree of protection” offered by the original vaccine doses.

The problem, as always is the case, is the unvaccinated. “We should not become complacent since our hospital system could still be stressed in certain areas of the country,” Fauci warned. “And so, to repeat what we say so often and that deserves reemphasis: The risk of severe disease from any circulating variant, including omicron, is much, much higher for the unvaccinated.”

As Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted: “If you are unvaccinated, you are 10 times more likely to be a case and 20 times more likely to be a fatality; compared to people who are [vaccinated], you are 17 times more likely to be in the hospital.”

Yet Republican elected officials keep doing all they can to throw obstacles in front of the vaccination effort. Some have proclaimed publicly that they refuse to be boosted. Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt even attempted to challenge Biden’s vaccine mandate for National Guard members in court (seriously?). Fortunately, a federal judge threw out the lawsuit on Wednesday.

anthony fauci graphic Custom

washington post logoWashington Post, Fauci suggests skipping big New Year’s parties as U.S. infections skyrocket, Andrew Jeong, Jennifer Hassan and Marisa Iati, Dec. 30, 2021 (print ed.). As omicron washes over America, much of the country still isn’t using exposure notification apps; Biden administration surges resources to states as health-care workers race to keep up.

Americans planning to ring in 2022 with dozens of other people should reconsider their plans as the omicron variant causes coronavirus infections to surge, Anthony S. Fauci, the Biden administration’s chief medical adviser, said Wednesday.

People should feel comfortable gathering with small groups of relatives who are vaccinated and boosted, he said. Although there is some inherent risk, Fauci said he feels it is low enough to be worth the benefits of togetherness.

But, he said, “If your plans are to go to a 40-to-50-person New Year’s Eve party with all the bells and whistles and everybody hugging and kissing and wishing each other a happy new year? I would strongly recommend that this year we do not do that.”

Here’s what to know

  • Omicron is the dominant variant in the United States, making up about 59 percent of infections for the week ending Dec. 25, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday.
  • The coronavirus is again spreading on cruise ships, with 86 vessels in U.S. waters reporting infections onboard through Tuesday, according to CDC data.
  • Unlike during earlier outbreaks, there is no indication of a pending industry shutdown.
  • Officials are working to accelerate testing at schools in New York City so that those who test negative or are asymptomatic can continue with in-person classes. The new policy, “Stay Safe, and Stay Open,” will take effect Jan 3.

ny times logoNew York Times, Case Records Across U.S. and Europe Are Broken as Omicron Wave Grows, Staff Reports, Dec. 30, 2021 (print ed.). The Omicron variant is sweeping through the U.S. and many European countries with a swiftness outpacing anything witnessed over the past two years. U.S. daily cases topped 267,000, while Spain reported 100,000 infections. The variant appears milder, but its surge is sowing chaos. Here’s the latest.

Across Europe, records for new coronavirus infections are falling by the day as the Omicron variant tears through populations with a swiftness outpacing anything witnessed over the past two years of the pandemic.

Like the United States, which recorded a new high in daily cases on Tuesday, European nations are struggling against an onslaught of infections from a virus that shows no sign of going away. Britain, Denmark, France, Greece and Italy all set records for new daily cases this week, and in each country, health officials suspect that Omicron is driving the infections.

While there are early indications that the variant might be milder than previous versions of the virus — with vaccinations, boosters and previous infections all offering some protection against serious illness and death — the surge of infections is sowing its own chaos, as people scramble to obtain tests, businesses grapple with staff shortages and New Year’s festivities are thrown into question.

In England and Northern Ireland on Wednesday, there were no P.C.R. test appointments available to book online, and around midday, many people reported that none were available to order online through the British government’s health services. People are showing up at pharmacies to pick up quick lateral flow tests, according to industry representatives, but are often leaving empty-handed.

In France, which set a record of 208,000 new daily cases on Wednesday, the most recorded in any European country since the pandemic began, the health minister, Olivier Véran, said the increase was “dizzying.”

“This means that 24 hours a day, day and night, every second in our country, two French people are diagnosed positive,” he said, according to Reuters.

In Spain — which is reporting roughly 100,000 daily infections for the first time in the pandemic — contact tracing efforts are being overwhelmed and people are lining up outside hospitals urgently seeking tests so they can be approved for medical leave. Although Spain is not seeing a sharp rise in people needing intensive care, Mario Fontán of the Spanish Epidemiology Society said that concerns over infection were rising.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Omicron tears across Europe, leaving tests and patience in short supply.
  • The U.S. record for daily cases is broken as an Omicron ‘tidal wave’ grows.
  • Britons seeking Covid tests find themselves out of luck across most of the U.K.
  • The Washington, D.C., region is an epicenter of Omicron in the U.S.
  • Omicron is not more severe for children, despite rising hospitalizations.
  • Air filters and outdoor spaces: Office costs rise as workers return.
  • Singapore charges a man accused of lending out his vaccination record, and other international news.

ny times logoNew York Times, Omicron is surging in New York, but vaccination rates are high, face masks are ubiquitous and residents are soldiering on, our columnist writes, Ginia Bellafante, Dec. 30, 2021. Rivaling nearly any place on earth, the city’s vaccination rate among adults who have so far received one shot stands at 92 percent, a figure achieved before a mandate requiring private-sector employers to have their workers immunized went into effect this week.

Mask wearing on the subway and even on the street where you don’t have to cover your face — unless you are avoiding cloud bursts of weed smoke or the cold — is robust to the point that we must imagine it leaves public health officials in other places dumbfounded and envious. “There’s a matter-of-factness and a lack of whimpering, which gets everyone through,” as the playwright Paul Rudnick put it on Twitter the other day, making note of these commitments.

This leaves the city also distinguished by virtue of its failure to produce a churn of viral videos of people attacking one another in fits of pandemic-bred righteousness. The most recent of these was generated during a flight between Florida and Georgia in which a former professional cheerleader, eventually taken into custody by the F.B.I., motioned to punch a man behind her for not wearing his mask while he was eating, even though she wasn’t wearing one either. In New York, if people are going to go at one another, it’s over access to home test kits.

ny times logoNew York Times, On the Slaughterhouse Floor, Fear and Anger Remain, Peter S. Goodman, Photographs by Erin Schaff, Dec. 30, 2021 (print ed.). Workers say factories are still glossing over virus safety, as the meatpackers that dominate beef production harvest record profits.

washington post logoWashington Post, Federal court denies Oklahoma governor’s attempt to stop military vaccine mandate, Andrew Jeong, Dec. 30, 2021 (print ed.). The judge rejected the argument that the National Guard is under the authority of each state’s governor unless activated by the president.

covad 19 photo.jpg Custom 2A federal court on Tuesday denied a lawsuit filed by Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) that challenged the Pentagon’s military-wide coronavirus vaccine mandate by asking that the requirement be suspended for his state’s National Guard members.

Judge Stephen P. Friot sided with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who has said the mandate is needed to maintain a healthy force that is ready to act quickly. Friot also disagreed with Stitt’s assertion that the Pentagon was overstepping its constitutional authority, noting that guard members are already required to receive nine immunizations.

“Adding a tenth … vaccine to the list of nine that all service members are already required to take would hardly amount to ‘an enormous and transformative expansion [of the] regulatory authority’ the Secretary of Defense already possesses,” he wrote in his ruling.

Worldometer, World & U.S. Coronavirus Case Totals (updated Dec. 30, 2021), with some governments reporting lower numbers than the totals here and some experts saying the numbers are far higher:

World Cases: 285,151,663, Deaths: 5,441,89
U.S. Cases:     54,656,866, Deaths:   844,272
Indian Cases:   34,822,040, Deaths:   480,860
Brazil Cases:   22,263,834, Deaths:   618,870

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ghislaine maxwell jeffrey epstein porchSex trafficking defendant Ghislaine Maxwell, right, in an undated photo with her onetime lover and boss Jeffrey Epstein (Photo submitted to jury by U.S. Department of Justice).

vicky ward investigates

Vicky Ward Investigates, Maxwell Unfiltered: The Full Transcript from My 2002 Interview with Ghislaine Maxwell, Vicky Ward, Dec. 30, 2021. Vicky Ward, shown above, is a journalist working at the intersection of power, money and corruption. She has been a New York Times bestselling author, is working on her fourth book and is host and reporter of "Chasing Ghislaine" streaming on Audible / Discovery.

So, it’s over. This chapter of the Jeffrey Epstein saga, at least. Ghislaine Maxwell has been convicted on five counts out of six charges that constitute hideous sex crimes against children. She was reportedly emotionless as she heard the verdict. The mystery is what is going on inside her head.

We never got to hear from Maxwell herself this whole trial. Her defense’s strategy was to undermine the credibility of the accusers, not to explain her narrative.

So I went back and looked over the transcript of my 2002 interview with Maxwell about Maria and Annie Farmer, the latter who so bravely testified a couple of weeks ago. It was the one and only conversation I had with her on the topic of Annie and Maria Farmer.

It’s very revealing because it tells us—in her own words—who Maxwell really is and what she values. (It also shows that she lied to me about not giving Annie Farmer a massage.)

Here, for the first time, is our conversation, which was transcribed from micro-cassettes by a professional transcription service. The only redaction is the name of an employee who worked at Zorro Ranch, Epstein’s home in New Mexico.

WARD: Hi.

MAXWELL: Hi. Listen, I just got faxed something from the fact checker at Vanity Fair...the implication of which is so outrageous and disgusting to me that I cannot understand for the life of me why you would put something like that in it and not even [Overlap/Inaudible]

....

MAXWELL: Okay. Terrific. Bye.

WARD: Okay. Bye.

So, there you have it—in full, just as Maxwell insisted.

Her false denials condemn her almost as much as the credible testimony of Annie Farmer, which I believed then as now and which was entitled to be told, and all the others.

After my call with Maxwell, I submitted the story to my bosses at Vanity Fair—with the Farmers' description of events and a general denial from Epstein and Maxwell included. I did my journalistic duty: telling both sides of this ugly story. As I was taught from Day 1, journalism lets the readers to decide.

But Vanity Fair had other plans.

There was no subsequent conversation between Maxwell and myself because, shortly after my interview with the Farmer sisters and the follow-up with Maxwell, Epstein paid a visit to Graydon Carter at the Vanity Fair offices, and the Farmers’ allegations were cut from my article and a subsequent blog—to my eternal regret. I have felt deeply for the Farmers ever since. (Carter has said I didn’t have sufficient reporting. I disagree.)

But what this conversation shows is Maxwell’s entitlement—and her belief that money trumps all. It was “crazy” that I could believe strangers over her and report the on-record allegations. It was also outrageous to think she would have time to give people massages. And how lucky these two girls were to benefit from Epstein’s generosity.

Right there, in this conversation is everything you need to know. This is the narrative that was missing from the courtroom these past weeks, but it does validate the jury’s verdict.

“Use your common sense,” AUSA Maurene Comey had told the jury during her closing arguments.

Apparently, they did.

Vicky Ward's documentary series “Chasing Ghislaine” (based on her Audible podcast of the same name) started streaming on discovery+ on November 22nd and has been be available on DiscoveryID since Dec. 3. She has been a senior reporter at CNN, the editor at large of HuffPost and HuffPost’s long-form magazine, Highline, as well as at Town & Country magazine. I was also a contributor to Esquire, a contributing editor to Vanity Fair for eleven years, and a columnist for the London Evening Standard. In June 2020, she joined the Council on Foreign Relations. Her most recent book — Kushner, Inc.: Greed. Ambition. Corruption. The Extraordinary Story of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump (St. Martin’s Press, 2019) — was an instant New York Times bestseller.

washington post logoWashington Post, BBC criticized for having Dershowitz analyze Maxwell case despite allegations against him, Timothy Bella, Dec. 30, 2021. The BBC says it is investigating how Alan Dershowitz was allowed on its airwaves to talk about the conviction of Ghislaine Maxwell without mentioning that the constitutional lawyer is implicated in the case and accused of having sex with an alleged victim of financier Jeffrey Epstein.

Shortly after Maxwell was convicted Wednesday of sex-trafficking charges for assisting Epstein in abusing young girls, BBC News brought on Dershowitz to analyze the guilty verdict of Epstein’s longtime paramour. But the network failed to mention that Dershowitz not only previously served as Epstein’s attorney but that he is accused of having sex with Virginia Roberts Giuffre when she was as young as 16. Dershowitz has denied the allegations.

Dershowitz used his time on the “BBC World News” to slam Giuffre for supposedly not being a credible witness in the Maxwell case — claims that went unchallenged by the show’s anchor. He also claimed the case from Giuffre against him and Britain’s Prince Andrew, who has also been accused of sexual assault and has denied the allegations, was somehow weakened after Maxwell’s guilty verdict.

Ghislaine Maxwell convicted of trafficking girls for Jeffrey Epstein

“The government did not use as a witness the woman who accused Prince Andrew, who accused me, accused many other people because the government didn’t believe she was telling the truth,” he said. “In fact she, Virginia Giuffre, was mentioned in the trial as somebody who brought young people to Epstein for him to abuse. And so this case does nothing at all to strengthen in any way the case against Prince Andrew.”

The appearance was denounced on social media by public officials and legal experts as “totally inexcusable,” with many calling on the BBC to explain why Dershowitz came on air. Dershowitz also appeared on Fox News on Wednesday, but that network specified his connection to the case.

On the BBC, Dershowitz, who was introduced solely as a “constitutional lawyer,” mentioned the accusation himself when he said that Giuffre had falsely implicated him. He applauded the prosecution for not calling Giuffre to the stand for Maxwell’s trial.

“They deliberately didn’t use the main witness, the woman who started the whole investigation, Virginia Giuffre, because ultimately they didn’t believe she was telling the truth,” he said. “They didn’t believe that a jury would believe her and they were right in doing so. So it was very smart on the part of the government.”

On Fox News, host Pete Hegseth told viewers that the lawyer had connections to people close to the case. Dershowitz went on to suggest, without evidence, that Giuffre could be guilty of sex crimes.

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: Ghislaine Maxwell Is Guilty. What Happens Next Is Critical, Deborah Tuerkheimer (Ms. Tuerkheimer is a professor of law at Northwestern University and the author of Credible: Why We Doubt Accusers and Protect Abusers), Dec. 30, 2021 (print ed.).

Ghislaine Maxwell’s conviction for recruiting young girls to serve Jeffrey Epstein’s sexual desires set a marker: Enablers are not safe from criminal prosecution. In that sense, her conviction was an important first-of-its-kind moment in the #MeToo era. But real progress still demands a reckoning with an uncomfortable truth. In the world of wealth and privilege, most enablers are beyond the reach of criminal law.

Like Mr. Epstein, other wealthy and powerful men who have been convicted of sexual misconduct charges in recent years also relied on others who, at best, looked the other way and, at worst, actively enabled the abuse, almost all without consequence.

The cases of Mr. Epstein, Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein and R. Kelly are examples of this cultural complicity. In each instance, the abuse was considered an open secret because many people knew or suspected what was happening but failed to intervene. Ms. Maxwell’s conviction demonstrates that prosecutors can, in extreme cases, hold those who enable abusers criminally liable.

But we should not be blind to the myriad ways of enabling that do not rise to the level of a crime. They are the ordinary acts of ordinary people that, however intentioned, combine to protect abusers — particularly men with status, wealth and privilege.

In the case of Mr. Cosby, for instance, David Carr, then a media columnist for The Times, included himself on a list of those in the media who were in the know but didn’t pursue it. “I was one of those who looked away,” he wrote. He recalled interviewing Mr. Cosby in 2011 for an airline magazine “and never found the space or the time to ask him why so many women had accused him of drugging and then assaulting them.” Mr. Carr was hardly an aberration. “No one wanted to disturb the Natural Order of Things,” he explained.

Of course, a failure or an unwillingness to disrupt the status quo is not a crime. That is as it should be. But it is also why the problem of cultural complicity will not be solved by criminal law alone.

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: Do We Have the Supreme Court We Deserve? Linda Greenhouse, Dec. 30, 2021. When I left the daily Supreme Court beat back in 2008, the Week in Review, as The Times’s Sunday Review section was then called, invited me to offer some reflections on nearly 30 years of writing about the court, its cases and its members. The long essay ran under the headline “2,691 Decisions,” a number based on an editor’s calculation of how many decisions the court had issued during my time on the beat. I ended it with an observation about the “vital dialogue” between the court and the country. This was my conclusion:

“The court is in Americans’ collective hands. We shape it; it reflects us. At any given time, we may not have the Supreme Court we want. We may not have the court we need. But we have, most likely, the Supreme Court we deserve.”

A friend who recently came upon that article challenged me. “Do you still think we have the Supreme Court we deserve?” she asked.

Actually, sadly, my answer now is no.

It’s not that I think the country simply deserves a Supreme Court that happens to agree with me; I was finding plenty to disagree with back in 2008. Justice Samuel Alito had taken Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s place in early 2006, wrenching the closely divided court to the right. In June 2007, Justice Stephen Breyer, during an impassioned oral dissent in a highly charged case on what measures public school systems can take to maintain racial diversity, lamented that “it is not often in the law that so few have so quickly changed so much.”

Nonetheless, Justices John Paul Stevens, Anthony Kennedy and David Souter were still on the bench in 2008, proving every day that to be a Republican-nominated Supreme Court justice was not necessarily to be a handpicked conservative spear-carrier in the country’s culture wars. (The three were chosen by Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush respectively.) It had not occurred to anyone then that a hostile Senate in 2016 might keep a president’s Supreme Court nomination bottled up for 11 months without even a hearing, nor that a supine Senate would do a subsequent president’s bidding four years later and bludgeon a nomination through to confirmation while millions of Americans were already casting early ballots for president.

In short, we are in a different place now than we were in 2008, and the current term finds the court in a danger zone as a willing — and willful — participant in a war for the soul of the country. Last term’s cavalier treatment, in a case from Arizona, of what remains of the Voting Rights Act sent a frightening signal about whether the court can be counted on to protect democracy from the Republican-led assault now taking place before our eyes. We now have justices apparently untroubled by process and precedent, let alone appearances: Let’s not forget that two of Donald Trump’s three appointments arrived under debatable circumstances, with Justice Neil Gorsuch taking a seat in 2017 that was Barack Obama’s to fill and Justice Amy Coney Barrett being jammed through to confirmation late in 2020.

ny times logoNew York Times, Pharmaceutical Company Is Found Liable in Landmark Opioid Trial, Sarah Maslin Nir, Jan Hoffman and Lola Fadulu, Dec. 30, 2021. The case was the first of its kind, targeting every point of the prescription opioid supply chain, from manufacturers to pharmacy chains.

A jury on Thursday ruled that an opioid manufacturer and distributor contributed to a public nuisance by inundating New York with pills that killed thousands of people.

Teva Pharmaceuticals USA Inc. and a handful of its subsidiary companies were found liable in a sprawling, six-month trial that sought to reckon with the role that the pharmaceutical industry played in the opioid epidemic in two hard-hit New York counties and across the state.

New York State was also determined to be partially responsible.

The trial began in June and was argued jointly by New York State and Suffolk and Nassau counties. The case began with more than two dozen defendants, and was the first of its kind to target the entirety of the opioid supply chain: the pharmaceutical companies that manufactured pain pills, the distributors of the drugs and the pharmacy chains that filled the prescriptions. By the time jury deliberations began, it had been whittled down to a handful of defendants, all part of Teva Pharmaceuticals.

“The trial itself has touched four seasons. We started in the spring, summer and of course now we’re into the winter,” said New York State Supreme Court Justice Jerry Garguilo before the verdict was announced. “It was an ultra marathon.”

The case was so vast initially that the trial was to be held in the auditorium of a local law school on Long Island. There was not a courtroom in Central Islip large enough to fit all the defendants and their legal teams.

The six-member jury was asked to determine whether the companies played a role in perpetuating an ongoing public nuisance, a specific type of legal claim used in many opioid lawsuits to describe the crisis that in the last decade has killed hundreds of thousands of Americans.

Last year, more than 100,000 people — a record number — died of overdoses of opioids, particularly black-market fentanyl, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s provisional 2020 data.

Days before the New York trial began, Johnson & Johnson agreed to pay $230 million, and as the months wore on, almost all defendants in the sweeping case agreed to multimillion-dollar settlements.

They included three major drug distributors, who settled in July for more than $1 billion combined. That settlement was part of a larger $26 billion agreement to which companies facing lawsuits for their role in the opioid crisis agreed to settle the raft of more than 3,000 lawsuits filed against them by counties, states and tribes across the country.

washington post logoWashington Post, Reported Essay: ‘An American Tradition’: Lessons from a year covering conspiracy theories, Jose A. Del Real, Dec. 30, 2021 (print ed.). A reporter reflects on conflicts over truth, trust and belonging in America. The old textbook depository at 411 Elm St. isn’t especially eye-catching, but for nearly 60 years its awful past has loomed over downtown Dallas and, perhaps, all of American public life. “On November 22, 1963,” notes a modest historical marker fixed to its red-brick facade, “the building gained national notoriety when Lee Harvey Oswald allegedly shot and killed president John F. Kennedy from a sixth floor window as the presidential motorcade passed the site.”

Every few minutes, visitors pause to read the engraving — by the Texas Historical Commission, a government agency — and then point to an emphatic etch around “allegedly” that someone has scratched into the plate, in case the point was too subtle.

“They did that because they know it’s not true,” a man tells a companion one November afternoon, and then it happens again, and again, but no one is interested in sharing these private thoughts with a reporter, at least not on the record. Nobody wants to risk being called “a conspiracy theorist,” a “truther,” and they especially do not want to have their names lumped together with those other people, the ones with the Trump-Kennedy signs down the street.

ny times logoNew York Times, Why the Attorney General Stalled a Move to Collect Cuomo’s Book Profits, Grace Ashford, Dec. 30, 2021. An ethics panel said former Gov. Andrew Cuomo had to turn over $5.1 million. But the attorney general said procedural steps should be taken first.

After a succession of damaging body blows to his political career, public image and reputation, former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo seemed to finally get some good news as the end of the year approached.

The state attorney general’s office indicated in a letter two weeks ago that it was unable to enforce an order by a state ethics panel to compel Mr. Cuomo to turn over the proceeds of his pandemic memoir, contending that there were “procedural steps that the commission must take” before any money could be recovered.

The decision by the attorney general, Letitia James, was seen not only as a victory for Mr. Cuomo but as a rebuke to the panel, the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, a secretive and much-criticized body responsible for upholding ethics in Albany.

It comes as Gov. Kathy Hochul has vowed to make ethics reform a top priority, with many Albany observers expecting her to unveil plans for a reworked ethics commission in the new year.

 

More On Jan. 6 Insurrection, Justice

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Wayne Madsen Report, Investigative Commentary, 2022 will be a year of book burning, history re-writing, and election nullification, Wayne Madsen, left, Dec. 29-30, wayne madsen may 29 2015 cropped Small2021. One way to stick it to the Republican Party and its current Nazi penchant for nullifying elections is to celebrate February 9th as President Samuel Tilden Day. Tilden was born on February 9, 1814.

In 1876, Tilden, the reformist Democratic presidential candidate and governor of New York, who had broken the back of New York City's corrupt Tammany Hall political machine and William "Boss" Tweed, won the popular vote but lost the Electoral Vote tally because of a backroom deal samuel tilden campaignmade between southern Democrats favoring an end to Reconstruction and Republican supporters of Rutherford B. Hayes. Hayes was the lackluster governor of Ohio whose dubiously-attained presidency is now only dimly recalled in trivia contests.

In the infamous "Compromise of 1877," the Commission decided to award the 20 disputed electors to Hayes in return for the Hayes administration agreeing to ending Reconstruction in the South. This was the same template that Donald Trump and his congressional supporters planned to use to deny the presidency to Democratic victor Joe Biden.

If Trump supporters want to insist that Trump won the election of 2020, Democrats can honor the legacy of "President" Tilden, the Democratic candidate robbed of the presidency some 145 years ago. The Republican Party has been the party of election cheating and fraud since 1876 and that fact should be hammered home in public school classrooms across the nation.

To this day, Tilden remains the only presidential candidate to lose the presidency while commanding a majority of the popular vote. Although Andrew Jackson, Grover Cleveland, Al Gore, and Hillary Clinton also lost their respective electoral vote counts, they did so while winning a plurality, not an overall majority, of the popular vote.

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Ted Koppel, right, interviews Randy Collins, the president of the Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce, for a piece on “CBS Sunday Morning.” (CBS Sunday Morning)Ted Koppel, right, interviews Randy Collins, the president of the Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce, for a piece on “CBS Sunday Morning.” (CBS Sunday Morning)

washington post logoWashington Post, How Ted Koppel’s trip to ‘Mayberry’ turned into one of 2021’s most striking moments of TV, Emily Yahr, Dec. 30, 2021 (print ed.).The veteran newsman and “CBS Sunday Morning” contributor explains how a seeming puff piece about “The Andy Griffith Show” turned into an unsettling snapshot of an angry America

At the height of the coronavirus pandemic lockdowns, veteran journalist Ted Koppel was working out on the treadmill when he came across an episode of “The Andy Griffith Show” — it caught his attention because of something he heard earlier that day while listening to WMAL, a Virginia-based conservative talk radio station. A listener had called in to explain that they used to live in the Washington area, but couldn’t stand how “woke” it had become, so they fled to the South. They said something along the lines of, “We moved down here to the Carolinas, and boy, life is just wonderful. People are so lovely. They’re so neighborly. Everything is so nice.”

Koppel, 81, started thinking about how “The Andy Griffith Show” was also set in the Carolinas, in the fictional town of Mayberry, N.C. After his workout, he went online and discovered that the CBS comedy was an even bigger hit than he remembered; the series, starring Griffith as the good-natured sheriff and Ron Howard as his adorable young son, was one of the most-watched shows from its debut in 1960 until it went off the air in 1968. And, more intriguingly, while Mayberry was not real, the city of Mount Airy, N.C., claims to be the prototype on which it was based, and still draws thousands of tourists every year looking to relive their beloved show.

So Koppel, the former ABC “Nightline” host and now a senior contributor to “CBS Sunday Morning,” called his producer, Dustin Stephens, and suggested that they travel down to Mount Airy. Koppel was curious: What made the show so popular? And what was it about this community that makes people want to come visit decades later?

What started with those general questions wound up evolving into one of the most striking TV segments of the year, as Koppel was visibly taken aback by the fierce nostalgia for a time and place that literally never existed — and how it connects to the misinformation that has infiltrated America’s politics.

Roll Call, New map scrambles Michigan House delegation, Stephanie Akin, Dec. 30, 2021 (print ed.). Stevens, Levin will face off in primary, and they may not be the only ones.

Michigan’s House delegation was left scrambling Wednesday after the state’s nonpartisan redistricting commission finalized new congressional maps that eliminated one district while putting eight incumbents in four shared districts and creating three new open seats.

In the hours after the map was released Tuesday evening several incumbents — including Democrats Elissa Slotkin and Debbie Dingell and Republican John Moolenaar — announced they would move to run in districts where they faced better odds or to avoid running against one of their colleagues.

Democrat Haley Stevens, who has been on Republican target lists for the last two cycles, announced she would move to the newly drawn 11th District to face Andy Levin, a scion of one of the state’s best-known political dynasties, in what is sure to be an expensive and hotly contested Democratic primary. Meanwhile, two incumbents — Republican Fred Upton and Democrat Brenda Lawrence — left their plans open-ended. That led to speculation about whether they would retire, move to new districts, or — in Upton’s case — set up another member-on-member primary against Rep. Bill Huizenga.

Candidates have until April 19 to file to run in the Aug. 2 primary.

With the new maps also expected to face legal challenges in the next several months, the only certainty was that the stakes are high. Michigan’s delegation, currently evenly split between 7 Republicans and 7 Democrats, will lose a member in 2022 to account for population changes in the 2020 census.

Here’s a look at the highlights.

washington post logoWashington Post, Spanberger, Griffith plan to run again for their seats under new Virginia congressional map, Laura Vozzella, Dec. 30, 2021 (print ed.). The two incumbent members of Congress, who were drawn out of their districts under Virginia’s new political maps plan, said they plan to run for reelection anyway.

ny times logoNew York Times, 2 Georgia Republicans Rack Up Fines for Defying House’s Mask Mandate, Luke Broadwater, Dec. 30, 2021 (print ed.). During a recent marathon session in the House, two Republican lawmakers from Georgia sat in full view of television cameras. Neither was wearing a mask.

marjorie greene campaignIt was the latest act of defiance by the pair, Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene, left, and Andrew Clyde, against a rule requiring legislators to wear masks on the House floor. Most Republican lawmakers, however grudgingly, have complied with the mandate, which can carry fines that quickly add up to hefty amounts. But Ms. Greene and Mr. Clyde have repeatedly, and proudly, flouted it.

To date, the two have incurred more than $100,000 combined in fines, which are taken directly from their paychecks.

A resolution approved by the House in January says that members will be fined $500 the first time they fail to wear a mask on the House floor, and $2,500 for subsequent violations. The House Ethics Committee notes each fine in a news release, but Ms. Greene’s and Mr. Clyde’s violations were so numerous that the panel began announcing theirs in bunches.

Ms. Greene, who has said she is unvaccinated, called the mask requirement “communist,” “tyrannical” and “authoritarian.”

“The American people have had enough and are standing up against these outrageous and unconstitutional policies,” she said in a statement.

Ms. Greene has been fined more than 30 times for violating the mask rules, accumulating more than $80,000 in penalties, according to her office. She was fined five days in a row during one stretch this fall.

Only 20 of Ms. Greene’s fines, totaling nearly $50,000, have been announced by the Ethics Committee. (House procedures and appeals can delay announcements by up to two months.)

Mr. Clyde has been fined at least 14 times for violating the mask rule, accruing at least $30,000 in penalties.

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World News, Human Rights

washington post logoWashington Post, Biden, Putin expected to talk about Ukraine during today’s phone call, Robyn Dixon, Russian President Vladimir Putin, who initiated the call, is likely to push for swift acceptance of his proposed security deal that would rule out Ukraine ever joining NATO, or any other eastward expansion by the alliance.

ny times logoNew York Times, Former Afghan President Says He Fled Nation to ‘Save Kabul,’ Sharif Hassan, Dec. 30, 2021. In his first interview since escaping as the Taliban advanced, Ashraf Ghani defended himself against charges that he abandoned Afghanistan in its hour of need.

Former President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan said he fled the country to prevent the destruction of Kabul as Taliban fighters advanced on the capital, offering the most detailed defense of his actions since the government’s collapse in August.

Mr. Ghani, speaking on the BBC in an interview broadcast on Thursday — his first interview since he fled — said his sudden departure was the “hardest” decision he made. He said that even in the hours before he boarded a helicopter and was spirited out of the country, he did not know it would be his last day in his homeland.

The Taliban had largely surrounded Kabul and panic gripped the city when Mr. Ghani, along with his wife and close associates, fled on the afternoon of Aug. 15.

Mr. Ghani told BBC’s Radio 4 that if he had taken “a stand,” the presidential palace security guards would have been killed.

washington post logoWashington Post, Russian court abolishes renowned human rights group, Robyn Dixon, Dec. 29, 2021 (print ed.). The decision by the Russian Supreme Court signals the Kremlin’s determination to obliterate dissent, after a year that has seen authorities jail and harass hundreds of opposition figures and activists.

Russian FlagRussia’s Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered the liquidation of the country’s most prominent human rights organization, the International Memorial Society, in a decision that dismayed rights advocates.

The ruling signaled the Kremlin’s determination to obliterate dissent, after a year in which authorities have jailed and harassed hundreds of opposition figures, activists, journalists and human rights lawyers, forcing dozens of them to flee the country for their safety.

The International Memorial Society, known as Memorial, was set up by dissidents — including renowned Nobel Peace Prize laureate Andrei Sakharov — during the final years of the Soviet Union. It is focused on researching Soviet abuses in the gulag, a vast web of prison camps where political prisoners toiled and died, many of them executed on the basis of concocted evidence.

Recent Headlines

 

U.S. Law, Courts, Crime, Race

 washington post logoWashington Post, He was waterboarded at VMI. His tormentors still got into the military, Ian Shapira, Dec. 30, 2021. A lawsuit against five graduates of the Virginia Military Institute highlights a controversial component of the college’s culture: its century-plus-old “rat line.”

The former Virginia Military Institute cadet was scrolling Facebook when he saw a trio of photos that made him seethe.

The images showed a graduating VMI student being sworn in as a Marine officer on a December day in 2019 at the school’s historic Memorial Hall.

virginia military institute logoThe former cadet knew the freshly commissioned Marine second lieutenant in a way he’d never forget. Just across the street from Memorial Hall, that same student had helped waterboard him and another VMI freshman inside the barracks as part of an unauthorized initiation ritual, according to two lawsuits, a VMI police report and the transcript of a VMI disciplinary hearing.

One VMI official testified that the January 2018 incident, though brief, was one of the worst episodes of abuse against a freshman he could remember at the nation’s oldest state-supported military college, where hazing is prohibited by state law and VMI policy.

The room had been darkened, the feet of the two freshmen were bound with duct tape, and an Islamic call to prayer was played on a speaker to invoke the Abu Ghraib prison torture scandal, the police report and the VMI disciplinary hearing transcript show.

Waterboarding is designed to simulate the feeling of being drowned and became the subject of heated debate when the CIA used it to interrogate al-Qaeda detainees after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Why, the former cadet wondered, did VMI suspend his tormentor and two other upperclassmen instead of expelling them, allowing them to return to school and graduate? And why was the military commissioning any of them as officers, including two cadets who were in the room and did nothing to stop it?

The Facebook photos made the former cadet so irate that he decided to sue.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Prosecutors won a conviction in the killing of Daunte Wright. Is this good news or a dangerous precedent for racial justice? Paul Butler, Dec. 30, 2021 (print ed.). Black Lives Matter activists deserve credit for the prosecution of Kimberly Potter, the former Minnesota police officer who was convicted of manslaughter for the death of Daunte Wright, an unarmed Black man killed during a traffic stop. They should be wary, however, of the hardcore strategies prosecutors deployed to win their case. “Lawful but awful” is not the ultimate route to racial justice.

The Potter case illuminates a tension at the heart of the Black Lives Matter movement: It wants to reduce the power of prosecutors and undo harsh sentencing regimes that have helped create mass incarceration and vast racial disparities in the U.S. criminal legal system, even as it demands that prosecutors use that system to hold police officers accountable for misconduct.

At trial, Potter testified that the only reason she pulled over Wright was that she was training a rookie officer who noticed that Wright’s car had an air freshener hanging from the rearview mirror and that its registration was expired. Potter, who had been a cop for 26 years, admitted that ordinarily she would not have stopped someone for such minor infractions during the height of the pandemic.

A records check revealed that Wright, 20, had an outstanding warrant for a gross misdemeanor gun charge. As the officers tried to arrest him, Wright returned to his car and Potter said she believed he was trying to flee. She withdrew her gun, shouted “Taser” and shot him in the chest. Potter claimed that she mistook her gun for a Taser and had not intended to kill Wright.

Activists obtained the prosecution they agitated for, but winning a conviction represented a huge challenge for the Minnesota attorney general’s office. Most police officers who mistake their gun for a Taser don’t even get prosecuted. And Potter, who testified that before that day she had never fired either weapon in the line of duty, was a far more sympathetic defendant than Chauvin. The defense presented officers, some of whom were Black, who testified that Potter was justified in using either her Taser or her gun under the circumstances.”

Recent Headlines:

 

Dec. 29

Top Stories

 

Virus Victims, Responses

 

Jan. 6 Insurrection, Justice

 

U.S. Politics, Elections, Governance

 

World News, Human Rights

 

U.S. Law, Courts, Crime, Race

 

U.S. Media, Sports News

 

Top Stories

washington post logoWashington Post, New CDC guidelines were spurred by worries omicron surge could lead to breakdown in essential services, Yasmeen Abutaleb, Sean Sullivan and Eli Rosenberg, Dec. 29, 2021 (print ed.). Health officials worried that mass infections could result in tens of thousands of Americans unable to work.

cdc logo CustomHealth officials’ recommendation this week to shorten the isolation period for people with asymptomatic coronavirus infections to five days was driven largely by the concern that essential services might be hobbled amid one of the worst infection surges of the pandemic, said senior officials familiar with the discussions.

The administration’s top health officials met over Christmas weekend to discuss the trajectory of the U.S. outbreak, with several expressing fear about how high case levels might climb in the coming weeks, according to four senior officials briefed on the discussion. They worried the sheer volume of infections could mean that tens of thousands of police, firefighters, grocery workers and other essential employees would be out of work, making it challenging to keep society functioning, even though many of the infections would be mild or produce no symptoms, the officials said.

While omicron is the most transmissible variant yet, it appears to have less severe effects than the delta variant and, so far, a smaller percentage of those infected end up hospitalized, according to international studies and early data from U.S. hospitals. Those who are vaccinated, and especially those who are boosted, are likely to have mild or asymptomatic infections, early research shows — a finding that also helped drive the recent change in guidance.

 

The five most radical right Republican justices on the U.S. Supreme Court are shown above, with the sixth Republican, Chief Justice John Roberts, omitted in this view.

The five most radical right Republican justices on the Supreme Court are shown above, with the sixth Republican, Chief Justice John Roberts, omitted in this photo array.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: The Supreme Court must uphold Biden’s vaccine mandates — and fast, Lawrence O. Gostin, Jeffrey E. Harris and Dorit Rubinstein Reiss (prominent professors), Dec. 29, 2021.

President Biden’s emergency covid-19 mandates have faced an avalanche of legal challenges. Two of those mandates — the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s rule that businesses with 100 or more employees must require workers to be fully vaccinated or regularly tested and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ regulation requiring vaccinations for staff at health-care facilities — will soon face scrutiny from the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court needs to uphold the president’s mandates without delay. Not doing so would be an affront to public health and the law.

Lower-court rulings that blocked the rules from taking effect were fundamentally flawed. (The president’s executive order requiring federal contractors to have a fully vaccinated workforce is currently blocked by courts in Kentucky and Georgia, but is not yet before the Supreme Court). They disregarded the broad scientific consensus that covid-19 poses a major public health threat requiring a strong emergency response; indeed, the public health emergency has only become more acute in recent weeks. The omicron variant is rising exponentially across the nation, pushing the hospital system beyond its capacity. More than 1,400 Americans are dying every day from covid-19. The justices need to weigh this grim reality.

A threshold issue is whether covid-19 is a public health emergency that warrants bypassing the usual cumbersome regulatory process. For the employer mandate, OSHA issued an emergency standard which can be implemented rapidly. For the rule involving health-care workers, CMS waived the normal period for taking public comment into consideration before issuing final regulations, a process that can take months if not years. Both had good reason for acting swiftly.

osha logo

OSHA conservatively estimated its new rule would prevent more than 6,500 deaths and 250,000 hospitalizations. CMS established an impressive record showing the unique vulnerability of Medicare and Medicaid recipients, who are older, disabled, chronically ill or have complex health-care needs. The rule can save hundreds of lives each month. The science is also clear that the vaccine is the best way to ameliorate risks of covid-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths. Delaying the implementation of the rules would cost lives.

At the core of these cases is the claim that Congress has not clearly authorized OSHA and CMS to safeguard workers. That’s incorrect. The Occupational Safety and Health Act empowers OSHA to mitigate “grave” workplace dangers through emergency measures. OSHA has required the only effective tools known to science: vaccines, testing and masks. Vaccination is the best tool, but OSHA allows employees to opt-out simply by testing weekly and masking. It’s hardly an overreach. In fact, regulating biological hazards is among OSHA’s primary responsibilities. The agency has a long history of regulating protections against airborne and bloodborne pathogens.

Likewise, when Congress established the Medicare and Medicaid programs, it granted the secretary of health and human services authority to require facilities to meet requirements deemed “necessary in the interest of the health and safety.” There are ample reasons to support the conclusion that vaccinations are necessary for the safe operation of participating facilities: the vulnerability of residents, the need for a healthy workforce and the unique effectiveness of vaccines.

There are good reasons Congress has chosen to delegate broad regulatory powers to agencies. Congress cannot foresee the broad range of risks Americans will face. Nor does Congress have the expertise or access to rapidly changing and complex scientific information needed to make wise regulatory decisions. Career agency professionals have the expertise — and can act more quickly with more flexibility — than the legislative process allows. The need to act rapidly is especially important in a health emergency. If the high court were to curb federal public health powers now, it could prove ruinous when the next crisis strikes.

The Supreme Court has a long history of upholding vaccination mandates, beginning with its seminal 1905 decision upholding smallpox vaccination and continuing with its 1944 ruling on the lawfulness of childhood vaccinations for school entry. Recently, the Supreme Court let stand a New York coronavirus vaccine mandate for health-care workers, even though it provided no religious exemption.

But these are all municipal or state mandates, and the court has been far more reticent to uphold federal health powers — for example, striking down the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s covid-19 eviction moratorium. The CDC arguably overreached with the moratorium, but regulating workplace safety is core to OSHA’s mission, as is regulating health-care safety to CMS.

A dire emergency is not the time to overturn decades of jurisprudence empowering federal agencies to act in the public interest. Justices should defer to the judgment of agency professionals, which represents the unquestioned scientific consensus. Vaccines offer the best, possibly the only, way to curtail the covid-19 pandemic.

Lawrence O. Gostin, a professor at Georgetown University and director of the World Health Organization Collaborating Center on National and Global Health Law, is author of “Global Health Security: A Blueprint for the Future.” Jeffrey E. Harris is emeritus professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and practicing physician at Eisner Health, a community health center in Los Angeles. Dorit Rubinstein Reiss is a law professor at University of California, Hastings College of the Law.

ghislaine maxwell jeffrey epstein smiling young trial

ny times logoNew York Times, Live Updates: Ghislaine Maxwell Found Guilty of All But One Charge in Sex Trafficking Case, Benjamin Weiser and Rebecca Davis O’Brien, Dec. 29, 2021. After deliberating for several days, jurors delivered their decision Wednesday afternoon in federal court in Manhattan.

Ghislaine Maxwell, the daughter of a British media mogul and the former companion to the disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein, was convicted on Wednesday of conspiring with him over a decade to recruit, groom and sexually abuse underage girls.

A federal jury in Manhattan found Ms. Maxwell, 60, guilty of sex trafficking and the four other charges against her. She was acquitted of one count of enticing a minor to travel across state lines to engage in an illegal sexual act.

As the verdict was read, Ms. Maxwell -- seated next to one of her lawyers, Jeffrey Pagliuca -- appeared to look straight ahead, without moving. Once it was done, she leaned in, poured some water from a bottle into a paper cup, and drank it.

The jury acquitted Maxwell of one count -- No. 2 -- which charged her with enticing a minor to travel with the intent to engage in illegal sexual activity. This count also related to the accuser referred to in court only as Jane, the first of four accusers who testified for the government.

The three other counts for which Maxwell was found guilty were all conspiracy counts, which carry a potential maximum sentence of 5 years each.

Another of the counts on which Maxwell was convicted, No. 4 -- transportation of a minor with intent to engage in illegal sexual activity -- carries a potential maximum of 10 years in prison. This count applied to an accuser known only as Jane.

Of the five counts of which Maxwell was convicted, Count six is the most serious, carrying a potential maximum sentence of 40 years in prison.

Count 6, the most serious, charged sex trafficking of a minor, in this case of Carolyn, who testified using only her first name. The judge has just adjourned court for the day. No sentencing date has been set yet.

 

harry reid o

ny times logoNew York Times, Harry Reid, a Power in the Senate, Dies at 82, Jonathan Martin, Dec. 29, 2021 (print ed.). Mr. Reid, above, the Democrat from Nevada, helped steer an economic stimulus package and the Affordable Care Act to passage as Senate majority leader.

Harry M. Reid, the Democrat who rose from childhood poverty in the rural Nevada desert to the heights of power in Washington, where he steered the Affordable Care Act to passage as Senate majority leader, died on Tuesday in Henderson, Nev. He was 82.

Mr. Reid had been treated for pancreatic cancer, which was diagnosed in 2018, but lived to see the Las Vegas airport renamed for him earlier this month. His death was confirmed in statements from Gov. Steve Sisolak of Nevada and Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader.

us senate logoEven by the standards of the political profession, where against-the-odds biographies are common and modest roots an asset, what Mr. Reid overcame was extraordinary. He was raised in almost Dickensian circumstances in tiny Searchlight, Nev.: His home had no indoor plumbing, his father was an alcoholic miner who eventually committed suicide, and his mother helped the family survive by taking in laundry from local brothels.

After two decades of campaigns in Nevada marked by success, setback and recovery, Mr. Reid was elected to the Senate in 1986. He became the chamber’s Democratic leader after the 2004 election.

But it was not until his colleague Barack Obama was elected president four years later that Mr. Reid was able to meld his deep knowledge of congressional rules, his facility with horse-trading and his cussed determination to unify his 60-seat majority and pass landmark legislation.

Pushing through a sweeping economic stimulus after the Great Recession, a new set of rules governing Wall Street and the most significant expansion of health care coverage since the Great Society of the 1960s, all with scant Republican support, Mr. Reid became, along with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, one of the indispensable lawmakers of the Obama era.

“The records will be written about the eight years of Obama and Reid,” Mr. Reid boasted shortly after he announced in 2015 that he would not seek re-election the following year.

Yet the three-decade Senate tenure of this soft-spoken yet ferociously combative Nevadan, a middleweight boxer in his youth, also traced the chamber’s evolution from a collegial and consensus-oriented institution to the partisan and fractured body it has become. Republicans placed some of the blame on Mr. Reid for this change, pointing to his 2013 decision to upend Senate rules by doing away with the filibuster on most nominations by a president.

 

Virus Victims, Responses

washington post logoWashington Post, Live Updates: Fauci suggests skipping big New Year’s parties as U.S. infections skyrocket, Andrew Jeong, Jennifer Hassan and Marisa Iati, Dec. 29, 2021. As omicron washes over America, much of the country still isn’t using exposure notification apps; Biden administration surges resources to states as health-care workers race to keep up.

Americans planning to ring in 2022 with dozens of other people should reconsider their plans as the omicron variant causes coronavirus infections to surge, Anthony S. Fauci, the Biden administration’s chief medical adviser, said Wednesday.

People should feel comfortable gathering with small groups of relatives who are vaccinated and boosted, he said. Although there is some inherent risk, Fauci said he feels it is low enough to be worth the benefits of togetherness.

But, he said, “If your plans are to go to a 40-to-50-person New Year’s Eve party with all the bells and whistles and everybody hugging and kissing and wishing each other a happy new year? I would strongly recommend that this year we do not do that.”

Here’s what to know

  • Omicron is the dominant variant in the United States, making up about 59 percent of infections for the week ending Dec. 25, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday.
  • The coronavirus is again spreading on cruise ships, with 86 vessels in U.S. waters reporting infections onboard through Tuesday, according to CDC data.
  • Unlike during earlier outbreaks, there is no indication of a pending industry shutdown.
  • Officials are working to accelerate testing at schools in New York City so that those who test negative or are asymptomatic can continue with in-person classes. The new policy, “Stay Safe, and Stay Open,” will take effect Jan 3.

ny times logoNew York Times, Live Updates: Case Records Across U.S. and Europe Are Broken as Omicron Wave Grows, Staff Reports, Dec. 29, 2021. The Omicron variant is sweeping through the U.S. and many European countries with a swiftness outpacing anything witnessed over the past two years. U.S. daily cases topped 267,000, while Spain reported 100,000 infections. The variant appears milder, but its surge is sowing chaos. Here’s the latest.

Across Europe, records for new coronavirus infections are falling by the day as the Omicron variant tears through populations with a swiftness outpacing anything witnessed over the past two years of the pandemic.

Like the United States, which recorded a new high in daily cases on Tuesday, European nations are struggling against an onslaught of infections from a virus that shows no sign of going away. Britain, Denmark, France, Greece and Italy all set records for new daily cases this week, and in each country, health officials suspect that Omicron is driving the infections.

While there are early indications that the variant might be milder than previous versions of the virus — with vaccinations, boosters and previous infections all offering some protection against serious illness and death — the surge of infections is sowing its own chaos, as people scramble to obtain tests, businesses grapple with staff shortages and New Year’s festivities are thrown into question.

In England and Northern Ireland on Wednesday, there were no P.C.R. test appointments available to book online, and around midday, many people reported that none were available to order online through the British government’s health services. People are showing up at pharmacies to pick up quick lateral flow tests, according to industry representatives, but are often leaving empty-handed.

In France, which set a record of 208,000 new daily cases on Wednesday, the most recorded in any European country since the pandemic began, the health minister, Olivier Véran, said the increase was “dizzying.”

“This means that 24 hours a day, day and night, every second in our country, two French people are diagnosed positive,” he said, according to Reuters.

In Spain — which is reporting roughly 100,000 daily infections for the first time in the pandemic — contact tracing efforts are being overwhelmed and people are lining up outside hospitals urgently seeking tests so they can be approved for medical leave. Although Spain is not seeing a sharp rise in people needing intensive care, Mario Fontán of the Spanish Epidemiology Society said that concerns over infection were rising.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Omicron tears across Europe, leaving tests and patience in short supply.
  • The U.S. record for daily cases is broken as an Omicron ‘tidal wave’ grows.
  • Britons seeking Covid tests find themselves out of luck across most of the U.K.
  • The Washington, D.C., region is an epicenter of Omicron in the U.S.
  • Omicron is not more severe for children, despite rising hospitalizations.
  • Air filters and outdoor spaces: Office costs rise as workers return.
  • Singapore charges a man accused of lending out his vaccination record, and other international news.

ny times logoNew York Times, Child Hospitalizations Rise, but Most Cases Are Milder, Andrew Jacobs, Dec. 29, 2021 (print ed.). More children are being treated for Covid, but a combination of factors most likely explains the increase.

ny times logoNew York Times, The Omicron variant might help defend against Delta, a lab study suggested, Carl Zimmer Dec. 29, 2021 (print ed.). In the lab, antibodies produced during an Omicron infection protected against Delta. If Omicron dominates in the real world, that could lead to a less dire future.

People who have recovered from an infection with the new Omicron coronavirus variant may be able to fend off later infections from the Delta variant, according to a new laboratory study carried out by South African scientists.

If further experiments confirm these findings, they could suggest a less dire future for the pandemic. In the short term, Omicron is expected to create a surge of cases that will put a massive strain on economies and health care systems around the world. But in the longer term, the new research suggests that an Omicron-dominated world might experience fewer hospitalizations and deaths than one in which Delta continues to rage.

“Omicron is likely to push Delta out,” said Alex Sigal, a virologist at the Africa Health Research Institute in Durban, South Africa, who led the new study. “Maybe pushing Delta out is actually a good thing, and we’re looking at something we can live with more easily and that will disrupt us less than the previous variants.”

He posted the new study on the institute’s website on Monday. It has not yet been published in a scientific journal.

ny times logoNew York Times, On the Slaughterhouse Floor, Fear and Anger Remain, Peter S. Goodman, Photographs by Erin Schaff, Dec. 29, 2021. Workers say factories are still glossing over virus safety, as the meatpackers that dominate beef production harvest record profits.

washington post logoWashington Post, Iowan dies after waiting 15 days for a hospital bed; his family blames unvaccinated covid patients, Timothy Bella, Dec. 29, 2021 (print ed.). Throughout his life, Dale Weeks was characterized by family and friends in Iowa as “a good neighbor,” someone who would do anything for anyone. So when he was diagnosed with sepsis last month, the retired schools superintendent and his family hoped he would get immediate care and be okay to reunite with them for the holidays.

But at a time when unvaccinated covid-19 patients have again overwhelmed hospitals because of the fast-spreading omicron variant, finding an available bed at a large medical center able to give him the treatment he needed proved to be difficult. Weeks was being treated at a small, rural hospital. He had waited 15 days to be transferred to a larger hospital with better treatment options, because facilities throughout Iowa did not have an open bed for him as a result of the latest hospital surge of unvaccinated patients, his children told The Washington Post.

“It was terribly frustrating being told, ‘There’s not a bed yet,’ ” Jenifer Owenson, one of his four children, said Tuesday. “All of us were talking multiple times a day, ‘Why can’t we get him a bed?’ There was this logjam to get him in anywhere.”

When Weeks was finally able to have surgery more than two weeks later, his condition from sepsis had worsened. Weeks died Nov. 28 of complications after surgery. He was 78.

Anthony Weeks, his son, said that the family believes their vaccinated and boosted father was the latest indirect victim of the pandemic — and that he would have survived his sepsis diagnosis if he was immediately admitted to a larger medical center that had an open bed.

“The frustrating thing was not that we wanted him to get care that others weren’t getting, but that he didn’t get care when he needed it. And when he did get it, it was too late,” he said. “The question comes up of: ‘Who was in those beds?’ If it’s people who are unvaccinated with covid, then that’s the part where it really hurts.”

Owenson added: “The thing that bothers me the most is people’s selfish decision not to get vaccinated and the failure to see how this affects a greater group of people. That’s the part that’s really difficult to swallow.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Analysis: What’s to blame for all the flight cancellations? Peter Coy, Dec. 29, 2021. The rash of flight cancellations over the winter break — is it a major blunder by the airlines or the forgivable consequence of the outbreak of Omicron? I looked into this over the past couple of days and my conclusion is that it’s a little of each.

First, the case against the airlines. They’re running with a precariously low ratio of employees to passengers, which leaves themselves vulnerable to surprises like Omicron, the more contagious new variant of the virus that causes Covid-19, which drastically thinned the ranks of flight crews.

This fall, some airline executives even bragged to Wall Street analysts about how they were able to do more with less — providing more flights per employee.  Airlines have been reducing the ratio of employees to passengers for years. According to data I downloaded from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, the number of passengers departing from or arriving at U.S. airports rose 53 percent from January 2003 to January 2020, just before the pandemic, while full- and part-time employment by airlines rose only 15 percent over the period.

But the case against the airlines isn’t just that they were unprepared; it’s also that they received lots of public money to help them stay prepared. Congress gave airlines $54 billion in grants over the past two years to make sure they remained well staffed so that they could continue to serve their vital function of getting people from place to place.

All that said, I can’t put all the blame on the airlines. The contagiousness of Omicron caught almost everyone off guard, not just airline executives.

washington post logoWashington Post, Federal court denies Oklahoma governor’s attempt to stop military vaccine mandate, Andrew Jeong, Dec. 29, 2021. The judge rejected the argument that the National Guard is under the authority of each state’s governor unless activated by the president.

covad 19 photo.jpg Custom 2A federal court on Tuesday denied a lawsuit filed by Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) that challenged the Pentagon’s military-wide coronavirus vaccine mandate by asking that the requirement be suspended for his state’s National Guard members.

Judge Stephen P. Friot sided with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who has said the mandate is needed to maintain a healthy force that is ready to act quickly. Friot also disagreed with Stitt’s assertion that the Pentagon was overstepping its constitutional authority, noting that guard members are already required to receive nine immunizations.

“Adding a tenth … vaccine to the list of nine that all service members are already required to take would hardly amount to ‘an enormous and transformative expansion [of the] regulatory authority’ the Secretary of Defense already possesses,” he wrote in his ruling.

ny times logoNew York Times, New York City Schools Will Reopen Next Week With More Testing, Staff Reports, Dec. 29, 2021 (print ed.). The largest U.S. school system will eliminate its policy of quarantining entire classrooms exposed to Covid starting Jan. 3, when students return from break; The district will also ramp up testing to allow asymptomatic students who test negative to remain in school. Here’s the latest on the pandemic.

  • Cities around the world pare back New Year celebrations, again.
  • U.S. companies say shortened isolation will ease staffing woes, but health concerns linger.
  • Thousands protest in Germany as frustration with Covid rules swells.
  • Delta Air Lines blames new cleaning rules in Shanghai for the midair turnaround of a flight from Seattle.
  • Covid now accounts for a larger share of deaths among white and young Americans.
  • An Australian teenager who partied while positive is charged with ignoring health orders.

ny times logoNew York Times, Covid death rates are rising for some demographics, despite vaccines being widely available. Here’s why, Staff Report, Dec. 29, 2021 (print ed.). The overall rate of Covid-19 deaths has declined since vaccines became widely available in April, yet nearly a quarter million people in the United States have died from the virus in the past eight months. The virus is now responsible for a higher share of deaths from all causes for younger Americans and white Americans than it was before all adults were eligible for vaccines.

Covid accounted for 14 percent of all deaths in the United States from March 2020 until all adults became eligible for the vaccine in April, compared with 11 percent of deaths since then.

And while for much of the pandemic, older Americans and people of color were more likely to die from the virus, the demographics of those dying from Covid have shifted too, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

How the arrival of the highly transmissible Omicron variant will affect these trends remains to be seen, since the current data on deaths is reliable only through late November. Scientists are still hopeful that vaccines — and especially booster shots — will stave off Omicron’s worst effects.

Covid-19 has been particularly deadly for older people, but that group was also among the first to be eligible for vaccines. Now, people 65 and older have the highest vaccination rate, with nearly 90 percent of them fully vaccinated.

The higher vaccination rate for older people has helped to protect them. Although more older than younger people still die from Covid-19, the virus is now responsible for a smaller share of all deaths among people 65 and older than it was before vaccines became available to all adults. For those younger than 65, Covid-19 has risen as a cause of death.

Worldometer, World & U.S. Coronavirus Case Totals (updated Dec. 29, 2021), with some governments reporting lower numbers than the totals here and some experts saying the numbers are far higher:

World Cases: 283,402,425, Deaths, 5,434,319
U.S. Cases:     54,148,544, Deaths,    842,161
Indian Cases:   34,808,886, Deaths,    480,592
Brazil Cases:   22,254,706, Deaths,    618,723

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More On Jan. 6 Insurrection, Justice

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: Will Donald Trump Get Away With Inciting an Insurrection? Laurence H. Tribe, Donald Ayer and Dennis Aftergut, Dec. 29, 2021. Will Trump Get Away With Inciting an Insurrection? Trying to upend a free and fair election is one of the gravest crimes imaginable. We’re worried Merrick Garland isn’t taking it seriously enough.

peter navarro white house image

Palmer Report, Opinion: Trump stooge Peter Navarro just gave away the game, Shirley Kennedy, Dec. 29, 2021. The House Select Committee has pledged to conduct its investigation in the public eye in 2022, but information has steadily been coming out. Daily Beast (“DB”) has a leg up on that information.

bill palmer report logo headerDB discussed the upcoming memoir of Peter Navarro, who was at one time a trusted Trump adviser, “one time” because now that he has written this book, he is likely tops on Trump’s shit list. Navarro was right in the middle of the operation designed to circumvent democracy. The idea that these men likened what they were doing to a football game is ridiculous. The “Green Bay daily beast logoSweep” was supposed to prevent President Biden from assuming office, but it ended up blowing up in their faces.

It is no surprise that Paul Gosar, left, was involved, as he had already planned to object to certification of Arizona’s vote, but Navarro claims that paul gosarthey had lined up “over 100 congressmen, including senators.” Ted Cruz was also involved in this exercise in futility according to Navarro. Attempts to contact both Gosar and Cruz’s offices for comment were met with silence. It is disgraceful to think that people sent to Congress to represent citizens got so deeply involved in the fraud perpetrated by Trump and his allies. There was no fraud in the 2020 election, and they all knew it. Yet, they wasted their time and taxpayer dollars pursuing this nonsense. Worse, they knew they would never succeed in keeping Joe Biden out of office, but Navarro said that they hoped to attract media attention by delaying the process. In other words, these people knew they had no chance of success; they wanted attention for their lies. This is beyond sad. It should somehow be criminal, and DB reported on that possibility as well.

Because of charges that have been levied against participants in the insurrection, the committee is looking at possibly using those same charges to prosecute others. That charge is called obstructing an official congressional proceeding, and Trump and his people were certainly guilty of republican elephant logothat. When you consider that they all knew their efforts were futile yet continued along the same crooked path, they willingly and knowingly obstructed Congress’s work by trying to hold up certification of the presidential vote. A legal scholar with whom DB spoke believes that the committee may well be onto something and that if the committee is successful, they may find a path to charging Donald Trump criminally. That would be the best news we could receive. Joshua Kastenberg, one of the scholars who spoke with DB explained the process: “The DOJ and the committee are building a pyramid of guilt to get to the top. The more people who plead guilty, the more the top of the pyramid begins to take shape.”

So far, more than 200 have been charged with obstruction, and 13 have pled guilty, beginning the pyramid Kastenberg discussed. Trump has been getting away with skirting the law for years. His arrogance has only grown as he continued to get away with things. Perhaps his time may yet come.

ny times logoNew York Times, Jan. 6 Committee Shelves Requests for Hundreds of Trump Records, Glenn Thrush, Dec. 29, 2021 (print ed.). The Biden administration asked to shield some sensitive documents but continued to reject Trump’s blanket claim of executive privilege.

The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol has agreed to delay or withdraw demands for hundreds of Trump White House records at the request of the Biden administration, out of concern that releasing some of the documents could compromise national security.

The deal, made public on Tuesday, does not represent a major policy shift for the administration: President Biden still rejects former President Donald J. Trump’s claim that all internal White House documents pertaining to the riot be withheld on the grounds of executive privilege.

The White House counsel, Dana A. Remus, has been negotiating in recent weeks with the House committee to set aside requests for all or part of 511 documents her staff has deemed sensitive, unrelated to the probe or potentially compromising to the long-term prerogatives of the presidency.

The committee agreed to withdraw or defer its requests for documents that “do not appear to bear on the White House’s preparations for or response to the events of Jan. 6, or on efforts to overturn the election or otherwise obstruct the peaceful transfer of power,” wrote Jonathan C. Su, the White House deputy counsel, in an outline of the agreement between the committee and the administration drafted on Dec. 16.

 

wayne madesen report logo

Wayne Madsen Report, Investigative Commentary, 2022 will be a year of book burning, history re-writing, and election nullification, Wayne Madsen, left, Dec. 29, wayne madsen may 29 2015 cropped Small2021. One way to stick it to the Republican Party and its current Nazi penchant for nullifying elections is to celebrate February 9th as President Samuel Tilden Day. Tilden was born on February 9, 1814.

In 1876, Tilden, the reformist Democratic presidential candidate and governor of New York, who had broken the back of New York City's corrupt Tammany Hall political machine and William "Boss" Tweed, won the popular vote but lost the Electoral Vote tally because of a backroom deal samuel tilden campaignmade between southern Democrats favoring an end to Reconstruction and Republican supporters of Rutherford B. Hayes. Hayes was the lackluster governor of Ohio whose dubiously-attained presidency is now only dimly recalled in trivia contests.

In the infamous "Compromise of 1877," the Commission decided to award the 20 disputed electors to Hayes in return for the Hayes administration agreeing to ending Reconstruction in the South. This was the same template that Donald Trump and his congressional supporters planned to use to deny the presidency to Democratic victor Joe Biden.

If Trump supporters want to insist that Trump won the election of 2020, Democrats can honor the legacy of "President" Tilden, the Democratic candidate robbed of the presidency some 145 years ago. The Republican Party has been the party of election cheating and fraud since 1876 and that fact should be hammered home in public school classrooms across the nation.

To this day, Tilden remains the only presidential candidate to lose the presidency while commanding a majority of the popular vote. Although Andrew Jackson, Grover Cleveland, Al Gore, and Hillary Clinton also lost their respective electoral vote counts, they did so while winning a plurality, not an overall majority, of the popular vote.

 

U.S. House Jan. 6 insurrection investigating committee members Liz Cheney (R-WY), Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) and Jamie Raskie (D-MD) are shown, left to right, in a file photo.U.S. House Jan. 6 insurrection investigating committee members Liz Cheney (R-WY), Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) and Jamie Raskin (D-MD) are shown, left to right, in a file photo.

washington post logoWashington Post, Committee investigating Jan. 6 attack plans to begin more public phase of its work in new year, Jacqueline Alemany and Tom Hamburger, Dec. 28, 2021 (print ed.). Investigators will continue to collect information, but parallel efforts will start to orchestrate public hearings to tell the story of Jan. 6 and to craft a final report.

The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol plans to begin holding public hearings in the new year to tell the story of the insurrection from start to finish while crafting an ample interim report on its findings by summer, as it shifts into a more public phase of its work.

The panel will continue to collect information and seek testimony from willing witnesses and those who have been reluctant — a group that now includes Republican members of Congress. It is examining whether to recommend that the Justice Department pursue charges against anyone, including former president Donald Trump, and whether legislative proposals are needed to help prevent valid election results from being overturned in the future.

bennie thompson headshot“We have to address it — our families, our districts and our country demand that we get as much of the causal effects of what occurred and come up with some recommendations for the House so that it won’t ever happen again,” committee Chairman Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.), left, said in a recent interview.

The committee has taken in a massive amount of data — interviewing more than 300 witnesses, announcing more than 50 subpoenas, obtaining more than 35,000 pages of records and receiving hundreds of telephone leads through the Jan. 6 tip line, according to aides familiar with the matter who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe details of the panel’s work.

Recent Headlines

 

U.S. Politics, Elections, Governance

Palmer Report, Opinion: Donald Trump really is trying to take the Republican Party down with him, Bill Palmer, right, Dec. 29, 2021. Throughout the course of 2021 bill palmerwe’ve watched the systematic dismantling of Donald Trump. He lost his Twitter account. He lost the White House. He gradually lost his relevance, to the point that his periodic “press releases” are merely laughed at. He’s under criminal investigation in three jurisdictions, with Manhattan closing in. And the January 6th Committee is gearing up to try to get him criminally indicted on the federal level.

Now that Trump has been dismantled, we’re about to spend 2022 watching him get finished off. The big question is what the ever-destructive Trump will do as he realizes it’s all over for him. He’s spent all year hinting that he would merely try to settle old scores against the Republicans he blames for his downfall. Sure enough, now he’s revealing just how badly he wants to screw the Republican Party on his way out.

bill palmer report logo headerTrump has apparently decided that Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska is public enemy number one. In the name of trying to harm her, Trump has endorsed a Republican primary challenger against her. Now Trump is endorsing Alaska’s Republican Governor Mike Dunleavy in his reelection bid, but making clear that he’ll revoke the endorsement if Dunleavy offers any support for Murkowski’s reelection bid.

This is bonkers level absurd. For one thing, Trump’s endorsement doesn’t generally go very far these days in terms of helping a Republican candidate win a Republican primary race. In fact Trump has been striking out so badly on this front that even some pundits on MSNBC and CNN are finally acknowledging as much.

So Trump’s endorsement of Dunleavy, or potential revocation of it, doesn’t necessarily mean much either way. But like the poor businessman that he is, as Trump’s leverage continues to fade, he’s trying to make up for it by ramping up the severity of his empty threats – which only makes it that much easier for everyone to figure out they’re empty threats.

It’s not entirely clear what will end up happening in these Alaska races. But Trump’s actions in the state do make clear what’s likely to happen across the nation as 2022 plays out. Trump will continue to meddle in Republican Party primary politics in a way that doesn’t benefit anyone in the party, and only makes it that much harder for the Republicans to win seats.

Donald Trump’s mere existence is already set to be a huge gift to the Democrats in the 2022 election cycle. He’s a toxically unpopular pariah who can’t drive turnout for Republican candidates and can instead only threaten to hinder turnout for them if he doesn’t get his way. His worsening criminal scandals are also going to leave a number of 2022 Republican candidates unsure of whether to embrace Trump or run away from him. And now on top of all that, Trump is outright trying to sabotage certain incumbent Republicans out of a desire for revenge, with no regard for whether it might end up handing those seats to the Democrats.

 

joe biden flag profile uncredited palmer

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: How Biden Can Bounce Back, David Axelrod (a senior adviser to President Barack Obama and chief strategist for the 2008 and 2012 Obama presidential campaigns), Dec. 29, 2021 (print ed.). Joe Biden must be having flashbacks.

In early 2010, when Democrats lost a special election for the late Edward Kennedy’s Senate seat — and with it, their ability to overcome a Republican filibuster — Washington rose as one, an insistent chorus of grim reapers, reading last rites over the Affordable Care Act and Barack Obama’s presidency. By then, Mr. Obama had been through six fruitless months of negotiations with Republicans, followed by fierce internal battles between House and Senate Democrats over the details of the plan. The Massachusetts defeat seemed as if it would doom the A.C.A., the centerpiece of his legislative agenda.

Twelve years later, President Biden finds himself in a similar fix. Senator Joe Manchin’s sudden announcement that he would deny the president the critical 50th Democratic vote for his prized Build Back Better Act was a bitter blow. It came after months of politically costly, maddening negotiations, during which Mr. Manchin, of West Virginia, provoked a series of big concessions, only to present the president and his party with a lump of coal just before Christmas.

The potentially decisive rejection of Mr. Biden’s signature initiative by a member of his own party added to a perception of weakness the president can ill afford at a time when his ratings have fallen and so much seems out of his control.

The question is, what now?

No historical parallel is perfect, but the near-death and revival of the A.C.A. is a parable that does offer a path forward for this president and his administration.

Fortunately, Mr. Biden already seems to understand that he needs to pivot. Judging from his recent comments, he and his team know they must do two things at once: communicate publicly and forcefully on the crises at hand, while discretely exploring which pieces of the shattered Build Back Better package might be revived.

ny times logoNew York Times, 2 Georgia Republicans Rack Up Fines for Defying House’s Mask Mandate, Luke Broadwater, Dec. 29, 2021. During a recent marathon session in the House, two Republican lawmakers from Georgia sat in full view of television cameras. Neither was wearing a mask.

marjorie greene campaignIt was the latest act of defiance by the pair, Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene, left, and Andrew Clyde, against a rule requiring legislators to wear masks on the House floor. Most Republican lawmakers, however grudgingly, have complied with the mandate, which can carry fines that quickly add up to hefty amounts. But Ms. Greene and Mr. Clyde have repeatedly, and proudly, flouted it.

To date, the two have incurred more than $100,000 combined in fines, which are taken directly from their paychecks.

A resolution approved by the House in January says that members will be fined $500 the first time they fail to wear a mask on the House floor, and $2,500 for subsequent violations. The House Ethics Committee notes each fine in a news release, but Ms. Greene’s and Mr. Clyde’s violations were so numerous that the panel began announcing theirs in bunches.

Ms. Greene, who has said she is unvaccinated, called the mask requirement “communist,” “tyrannical” and “authoritarian.”

“The American people have had enough and are standing up against these outrageous and unconstitutional policies,” she said in a statement.

Ms. Greene has been fined more than 30 times for violating the mask rules, accumulating more than $80,000 in penalties, according to her office. She was fined five days in a row during one stretch this fall.

Only 20 of Ms. Greene’s fines, totaling nearly $50,000, have been announced by the Ethics Committee. (House procedures and appeals can delay announcements by up to two months.)

Mr. Clyde has been fined at least 14 times for violating the mask rule, accruing at least $30,000 in penalties.

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World News, Human Rights

washington post logoWashington Post, Russian court abolishes renowned human rights group, Robyn Dixon, Dec. 29, 2021 (print ed.). The decision by the Russian Supreme Court signals the Kremlin’s determination to obliterate dissent, after a year that has seen authorities jail and harass hundreds of opposition figures and activists.

Russian FlagRussia’s Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered the liquidation of the country’s most prominent human rights organization, the International Memorial Society, in a decision that dismayed rights advocates.

The ruling signaled the Kremlin’s determination to obliterate dissent, after a year in which authorities have jailed and harassed hundreds of opposition figures, activists, journalists and human rights lawyers, forcing dozens of them to flee the country for their safety.

The International Memorial Society, known as Memorial, was set up by dissidents — including renowned Nobel Peace Prize laureate Andrei Sakharov — during the final years of the Soviet Union. It is focused on researching Soviet abuses in the gulag, a vast web of prison camps where political prisoners toiled and died, many of them executed on the basis of concocted evidence.

ny times logoNew York Times, A Year of Brexit Brought U.K. Companies Higher Costs and Endless Forms, Eshe Nelson, Dec. 29, 2021. While the worst of the Brexit trade disruptions are over, British exports to the European Union are down, and companies are frustrated.

For more than a decade, Neil Currie could sell his company’s handcrafted black iron pans and cookware from Shropshire, the birthplace of Britain’s Industrial Revolution, to customers in Berlin as easily as he could to ones in Birmingham, less than 30 miles to the east. But this year, since Britain left the European Union, Netherton Foundry’s sales into the bloc have plummeted.

United Kingdom flagFor 12 months, British businesses have been confronting the reality of the country’s decision to distance itself from its largest trading partner. Initially, the new system collapsed: Perishable goods got stuck at ports, retailers discovered their supply chains were obsolete and trucking companies stopped delivering to the whole island of Ireland.

The worst of the problems (outside of Northern Ireland) eased after a few months. But what remains is a frustrating regime of higher costs, time-consuming customs paperwork and countless lost opportunities.

Netherton Foundry’s website sales to the European Union are “just draining away,” Mr. Currie said. They have dropped 40 percent this year.

Recent Headlines

 

U.S. Law, Courts, Crime, Race

washington post logoWashington Post, Supreme Court term limits are popular — and appear to be going nowhere, Seung Min Kim and Robert Barnes, Dec. 29, 2021 (print ed.). President Biden’s commission to study structural revisions to the Supreme Court found one potential change both Democrats and Republicans have said they could support: implementing term limits for the justices, who currently have lifetime tenure.

Yet the bipartisan support among legal experts and the public for term limits isn’t catching on among elected officials on Capitol Hill who would be the starting point on any alterations to the makeup of the Supreme Court. Impatient liberals clamoring for change say enacting term limits would take far too long, while Republican lawmakers are loath to endorse changes they are characterizing as part of a broader effort from Democrats to politicize the judiciary.

The opposition from both corners adds another layer of doubt that proposals laid out and debated by Biden’s Supreme Court commission will translate into tangible action in the near future.

The chief argument against term limits among Democratic lawmakers and others who have endorsed structural changes is that doing so may require a constitutional amendment — a process that is long, cumbersome and has not been successfully executed since 1992.

“It takes years to work through the state legislatures,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said in an interview. “We don’t have years when the Supreme Court is gutting voting rights, gutting union rights, gutting the equal protection clause and signaling that it’s going to overturn Roe.”

Warren is the most recent convert in the Senate in favor of Supreme Court expansion, one of only a few Democrats there who have explicitly endorsed structural changes to the court even as the recent oral arguments in Mississippi’s abortion ban have prompted many to reconsider their stance. In an op-ed in the Boston Globe this month, Warren argued that Republican maneuvering has essentially packed the Supreme Court in their favor, and that adding justices is necessary to rebalance it. Increasing the number of justices could be done through a statute, a far simpler process than passing an amendment.

washington post logoWashington Post, Homeland Security Investigations agents push to break away from ICE, saying negative reputation hurts work, Maria Sacchetti and Nick Miroff, Dec. 29, 2021. Federal agents from Homeland Security Investigations say they have been kicked out of joint drug operations, shunned by local police departments and heckled at campus career fairs. Their parent agency, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, carries a stigma that is undermining their investigative work across the country, the agents said in an internal report.

The agents say they face a backlash in liberal “sanctuary” jurisdictions where authorities strictly limit contact with ICE but also in some Republican-led states where politicians are vocal in their support for the agency. And the toll on HSI agents is “getting worse,” according to the report that was prepared by a working group of agents formed by HSI to consider changes to the agency’s place within the Department of Homeland Security.

The HSI agents assembled dozens of these examples to convince DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas that they should leave ICE. They say their affiliation with ICE’s immigration enforcement role is endangering their personal safety, stifling their partnerships with other agencies and scaring away crime victims, according to a copy of the report provided to The Washington Post.

“Separating HSI into its own standalone agency is not simply a branding preference,” agents said in the document, which was circulated in a Sept. 16 internal email. “HSI’s affiliation with ICE significantly impedes investigations and HSI’s ability to fulfill its mission.”

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Media, Education News

Axios, New era for local journalism, Sara Fischer, Dec. 29, 2021. New, independent digital outlets and nonprofits have begun to fill some of the gap left by fading local newspapers. Limited resources and the pandemic have driven many toward providing community news, information and services rather than traditional accountability journalism.

Why it matters: "It's not just about a legal or structural shift, but it also represents a shift in how the mission of journalism is changing," said Emily Roseman, research director & editor at the Institute for Nonprofit News (INN).

axios logo"The decline of local newspapers has not just led to more government corruption and waste, but also polarization and misinformation," said Steven Waldman, president and co-founder of Report for America, a local journalism nonprofit.

By the numbers: There are now more than 700 independent local news startups in the U.S. and Canada, according to Local Independent Online News Publishers (LION), a trade organization.

LION now has over 400 paying members, up from 177 at the start of the pandemic, executive director Chris Krewson told Axios. By comparison, at least 100 newspapers have closed during COVID, said Penny Abernathy, a visiting professor at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.

Without additional government support, the U.S. could lose 100 more newspapers next year and another 500 over the next five years, she estimates.

Between the lines: New digital sites and legacy local newspapers alike are finding it difficult to attract sustainable, commercial investment, making philanthropic support and reader donations more important.

The number of local news companies that have registered as nonprofits has roughly doubled in the past five years, per INN.

The past year, saw "a tipping point" of people in the philanthropic world "understanding that nonprofits have to play a bigger role in local news," said Waldman.

ny times logoNew York Times, Judge Says New York Times Can Retain Project Veritas Memos, for Now, Michael M. Grynbaum, Dec. 29, 2021 (print ed.). A New York appeals court said the paper did not need to immediately give up or destroy documents related to the conservative group. The paper is still prevented from publishing certain documents.

A New York State appeals court on Tuesday temporarily lifted a judicial order requiring The New York Times to turn over or destroy copies of legal memos prepared for the conservative group Project Veritas, in a case that has drawn the focus of First Amendment and journalism advocates.

The stay, issued by the Appellate Division of New York State Supreme Court, followed objections by The Times to an order issued late last week in an escalating legal dispute between the newspaper and Project Veritas, which is suing The Times for defamation.

But one major component of that order, issued by a trial judge, Justice Charles D. Wood of State Supreme Court in Westchester County, will stay in place: The Times remains temporarily barred from publishing the Project Veritas documents. The newspaper said it had not sought an immediate lifting of that element of the order but instead had asked for an expedited hearing.

The Appellate Division asked Project Veritas to file its response by Jan. 14, declining the request by The Times for an earlier deadline.

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washington post logoWashington Post, John Madden (1936–2021): Pro Football Hall of Famer, video game icon dies at 85, Mark Maske, Dec. 29, 2021 (print ed.). John Madden, right, a towering figure in professional football as a Super Bowl-winning coach, a legendary broadcaster and a video game icon, died Dec. 28 at age 85.

john maddenThe NFL announced Madden’s death, saying only that he died “unexpectedly” Tuesday. The league did not cite a cause of death.

“Nobody loved football more than Coach,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in the league’s written announcement. “He was football. He was an incredible sounding board to me and so many others. There will never be another John Madden, and we will forever be indebted to him for all he did to make football and the NFL what it is today.”

Madden was a beloved and pioneering figure who was instrumental in establishing the NFL as the nation’s most popular and prosperous pro sports league.

 

Dec. 28

Top Stories

 

Virus Victims, Responses

 

U.S. Law, Courts, Crime, Race

 

More On Jan. 6 Insurrection, Justice

 

U.S. Politics, Elections, Governance

 

World News, Human Rights

 

Media, Education News

 

Top Stories

washington post logoWashington Post, CDC halves recommended isolation time for people with asymptomatic infections to 5 days, Yasmeen Abutaleb, Dec. 28, 2021 (print ed.). Top U.S. health officials said the decision was driven by a growing body of research about when people are most infectious.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also cut the time those exposed to the coronavirus should quarantine to five days if they are not boosted, saying they should wear a mask around others for an additional five days.

 

U.S. House Jan. 6 insurrection investigating committee members Liz Cheney (R-WY), Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) and Jamie Raskie (D-MD) are shown, left to right, in a file photo.U.S. House Jan. 6 insurrection investigating committee members Liz Cheney (R-WY), Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) and Jamie Raskin (D-MD) are shown, left to right, in a file photo.

washington post logoWashington Post, Committee investigating Jan. 6 attack plans to begin more public phase of its work in new year, Jacqueline Alemany and Tom Hamburger, Dec. 28, 2021 (print ed.). Investigators will continue to collect information, but parallel efforts will start to orchestrate public hearings to tell the story of Jan. 6 and to craft a final report.

The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol plans to begin holding public hearings in the new year to tell the story of the insurrection from start to finish while crafting an ample interim report on its findings by summer, as it shifts into a more public phase of its work.

The panel will continue to collect information and seek testimony from willing witnesses and those who have been reluctant — a group that now includes Republican members of Congress. It is examining whether to recommend that the Justice Department pursue charges against anyone, including former president Donald Trump, and whether legislative proposals are needed to help prevent valid election results from being overturned in the future.

bennie thompson headshot“We have to address it — our families, our districts and our country demand that we get as much of the causal effects of what occurred and come up with some recommendations for the House so that it won’t ever happen again,” committee Chairman Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.), left, said in a recent interview.

The committee has taken in a massive amount of data — interviewing more than 300 witnesses, announcing more than 50 subpoenas, obtaining more than 35,000 pages of records and receiving hundreds of telephone leads through the Jan. 6 tip line, according to aides familiar with the matter who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe details of the panel’s work. 

 

capitol riot shutterstock capitol

ap logoAssociated Press via HuffPost, Judge Refuses To Dismiss Alleged Proud Boys Leaders’ Charges, Michael Kunzelman, Dec. 28, 2021. U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly rejected defense attorneys’ arguments that their clients' conduct on Jan. 6 was protected by the First Amendment right to free speech.

A federal judge on Tuesday refused to dismiss an indictment charging four alleged leaders of the far-right Proud Boys with conspiring to attack the U.S. Capitol to stop Congress from certifying President Joe Biden’s electoral victory.

U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly rejected defense attorneys’ arguments that the four men — Ethan Nordean, Joseph Biggs, Zachary Rehl and Charles Donohoe — are charged with conduct that is protected by the First Amendment right to free speech.
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Kelly said the defendants had many non-violent ways to express their opinions about the 2020 presidential election.

“Defendants are not, as they argue, charged with anything like burning flags, wearing black armbands, or participating in mere sit-ins or protests,” Kelly wrote in his 43-page ruling. “Moreover, even if the charged conduct had some expressive aspect, it lost whatever First Amendment protection it may have had.”

Nordean, Biggs, Rehl and Donohoe were indicted in March on charges including conspiracy and obstructing an official proceeding. All four of them remain jailed while they await a trial scheduled for May.

us senate logoDefense lawyers also argued that the obstruction charge doesn’t apply to their clients’ cases because Congress’ certification of the Electoral College vote was not an “official proceeding.” Kelly disagreed.
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Earlier this month, another judge in the District of Columbia’s federal court upheld prosecutors’ use of the same obstruction charge in a separate case against two riot defendants.

The case against Nordean, Biggs, Rehl and Donohoe is a focus of the Justice Department’s sprawling investigation of the Jan. 6 insurrection. More than three dozen people charged in the Capitol siege have been identified by federal authorities as Proud Boys leaders, members or associates, including at least 16 defendants charged with conspiracy.

Last Wednesday, a New York man pleaded guilty to storming the U.S. Capitol with fellow Proud Boys members. Matthew Greene is the first Proud Boys member to publicly plead guilty to conspiring with other members to stop Congress from certifying the Electoral College vote. He agreed to cooperate with authorities.

Other extremist group members have been charged with conspiring to carry out coordinated attacks on the Capitol, including more than 20 people linked to the anti-government Oath Keepers.

Nordean, of Auburn, Washington, was a Proud Boys chapter president and member of the group’s national “Elders Council.” Biggs, of Ormond Beach, Florida, is a self-described Proud Boys organizer. Rehl, of Philadelphia, and Donohoe, of Kernersville, North Carolina, served as presidents of their local Proud Boys chapters, according to the indictment.

On the morning of Jan. 6, Proud Boys members met at the Washington Monument and marched to the Capitol before President Donald Trump finished addressing thousands of supporters near the White House.

Just before Congress convened a joint session to certify the election results, a group of Proud Boys followed a crowd of people who breached barriers at a pedestrian entrance to the Capitol grounds, the indictment says. Several Proud Boys also entered the Capitol building itself after the mob smashed windows and forced open doors.

More than 700 people have been charged with federal crimes related to the Capitol riot. At least 165 of them have pleaded guilty, mostly to misdemeanor offenses punishable by a maximum of six months’ imprisonment.

 

djt michael cohen disloyal

Palmer Report, Opinion: Michael Cohen is looking to bring Bill Barr and Donald Trump to justice, Bill Palmer, right, Dec 28, 2021. Attorney General Bill Barr bill palmerresigned three weeks before January 6th, presumably because he wanted to shield himself from the endgame criminal antics that he expected (or knew) Donald Trump and his regime would take. But Barr did plenty of illegal things in his own right before he resigned – and now Michael Cohen is looking to bring him and some of his top underlings to justice.

bill palmer report logo headerWhen COVID began spreading through the federal prison system, inmates who met specific qualifications were allowed to spend the rest of their sentence under house arrest. Michael Cohen met those qualifications, and was thus sent home. But after he announced he was publishing an anti-Trump book, the Bureau of Prisons put him back in prison. Then a judge declared that the move had been “retaliatory” and sent Cohen back home. Cohen’s book Disloyal ended up becoming a New York Times #1 bestseller.

Michael Cohen’s sentence has now ended, meaning he’s a free man. Donald Trump is gone from office and is under criminal investigation in Manhattan New York, Fulton County Georgia, and Westchester New York, and will end up facing the music. But Bill Barr is still out there – and Barr’s handpicked head of the Bureau of Prisons Michael Carvajal still has his job.

Cohen recently filed a civil suit against Donald Trump, Bill Barr, and Michael Carvajal for the actions they took against him. Not only is Cohen likely to win, there’s a good chance the legal process will end up uncovering evidence of precisely who within the Trump administration gave the order to put Cohen back in prison. This could potentially lead to criminal consequences for whoever gave that order. It’s difficult to imagine that some mere underling concocted this entire retaliation scheme against Cohen, given how plainly illegal the whole thing was. In fact it’s difficult to imagine that the order came from anyone less than Bill Barr himself.

For that matter, Cohen once famously said during his congressional testimony that “Nothing happens in TrumpLand unless it is cleared first through Trump himself.” Would Bil Barr have given such an order without first making sure Trump wanted it to happen? Trump supposedly never writes these kinds of things down. But if Barr were held accountable and ended up flipping, he could be the key to getting to Trump on this and all sorts of federal crimes.

It’s notable that Michael Cohen isn’t alone in wanting answers. Influential House members Hakeem Jeffries and Ted Lieu previously asked DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz to investigate who within the DOJ was responsible for putting Cohen back in prison. It’s not known what if any action Horowitz has taken in response to that request. But with the January 6th Committee making moves that could potentially bring everyone in the Trump regime to justice except Bill Barr, now would be a good time to circle back and make sure Bill Barr is also held accountable for his abuses. Uncovering Barr’s role in the retaliation against Cohen might be the most straightforward way to bring Barr to justice.

 

 Virus Victims, Responses

washington post logoWashington Post, Staff shortages at nursing homes worsen problems at overwhelmed hospitals, Lenny Bernstein and Andrew Van Dam, Dec. 28, 2021 (print ed.). With many long-term care facilities limiting admissions, hospitals and emergency rooms face difficulty moving patients to the next step in their care.

At the 390-bed Terrace View nursing home on the east side of Buffalo, 22 beds are shut down. There isn’t enough staff to care for a full house, safely or legally.

That means some fully recovered patients in the adjacent Erie County Medical Center must stay in their hospital rooms, waiting for a bed in the nursing home. Which means some patients in the emergency department, who should be admitted to the hospital, must stay there until a hospital bed opens up. The emergency department becomes stretched so thin that 10 to 20 percent of arrivals leave without seeing a caregiver — after an average wait of six to eight hours, according to the hospital’s data.

Nursing home bed and staff shortages were problems in the United States before the coronavirus pandemic. But the departure of 425,000 employees over the past two years has narrowed the bottleneck at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities at the same time that acute care hospitals are facing unending demand for services due to a persistent pandemic and staff shortages of their own.

With the omicron variant raising fears of even more hospitalizations, the problems faced by nursing homes are taking on even more importance. Several states have sent National Guard members to help with caregiving and other chores.

What to know about the omicron variant of the coronavirus

Hospitalizations, which peaked at higher than 142,000 in January, are rising again as well, reaching more than 71,000 nationally on Thursday, according to data tracked by The Washington Post. In some places, there is little room left in hospitals or ICUs.

washington post logoWashington Post, Live Updates: NYC leads spike in child hospitalizations nationwide, Andrew Jeong and Jennifer Hassan, Dec. 28, 2021. The number of children with covid-19 recently hospitalized in New York City has increased by nearly five times this month, New York state officials said at a news conference Monday.

In the week starting Dec. 5, city hospitals admitted 22 children. But during a five-day period beginning Dec. 19, that figure rose to 109. The increase reflects a broader surge of coronavirus infections in the United States, driven in part by the omicron variant. As of last week, nearly 2,000 confirmed or suspected pediatric covid patients were hospitalized nationally, a 31 percent jump in 10 days.

Officials are hoping a city mandate that took effect Monday requiring workers at an estimated 184,000 businesses to get at least one vaccine dose will curb infections. “We need more and more people vaccinated,” Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) said.

Here’s what to know:

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday cut the recommended isolation time for people with asymptomatic coronavirus infections to five days.
  • Widespread flight cancellations continue — blamed on a combination of staffing shortages linked to the omicron variant and dangerous winter weather.
  • Over 4,000 flights to, from or inside the United States have been canceled since Friday, and more are likely in the days ahead.
  • The highly transmissible omicron variant continues to sweep the nation, with Florida reporting 39,000 new cases of infection Monday, following the Christmas weekend.
  • ‘Omicron and delta are coming to your party,’ Illinois governor warns as cases surge
  • Key coronavirus updates from around the world

washington post logoWashington Post, 5 GOP-led states extend unemployment aid to workers who lose jobs over vaccine mandates, Aaron Gregg, Dec. 28, 2021 (print ed.). Critics says the rule changes in Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, Kansas and Tennessee are incentivizing people to skip shots and undermining the White House’s pandemic response.

covad 19 photo.jpg Custom 2Workers who quit or are fired for cause — including for defying company policy — are generally ineligible for jobless benefits. But Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, Kansas and Tennessee have carved out exceptions for those who won’t submit to the multi-shot coronavirus vaccine regimens that many companies now require. Similar ideas have been floated in Wyoming, Wisconsin and Missouri.

Critics contend that these states are incentivizing people to skip shots that public health experts say offer the best line of defense against the coronavirus. Business leaders and industry groups have argued against the rule changes because, they say, companies would shoulder much of the costs. And the efforts are playing out as the Biden administration is pressing immunization rules for private companies and as coronavirus cases are surging again because of the fast-spreading omicron variant.

ny times logoNew York Times, Live Updates: New York City Schools Will Reopen Next Week With More Testing, Staff Reports, Dec. 28, 2021. The largest U.S. school system will eliminate its policy of quarantining entire classrooms exposed to Covid starting Jan. 3, when students return from break; The district will also ramp up testing to allow asymptomatic students who test negative to remain in school. Here’s the latest on the pandemic.

  • Cities around the world pare back New Year celebrations, again.
  • U.S. companies say shortened isolation will ease staffing woes, but health concerns linger.
  • Thousands protest in Germany as frustration with Covid rules swells.
  • Delta Air Lines blames new cleaning rules in Shanghai for the midair turnaround of a flight from Seattle.
  • Covid now accounts for a larger share of deaths among white and young Americans.
  • An Australian teenager who partied while positive is charged with ignoring health orders.

ny times logoNew York Times, Covid death rates are rising for some demographics, despite vaccines being widely available. Here’s why, Staff Report, Dec. 28, 2021. The overall rate of Covid-19 deaths has declined since vaccines became widely available in April, yet nearly a quarter million people in the United States have died from the virus in the past eight months. The virus is now responsible for a higher share of deaths from all causes for younger Americans and white Americans than it was before all adults were eligible for vaccines.

Covid accounted for 14 percent of all deaths in the United States from March 2020 until all adults became eligible for the vaccine in April, compared with 11 percent of deaths since then.

cdc logo CustomAnd while for much of the pandemic, older Americans and people of color were more likely to die from the virus, the demographics of those dying from Covid have shifted too, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

How the arrival of the highly transmissible Omicron variant will affect these trends remains to be seen, since the current data on deaths is reliable only through late November. Scientists are still hopeful that vaccines — and especially booster shots — will stave off Omicron’s worst effects.

Covid-19 has been particularly deadly for older people, but that group was also among the first to be eligible for vaccines. Now, people 65 and older have the highest vaccination rate, with nearly 90 percent of them fully vaccinated.

The higher vaccination rate for older people has helped to protect them. Although more older than younger people still die from Covid-19, the virus is now responsible for a smaller share of all deaths among people 65 and older than it was before vaccines became available to all adults. For those younger than 65, Covid-19 has risen as a cause of death.

Worldometer, World & U.S. Coronavirus Case Totals (updated Dec. 28, 2021), with some governments reporting lower numbers than the totals here and some experts saying the numbers are far higher:

World Cases: 281,993,581, Deaths: 5,425,699
U.S. Cases:     53,791,852, Deaths:    839,605
Indian Cases:   34,799,691, Deaths:    480,290
Brazil Cases:    22,246,276, Deaths:   618,575

Related Recent Headlines:

 

U.S. Law, Courts, Crime, Race

RawStory, Texas AG Ken Paxton dealt another 'election fraud' blow as judge dismisses 'politically motivated' case, John Wright, Dec. 28, 2021. Texas AG Ken Paxton dealt another 'election fraud' blow as judge dismisses 'politically motivated' case.

For the second time this month, Texas Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton has suffered a major setback in a criminal case in which he alleged "election fraud."

Paxton, who's been endorsed for re-election by former president Donald Trump despite facing felony charges, earlier this year accused Medina County Justice of the Peace Tomas “Tommy” Ramirez of running a vote-harvesting operation out of assisted living centers during the 2018 Republican primary.

Ramirez says the allegations led to threats and harassment against him, and he accused Paxton of pushing for an indictment just to get headlines and rile up his base, according to the San Antonio Express-News.

On Tuesday, a judge dismissed all charges against Ramirez. “This case was politically motivated and was totally unjustified,” Ramirez said. “My family and I have received anonymous hate mail and ugly social media attacks. My law office was vandalized and I was even asked by the State Bar of Texas if I wanted to voluntarily surrender my law license.”

Ramirez alleged that Paxton conducted a year-long investigation and continued to press for charges even after one of the AG's investigators found there was no probable cause to pursue the case.

The dismissal of the charges against Ramirez "followed a ruling by a separate court that struck down a law allowing the state attorney general to unilaterally prosecute election law cases," the Express-News reports.

"In an 8-1 ruling, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals said a provision of the law violates the separation of powers clause in the Texas Constitution," according to the newspaper. "The state attorney general can only get involved in a case when asked to by a district or county attorney, the court determined. That ruling was a blow for Texas Republicans who have promoted former president Donald Trump’s discredited claims of election fraud in the 2020 presidential election."

washington post logoWashington Post, Supreme Court term limits are popular — and appear to be going nowhere, Seung Min Kim and Robert Barnes, Dec. 28, 2021. President Biden’s commission to study structural revisions to the Supreme Court found one potential change both Democrats and Republicans have said they could support: implementing term limits for the justices, who currently have lifetime tenure.

Yet the bipartisan support among legal experts and the public for term limits isn’t catching on among elected officials on Capitol Hill who would be the starting point on any alterations to the makeup of the Supreme Court. Impatient liberals clamoring for change say enacting term limits would take far too long, while Republican lawmakers are loath to endorse changes they are characterizing as part of a broader effort from Democrats to politicize the judiciary.

The opposition from both corners adds another layer of doubt that proposals laid out and debated by Biden’s Supreme Court commission will translate into tangible action in the near future.

The chief argument against term limits among Democratic lawmakers and others who have endorsed structural changes is that doing so may require a constitutional amendment — a process that is long, cumbersome and has not been successfully executed since 1992.

“It takes years to work through the state legislatures,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said in an interview. “We don’t have years when the Supreme Court is gutting voting rights, gutting union rights, gutting the equal protection clause and signaling that it’s going to overturn Roe.”

Warren is the most recent convert in the Senate in favor of Supreme Court expansion, one of only a few Democrats there who have explicitly endorsed structural changes to the court even as the recent oral arguments in Mississippi’s abortion ban have prompted many to reconsider their stance. In an op-ed in the Boston Globe this month, Warren argued that Republican maneuvering has essentially packed the Supreme Court in their favor, and that adding justices is necessary to rebalance it. Increasing the number of justices could be done through a statute, a far simpler process than passing an amendment.

washington post logoWashington Post, Four dead, officer wounded in Denver-area shooting rampage, Annabelle Timsit, Dec. 28, 2021. Four people were killed and three injured, including a police officer, in a series of shootings that authorities described as a “killing spree” in the Denver and Lakewood, Colo., area.

The suspected shooter was also killed, while an officer of the Lakewood Police Department was undergoing surgery late Monday, Lakewood police spokesman John Romero said at a news conference.

Law enforcement officials stressed that the investigation was ongoing and details were limited, but that they believed the shootings were the work of one person and the community faced no further threats.

The alleged shooter’s identity was not revealed, and officials said they did not know the motive.

Daily Beast, Wealthy Florida Man Murdered During Luxury Hotel Orgy, Barbie Latza Nadeau, Updated Dec. 28, 2021. The body of a 42-year-old American was found in Madrid’s Westin Hotel in October with no obvious sign of physical abuse. Cops eventually worked out what happened.

Two men have been arrested in Madrid in connection with the fatal poisoning of a 42-year-old American tycoon and former CEO of a Spanish shipyard, whose lifeless body was found at the top-end Westin Palace Hotel in central Madrid in October.

The victim, identified as New Jersey-born José Rosado, had returned to his hotel room with “two or three” men on the night of Oct. 29, according to hotel surveillance footage.

When his partner in Miami lost touch with him, hotel workers at the former palace, which was built by Spanish King Alfonso XIII in 1912, opened his door and found him dead.

Police did not immediately suspect foul play as there was no apparent sign of violence or suffocation. They told local media that Rosado had died of natural causes.

Even after the discovery of fatal doses of psychotropic substances and alcohol in his system, poisoning was not suspected until it became apparent that Rosado had also been robbed.

An investigation by Scientific Police determined that some of his belongings were missing, after his partner in Miami was able to corroborate what he packed for the trip. Rosado had become CEO of Spain’s biggest private shipbuilding company Hijos de J. Barreras, which was established in 1892, in 2020. He left the company, which manufactures yachts for the Ritz-Carlton company, in 2021.

Daily MailOnline US, 'Delta Karen' is revealed to be former Playboy model, Baywatch actress and Raiders cheerleader who now works as realtor, Tommy Taylor, Updated Dec. 28, 2021. A high-flying realtor who worked for Coldwell Banker and Berkshire Hathaway in California has been revealed as the 'Delta Karen' who was arrested by the FBI for attacking an 80-year-old passenger on a plane after he removed his face mask to eat -- while she was herself maskless.

cdc logo CustomPatricia Cornwall, a real estate agent previously based in Los Angeles, who in the 1990s was a member of the Raiderettes cheerleaders for the then-LA-based NFL team, was identified as the unruly passenger on the Thursday flight from Tampa to Atlanta when the altercation took place.

Cornwall, who was a former small-time actress going by the name of Patty Breton and had a minor role in Baywatch, has recently moved to Florida, Heavy.com reported.

The pair exchanged a volley of foul-mouthed insults, which ultimately descended into physical violence, with at least one crew member and multiple other passengers reportedly injured while trying to get Cornwall away from the man, who has not been identified. A video by a fellow passenger has so far been seen nearly five million times.

The attack came as the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) details a record number of air rage attacks -- with 5,300 reported in 2021, compared to only several hundred in previous years, according to Morning Consult. Many of the 5,300 were related to face masks.

Recent Headlines:

 

More On Jan. 6 Insurrection, Justice

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Trump idolatry has undermined religious faith, Jennifer Rubin, Dec. 28, 2021. People focus on White evangelicals’ central role in the fraying of democracy. More attention, however, should be paid to the damage the political movement has inflicted on religion itself.

The demographic — which remains in the throes of White grievance and an apocalyptic vision that postulates America (indeed “Western civilization”) is under attack from socialists, foreigners and secularists — forms the core of the MAGA movement. Many have rejected the sanctity of elections, the principle of inclusion and even objective reality.

The consequences have been dire for American politics. The siege mentality has morphed into an ends-justify-the-means style of politics in which lies, brutal discourse and even violence are applauded as necessary to protect “real America.” Essential features of democracy, such as the peaceful transfer of power, compromise with political opponents and defining America as an idea and not a racial or religious identity, have fallen by the wayside.

Sadly, the degradation of democracy has intensified in the wake of Joe Biden’s victory. The doctrinal elevation of the “big lie," the increase in violent rhetoric and the effort to rig elections all reflect a heightened desperation by the MAGA crowd. This has driven the GOP to new lows (e.g., vaccine refusal to “own the libs,” virtually all House Republicans defending an animation depicting the murder of a congresswoman).

While lovers of democracy around the world view these developments in horror, we should not lose track of the damage the MAGA movement has wrought to religious values. Peter Wehner, an evangelical Christian and former adviser to President George W. Bush, explains in a column for the Atlantic how a recent speech from Donald Trump Jr. reflects the inversion of religious faith. “The former president’s son,” Wehner writes, “has a message for the tens of millions of evangelicals who form the energized base of the GOP: the scriptures are essentially a manual for suckers. The teachings of Jesus have ‘gotten us nothing.’ ”

Wehner continues:

It’s worse than that, really; the ethic of Jesus has gotten in the way of successfully prosecuting the culture wars against the left. If the ethic of Jesus encourages sensibilities that might cause people in politics to act a little less brutally, a bit more civilly, with a touch more grace? Then it needs to go. Decency is for suckers.

Understanding this phenomenon goes a long way toward explaining the MAGA crowd’s very unreligious cruelty toward immigrants, its selfish refusal to vaccinate to protect the most vulnerable and its veneration of a vulgar, misogynistic cult leader. If you wonder how so many “people of faith” can behave in such ways, understand that their “faith” has become hostile to traditional religious values such as kindness, empathy, self-restraint, grace, honesty and humility.

In sum, while the White evangelical political movement has done immeasurable damage to our democracy, its descent into MAGA politics, conspiratorial thinking and cult worship has had catastrophic results for the religious values evangelicals once held dear. Jones writes: “It’s important to say this straight. This refusal to act to protect the vulnerable — particularly because of the low personal costs involved — is raw, callous selfishness. Exhibited by people I love, it is heartbreaking. Expressed by people who claim to be followers of Jesus, it is maddening.”

If these trends continue uninterrupted, we will wind up with a country rooted in neither democratic principles nor religious values. That would be a mean, violent and intolerant future few of us would want to experience.

 

alex jones screen shot 2020 05 01 at 12.02.06 pm

Proof, Investigation: The Coming Collapse of Donald Trump’s January 6 Conspiracy, Part 1: Alex Jones, Seth Abramson, left, Dec. 27, 2021. This shocking new seth abramson graphicPROOF series details mounting evidence that Trump's seditious January 6 conspiracy is at the point of collapse because of the cowardice, fear, and perfidy of his co-conspirators. Note: This is Part 1 of an ongoing series in the January 6 section at Proof. Part 2 is due soon.

Introduction: One difficulty journalists face in writing about Alex Jones (shown above in a screenshot) is that the man produces so much content daily that sifting through it all is nearly impossible. Those who do are richly rewarded, however; on Jones’s nightly Infowars program (The Alex Jones Show) and in other venues, seth abramson proof logothe infamous far-right conspiracy theorist and self-described “performance artist” has made so many controversial and even self-incriminating statements that one could craft an endless breaking news cycle just by finding obscure video and audio of Jones in which he discusses the January 6th insurrection and his role in it.

Proof has already reported on some of the most shocking statements Jones has made about the attack on the U.S. Capitol, including interviews he has conducted with his Stop the Steal “movement” co-conspirators, domestic terrorist Ali Alexander and longtime Trump friend and political adviser Roger Stone. You can find a few of these reports (in chronological order) here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

A less commonly discussed component of Jones’s carefully constructed public persona is the incredibly delicate state of his relationship with the man who he agreed to lead the march on the Capitol for: Donald Trump. Jones has never been a particularly loyal Trumpist, which makes him a potential weak spot in Trump’s January 6 conspiracy and the ongoing effort to steal the 2024 presidential election linked to that conspiracy.

On November 22, 2021, Congress’s House January 6 Committee (hereafter “HJ6C”) subpoenaed Jones. The subpoena launched a raft of speculation about whether Jones would cooperate with Congress in order to save his own skin—and precisely how far he would be willing to go, and how much damage he would be willing to do to Trump, in an attempt to do so.

Alex Jones and Donald Trump: A Troubled History

The relationship between Jones and Trump has always been an uneasy one, but it’s been especially bad since the attack on the Capitol on January 6. On March 3, 2021, leaked video of a Jones tirade about Trump in 2019—which Jones did not appear to realize was being recorded—was published by a number of media outlets. In the video, Jones says the following of his nominal ally (emphasis supplied):

It’s the truth, and I’m just going to say it—that I wish I never would have fucking met Trump. I wish it never would’ve happened. And it’s not the attacks I’ve been through. I’m so sick of fucking Donald Trump. God, I’m fucking sick of him. And I’ve not doing this [carrying water for him] because, like, I’m kissing his fucking ass, you know. It’s, like, I’m sick of it.

In a longer version of the video, according to Caolan Robertson, who leaked it to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Jones derides his audience for being willing to “buy anything” and boasts about earning tens of millions of dollars—not just millions—via his far-right, often pro-Trump rhetoric.

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).

peter navarro white house imageDaily Beast, Trump Advisor Peter Navarro Lays Out How He and Bannon Planned to Overturn Biden’s Electoral Win, Jose Pagliery, Updated Dec. 28, 2021. “It started out perfectly. At 1 p.m., Gosar and Cruz did exactly what was expected of them…”

A former Trump White House official says he and right-wing provocateur Steve Bannon were actually behind the last-ditch, coordinated effort by rogue Republicans in Congress to halt certification of the 2020 election results and keep President Donald Trump in power earlier this year, in a plan dubbed the “Green Bay Sweep.”

daily beast logoIn his recently published memoir, Peter Navarro, then-President Donald Trump’s trade advisor, details how he stayed in close contact with Bannon as they put “Green Bay Sweep” in motion with help from members of Congress loyal to the cause.

But in an interview last week with The Daily Beast, Navarro shed additional light on his role in the operation and their coordination with politicians like Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) and Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX).

“We spent a lot of time lining up over 100 congressmen, including some senators. It started out perfectly. At 1 p.m., Gosar and Cruz did exactly what was expected of them,” Navarro told The Daily Beast. “It was a perfect plan. And it all predicated on peace and calm on Capitol Hill. We didn’t even need any protestors, because we had over 100 congressmen committed to it.”

That commitment appeared as Congress was certifying the 2020 Electoral College votes reflecting that Joe Biden beat Trump. Sen. Cruz signed off on Congressman Gosar’s official objection to counting Arizona’s electoral ballots, an effort that was supported by dozens of other Trump loyalists.

Staffers for Cruz and Gosar did not respond to requests for comment. There’s no public indication whether the Jan. 6 Committee has sought testimony or documents from Sen. Cruz or Rep. Gosar. But the committee has only recently begun to seek evidence from fellow members of Congress who were involved in the general effort to keep Trump in the White House, such as Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) and Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA).

This last-minute maneuvering never had any chance of actually decertifying the election results on its own, a point that Navarro quickly acknowledges. But their hope was to run the clock as long as possible to increase public pressure on then-Vice President Mike Pence to send the electoral votes back to six contested states, where Republican-led legislatures could try to overturn the results. And in their mind, ramping up pressure on Pence would require media coverage. While most respected news organizations refused to regurgitate unproven conspiracy theories about widespread election fraud, this plan hoped to force journalists to cover the allegations by creating a historic delay to the certification process.

“I never spoke directly to him about it. But he was certainly on board with the strategy. Just listen to his speech that day. ”

“The Green Bay Sweep was very well thought out. It was designed to get us 24 hours of televised hearings,” he said. “But we thought that we could bypass the corporate media by getting this stuff televised.”

Navarro’s part in this ploy was to provide the raw materials, he said in an interview on Thursday. That came in the form of a three-part White House report he put together during his final weeks in the Trump administration with volume titles like, “The Immaculate Deception” and “The Art of the Steal.”

“My role was to provide the receipts for the 100 congressmen or so who would make their cases… who could rely in part on the body of evidence I'd collected,” he told The Daily Beast. “To lay the legal predicate for the actions to be taken.” (Ultimately, states have not found any evidence of electoral fraud above the norm, which is exceedingly small.)

The next phase of the plan was up to Bannon, Navarro describes in his memoir, In Trump Time.

“Steve Bannon’s role was to figure out how to use this information—what he called ‘receipts’—to overturn the election result. That’s how Steve had come up with the Green Bay Sweep idea,” he wrote.

“The political and legal beauty of the strategy was this: by law, both the House of Representatives and the Senate must spend up to two hours of debate per state on each requested challenge. For the six battleground states, that would add up to as much as twenty-four hours of nationally televised hearings across the two chambers of Congress.”

His book also notes that Bannon was the first person he communicated with when he woke up at dawn on Jan. 6, writing, “I check my messages and am pleased to see Steve Bannon has us fully ready to implement our Green Bay Sweep on Capitol Hill. Call the play. Run the play.”

Navarro told The Daily Beast he felt fortunate that someone cancelled his scheduled appearance to speak to Trump supporters that morning at the Ellipse, a park south of the White House that would serve as a staging area before the violent assault on the U.S. Capitol building.

“It was better for me to spend that morning working on the Green Bay Sweep. Just checking to see that everything was in line, that congressmen were on board,” he said during the interview. “It was a pretty mellow morning for me. I was convinced everything was set in place.”

Later that day, Bannon made several references to the football-themed strategy on his daily podcast, War Room Pandemic.

"We are right on the cusp of victory,” Bannon said on the show. “It's quite simple. Play's been called. Mike Pence, run the play. Take the football. Take the handoff from the quarterback. You've got guards in front of you. You've got big, strong people in front of you. Just do your duty."

This idea was weeks in the making. Although Navarro told The Daily Beast he doesn’t remember when “Brother Bannon” came up with the plan, he said it started taking shape as Trump’s “Stop the Steal” legal challenges to election results in Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin fizzled out. Courts wouldn’t side with Trump, thanks to what Navarro describes in his book as “the highly counterproductive antics” of Sydney Powell and her Kraken lawsuits. So instead, they came up with a never-before-seen scheme through the legislative branch.

Navarro starts off his book’s chapter about the strategy by mentioning how “Stephen K. Bannon, myself, and President Donald John Trump” were “the last three people on God’s good Earth who want to see violence erupt on Capitol Hill,” as it would disrupt their plans.

When asked if Trump himself was involved in the strategy, Navarro said, “I never spoke directly to him about it. But he was certainly on board with the strategy. Just listen to his speech that day. He’d been briefed on the law, and how Mike [Pence] had the authority to it.”
“The Green Bay Sweep was very well thought out. It was designed to get us 24 hours of televised hearings.”

Indeed, Trump legal advisor John Eastman had penned a memo (first revealed by journalists Robert Costa and Bob Woodward in their book, Peril) outlining how Trump could stage a coup. And Trump clearly referenced the plan during his Jan. 6 speech, when he said, “I hope Mike is going to do the right thing. I hope so. I hope so… all Vice President Pence has to do is send it back to the states to recertify and we become president and you are the happiest people.”

Palmer Report, Opinion: Another Donald Trump underling has coughed up key evidence to the January 6th Committee, Bill Palmer, right, Dec. 27, 2021. We all bill palmerwatched Trump White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows give the January 6th Committee a treasure trove of evidence against himself, Donald Trump, and others, before backing out of his cooperation. Now it turns out Meadows isn’t the only one.

bill palmer report logo headerYou may have never heard of Taylor Budowich, but he was Trump’s spokesperson at one point. He’s since become a cooperating witness for the January 6th Committee. According to the Daily Beast, he provided hours of testimony and thousands of pages of documents. But then over the weekend he broke off that cooperation once he realized the committee was seeking his financial records about payments he sent and received in relation to January 6th.

Presumably, Budowich will now be referred to the DOJ for criminal contempt, following in the footsteps of Mark Meadows, who also provided significant cooperation before breaking it off and getting himself referred for contempt. This suggests that Trump’s people really don’t have any idea how to play this. If they weren’t going to cooperate, they could have held onto the evidence and testimony they provided, so they could use it as leverage later if necessary. Instead, by providing valuable cooperation before bailing, they’ve given away their leverage in exchange for nothing and will still end up indicted for contempt.

So this is all going rather poorly for Donald Trump and his people. That’s becoming more clear by the day. But the bigger story may be how intent the January 6th Committee is when it comes to following the money. We now know that it’s been seizing the financial records of Trump’s people in order to trace precisely who funded January 6th and how.

 

U.S. Politics, Elections, Governance

joe biden flag profile uncredited palmer

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: How Biden Can Bounce Back, David Axelrod (a senior adviser to President Barack Obama and chief strategist for the 2008 and 2012 Obama presidential campaigns), Dec. 28, 2021. Joe Biden must be having flashbacks.

In early 2010, when Democrats lost a special election for the late Edward Kennedy’s Senate seat — and with it, their ability to overcome a Republican filibuster — Washington rose as one, an insistent chorus of grim reapers, reading last rites over the Affordable Care Act and Barack Obama’s presidency. By then, Mr. Obama had been through six fruitless months of negotiations with Republicans, followed by fierce internal battles between House and Senate Democrats over the details of the plan. The Massachusetts defeat seemed as if it would doom the A.C.A., the centerpiece of his legislative agenda.

Twelve years later, President Biden finds himself in a similar fix. Senator Joe Manchin’s sudden announcement that he would deny the president the critical 50th Democratic vote for his prized Build Back Better Act was a bitter blow. It came after months of politically costly, maddening negotiations, during which Mr. Manchin, of West Virginia, provoked a series of big concessions, only to present the president and his party with a lump of coal just before Christmas.

The potentially decisive rejection of Mr. Biden’s signature initiative by a member of his own party added to a perception of weakness the president can ill afford at a time when his ratings have fallen and so much seems out of his control.

The question is, what now?

No historical parallel is perfect, but the near-death and revival of the A.C.A. is a parable that does offer a path forward for this president and his administration.

Fortunately, Mr. Biden already seems to understand that he needs to pivot. Judging from his recent comments, he and his team know they must do two things at once: communicate publicly and forcefully on the crises at hand, while discretely exploring which pieces of the shattered Build Back Better package might be revived.

ny times logoNew York Times, Winsome Sears Wants Black Voters to Rethink the G.O.P., Campbell Robertson, Dec. 28, 2021 (print ed.). The incoming lieutenant governor of Virginia was an unlikely candidate: a conservative Black woman, and an immigrant, who supports former President Trump.

On a December afternoon, Winsome Sears, Virginia’s lieutenant governor-elect, stood at the podium in the State Senate chamber where she will soon preside. It was empty but for a few clerks and staffers who were walking her through a practice session, making pretend motions and points of order. Ms. Sears followed along as the clerks explained arcane Senate protocols, though she occasionally raised matters that weren’t in the script.

“What if they’re making a ruckus?” Ms. Sears asked her tutors.

Then, a clerk said, pointing to the giant wooden gavel at Ms. Sears’s right hand, you bang that. Ms. Sears smiled.

That she was standing here at all was an improbability built upon unlikelihoods. Her campaign was a long shot, late in starting, skimpily funded and repeatedly overhauled. The political trajectory that preceded it was hardly more auspicious: She appeared on the scene 20 years ago, winning a legislative seat in an upset, but after one term and a quixotic bid for Congress, disappeared from electoral politics. She briefly surfaced in 2018, announcing a write-in protest against Virginia’s Republican nominee for U.S. Senate, but this earned her little beyond a few curious mentions in the press.

Yet just three years later she is the lieutenant governor-elect, having bested two veteran lawmakers for the Republican nomination and become the first Black woman elected to statewide office in Virginia history. She will take office on Jan. 15, along with Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin.

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World News, Human Rights

United Nations

washington post logoWashington Post, U.N. calls for investigation after 35 reported massacred by Myanmar military; two Save the Children workers missing, Miriam Berger, Dec. 28, 2021 (print ed.). The United Nations called for an investigation following reports that at least 35 people, including a child, were killed in a massacre by Myanmar’s military on Christmas Eve. Two workers for Save the Children, a humanitarian organization, remain among the missing.

'Burn it all down’: How Myanmar’s military razed villages to crush a growing resistance

myanmar flagPhotos of the charred remains of victims in torched vehicles circulated on social media in Myanmar, where activists say more than 1,300 people have died amid unrest since the military seized power on Feb. 1 and ousted the country’s civilian leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.

joe biden flag profile uncredited palmer“I condemn this grievous incident and all attacks against civilians throughout the country, which are prohibited under international humanitarian law,” U.N. humanitarian affairs chief Martin Griffiths said in a statement Sunday.

He called for “a thorough and transparent investigation into the incident so that perpetrators can be swiftly brought to justice,” at a time when “millions of people in Myanmar remain in dire need of humanitarian support.”

Myanmar court sentences Suu Kyi in trial condemned as political

The U.S. Embassy in Myanmar, in a statement Sunday, called the killings a “barbaric attack” and said it would “continue to press for accountability for the perpetrators of the ongoing campaign of violence against the people.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Russian court abolishes renowned human rights group, Robyn Dixon, Dec. 28, 2021. The decision by the Russian Supreme Court signals the Kremlin’s determination to obliterate dissent, after a year that has seen authorities jail and harass hundreds of opposition figures and activists.

Russian Flagbennie thompson headshotRussia’s Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered the liquidation of the country’s most prominent human rights organization, the International Memorial Society, in a decision that dismayed rights advocates.

The ruling signaled the Kremlin’s determination to obliterate dissent, after a year in which authorities have jailed and harassed hundreds of opposition figures, activists, journalists and human rights lawyers, forcing dozens of them to flee the country for their safety.

The International Memorial Society, known as Memorial, was set up by dissidents — including renowned Nobel Peace Prize laureate Andrei Sakharov — during the final years of the Soviet Union. It is focused on researching Soviet abuses in the gulag, a vast web of prison camps where political prisoners toiled and died, many of them executed on the basis of concocted evidence.

washington post logoWashington Post, U.S., China squabble over terms of ‘diplomatic boycott’ of Olympics, Eva Dou, Dec. 28, 2021. U.S. officials said that Washington’s “diplomatic boycott” of the Beijing Olympics will remain in place, with no high-level official spectators, though there are plans to send consular and diplomatic security support staffers.

China FlagChina’s Foreign Ministry on Monday had derided the boycott as a “farce,” saying it had received visa applications from U.S. personnel for the 2022 Winter Games, which kick off Feb. 4. But a spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy in Beijing said in a statement Tuesday there will be no “diplomatic or official representation given [China’s] ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang, and other human rights abuses.”

Some consular and security officers will go to assist athletes and coaches, the spokesperson said, adding that any visa applications would be for them. “It is standard to have those personnel on the ground, and those personnel do not constitute official or diplomatic representation at the Games.”

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Media, Education News

ny times logoNew York Times, The Companies Benefiting From Fragmenting Internet Privacy Rules, David McCabe, Dec. 28, 2021 (print ed.). An industry has sprouted up to help others navigate the varied laws around the world governing websites.

In 2018, California lawmakers mandated that consumers be able to request their personal data from companies through a toll-free number. And then a group of lawyers, engineers and salespeople for a company in Atlanta got to work.

The company, a start-up called OneTrust, now based in a suburb on the city’s outskirts, makes software for businesses trying to stay on the right side of the growing number of internet regulations. In response to the new California law, OneTrust made it easy for companies to set up a number to manage the requests.

In an attempt to rein in tech giants like Facebook and Google, governments around the world in recent years have approved new laws governing how websites must handle consumer data, treat their competitors and protect young people. The European Union has a data privacy law that governs the entire bloc. California has approved two privacy measures in recent years, and other states have followed suit.

Out of those regulations has arisen something else: An industry to help companies navigate the increasingly fragmented rules of the global internet.

edward o wilson foundation

ny times logoNew York Times, E.O. Wilson, a Pioneer of Evolutionary Biology, Dies at 92, Carl Zimmer, Dec. 28, 2021 (print ed.). A Harvard professor for 46 years, he was an expert on insects and explored how natural selection and other forces could influence animal behavior. He then applied his research to humans.

When Dr. Wilson began his career in evolutionary biology in the 1950s, the study of animals and plants seemed to many scientists like a quaint, obsolete hobby. Molecular biologists were getting their first glimpses of DNA, proteins and other invisible foundations of life. Dr. Wilson made it his life’s work to put evolution on an equal footing.

As part of his campaign, Dr. Wilson wrote a string of books that influenced his fellow scientists while also gaining a broad public audience. “On Human Nature” won the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction in 1979; “The Ants,” which Dr. Wilson wrote with his longtime colleague Bert Hölldobler, won him his second Pulitzer, in 1991.

daily howler headlineDaily Howler, Media Criticism: When Edward O. Wilson said the wrong thing..., Bob Somerby, Dec. 27, 2021. Edward O. Wilson died yesterday at the age of 92. His stature is captured in the headline in the Washington Post: "Edward O. Wilson, Harvard naturalist often cited as heir to Darwin, dies at 92."

Edward O. Wilson, a Harvard naturalist whose mapping of social behavior in ants led him to study social behavior in all organisms and who became one of the greatest naturalists of his generation, died Dec. 26 in Burlington, Mass. He was 92.

The E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation announced his death but did not provide a cause.

Often cited as Charles Darwin’s greatest 20th-century heir, Dr. Wilson was an eloquent and immensely influential environmentalist and was the first to determine that ants communicate mainly through the exchange of chemical substances now known as pheromones.

edward o wilson ants coverHe discovered hundreds of new species by putting his hands in the dirt as a field biologist, synthesized evolving thinking in science and coined new terms, such as biodiversity and biophilia, to explain it. Of his many accomplishments in evolutionary biology, his biggest contribution was probably in the new scientific field of sociobiology, in which he addressed the biological basis of social behavior in animals, including humans.

This "heir to Darwin" had "addressed the biological basis of social behavior in animals." Even in us humans!

Apparently, some of us human didn't like that much. Later, Patricia Sullivan takes us back to 1975, when Wilson published his famous book, "Sociobiology." Uh-oh! Familiar conduct emerged:

SULLIVAN: The controversy came from the last chapter, on humankind. Dr. Wilson proposed that human behavior is genetically based, that humans inherit a propensity to acquire behavior and social structures, including a division of labor between the sexes, parental-child bonding, heightened altruism toward closest kin, incest avoidance, suspicion of strangers, tribalism, male dominance and territorial aggression over limited resources.

He later noted in Naturalist, his 1994 autobiography, that his was “an exceptionally strong hereditarian position for the 1970s.”

harvard logoThe response was furious, starting at his own school, where colleagues accused him of genetic determinism and tied the theory to Nazi eugenics, racism, sexism, sterilization and restrictions on immigration. Demonstrators disrupted the campus, calling his theory an apologia for the status quo.

The fact that sociobiology made the cover of Time magazine or that Dr. Wilson debated the proposition on the “Today” show and Dick Cavett’s talk show did not impress them. The protests culminated with a takeover of the stage at the 1978 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, where one demonstrator was said to have drenched him with a pitcher of ice water, declaring, “Wilson, you’re all wet!”

Dec. 27

Top Stories

alex jones screen shot 2020 05 01 at 12.02.06 pm

 

Virus Victims, Responses

 

More Investigations

 

U.S. Law, Courts, Crime, Race

 

U.S. Politics, Elections, Governance

 

World News, Human Rights

 

Media, Education News

 

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washington post logoWashington Post, CDC halves recommended isolation time for people with asymptomatic infections to 5 days, Yasmeen Abutaleb, Dec. 27, 2021. Top U.S. health officials said the decision was driven by a growing body of research about when people are most infectious.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also cut the time those exposed to the coronavirus should quarantine to five days if they are not boosted, saying they should wear a mask around others for an additional five days.

 

alex jones screen shot 2020 05 01 at 12.02.06 pm

Proof, Investigation: The Coming Collapse of Donald Trump’s January 6 Conspiracy, Part 1: Alex Jones, Seth Abramson, left, Dec. 27, 2021. This shocking new seth abramson graphicPROOF series details mounting evidence that Trump's seditious January 6 conspiracy is at the point of collapse because of the cowardice, fear, and perfidy of his co-conspirators. Note: This is Part 1 of an ongoing series in the January 6 section at Proof. Part 2 is due soon.

Introduction: One difficulty journalists face in writing about Alex Jones (shown above in a screenshot) is that the man produces so much content daily that sifting through it all is nearly impossible. Those who do are richly rewarded, however; on Jones’s nightly Infowars program (The Alex Jones Show) and in other venues, seth abramson proof logothe infamous far-right conspiracy theorist and self-described “performance artist” has made so many controversial and even self-incriminating statements that one could craft an endless breaking news cycle just by finding obscure video and audio of Jones in which he discusses the January 6th insurrection and his role in it.

Proof has already reported on some of the most shocking statements Jones has made about the attack on the U.S. Capitol, including interviews he has conducted with his Stop the Steal “movement” co-conspirators, domestic terrorist Ali Alexander and longtime Trump friend and political adviser Roger Stone. You can find a few of these reports (in chronological order) here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

A less commonly discussed component of Jones’s carefully constructed public persona is the incredibly delicate state of his relationship with the man who he agreed to lead the march on the Capitol for: Donald Trump. Jones has never been a particularly loyal Trumpist, which makes him a potential weak spot in Trump’s January 6 conspiracy and the ongoing effort to steal the 2024 presidential election linked to that conspiracy.

On November 22, 2021, Congress’s House January 6 Committee (hereafter “HJ6C”) subpoenaed Jones. The subpoena launched a raft of speculation about whether Jones would cooperate with Congress in order to save his own skin—and precisely how far he would be willing to go, and how much damage he would be willing to do to Trump, in an attempt to do so.

Alex Jones and Donald Trump: A Troubled History

The relationship between Jones and Trump has always been an uneasy one, but it’s been especially bad since the attack on the Capitol on January 6. On March 3, 2021, leaked video of a Jones tirade about Trump in 2019—which Jones did not appear to realize was being recorded—was published by a number of media outlets. In the video, Jones says the following of his nominal ally (emphasis supplied):

It’s the truth, and I’m just going to say it—that I wish I never would have fucking met Trump. I wish it never would’ve happened. And it’s not the attacks I’ve been through. I’m so sick of fucking Donald Trump. God, I’m fucking sick of him. And I’ve not doing this [carrying water for him] because, like, I’m kissing his fucking ass, you know. It’s, like, I’m sick of it.

In a longer version of the video, according to Caolan Robertson, who leaked it to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Jones derides his audience for being willing to “buy anything” and boasts about earning tens of millions of dollars—not just millions—via his far-right, often pro-Trump rhetoric.

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).

peter navarro white house imageDaily Beast, Trump Advisor Peter Navarro Lays Out How He and Bannon Planned to Overturn Biden’s Electoral Win, Jose Pagliery, Dec. 27, 2021. “It started out perfectly. At 1 p.m., Gosar and Cruz did exactly what was expected of them…”

A former Trump White House official says he and right-wing provocateur Steve Bannon were actually behind the last-ditch, coordinated effort by rogue Republicans in Congress to halt certification of the 2020 election results and keep President Donald Trump in power earlier this year, in a plan dubbed the “Green Bay Sweep.”

daily beast logoIn his recently published memoir, Peter Navarro, then-President Donald Trump’s trade advisor, details how he stayed in close contact with Bannon as they put “Green Bay Sweep” in motion with help from members of Congress loyal to the cause.

But in an interview last week with The Daily Beast, Navarro shed additional light on his role in the operation and their coordination with politicians like Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) and Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX).

“We spent a lot of time lining up over 100 congressmen, including some senators. It started out perfectly. At 1 p.m., Gosar and Cruz did exactly what was expected of them,” Navarro told The Daily Beast. “It was a perfect plan. And it all predicated on peace and calm on Capitol Hill. We didn’t even need any protestors, because we had over 100 congressmen committed to it.”

That commitment appeared as Congress was certifying the 2020 Electoral College votes reflecting that Joe Biden beat Trump. Sen. Cruz signed off on Congressman Gosar’s official objection to counting Arizona’s electoral ballots, an effort that was supported by dozens of other Trump loyalists.

Staffers for Cruz and Gosar did not respond to requests for comment. There’s no public indication whether the Jan. 6 Committee has sought testimony or documents from Sen. Cruz or Rep. Gosar. But the committee has only recently begun to seek evidence from fellow members of Congress who were involved in the general effort to keep Trump in the White House, such as Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) and Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA).

This last-minute maneuvering never had any chance of actually decertifying the election results on its own, a point that Navarro quickly acknowledges. But their hope was to run the clock as long as possible to increase public pressure on then-Vice President Mike Pence to send the electoral votes back to six contested states, where Republican-led legislatures could try to overturn the results. And in their mind, ramping up pressure on Pence would require media coverage. While most respected news organizations refused to regurgitate unproven conspiracy theories about widespread election fraud, this plan hoped to force journalists to cover the allegations by creating a historic delay to the certification process.

“I never spoke directly to him about it. But he was certainly on board with the strategy. Just listen to his speech that day. ”

“The Green Bay Sweep was very well thought out. It was designed to get us 24 hours of televised hearings,” he said. “But we thought that we could bypass the corporate media by getting this stuff televised.”

Navarro’s part in this ploy was to provide the raw materials, he said in an interview on Thursday. That came in the form of a three-part White House report he put together during his final weeks in the Trump administration with volume titles like, “The Immaculate Deception” and “The Art of the Steal.”

“My role was to provide the receipts for the 100 congressmen or so who would make their cases… who could rely in part on the body of evidence I'd collected,” he told The Daily Beast. “To lay the legal predicate for the actions to be taken.” (Ultimately, states have not found any evidence of electoral fraud above the norm, which is exceedingly small.)

The next phase of the plan was up to Bannon, Navarro describes in his memoir, In Trump Time.

“Steve Bannon’s role was to figure out how to use this information—what he called ‘receipts’—to overturn the election result. That’s how Steve had come up with the Green Bay Sweep idea,” he wrote.

“The political and legal beauty of the strategy was this: by law, both the House of Representatives and the Senate must spend up to two hours of debate per state on each requested challenge. For the six battleground states, that would add up to as much as twenty-four hours of nationally televised hearings across the two chambers of Congress.”

His book also notes that Bannon was the first person he communicated with when he woke up at dawn on Jan. 6, writing, “I check my messages and am pleased to see Steve Bannon has us fully ready to implement our Green Bay Sweep on Capitol Hill. Call the play. Run the play.”

Navarro told The Daily Beast he felt fortunate that someone cancelled his scheduled appearance to speak to Trump supporters that morning at the Ellipse, a park south of the White House that would serve as a staging area before the violent assault on the U.S. Capitol building.

“It was better for me to spend that morning working on the Green Bay Sweep. Just checking to see that everything was in line, that congressmen were on board,” he said during the interview. “It was a pretty mellow morning for me. I was convinced everything was set in place.”

Later that day, Bannon made several references to the football-themed strategy on his daily podcast, War Room Pandemic.

"We are right on the cusp of victory,” Bannon said on the show. “It's quite simple. Play's been called. Mike Pence, run the play. Take the football. Take the handoff from the quarterback. You've got guards in front of you. You've got big, strong people in front of you. Just do your duty."

This idea was weeks in the making. Although Navarro told The Daily Beast he doesn’t remember when “Brother Bannon” came up with the plan, he said it started taking shape as Trump’s “Stop the Steal” legal challenges to election results in Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin fizzled out. Courts wouldn’t side with Trump, thanks to what Navarro describes in his book as “the highly counterproductive antics” of Sydney Powell and her Kraken lawsuits. So instead, they came up with a never-before-seen scheme through the legislative branch.

Navarro starts off his book’s chapter about the strategy by mentioning how “Stephen K. Bannon, myself, and President Donald John Trump” were “the last three people on God’s good Earth who want to see violence erupt on Capitol Hill,” as it would disrupt their plans.

When asked if Trump himself was involved in the strategy, Navarro said, “I never spoke directly to him about it. But he was certainly on board with the strategy. Just listen to his speech that day. He’d been briefed on the law, and how Mike [Pence] had the authority to it.”
“The Green Bay Sweep was very well thought out. It was designed to get us 24 hours of televised hearings.”

Indeed, Trump legal advisor John Eastman had penned a memo (first revealed by journalists Robert Costa and Bob Woodward in their book, Peril) outlining how Trump could stage a coup. And Trump clearly referenced the plan during his Jan. 6 speech, when he said, “I hope Mike is going to do the right thing. I hope so. I hope so… all Vice President Pence has to do is send it back to the states to recertify and we become president and you are the happiest people.”

ny times logoNew York Times, How Paid Experts Help Exonerate Police After Deaths in Custody, Jennifer Valentino-DeVries, Mike McIntire, Rebecca R. Ruiz, Julie Tate and Michael H. Keller, Dec. 27, 2021 (print ed.). Inside the self-reinforcing ecosystem of people who advise and train officers: Many accuse them of slanting science and perpetuating aggressive tactics.

Their views infuriate many prosecutors, plaintiff lawyers, medical experts and relatives of the dead, who accuse them of slanting science, ignoring inconvenient facts and dangerously emboldening police officers to act aggressively. One of the researchers has suggested that police officers involved in the deaths are often unfairly blamed — like parents of babies who die of sudden infant death syndrome.

The experts also intersect with law-enforcement-friendly companies that train police officers, write police policies and lend authority to studies rebutting concerns about police use of force.

Together they form what often amounts to a cottage industry of exoneration. The dozen or so individuals and companies have collected millions of dollars over the past decade, much of it in fees that are largely underwritten by taxpayers, who cover the costs of police training and policies and the legal bills of accused officers.

Many of the experts also have ties to Axon, maker of the Taser: A lawyer for the company, for example, was an early sponsor of the Institute for the Prevention of In-Custody Deaths, a commercial undertaking that is among the police-friendly entities, and some of the experts have worked as consultants for Axon; another has served on Axon’s corporate board.

washington post logoWashington Post, Desmond Tutu, exuberant apostle of racial justice in South Africa, dies at 90, Glenn Frankel, Dec. 27, 2021 (print ed.). Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, South Africa’s ebullient apostle of racial justice and reconciliation who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his struggle against the system of white domination known as apartheid, died Dec. 26 in Cape Town. He was 90.

desmond tutu wThe cause of death was complications from cancer, according to Roger Friedman, spokesman for the Archbishop Desmond Tutu Intellectual Property Trust. Archbishop Tutu, right, was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1997, and he was hospitalized on several occasions in recent years to treat infections associated with his cancer treatment.

south africa flag after 1994A small, effervescent man with a crooked nose and infectious toothy grin, Archbishop Tutu served as Black South Africa’s informal ambassador to the world during the dark days of repression and as a crucial voice in the campaign for racial equality that culminated with Nelson Mandela’s election as the country’s first Black president in 1994. Throughout the struggle, he preached nonviolence even while denouncing apartheid as “an evil system.”

 

Virus Victims, Responses

washington post logoWashington Post, 5 GOP-led states extend unemployment aid to workers who lose jobs over vaccine mandates, Aaron Gregg, Dec. 27, 2021. Critics says the rule changes in Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, Kansas and Tennessee are incentivizing people to skip shots and undermining the White House’s pandemic response.

Workers who quit or are fired for cause — including for defying company policy — are generally ineligible for jobless benefits. But Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, Kansas and Tennessee have carved out exceptions for those who won’t submit to the multi-shot coronavirus vaccine regimens that many companies now require. Similar ideas have been floated in Wyoming, Wisconsin and Missouri.

Critics contend that these states are incentivizing people to skip shots that public health experts say offer the best line of defense against the coronavirus. Business leaders and industry groups have argued against the rule changes because, they say, companies would shoulder much of the costs. And the efforts are playing out as the Biden administration is pressing immunization rules for private companies and as coronavirus cases are surging again because of the fast-spreading omicron variant.

washington post logoWashington Post, Live Updates: New cases rise to record levels around the world, Bryan Pietsch and Annabelle Timsit, Dec. 27, 2021. Israel begins trial of fourth coronavirus vaccine dose ahead of planned national campaign; Coronavirus can last in body for nearly 8 months, study finds.

Coronavirus cases are being reported at record levels around the world — surpassing even last winter’s devastating peak in some places — as officials grapple with a surge caused by the omicron variant. France recorded more than 104,000 new cases Saturday, reaching a six-figure daily tally for the first time. Britain, Italy, Ireland and the Australian state of New South Wales also reported record high levels of new cases over the weekend.

covad 19 photo.jpg Custom 2In the United States, the seven-day average of new daily cases was more than 203,000 on Sunday, according to a Washington Post tally, a level not seen since Jan. 19. U.S. health officials warn that the country could soon see more than 1 million new cases per day, far beyond last winter’s peak of 248,000.

Hospitalizations and deaths from covid-19 have not risen as sharply, raising hopes that the omicron variant may not be as severe as the delta variant, although those figures typically lag days to weeks behind spikes in cases.

Still, some places in the United States are already hitting records: Washington, D.C., is averaging more than 1,300 cases per day, far surpassing last winter’s peak of 322. Cases in Maryland have risen sharply, with the state averaging nearly 6,200 cases daily — nearly double its highest point last winter. New York state recorded more than 49,000 new cases Sunday, its highest reported total yet during the pandemic, though testing was not widely available during the state’s first surge in early 2020.

Here’s what to know

  • Virus-related absences among airline staff — as well as winter storms in the West — are continuing to disrupt holiday travel plans, with more than 1,000 flights canceled Sunday in the United States.
  • The Military Bowl, Sun Bowl and Fenway Bowl are the latest college football bowl games to be canceled because of outbreaks on teams, as the NCAA confronts the surge with ad hoc protocols.
  • After nearly two years of collective trauma, the pandemic is pushing many people to a breaking point, fueling a slew of public outbursts.

ny times logoNew York Times, Live Updates: Fauci Suggests Vaccination Requirements for Air Travel as Disruptions Persist, Staff Reports, Dec. 27, 2021. At least 2,400 more flights were canceled Monday, including about 900 U.S. flights, as the highly transmissible Omicron variant sent cases soaring.

Flight disruptions in the United States showed few signs of abating on Monday as many people embarked on their first trips in almost two years, and Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, raised the possibility of a vaccination requirement for air travel.

At least 2,400 more flights were canceled Monday, including about 900 U.S. flights, as the highly transmissible Omicron variant is sending daily caseloads in parts of the United States soaring to levels higher than last winter’s pandemic peak.

While the cancellations were only a small percentage of overall flights, the problem threatened to extend into the holiday week.

“When you make vaccination a requirement, that’s another incentive to get more people vaccinated,” Dr. Fauci said on MSNBC on Monday. “If you want to do that with domestic flights, I think that’s something that seriously should be considered.”

Over the holiday weekend, airlines canceled thousands of flights as the Omicron variant hit flight crews. In all, about 2,300 U.S. flights were canceled on Saturday and Sunday of the Christmas holiday weekend, with more than 3,500 more grounded globally, according to FlightAware, which provides aviation data. On Sunday alone, more than 1,300 U.S. flights and nearly 1,700 additional ones worldwide were canceled.

While some of the groundings were caused by bad weather and maintenance issues, several airlines acknowledged that the current wave of coronavirus cases, contributed significantly. A JetBlue spokesman said that the airline had “seen an increasing number of sick calls from Omicron.”

Twelve percent of JetBlue flights, 6 percent of Delta Air Lines flights, 5 percent of United Airlines flights and 2 percent of American Airlines flights on Sunday had been canceled, according to FlightAware.

  • Dr. Anthony Fauci said a vaccine mandate for domestic air travel should “seriously” be considered in the U.S. Get the latest pandemic news.
  • Israel began studying a fourth vaccine dose as countries grapple with surges of Omicron infections. In some U.S. states, cases are surpassing last winter’s peaks.
  • Arkansas governor tells Biden that federal government’s purchase of rapid tests could limit state solution

Palmer Report, Commentary: Marjorie Taylor Greene has a whole new scandal, Shirley Kennedy, right, Dec. 26, 2021.  “I’m not vaccinated and they’re going to shirley kennedyhave a hell of a time if they want to hold me down and give me a vaccine.” That quote is from anti-vaxxer, chief trouble-maker Marjorie Taylor Greene. She is completely against vaccines; however, she is not against making money from them according to Business Insider (“BI”). What a surprise. Greene is just another Republican hypocrite.

Greene was busted by her political opponent, Jennifer Strahan, who is running for Georgia’s 14th District. She held a Twitter poll, asking her followers to guess whether Greene held stock in “AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, or ‘all of the above.’” Strahan followed up her question with: “For those of you wondering, the correct answer is D! Our current representative rails against the vaccine, but owns stock in 3 of the 4 major vaccine manufacturers.” Appearing recently on Steve Bannon’s show, Greene claimed that “vaccine Nazis [are] ruining our country.” Yet, she is enabling them by owning their stock.

bill palmer report logo headerSounding a lot like Kelly Loeffler and David Purdue when they were busted for their stock dealings, Greene claimed that she has “an independent investment advisor that has full discretionary authority on my accounts.” Everyone who owns stock has an investment advisor, but you best believe they do not change your investments without talking to you first. Vaccine stocks are relatively new; they are not long-term investments that Greene’s advisor put her in and left to grow. Nice try, Greene.

BI published this news as part of its “Conflicted Congress” project. This report gave ratings to every member of Congress based on financial conflicts and transparency. “Solid” means that those members of Congress are compliant with laws. Democrats slightly outweigh Republicans in this category 212 to 192. In the “borderline” category, Republicans outnumber Democrats 63 to 52, and the “danger” category lists 5 Democrats and 8 Republicans.

According to BI, those placed on the danger list have violated the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act of 2012 because they or senior members of their staff have not properly disclosed financial trades. Tommy Tuberville — who is brand new to Congress — is already taking advantage of his position. Senator Diane Feinstein — who should know better — is also on the danger list. The difference between the two, however, is that Feinstein’s ranking stems from 3 staff violations while Tuberville’s 132 are all his own. Either way, these people know better and need to take steps to ensure they and their staff are acting above board at all times. Then, there is Marjorie Taylor Greene, who never acts above board in any way.

Look, there is nothing inherently wrong with members of Congress trading in the stock market. What is wrong is when they lie about it or use their power to stop people from doing the right thing. Greene is guilty of both. She continues to be a distraction and a stain on Congress. If one of her opponents is successful in taking her out of Congress, it will be blissfully quiet in the Capitol for a while.

washington post logoWashington Post, Thousands who ‘followed the rules’ are about to get covid. They shouldn’t be ashamed, Angela Haupt, Featured Dec. 27, 2021. Breakthrough cases are becoming more normal and less of an exception. Here’s how to cope.

Health officials have stressed that it’s crucial to be fully vaccinated and boosted, and to get tested frequently. But even those safeguards aren’t a guarantee against infection: For the week ending Dec. 11, Massachusetts, one of the most highly vaccinated states with 74 percent fully immunized, reported 11,431 breakthrough infections, about 37 percent of its total new positive cases. Sports leagues are canceling games due to outbreaks among vaccinated players, and “Saturday Night Live” scrapped its most recent show because of fears about the virus.

Worldometer, World & U.S. Coronavirus Case Totals (updated Dec. 27, 2021), with some governments reporting lower numbers than the totals here and some experts saying the numbers are far higher:

World Cases: 280,465,050, Deaths: 5,419,178
U.S. Cases:    53,222,424, Deaths: 837,854
Indian Cases:  34,793,333, Deaths: 479,997
Brazil Cases:  22,239,436, Deaths: 618,484

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More Investigations

ny times logoNew York Times, ‘Magic’ Weight-Loss Pills and Covid Cures: Dr. Oz Under the Microscope, Trip Gabriel, Dec. 27, 2021 (print ed.). The celebrity physician, a candidate in Pennsylvania’s Republican primary for Senate, has a long history of dispensing dubious medical advice on his daytime show and on Fox News.

A wealth of evidence now shows that the malaria drugs hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine were not effective at treating Covid-19 and carried potential risks.

mehmet ozBut in the early months of the pandemic, Dr. Mehmet Oz, right, the celebrity physician with a daytime TV show, positioned himself as one of the chief promoters of the drugs on Fox News. In the same be-the-best-you tone that he used to promote miracle weight-loss cures on “The Dr. Oz Show,” he elevated limited studies that he said showed wondrous promise.

His “jaw dropped,” he said, while reviewing one tiny study from France, calling it “a game changer.” In all, Dr. Oz promoted chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine in more than 25 appearances on Fox in March and April 2020.

When a Veterans Affairs study showed that Covid-19 patients treated with hydroxychloroquine were more likely to die than untreated patients, that advocacy came to an abrupt halt.

“We are better off waiting for the randomized trials” that Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, had been asking for, Dr. Oz told Fox viewers.

fox news logo SmallAs Dr. Oz jumped last month into the Republican primary for Senate in Pennsylvania, where his celebrity gives him an important advantage in a crucial race, he tied his candidacy to the politics of the pandemic. He appealed to conservatives’ anger at mandates and shutdowns, and at the “people in charge” who, he said, “took away our freedom.”

But the entry into the race of the Cleveland-born heart surgeon, a son of Turkish immigrants who has been the host of “The Dr. Oz Show” since 2009, also brought renewed scrutiny to the blemishes on his record as one of America’s most famous doctors: his long history of dispensing dubious medical advice.

In ebullient language, he has often made sweeping claims based on thin evidence, which in multiple cases, like that of hydroxychloroquine, unraveled when studies he relied on were shown to be flawed.

Over the years, Dr. Oz, 61, has faced a bipartisan scolding before a Senate committee over claims he made about weight-loss pills, as well as the opposition of some of his physician peers, including a group of 10 doctors who sought his firing from Columbia University’s medical faculty in 2015, arguing that he had “repeatedly shown disdain for science and for evidence-based medicine.” Dr. Oz questioned his critics’ motives and Columbia took no action, saying it did not regulate faculty members’ participation in public discourse.

ny times logoNew York Times, The Companies Benefiting From Fragmenting Internet Privacy Rules, David McCabe, Dec. 27, 2021. An industry has sprouted up to help others navigate the varied laws around the world governing websites.

In 2018, California lawmakers mandated that consumers be able to request their personal data from companies through a toll-free number. And then a group of lawyers, engineers and salespeople for a company in Atlanta got to work.

The company, a start-up called OneTrust, now based in a suburb on the city’s outskirts, makes software for businesses trying to stay on the right side of the growing number of internet regulations. In response to the new California law, OneTrust made it easy for companies to set up a number to manage the requests.

In an attempt to rein in tech giants like Facebook and Google, governments around the world in recent years have approved new laws governing how websites must handle consumer data, treat their competitors and protect young people. The European Union has a data privacy law that governs the entire bloc. California has approved two privacy measures in recent years, and other states have followed suit.

Out of those regulations has arisen something else: An industry to help companies navigate the increasingly fragmented rules of the global internet.

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ny times logoNew York Times, Record Beef Prices, but Ranchers Aren’t Cashing In, Peter S. Goodman, Photographs by Erin Schaff, Dec. 27, 2021 (print ed.). After years of consolidation, four companies dominate the meatpacking industry. “You’re feeding America and going broke doing it,” said one rancher.

Judging from the prices at supermarkets and restaurants, this would appear to be a lucrative moment for cattle ranchers like Steve Charter.

America is consuming more beef than ever, while prices have climbed by one-fifth over the past year — a primary driver for the growing alarm over inflation.

But somewhere between American dinner plates and his 8,000-acre ranch on the high plains of Montana, Mr. Charter’s share of the $66 billion beef cattle industry has gone missing.

A third-generation cattle rancher, Mr. Charter, 69, is accustomed to working seven days a week, 365 days a year — in winter temperatures descending to minus 40, and in summer swelter reaching 110 degrees.

Mr. Charter has long imagined his six grandchildren continuing his way of life. But with no profits in five years, he is pondering the fate that has befallen more than half a million other American ranchers in recent decades: selling off his herd.

The distress of American cattle ranchers represents the underside of the staggering winnings harvested by the conglomerates that dominate the meatpacking industry — Tyson Foods and Cargill, plus a pair of companies controlled by Brazilian corporate owners, National Beef Packing Company and JBS.

Since the 1980s, the four largest meatpackers have used a wave of mergers to increase their share of the market from 36 percent to 85 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Their dominance has allowed them to extinguish competition and dictate prices, exploiting how federal authorities have weakened the enforcement of laws enacted a century ago to tame the excesses of the Robber Barons, say antitrust experts and advocates for the ranchers.

Palmer Report, Opinion: Another Donald Trump underling has coughed up key evidence to the January 6th Committee, Bill Palmer, right, Dec. 27, 2021. We all bill palmerwatched Trump White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows give the January 6th Committee a treasure trove of evidence against himself, Donald Trump, and others, before backing out of his cooperation. Now it turns out Meadows isn’t the only one.

bill palmer report logo headerYou may have never heard of Taylor Budowich, but he was Trump’s spokesperson at one point. He’s since become a cooperating witness for the January 6th Committee. According to the Daily Beast, he provided hours of testimony and thousands of pages of documents. But then over the weekend he broke off that cooperation once he realized the committee was seeking his financial records about payments he sent and received in relation to January 6th.

Presumably, Budowich will now be referred to the DOJ for criminal contempt, following in the footsteps of Mark Meadows, who also provided significant cooperation before breaking it off and getting himself referred for contempt. This suggests that Trump’s people really don’t have any idea how to play this. If they weren’t going to cooperate, they could have held onto the evidence and testimony they provided, so they could use it as leverage later if necessary. Instead, by providing valuable cooperation before bailing, they’ve given away their leverage in exchange for nothing and will still end up indicted for contempt.

So this is all going rather poorly for Donald Trump and his people. That’s becoming more clear by the day. But the bigger story may be how intent the January 6th Committee is when it comes to following the money. We now know that it’s been seizing the financial records of Trump’s people in order to trace precisely who funded January 6th and how.

CovertAction Magazine, Investigative Commentary: Sex Crimes of the CIA — Unreported, Unrepented, and Unpunished, John Kiriakou, right, Dec. 27, 2021. The john kiriakouCIA rivals the Vatican in covering up sex crimes against children and then protecting the members of its organization who commit them.

Buzzfeed reported early this month that, in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, the CIA revealed that 10 employees and a contractor had committed sex crimes against children—but only one was ever charged with a crime.

Considering how well the CIA knows how to cover up what it does not want to be known, we may reasonably speculate that those crimes represent only the tip of an iceberg—and I say this as someone who served 15 years in the CIA.

The evidence that the CIA released to Buzzfeed in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit shows that the 10 employees and one contractor committed crimes including child rape, the purchase of violent child pornography, and viewing as many as 1,400 photos of nude children on a CIA CIA Logocomputer while overseas on a work assignment.

The contractor had arranged to have sex with an undercover FBI agent who he thought was a child. The only CIA officer prosecuted for child sex crimes had also mishandled classified information. Four of the other accused employees and the contractor were fired, four were “disciplined administratively,” and the status of one is unknown.

Let’s be clear about these crimes.

These were not “he said, she said” allegations. They were serious sex crimes against children.

The Buzzfeed information, which includes both internal CIA documents and a declassified Inspector General’s report, say that besides the contractor, CIA officers admitted to, “using a government laptop to view photographs and videos of girls as young as 10 being abused by an older guy;” having sexual contact with two girls, ages two and six, and downloading illicit photos of other children; downloading 63 videos of sex between adults and children between the ages of 8 and 16; and distributing lewd photos and videos of children to other pedophiles.

One CIA officer told investigators that he “did not know it was a violation of Agency policy to access child pornography.” He was not prosecuted.

For its part, the Justice Department elected to do practically nothing, notwithstanding a statement to Buzzfeed that, “The occupation or employer of the Justice Department log circularsuspect does not factor into that evaluation” (of whether or not to prosecute.) “While we cannot comment on the reasons why specific cases were declined, we do take very seriously any allegation that our prosecutors declined a potential case based on an improper assessment of the relevant factors.”

That’s nonsense. The truth is that the Justice Department was afraid of graymail. That’s the threat of a CIA officer on trial “accidentally” saying something classified or something that compromises sources and methods. It’s not worth the risk to the CIA to prosecute most cases. And the bottom line is that the CIA doesn’t care one whit about the children.

I spent 15 years at the CIA. It is a highly-sexualized environment full of type A personalities, sociopaths, and psychopaths. We had an old joke that, when you went into a meeting, you should never touch the conference room table because you didn’t know who was having sex on it the night before.

There was one incident in a war zone overseas while I was there where CIA officers were passing around to each other a sexually-transmitted disease unique to the CIA. A CIA doctor had to fly to the country to tell them to stop and to remind them to practice safe sex.

Further afield, it was a common occurrence for CIA case officers developing foreign officials for recruitment to offer them trips to southeast Asia, where both could partake of prostitutes and indulge in whatever sexual fantasies they had.

I note in my first book, The Reluctant Spy: My Secret Life in the CIA’s War on Terror, that one of my senior bosses, with whom I had had a dispute, tried to lighten the mood by telling me to take some money out of petty cash to pay for oral sex. I declined, angrily.

Case officers get promoted for recruitments and for the development of classified information. They don’t care about human trafficking. They don’t care about prostitution. And as it turns out, they don’t even care about abused children.

It’s accurate to say that I was “shocked but not surprised” when I read the Buzzfeed allegations.

All Americans should be sickened by them. I know that I sound like a broken record when I ask, “Where is the Congressional oversight?”

Why aren’t there hearings or investigations about child sex crimes at the CIA? Why aren’t the House and Senate Judiciary Committees investigating why the U.S. Attorneys refuse to take up the cases? Why are children not being protected?

It’s easy enough to say that we get the government we deserve. But somebody has to stand up for children. The CIA won’t do it. The Justice Department apparently won’t. Now that the cat is out of the bag, where do we go next?

John Kiriakou, right, was a CIA analyst and case officer from 1990 to 2004. In December 2007, John was the first U.S. government official to confirm that john kiriakouwaterboarding was used to interrogate al-Qaeda prisoners, a practice he described as torture. Kiriakou was a former senior investigator for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a former counter-terrorism consultant. While employed with the CIA, he was involved in critical counter-terrorism missions following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, but refused to be trained in so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques,” nor did he ever authorize or engage in such crimes.

After leaving the CIA, Kiriakou appeared on ABC News in an interview with Brian Ross, during which he became the first former CIA officer to confirm the existence of the CIA’s torture program. Kiriakou’s interview revealed that this practice was not just the result of a few rogue agents, but was official U.S. policy approved at the highest levels of the government.

Kiriakou is the sole CIA agent to go to jail in connection with the U.S. torture program, despite the fact that he never tortured anyone. Rather, he blew the whistle on this horrific wrongdoing.

 

U.S. Law, Courts, Crime, Race

washington post logoWashington Post, USDA cites dog-breeding facility in Virginia for mistreating animals, Dana Hedgpeth, Dec. 27, 2021 (print ed.). Records at the facility showed that in a seven-month period, more than 300 puppies died of “unknown causes,” federal officials said.

Federal officials making unannounced inspections this summer of a large beagle-breeding facility in Virginia found dozens of animal welfare violations: records indicating that hundreds of puppies had died of “unknown causes” over a span of months; dogs’ food dispensers teeming with insects; and reeking kennels with piles of feces, urine and food underneath them.

Based on the routine inspections conducted in July, officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture cited Envigo — an Indianapolis-based firm that breeds dogs and sells them as research animals to the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries — for mistreatment of beagles and poor conditions at the facility in Cumberland, Va., about 50 miles west of Richmond.

Officials said records at the facility showed that in a seven-month period, more than 300 puppies died of “unknown causes.” There were incomplete records on the deaths.

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U.S. Politics, Elections, Governance

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Democrats’ 2022 choice: Govern or lose, E.J. Dionne Jr., right, Dec. 27, 2021 (print ed.). In this traditional moment of year-end ej dionne w open neckreflection, Democrats of every stripe have a lot of thinking to do and a big decision to make. They can begin the new year by delivering progress for working families, the environment and democracy itself, or they can watch their party implode.
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A week has passed since Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) delivered what appeared to be his Big No to President Biden’s Build Back Better plan — which, to be more precise, was his no on “this piece of legislation.”

There is an enormous difference between rejecting a deal altogether and pushing aside the program’s current legislative iteration. That’s also a source of guarded hope.

Eugene Robinson: Joe Manchin isn't the only obstacle to Build Back Better

Manchin’s sharp rebuke surprised many Democrats, including Biden, because throughout negotiations the West Virginia senator had said yes to a variety of programs and to various ways of paying for them. This is why the White House quickly shelved its anger toward Manchin and returned to insisting that there is common ground to be found.

Such a deal might be summarized as “climate and kids” or “climate, health and family,” which would be straightforward ways of selling what Biden is trying to do. It would build on Manchin’s last offer, which included universal prekindergarten, an expansion of Obamacare and hundreds of billions of dollars to fight climate change.

washington post logoWashington Post, Editorial: U.S. democracy frayed over the past year. Senate Democrats must repair the damage, Editorial Board, Dec. 27, 2021 (print ed.). American democracy frayed in 2021, as Republicans in states such as Georgia and Texas passed laws making it harder to vote, premised on the lie that fraud tipped the 2020 presidential election.

As GOP-controlled state legislatures forced through these antidemocratic policies on party-line votes, the U.S. Senate was silent, the Democratic majority unable to respond because Republicans filibustered bill after bill to ease access to the ballot box. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced last week that he intends to change this dynamic early next year, bringing up voting rights legislation once again and taking more assertive procedural moves to advance it.

Good. Voting is not an issue like health-care policy or tax rates, on which there is reasonable debate.

Neither voting bill that Democrats seek to pass should be controversial. One, the Freedom to Vote Act, would permit all voters to cast mail-in ballots in federal elections and require drop boxes.

The other bill Democrats want to pass, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, has bipartisan buy-in — if you count that a single GOP senator, Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, supports it. This bill would repair the 1965 Voting Rights Act, after the Supreme Court declared in 2013 that Congress would have to revise the law for its strongest provisions to once again apply.

Crucially, it would reimpose “pre-clearance” on states with a history of racially discriminatory voting laws, obligating such states to submit proposed election rule changes for federal review before phasing them in. Pre-clearance for decades discouraged state and local officials from seeking to tilt the playing field against racial minorities, recognizing that discrimination could be as obvious as a poll tax or as subtle as a seemingly small shift in polling place locations. Immediately after the court’s 2013 ruling, Republican-controlled states began passing anti-voting laws.

ny times logoNew York Times, Winsome Sears Wants Black Voters to Rethink the G.O.P., Campbell Robertson, Dec. 27, 2021. The incoming lieutenant governor of Virginia was an unlikely candidate: a conservative Black woman, and an immigrant, who supports former President Trump.

On a December afternoon, Winsome Sears, Virginia’s lieutenant governor-elect, stood at the podium in the State Senate chamber where she will soon preside. It was empty but for a few clerks and staffers who were walking her through a practice session, making pretend motions and points of order. Ms. Sears followed along as the clerks explained arcane Senate protocols, though she occasionally raised matters that weren’t in the script.

“What if they’re making a ruckus?” Ms. Sears asked her tutors.

Then, a clerk said, pointing to the giant wooden gavel at Ms. Sears’s right hand, you bang that. Ms. Sears smiled.

That she was standing here at all was an improbability built upon unlikelihoods. Her campaign was a long shot, late in starting, skimpily funded and repeatedly overhauled. The political trajectory that preceded it was hardly more auspicious: She appeared on the scene 20 years ago, winning a legislative seat in an upset, but after one term and a quixotic bid for Congress, disappeared from electoral politics. She briefly surfaced in 2018, announcing a write-in protest against Virginia’s Republican nominee for U.S. Senate, but this earned her little beyond a few curious mentions in the press.

Yet just three years later she is the lieutenant governor-elect, having bested two veteran lawmakers for the Republican nomination and become the first Black woman elected to statewide office in Virginia history. She will take office on Jan. 15, along with Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin.

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World News, Human Rights

ny times logoNew York Times, Myanmar’s Army Is Accused of Massacring Dozens of Civilians, Richard C. Paddock, Dec. 27, 2021 (print ed.). At least 35 people were killed and their bodies burned, according to an international aid group and opponents of the military regime.

An international aid group and opponents of Myanmar’s ruling military have accused soldiers of killing at least 35 villagers who were fleeing combat on Christmas Eve and of then burning their bodies. The aid group said that two of its staff members may have been among those killed.

Photographs said to have been taken at the scene, in Kayah State, show the charred remains of bodies in the back of three trucks. According to the aid group, Save the Children, a car that two of its staff members had been using to drive home for the holidays was among a dozen or so charred vehicles at the scene. The staff members are now missing, the group said.

“We are horrified at the violence carried out against innocent civilians and our staff, who are dedicated humanitarians, supporting millions of children in need across Myanmar,” Save the Children’s chief executive, Inger Ashing, said in a statement on Saturday.

The army, which ruled Myanmar for nearly half a century before granting civilian leaders some power a decade ago, seized full control again in a Feb. 1 coup and has since mounted a vicious crackdown against its opponents, some of whom have taken up arms. The army, known as the Tatmadaw, has a long history of committing atrocities against civilians.

 

Media, Education News

ny times logoNew York Times, The Companies Benefiting From Fragmenting Internet Privacy Rules, David McCabe, Dec. 27, 2021. An industry has sprouted up to help others navigate the varied laws around the world governing websites.

In 2018, California lawmakers mandated that consumers be able to request their personal data from companies through a toll-free number. And then a group of lawyers, engineers and salespeople for a company in Atlanta got to work.

The company, a start-up called OneTrust, now based in a suburb on the city’s outskirts, makes software for businesses trying to stay on the right side of the growing number of internet regulations. In response to the new California law, OneTrust made it easy for companies to set up a number to manage the requests.

In an attempt to rein in tech giants like Facebook and Google, governments around the world in recent years have approved new laws governing how websites must handle consumer data, treat their competitors and protect young people. The European Union has a data privacy law that governs the entire bloc. California has approved two privacy measures in recent years, and other states have followed suit.

Out of those regulations has arisen something else: An industry to help companies navigate the increasingly fragmented rules of the global internet.

ap logo

Associated Press, Outlets hurt by dwindling public interest in news in 2021, David Bauder, Dec. 27, 2021. The presidential election, pandemic and racial reckoning were stories that drove intense interest and engagement to news outlets in 2020. To a large degree, 2021 represented the inevitable hangover.

Various metrics illustrate the dwindling popularity of news content.

Cable news networks were the main form of evening entertainment for millions of Americans last year. In 2021, weekday prime-CNNtime viewership dropped 38% at CNN, 34% at Fox News Channel and 25% at MSNBC, according to the Nielsen company.

The decline was less steep but still significant at broadcast television evening newscasts: 12% at ABC’s “World News Tonight” and the “CBS Evening News;” 14% at NBC’s “Nightly News,” Nielsen said.

The Trump era saw explosive subscriber growth for some digital news sites like The New York Times and Washington Post. Yet readers aren’t spending as much time there; Comscore said the number of unique visitors to the Post’s site was down 44% in November compared to November 2020, and down 34% at the Times.

fox news logo SmallWhile a Dec. 23 headline on the Los Angeles Times front page — “How Much More Can We Take?” — referred to COVID-19, it could easily be applied to the news appetite in general.

For the most part, smart news executives knew the peaks of 2020 were not sustainable.

“It was entirely predictable,” said news media analyst Ken Doctor.

Perhaps that was most obvious at the cable news networks. They built a prime-time model almost entirely focused on political combat during the Trump years, which made it difficult for them to pivot to something different, said Tom Rosenstiel, a journalism professor at the University of Maryland.

“You become, to some extent, a prisoner of the audience you built,” Rosenstiel said.

Those networks remain focused on politics even as viewership interest wanes. The media monitoring company NewsWhip looked at 14 million political articles online last year and found they had an average of 924 engagements, or social media interactions. The 13.5 million articles NewsWhip has traced in 2021 had an average of 321 engagements.

To a certain extent, these outlets have turned elsewhere for revenue opportunities, Doctor said. CNN is preparing to debut a new streaming service early next year, and recently poached Fox News’ Chris Wallace to join that effort.

Fox News, while doubling down on conservative commentary following perceived threats from outlets like Newsmax and OANN, directed fans to its Fox Nation streaming service. Arguably Fox’s most attention-getting programming of the year was a documentary on the Jan. 6 Capitol riot by Tucker Carlson, that asserted it was an effort to silence Trump supporters.

edward o wilson foundation

ny times logoNew York Times, E.O. Wilson, a Pioneer of Evolutionary Biology, Dies at 92, Carl Zimmer, Dec. 27, 2021. A Harvard professor for 46 years, he was an expert on insects and explored how natural selection and other forces could influence animal behavior. He then applied his research to humans.

When Dr. Wilson began his career in evolutionary biology in the 1950s, the study of animals and plants seemed to many scientists like a quaint, obsolete hobby. Molecular biologists were getting their first glimpses of DNA, proteins and other invisible foundations of life. Dr. Wilson made it his life’s work to put evolution on an equal footing.

As part of his campaign, Dr. Wilson wrote a string of books that influenced his fellow scientists while also gaining a broad public audience. “On Human Nature” won the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction in 1979; “The Ants,” which Dr. Wilson wrote with his longtime colleague Bert Hölldobler, won him his second Pulitzer, in 1991.

daily howler headlineDaily Howler, Media Criticism: When Edward O. Wilson said the wrong thing..., Bob Somerby, Dec. 27 2021. Edward O. Wilson died yesterday at the age of 92. His stature is captured in the headline in the Washington Post: "Edward O. Wilson, Harvard naturalist often cited as heir to Darwin, dies at 92."

Edward O. Wilson, a Harvard naturalist whose mapping of social behavior in ants led him to study social behavior in all organisms and who became one of the greatest naturalists of his generation, died Dec. 26 in Burlington, Mass. He was 92.

The E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation announced his death but did not provide a cause.

Often cited as Charles Darwin’s greatest 20th-century heir, Dr. Wilson was an eloquent and immensely influential environmentalist and was the first to determine that ants communicate mainly through the exchange of chemical substances now known as pheromones.

edward o wilson ants coverHe discovered hundreds of new species by putting his hands in the dirt as a field biologist, synthesized evolving thinking in science and coined new terms, such as biodiversity and biophilia, to explain it. Of his many accomplishments in evolutionary biology, his biggest contribution was probably in the new scientific field of sociobiology, in which he addressed the biological basis of social behavior in animals, including humans.

This "heir to Darwin" had "addressed the biological basis of social behavior in animals." Even in us humans!

Apparently, some of us human didn't like that much. Later, Patricia Sullivan takes us back to 1975, when Wilson published his famous book, "Sociobiology." Uh-oh! Familiar conduct emerged:

SULLIVAN: The controversy came from the last chapter, on humankind. Dr. Wilson proposed that human behavior is genetically based, that humans inherit a propensity to acquire behavior and social structures, including a division of labor between the sexes, parental-child bonding, heightened altruism toward closest kin, incest avoidance, suspicion of strangers, tribalism, male dominance and territorial aggression over limited resources.

He later noted in Naturalist, his 1994 autobiography, that his was “an exceptionally strong hereditarian position for the 1970s.”

harvard logoThe response was furious, starting at his own school, where colleagues accused him of genetic determinism and tied the theory to Nazi eugenics, racism, sexism, sterilization and restrictions on immigration. Demonstrators disrupted the campus, calling his theory an apologia for the status quo.

The fact that sociobiology made the cover of Time magazine or that Dr. Wilson debated the proposition on the “Today” show and Dick Cavett’s talk show did not impress them. The protests culminated with a takeover of the stage at the 1978 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, where one demonstrator was said to have drenched him with a pitcher of ice water, declaring, “Wilson, you’re all wet!”

ny times logoSaudi Arabian flagNew York Times, As Other Arab States Falter, Saudi Arabia Seeks to Become a Cultural Hub, Vivian Yee and Ben Hubbard. Dec. 27, 2021 (print ed.). While conflicts and crises have battered the region’s cultural capitals, Saudi Arabia is hosting film festivals and bankrolling new movies.

 

Dec. 26

Top Headlines

 

Investigations

alex jones screen shot 2020 05 01 at 12.02.06 pm

 

Virus Victims, Responses

 

U.S. Law, Courts, Crime, Race

 

U.S. Politics, Elections, Governance

 

World News, Human Rights

 

U.S. Media News

 

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james webb nasa launch nyt

washington post logoWashington Post, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope begins journey to study distant worlds, Joel Achenbach, Dec. 26, 2021 (print ed.). $10 billion successor to Hubble telescope will capture light from first stars and study distant worlds.

NASA’s revolutionary James Webb Space Telescope is finally in space. The Webb, charged with seeing deeper into the universe than any telescope ever built, blasted off right on time at 7:20 a.m. Saturday from the European Space Agency’s spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, on South America’s northeast coast.

nasa logoEarly reports from mission controllers said everything looked “nominal,” the word that the thousands of people who have worked on the mission were hoping to hear.

At launch, the $10 billion telescope, NASA’s long-delayed successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, was folded up upon itself and fully enveloped, unseen, in the cone of Arianespace’s heavy-lift Ariane 5 rocket, which rolled to the launchpad Thursday.

The critical elements of the launch went perfectly, culminating in a stunning — and, for humanity, probably the final — view of the Webb as it hurtled from the Earth, the imagery caught by a camera on the upper stage of the rocket. There are no cameras on the Webb. The booster camera showed the solar panels extending successfully from the spacecraft, a critically important moment that ensures the telescope will have power.

“There it is. There is your critical call. James Webb not only has legs, it has power," Rob Navias, NASA’s launch commentator, said. “Quite a Christmas present for the world’s astronomers.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Anger over mask rules, pandemic restrictions spurs states to curb health officials’ power, Amy Goldstein, Dec. 26, 2021 (print ed.). Republican lawmakers pass laws to restrict the power of health authorities to require masks, promote vaccinations and take other steps to protect the public health.

At the entrance to the Lowe’s in a central Ohio strip mall, a bright blue-and-white sign tells customers that, under local ordinances, they must wear a face covering inside. Next door, at Hale’s Ales & Kitchen, a sign asks customers to please be patient with a staff shortage — with no mention of masks.
FAQ: What to know about the omicron variant of the coronavirus

The city line between Columbus and suburban Hilliard crosses right through the strip mall, Mill Run Square. In Columbus, where the Lowe’s Home Improvement Store lies, the city council early in the coronavirus pandemic created a mask requirement that remains in place. In Hilliard, where Hales is located, the city council has not imposed a mask rule, despite entreaties from the top county health official as coronavirus cases spiked.

Under a new law in Ohio — one of at least 19 states this year that have restricted state or local authorities from safeguarding public health amid the coronavirus pandemic — Franklin County’s health commissioner Joe Mazzola can no longer intervene. The county health department was stripped of its power to compel people to wear masks even as the omicron variant fuels a fifth coronavirus surge in the United States.

 

Virus Victims, Responses

ny times logoNew York Times, Another Christmas of Distress in America’s I.C.U.s, Sarah Bahr and Mike Baker, Dec. 26, 2021 (print ed.). Many health care workers are giving up their holiday to treat dangerously ill Covid patients. The toll on them is often severe.

Of all the Covid patients that Ronda Stevenson is treating over Christmas, there’s one she cannot stop thinking about. He has been hospitalized for 10 months, and in all that time his 7-year-old daughter has never once been allowed to visit, prohibited from the hospital by age restrictions that keep families separated. Situations like this are bringing even veteran health care workers to tears.

Ms. Stevenson, an intensive care unit nurse at Eskenazi Health in Indianapolis for the past seven years, cries as she talks about her patients and their families, making clear the grinding toll of the pandemic on already exhausted hospital work forces.

“We’re pretty short-staffed,” Ms. Stevenson said. She added: “It’s getting harder.”

Instead of taking holiday vacations this weekend, workers at strained hospitals across the nation are working 16-hour shifts. Some have been on the job every day for weeks. Festive meals have been replaced with protein bars and sports drinks.

This Christmas weekend, with the United States facing another surge of illness stoked by a proportion of the population that remains unvaccinated, frontline workers are again sacrificing time at home with family to tend to Covid patients. In Indiana, which has among the highest rates of hospitalization and lowest rates of vaccination in the country, the situation is especially acute.

washington post logoWashington Post, ‘We’re sailing on a petri dish’: Holiday cruise passengers face outbreaks, Meryl Kornfield, Dec. 26, 2021 (print ed.). Ports turn away ships that have confirmed coronavirus outbreaks, trapping people in quarantine long after the trip should've ended. Ashley Peterson had a different covad 19 photo.jpg Custom 2mental image of her Christmas break than what actually transpired: The 34-year-old thought she would finally visit the Caribbean reef-lined island of Bonaire, the 99th country in her quest to travel at least 100.

Instead, her cruise ship, the Carnival Freedom, sailed past its destination Wednesday after a port turned away the boat because of coronavirus infections onboard. At least four sailings on Royal Caribbean, Holland America, Carnival and others this week were altered by coronavirus outbreaks as cruise ships prepared for pre-pandemic levels before sailings were paused. Although vessels resuming cruising have beefed up coronavirus precautions, requiring vaccinations and testing passengers, the wave of new infections, fueled by the quickly proliferating omicron variant, has knocked the devastated industry and alarmed cruisers.

“We’re sailing on a petri dish,” Peterson said. “I feel like I just spent my past week at a superspreader event.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Outbreak sidelines ship whose crew is fully immunized, Navy says, Andrew deGrandpre, Dec. 26, 2021 (print ed.). A coronavirus outbreak aboard the USS Milwaukee, whose entire crew was “100 percent immunized,” has forced the ship to remain in port after a scheduled stop in Cuba barely one week into its deployment, the Navy announced Friday.

An unspecified “portion” of the Milwaukee’s 105-person crew is now isolated on board the ship, according to Cmdr. Kate Meadows, a spokesperson for U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command. The Navy does not disclose infection counts “at the crew/unit level,” she said in an email.

Some of the personnel who tested positive for the virus have displayed mild symptoms, Meadows said. Officials have not determined whether the highly transmissible omicron variant — which has demonstrated an ability to evade coronavirus vaccines, leading to a surge in breakthrough infections — is responsible for the Milwaukee’s outbreak.

U.S. military personnel are required to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, but tens of thousands of troops have resisted those orders. Across the Navy, about 9,000 sailors remained only partially vaccinated as of this week, according to data maintained by the Pentagon.

Daily Beast, Candace Owens: Trump Is Pro-Vax Because He’s ‘Too Old’ to Understand the Internet, Anna Venarchik, Updated Dec. 25, 2021. Far-right provocateur and anti-vaxxer Candace Owens, 32, took to Instagram to explain why she thinks Donald Trump unexpectedly defended COVID vaccines during an interview with her earlier this week.

daily beast logoThe reason? Trump, 75, is “too old” to know how to navigate the internet and find those “obscure websites” where, it seems that she believes, the truth about COVID and vaccines can only be found. “People oftentimes forget that, like, how old Trump is,” she said. “He comes from a generation—I’ve seen other people that are older have the exact same perspective, like, they came from a time before TV, before internet, before being able to conduct their independent research. And everything that they read in a newspaper that was pitched to them, they believed that that was a reality.”

Owens urged her conservative fanbase to take it easy on Trump, saying that she doesn’t think his support of the vaccine is “evil” or “based in any corruption.” But, she added, “he needs to have a larger conversation to understand what’s going on and why so many people are horrified by his remarks.”

Worldometer, World & U.S. Coronavirus Case Totals (updated Dec. 26, 2021), with some governments reporting lower numbers than the totals here and some experts saying the numbers are far higher:

World Cases: 279,939,177, Deaths: 5,415,197
U.S. Cases:     53,026,765, Deaths:   837,779
Indian Cases:   34,786,802, Deaths:   479,682
Brazil Cases:   22,234,626, Deaths:   618,457

Related Recent Headlines:

 

U.S. Law, Courts, Crime, Race

washington post logoWashington Post, Investigation: Inside a district attorney’s campaign to reform the Austin police department, Neena Satija, Dec. 26, 2021 (print ed.). In just 10 months, the new prosecutor won indictments against nine law enforcement officials. Now he is in a showdown with police.

Those efforts have fueled one of the most heated showdowns playing out nationwide between police and prosecutors who have vowed to overhaul the criminal justice system, from San Francisco to Chicago to Baltimore. Those prosecutors have come under pointed criticism as violent crime has risen nationwide. San Francisco’s top prosecutor is facing a recall election after securing indictments of three police officers. In St. Louis, the prosecutor accused the police union in a lawsuit of interfering with her reform efforts.

washington post logoWashington Post, Book Review: For poor defendants, minor crimes can lead to devastating debts, Mark R. Rank (Herbert S. Hadley professor of social welfare at Washington University in St. Louis and a co-author of “Poorly Understood: What America Gets Wrong About Poverty”), Dec. 26, 2021 (print ed.). Columnist Tony Messenger explains how unaffordable fines and fees add up.

America has long had the highest rates of poverty among the wealthy industrialized countries. Not only do we lead in poverty, but our conditions of impoverishment are incredibly damaging. Rather than providing support to the poor, U.S. social policies appear designed to punish and stigmatize them. Nowhere is this more clear than in Tony Messenger’s book, Profit and Punishment: How America Criminalizes the Poor in the Name of Justice.

Since 2017, Messenger has been the metro columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Much of his work has focused on small-town America, where he has doggedly tracked down case after case of folks being jailed and their lives ruined because they could not afford the fines and fees imposed by the judicial system. His book follows three of them, all single mothers living in poverty.

The process goes something like this: An individual is arrested for a minor, nonviolent offense such as shoplifting, a traffic violation or possession of drugs. Bail is set at $500. The defendant is poor and does not have the cash. She is then placed in jail for days or weeks until her court hearing, but all this time the dollar clock is ticking. Most states have what are known as “pay-to-stay” statutes. This means that the individual is being charged for her room and board as long as she is behind bars.

Eventually she is encouraged to enter a guilty plea for a probationary sentence of one or two years. But now she must return to court each month and begin paying back her court fines and fees and pay-to-stay costs. Judges serve as debt collectors for the county government. And if the guilty party fails to show up or make a monthly payment, she often finds herself back in jail, with her debt rising even higher. As Messenger writes, “In most jurisdictions, the largest of these fines is the bill for time in jail, as if one has spent a year in a hotel.” Charles Dickens wrote about such debtors’ prisons in 19th-century England, and Messenger’s book shows that they are alive and well in 21st-century America.

The result of this process is that individuals may lose their jobs, their homes and their cars as a result of failing to pay the court costs. Many will never recover. In one particularly heart-rending story, Messenger writes about a woman who shoplifted an $8 tube of mascara from a Walmart and wound up owing $15,000 in court fines and fees.

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U.S. Politics, Elections, Governance

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Democrats’ 2022 choice: Govern or lose, E.J. Dionne Jr., right, Dec. 26, 2021 (print ed.). In this traditional moment of year-end ej dionne w open neckreflection, Democrats of every stripe have a lot of thinking to do and a big decision to make. They can begin the new year by delivering progress for working families, the environment and democracy itself, or they can watch their party implode.
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A week has passed since Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) delivered what appeared to be his Big No to President Biden’s Build Back Better plan — which, to be more precise, was his no on “this piece of legislation.”

There is an enormous difference between rejecting a deal altogether and pushing aside the program’s current legislative iteration. That’s also a source of guarded hope.

Eugene Robinson: Joe Manchin isn't the only obstacle to Build Back Better

Manchin’s sharp rebuke surprised many Democrats, including Biden, because throughout negotiations the West Virginia senator had said yes to a variety of programs and to various ways of paying for them. This is why the White House quickly shelved its anger toward Manchin and returned to insisting that there is common ground to be found.

Such a deal might be summarized as “climate and kids” or “climate, health and family,” which would be straightforward ways of selling what Biden is trying to do. It would build on Manchin’s last offer, which included universal prekindergarten, an expansion of Obamacare and hundreds of billions of dollars to fight climate change.

washington post logoWashington Post, Editorial: U.S. democracy frayed over the past year. Senate Democrats must repair the damage, Editorial Board, Dec. 26, 2021 (print ed.). American democracy frayed in 2021, as Republicans in states such as Georgia and Texas passed laws making it harder to vote, premised on the lie that fraud tipped the 2020 presidential election.

As GOP-controlled state legislatures forced through these antidemocratic policies on party-line votes, the U.S. Senate was silent, the Democratic majority unable to respond because Republicans filibustered bill after bill to ease access to the ballot box. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced last week that he intends to change this dynamic early next year, bringing up voting rights legislation once again and taking more assertive procedural moves to advance it.

Good. Voting is not an issue like health-care policy or tax rates, on which there is reasonable debate.

Neither voting bill that Democrats seek to pass should be controversial. One, the Freedom to Vote Act, would permit all voters to cast mail-in ballots in federal elections and require drop boxes.

The other bill Democrats want to pass, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, has bipartisan buy-in — if you count that a single GOP senator, Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, supports it. This bill would repair the 1965 Voting Rights Act, after the Supreme Court declared in 2013 that Congress would have to revise the law for its strongest provisions to once again apply.

Crucially, it would reimpose “pre-clearance” on states with a history of racially discriminatory voting laws, obligating such states to submit proposed election rule changes for federal review before phasing them in. Pre-clearance for decades discouraged state and local officials from seeking to tilt the playing field against racial minorities, recognizing that discrimination could be as obvious as a poll tax or as subtle as a seemingly small shift in polling place locations. Immediately after the court’s 2013 ruling, Republican-controlled states began passing anti-voting laws.

Recent Related Headlines:

 

World News, Human Rights

ny times logoNew York Times, Myanmar’s Army Is Accused of Massacring Dozens of Civilians, Richard C. Paddock, Dec. 26, 2021. At least 35 people were killed and their bodies burned, according to an international aid group and opponents of the military regime.

An international aid group and opponents of Myanmar’s ruling military have accused soldiers of killing at least 35 villagers who were fleeing combat on Christmas Eve and of then burning their bodies. The aid group said that two of its staff members may have been among those killed.

Photographs said to have been taken at the scene, in Kayah State, show the charred remains of bodies in the back of three trucks. According to the aid group, Save the Children, a car that two of its staff members had been using to drive home for the holidays was among a dozen or so charred vehicles at the scene. The staff members are now missing, the group said.

“We are horrified at the violence carried out against innocent civilians and our staff, who are dedicated humanitarians, supporting millions of children in need across Myanmar,” Save the Children’s chief executive, Inger Ashing, said in a statement on Saturday.

The army, which ruled Myanmar for nearly half a century before granting civilian leaders some power a decade ago, seized full control again in a Feb. 1 coup and has since mounted a vicious crackdown against its opponents, some of whom have taken up arms. The army, known as the Tatmadaw, has a long history of committing atrocities against civilians.

washington post logoWashington Post, At least 16 people killed in shipwreck off Greece, Miriam Berger, Dec. 26, 2021 (print ed.).  At least 14 people died and many more remained missing in two other maritime disasters near Greece this week.

At least 16 people are dead, among them an infant, after a boat carrying migrants capsized Friday near the Greek island of Paros — the third deadly incident requiring search-and-rescue operations this week, Greece’s coastguard reported, along a crucial corridor for refugees seeking to enter Europe.

Local media outlets reported Saturday that the coastguard had recovered overnight the bodies of 12 men, three women and an infant northwest of the site of the capsizing in the central Aegean Sea, Reuters reported.

Athens News Agency reported that 63 people had been rescued and would be temporarily housed on the island of Paros. The agency reported that some 80 people were estimated to have been on the boat, which Greek authorities said they suspected was en route from Turkey to Italy.

Greece shipping minister Giannis Plakiotakis, in a statement to Reuters, said trafficking gangs were responsible.

washington post logoWashington Post, Armed intruder apprehended on Windsor Castle grounds as queen celebrates Christmas, Karla Adam, Dec. 26, 2021 (print ed.). Police arrested the 19-year-old outside the main residence of Queen Elizabeth II. 

 Recent Global Headlines:

 

U.S. Media News

alex jones radio logo

Palmer Report, Opinion: The real reason Alex Jones just became such a major problem for Donald Trump, Bill Palmer, Dec. 26, 2021. For all the noise, for all the variables, and for all the chaos, there’s a rather straightforward explanation for why Donald Trump never did climb into contention for reelection at any point during his four years in office. That explanation: he entered office with an approval rating that was far too low to be viable, but he never was willing to make the kind of mainstream-appeal moves necessary to try to drive it higher, because he was afraid of alienating his own lunatic base in the process.

bill palmer report logo headerThis was, obviously, a losing strategy for Trump; he got blown out by millions of votes and lost the electoral college badly as well. But oddly enough, the past few days have shown that Trump was right to worry about what would happen if he ever dared defy his base.

In the latest sign that Trump has slipped cognitively to the point that he no longer remembers or understands how his own con games work, Trump abruptly decided to simply tell the truth about COVID vaccines: they work. They’re safe. They keep you out of the hospital. The booster is a good idea.

Yes, Trump spoke all of this truth, and he didn’t even throw in any lies about the vaccines. Of course this was all so he could try to falsely take credit for President Joe Biden’s successful vaccine rollout. But what Trump forgot is that his base of gullible losers doesn’t want to hear anything unless it allows them to feel like smart winners, while allowing them to believe that everyone else is a bunch of gullible losers. Trump would have needed to throw in something false and convenient and conspiratorial in order to have any chance of convincing his base to let him get away with becoming pro-vaccine. But he didn’t do that, because his brain has apparently become a bowl of jello.

Accordingly, Trump cheerleader Candace Owens was left trying to suggest that Donald Trump is too old to know how to use the internet and therefore doesn’t know about all the online “proof” that COVID vaccines are a conspiracy. Keep in mind that this was from someone who was trying to diplomatically split the difference. Then there was Alex Jones.

You can debate whether Alex Jones is an unhinged conspiracy theorist, or merely portrays one in order to pander to and profit from unhinged conspiracy theorists. But either way, Jones played the part this weekend when he accused Donald Trump of being “ignorant” and “evil” for daring to say that COVID vaccines are a good thing.

Keep in mind that as utterly deranged as COVID vaccine conspiracy theories are, Trump’s base believes every word of it, because Trump’s mouthpieces have spent all year amplifying and repeating it. Now Trump himself is directly admitting that none it was true – and tacitly admitting to his supporters that they’re not smart and special for having spent all year avoiding the vaccine. This is a cardinal sin for a con artist whose entire scheme has always been based on convincing the biggest of suckers that they’re the biggest of winners.

Alex Jones’ response is a problem for Donald Trump for two distinct reasons. First, it confirms that Trump has stupidly crossed the kind of line that’s turning his own base against him. So much for the fantasy that he was somehow going to mount a comeback in 2024.

Second, there’s the problem of Alex Jones himself. He was recently subpoenaed by the January 6th Committee. He’s signaled his intent to plead the fifth, a sign that he expects to be criminally charged by the DOJ and doesn’t want to make it easier for them. Of course Jones could make that problem go away simply by flipping on Trump. Up to now that may have seemed unthinkable. But now Trump has committed the kind of messaging sin that’s left Jones feeling so betrayed, he’s publicly lashing out at Trump with reckless abandon. Trump just picked precisely the wrong time to give Jones motivation to go save himself at Trump’s expense.

Daily Beast, Alex Jones’ Wife Arrested on Domestic Violence Charge, Zachary Petrizzo, Updated Dec. 25, 2021. The wife of InfoWars chief Alex Jones was arrested on Christmas Eve. “I love my wife and care about her, and it appears to be some kind of medication imbalance,” Jones said.

daily beast logoConspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ wife was arrested on Friday night stemming from a domestic violence charge. “Jail records show the 43-year-old faces misdemeanor charges of assault causing bodily injury to a family member and resisting arrest, search or transport,” The Associated Press reported. The AP added that Erika Wulff Jones was taken into custody and booked her into an Austin jail around 8:45 p.m. Friday.

The 9/11 truther, in a subsequent interview with The Associated Press, said the apparent Christmas Eve incident, he says, was the result of his wife having a “medication imbalance.” “It’s a private family matter that happened on Christmas Eve,” Jones said. “I love my wife and care about her, and it appears to be some kind of medication imbalance.” Jones and his far-right media empire InfoWars didn’t return The Daily Beast’s requests for comment on Saturday evening.

Press Run, Commentary: Media ignore a monster story — the brainwashing of Covid zombies, Eric Boehlert, right, Dec. 26, 2021. Trump voters gone mad.
eric.boehlertNew York Times still won't call them "brainwashed."

Sunday’s New York Times features a front-page piece about ‘vaccine resistant’ Americans — who are overwhelmingly Republican — and how despite the rapid spread of the Omicron variant, they refuse to get a free, safe, and miraculously effective vaccine. What was glaringly absent from the article was any discussion of “brainwashing,” when describing people who have obviously been brainwashed.

As background, see Press Run, Commentary: Media ignore a monster story — the brainwashing of Covid zombies, Eric Boehlert, Sept. 22, 2021. Trump voters gone mad. 

National Public Radio relayed more shocking Covid news on Monday: “In 2020, for the first time in recorded history, more people died in Alabama than were born in the state.” The pandemic has shrunk the red state. Yet local Republican leaders still oppose mask and vaccine mandates, leaving the Trump outpost exposed to more fatalities.

But like so many news outlets, NPR missed the real story. The pile of Alabama deaths continue to mount not simply because of Covid. But because so many people in the Trump-friendly state have been brainwashed by bad-faith partisan actors and they refuse to get inoculated. Anti-science Republicans seem determined to spread the virus among their own voters, which seems inconceivable.

Millions of conservative Americans are being brainwashed about the pandemic, and thousands are killing themselves in the process. Yet the media downplay the huge story, framing it simply as “vaccine hesitancy.”

The number of Americans who are dying every 36 hours from Covid now surpasses the total number of U.S. soldiers who were killed during 20 years of fighting in Afghanistan. It’s an entirely preventable crisis, yet it rages because we have people like the red state restaurant owner who is kicking out patrons if they refuse to take off their masks. It’s pure nihilism.

The mindless behavior is hard to describe, and the rest of the world must be looking on in slack-jawed astonishment as Trump voters lead a mad movement powered by Fox News. The network is doing what no other outlet has done in the history of television news — it’s deliberately getting people killed during a public health crisis by feeding eagerly gullible red state viewers a mountain of lies.

From PizzaGate, to QAnon, to the current anti-vaccine and anti-mask hysteria, the GOP has been brainwashed. It’s no secret — lots of victims openly admit it. Still, the press shies away, nervous about offending conservatives by portraying them as mindless zombies being easily duped about a miraculously safe and effective vaccine. (It’s the same reason news outlets refused to call Trump a “liar.”)

  •  Washington Post, Grace Mirabella (1929–2021): Vogue editor who went on to launch her own magazine dies at 92, Matt Schudel.

Dec. 26, 2021. Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, South Africa’s ebullient apostle of racial justice and reconciliation who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his struggle against the system of white domination known as apartheid, died Dec. 26 in Cape Town. He was 90.

desmond tutu wThe cause of death was complications from cancer, according to Roger Friedman, spokesman for the Archbishop Desmond Tutu Intellectual Property Trust. Archbishop Tutu, right, was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1997, and he was hospitalized on several occasions in recent years to treat infections associated with his cancer treatment.

A small, effervescent man with a crooked nose and infectious toothy grin, Archbishop Tutu served as Black South Africa’s informal ambassador to the world during the dark days of repression and as a crucial voice in the campaign for racial equality that culminated with Nelson Mandela’s election as the country’s first Black president in 1994. Throughout the struggle, he preached nonviolence even while denouncing apartheid as “an evil system.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Armed intruder apprehended on Windsor Castle grounds as queen celebrates Christmas, Karla Adam, Dec. 26, 2021 (print ed.). Police arrested the 19-year-old outside the main residence of Queen Elizabeth II. 

 Recent Global Headlines:

 

U.S. Media News

alex jones radio logo

Palmer Report, Opinion: The real reason Alex Jones just became such a major problem for Donald Trump, Bill Palmer, Dec. 26, 2021. For all the noise, for all the variables, and for all the chaos, there’s a rather straightforward explanation for why Donald Trump never did climb into contention for reelection at any point during his four years in office. That explanation: he entered office with an approval rating that was far too low to be viable, but he never was willing to make the kind of mainstream-appeal moves necessary to try to drive it higher, because he was afraid of alienating his own lunatic base in the process.

bill palmer report logo headerThis was, obviously, a losing strategy for Trump; he got blown out by millions of votes and lost the electoral college badly as well. But oddly enough, the past few days have shown that Trump was right to worry about what would happen if he ever dared defy his base.

In the latest sign that Trump has slipped cognitively to the point that he no longer remembers or understands how his own con games work, Trump abruptly decided to simply tell the truth about COVID vaccines: they work. They’re safe. They keep you out of the hospital. The booster is a good idea.

Yes, Trump spoke all of this truth, and he didn’t even throw in any lies about the vaccines. Of course this was all so he could try to falsely take credit for President Joe Biden’s successful vaccine rollout. But what Trump forgot is that his base of gullible losers doesn’t want to hear anything unless it allows them to feel like smart winners, while allowing them to believe that everyone else is a bunch of gullible losers. Trump would have needed to throw in something false and convenient and conspiratorial in order to have any chance of convincing his base to let him get away with becoming pro-vaccine. But he didn’t do that, because his brain has apparently become a bowl of jello.

Accordingly, Trump cheerleader Candace Owens was left trying to suggest that Donald Trump is too old to know how to use the internet and therefore doesn’t know about all the online “proof” that COVID vaccines are a conspiracy. Keep in mind that this was from someone who was trying to diplomatically split the difference. Then there was Alex Jones.

You can debate whether Alex Jones is an unhinged conspiracy theorist, or merely portrays one in order to pander to and profit from unhinged conspiracy theorists. But either way, Jones played the part this weekend when he accused Donald Trump of being “ignorant” and “evil” for daring to say that COVID vaccines are a good thing.

Keep in mind that as utterly deranged as COVID vaccine conspiracy theories are, Trump’s base believes every word of it, because Trump’s mouthpieces have spent all year amplifying and repeating it. Now Trump himself is directly admitting that none it was true – and tacitly admitting to his supporters that they’re not smart and special for having spent all year avoiding the vaccine. This is a cardinal sin for a con artist whose entire scheme has always been based on convincing the biggest of suckers that they’re the biggest of winners.

Alex Jones’ response is a problem for Donald Trump for two distinct reasons. First, it confirms that Trump has stupidly crossed the kind of line that’s turning his own base against him. So much for the fantasy that he was somehow going to mount a comeback in 2024.

Second, there’s the problem of Alex Jones himself. He was recently subpoenaed by the January 6th Committee. He’s signaled his intent to plead the fifth, a sign that he expects to be criminally charged by the DOJ and doesn’t want to make it easier for them. Of course Jones could make that problem go away simply by flipping on Trump. Up to now that may have seemed unthinkable. But now Trump has committed the kind of messaging sin that’s left Jones feeling so betrayed, he’s publicly lashing out at Trump with reckless abandon. Trump just picked precisely the wrong time to give Jones motivation to go save himself at Trump’s expense.

Daily Beast, Alex Jones’ Wife Arrested on Domestic Violence Charge, Zachary Petrizzo, Updated Dec. 25, 2021. The wife of InfoWars chief Alex Jones was arrested on Christmas Eve. “I love my wife and care about her, and it appears to be some kind of medication imbalance,” Jones said.

daily beast logoConspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ wife was arrested on Friday night stemming from a domestic violence charge. “Jail records show the 43-year-old faces misdemeanor charges of assault causing bodily injury to a family member and resisting arrest, search or transport,” The Associated Press reported. The AP added that Erika Wulff Jones was taken into custody and booked her into an Austin jail around 8:45 p.m. Friday.

The 9/11 truther, in a subsequent interview with The Associated Press, said the apparent Christmas Eve incident, he says, was the result of his wife having a “medication imbalance.” “It’s a private family matter that happened on Christmas Eve,” Jones said. “I love my wife and care about her, and it appears to be some kind of medication imbalance.” Jones and his far-right media empire InfoWars didn’t return The Daily Beast’s requests for comment on Saturday evening.

Press Run, Commentary: Media ignore a monster story — the brainwashing of Covid zombies, Eric Boehlert, right, Dec. 26, 2021. Trump voters gone mad.
eric.boehlertNew York Times still won't call them "brainwashed."

Sunday’s New York Times features a front-page piece about ‘vaccine resistant’ Americans — who are overwhelmingly Republican — and how despite the rapid spread of the Omicron variant, they refuse to get a free, safe, and miraculously effective vaccine. What was glaringly absent from the article was any discussion of “brainwashing,” when describing people who have obviously been brainwashed.

As background, see Press Run, Commentary: Media ignore a monster story — the brainwashing of Covid zombies, Eric Boehlert, Sept. 22, 2021. Trump voters gone mad. 

National Public Radio relayed more shocking Covid news on Monday: “In 2020, for the first time in recorded history, more people died in Alabama than were born in the state.” The pandemic has shrunk the red state. Yet local Republican leaders still oppose mask and vaccine mandates, leaving the Trump outpost exposed to more fatalities.

But like so many news outlets, NPR missed the real story. The pile of Alabama deaths continue to mount not simply because of Covid. But because so many people in the Trump-friendly state have been brainwashed by bad-faith partisan actors and they refuse to get inoculated. Anti-science Republicans seem determined to spread the virus among their own voters, which seems inconceivable.

Millions of conservative Americans are being brainwashed about the pandemic, and thousands are killing themselves in the process. Yet the media downplay the huge story, framing it simply as “vaccine hesitancy.”

The number of Americans who are dying every 36 hours from Covid now surpasses the total number of U.S. soldiers who were killed during 20 years of fighting in Afghanistan. It’s an entirely preventable crisis, yet it rages because we have people like the red state restaurant owner who is kicking out patrons if they refuse to take off their masks. It’s pure nihilism.

The mindless behavior is hard to describe, and the rest of the world must be looking on in slack-jawed astonishment as Trump voters lead a mad movement powered by Fox News. The network is doing what no other outlet has done in the history of television news — it’s deliberately getting people killed during a public health crisis by feeding eagerly gullible red state viewers a mountain of lies.

From PizzaGate, to QAnon, to the current anti-vaccine and anti-mask hysteria, the GOP has been brainwashed. It’s no secret — lots of victims openly admit it. Still, the press shies away, nervous about offending conservatives by portraying them as mindless zombies being easily duped about a miraculously safe and effective vaccine. (It’s the same reason news outlets refused to call Trump a “liar.”)

  •  Washington Post, Grace Mirabella (1929–2021): Vogue editor who went on to launch her own magazine dies at 92, Matt Schudel.

 

 Dec. 26

Top Headlines

 

Investigations

alex jones screen shot 2020 05 01 at 12.02.06 pm

 

Virus Victims, Responses

 

U.S. Law, Courts, Crime, Race

 

U.S. Politics, Elections, Governance

 

World News, Human Rights

 

U.S. Media News

 

Top Stories

 

james webb nasa launch nyt

washington post logoWashington Post, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope begins journey to study distant worlds, Joel Achenbach, Dec. 26, 2021 (print ed.). $10 billion successor to Hubble telescope will capture light from first stars and study distant worlds.

NASA’s revolutionary James Webb Space Telescope is finally in space. The Webb, charged with seeing deeper into the universe than any telescope ever built, blasted off right on time at 7:20 a.m. Saturday from the European Space Agency’s spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, on South America’s northeast coast.

nasa logoEarly reports from mission controllers said everything looked “nominal,” the word that the thousands of people who have worked on the mission were hoping to hear.

At launch, the $10 billion telescope, NASA’s long-delayed successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, was folded up upon itself and fully enveloped, unseen, in the cone of Arianespace’s heavy-lift Ariane 5 rocket, which rolled to the launchpad Thursday.

The critical elements of the launch went perfectly, culminating in a stunning — and, for humanity, probably the final — view of the Webb as it hurtled from the Earth, the imagery caught by a camera on the upper stage of the rocket. There are no cameras on the Webb. The booster camera showed the solar panels extending successfully from the spacecraft, a critically important moment that ensures the telescope will have power.

“There it is. There is your critical call. James Webb not only has legs, it has power," Rob Navias, NASA’s launch commentator, said. “Quite a Christmas present for the world’s astronomers.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Anger over mask rules, pandemic restrictions spurs states to curb health officials’ power, Amy Goldstein, Dec. 26, 2021 (print ed.). Republican lawmakers pass laws to restrict the power of health authorities to require masks, promote vaccinations and take other steps to protect the public health.

At the entrance to the Lowe’s in a central Ohio strip mall, a bright blue-and-white sign tells customers that, under local ordinances, they must wear a face covering inside. Next door, at Hale’s Ales & Kitchen, a sign asks customers to please be patient with a staff shortage — with no mention of masks.
FAQ: What to know about the omicron variant of the coronavirus

The city line between Columbus and suburban Hilliard crosses right through the strip mall, Mill Run Square. In Columbus, where the Lowe’s Home Improvement Store lies, the city council early in the coronavirus pandemic created a mask requirement that remains in place. In Hilliard, where Hales is located, the city council has not imposed a mask rule, despite entreaties from the top county health official as coronavirus cases spiked.

Under a new law in Ohio — one of at least 19 states this year that have restricted state or local authorities from safeguarding public health amid the coronavirus pandemic — Franklin County’s health commissioner Joe Mazzola can no longer intervene. The county health department was stripped of its power to compel people to wear masks even as the omicron variant fuels a fifth coronavirus surge in the United States.

 

Investigations

alex jones screen shot 2020 05 01 at 12.02.06 pm

Proof, Investigation: The Coming Collapse of Donald Trump’s January 6 Conspiracy, Part 1: Alex Jones, Seth Abramson, left, Dec. 27, 2021. This shocking new seth abramson graphicPROOF series details mounting evidence that Trump's seditious January 6 conspiracy is at the point of collapse because of the cowardice, fear, and perfidy of his co-conspirators. Note: This is Part 1 of an ongoing series in the January 6 section at Proof. Part 2 is due soon.

Introduction: One difficulty journalists face in writing about Alex Jones (shown above in a screenshot) is that the man produces so much content daily that sifting through it all is nearly impossible. Those who do are richly rewarded, however; on Jones’s nightly Infowars program (The Alex Jones Show) and in other venues, seth abramson proof logothe infamous far-right conspiracy theorist and self-described “performance artist” has made so many controversial and even self-incriminating statements that one could craft an endless breaking news cycle just by finding obscure video and audio of Jones in which he discusses the January 6th insurrection and his role in it.

Proof has already reported on some of the most shocking statements Jones has made about the attack on the U.S. Capitol, including interviews he has conducted with his Stop the Steal “movement” co-conspirators, domestic terrorist Ali Alexander and longtime Trump friend and political adviser Roger Stone. You can find a few of these reports (in chronological order) here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

A less commonly discussed component of Jones’s carefully constructed public persona is the incredibly delicate state of his relationship with the man who he agreed to lead the march on the Capitol for: Donald Trump. Jones has never been a particularly loyal Trumpist, which makes him a potential weak spot in Trump’s January 6 conspiracy and the ongoing effort to steal the 2024 presidential election linked to that conspiracy.

On November 22, 2021, Congress’s House January 6 Committee (hereafter “HJ6C”) subpoenaed Jones. The subpoena launched a raft of speculation about whether Jones would cooperate with Congress in order to save his own skin—and precisely how far he would be willing to go, and how much damage he would be willing to do to Trump, in an attempt to do so.

Alex Jones and Donald Trump: A Troubled History

The relationship between Jones and Trump has always been an uneasy one, but it’s been especially bad since the attack on the Capitol on January 6. On March 3, 2021, leaked video of a Jones tirade about Trump in 2019—which Jones did not appear to realize was being recorded—was published by a number of media outlets. In the video, Jones says the following of his nominal ally (emphasis supplied):

It’s the truth, and I’m just going to say it—that I wish I never would have fucking met Trump. I wish it never would’ve happened. And it’s not the attacks I’ve been through. I’m so sick of fucking Donald Trump. God, I’m fucking sick of him. And I’ve not doing this [carrying water for him] because, like, I’m kissing his fucking ass, you know. It’s, like, I’m sick of it.

In a longer version of the video, according to Caolan Robertson, who leaked it to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Jones derides his audience for being willing to “buy anything” and boasts about earning tens of millions of dollars—not just millions—via his far-right, often pro-Trump rhetoric.

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).

World Crisis Radio, Opinion: Christmas 2021 in the shadow of fascist coup, dictatorship, and civil war, Webster G. Tarpley, right, Dec. 25, 2021. Merrick Garland is webster tarpley 2007massively derelict in his duty to defend the US Constitution; AG’s soft on fascism policy cannot enable the rule of law; Public outcry demands decisive action against coup plotters past, present, and future; Non-feasance equals appeasement of totalitarian forces;

Reactionary economist Glenn Hubbard reveals GOP inflation demagogy is camouflage for brutal deflationary austerity on the Volcker model; Warren and other senators mull blocking nomination of Powell;

Desperate demagogue Putin doubles down on threats to West, pointing once again to his severe domestic problems; This year’s holiday reading might include: Malaparte, Luttwak, Agamben, Carl Schmitt;

Corrupt US media are drowning in corporate greed and the cynical nihilism of many reporters; Time to think like Grant, not McClellan!

 

Virus Victims, Responses

ny times logoNew York Times, Another Christmas of Distress in America’s I.C.U.s, Sarah Bahr and Mike Baker, Dec. 26, 2021 (print ed.). Many health care workers are giving up their holiday to treat dangerously ill Covid patients. The toll on them is often severe.

Of all the Covid patients that Ronda Stevenson is treating over Christmas, there’s one she cannot stop thinking about. He has been hospitalized for 10 months, and in all that time his 7-year-old daughter has never once been allowed to visit, prohibited from the hospital by age restrictions that keep families separated. Situations like this are bringing even veteran health care workers to tears.

Ms. Stevenson, an intensive care unit nurse at Eskenazi Health in Indianapolis for the past seven years, cries as she talks about her patients and their families, making clear the grinding toll of the pandemic on already exhausted hospital work forces.

“We’re pretty short-staffed,” Ms. Stevenson said. She added: “It’s getting harder.”

Instead of taking holiday vacations this weekend, workers at strained hospitals across the nation are working 16-hour shifts. Some have been on the job every day for weeks. Festive meals have been replaced with protein bars and sports drinks.

This Christmas weekend, with the United States facing another surge of illness stoked by a proportion of the population that remains unvaccinated, frontline workers are again sacrificing time at home with family to tend to Covid patients. In Indiana, which has among the highest rates of hospitalization and lowest rates of vaccination in the country, the situation is especially acute.

washington post logoWashington Post, ‘We’re sailing on a petri dish’: Holiday cruise passengers face outbreaks, Meryl Kornfield, Dec. 26, 2021 (print ed.). Ports turn away ships that have confirmed coronavirus outbreaks, trapping people in quarantine long after the trip should've ended. Ashley Peterson had a different covad 19 photo.jpg Custom 2mental image of her Christmas break than what actually transpired: The 34-year-old thought she would finally visit the Caribbean reef-lined island of Bonaire, the 99th country in her quest to travel at least 100.

Instead, her cruise ship, the Carnival Freedom, sailed past its destination Wednesday after a port turned away the boat because of coronavirus infections onboard. At least four sailings on Royal Caribbean, Holland America, Carnival and others this week were altered by coronavirus outbreaks as cruise ships prepared for pre-pandemic levels before sailings were paused. Although vessels resuming cruising have beefed up coronavirus precautions, requiring vaccinations and testing passengers, the wave of new infections, fueled by the quickly proliferating omicron variant, has knocked the devastated industry and alarmed cruisers.

“We’re sailing on a petri dish,” Peterson said. “I feel like I just spent my past week at a superspreader event.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Outbreak sidelines ship whose crew is fully immunized, Navy says, Andrew deGrandpre, Dec. 26, 2021 (print ed.). A coronavirus outbreak aboard the USS Milwaukee, whose entire crew was “100 percent immunized,” has forced the ship to remain in port after a scheduled stop in Cuba barely one week into its deployment, the Navy announced Friday.

An unspecified “portion” of the Milwaukee’s 105-person crew is now isolated on board the ship, according to Cmdr. Kate Meadows, a spokesperson for U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command. The Navy does not disclose infection counts “at the crew/unit level,” she said in an email.

Some of the personnel who tested positive for the virus have displayed mild symptoms, Meadows said. Officials have not determined whether the highly transmissible omicron variant — which has demonstrated an ability to evade coronavirus vaccines, leading to a surge in breakthrough infections — is responsible for the Milwaukee’s outbreak.

U.S. military personnel are required to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, but tens of thousands of troops have resisted those orders. Across the Navy, about 9,000 sailors remained only partially vaccinated as of this week, according to data maintained by the Pentagon.

Daily Beast, Candace Owens: Trump Is Pro-Vax Because He’s ‘Too Old’ to Understand the Internet, Anna Venarchik, Updated Dec. 25, 2021. Far-right provocateur and anti-vaxxer Candace Owens, 32, took to Instagram to explain why she thinks Donald Trump unexpectedly defended COVID vaccines during an interview with her earlier this week.

daily beast logoThe reason? Trump, 75, is “too old” to know how to navigate the internet and find those “obscure websites” where, it seems that she believes, the truth about COVID and vaccines can only be found. “People oftentimes forget that, like, how old Trump is,” she said. “He comes from a generation—I’ve seen other people that are older have the exact same perspective, like, they came from a time before TV, before internet, before being able to conduct their independent research. And everything that they read in a newspaper that was pitched to them, they believed that that was a reality.”

Owens urged her conservative fanbase to take it easy on Trump, saying that she doesn’t think his support of the vaccine is “evil” or “based in any corruption.” But, she added, “he needs to have a larger conversation to understand what’s going on and why so many people are horrified by his remarks.”

Worldometer, World & U.S. Coronavirus Case Totals (updated Dec. 26, 2021), with some governments reporting lower numbers than the totals here and some experts saying the numbers are far higher:

World Cases: 279,939,177, Deaths: 5,415,197
U.S. Cases:     53,026,765, Deaths:   837,779
Indian Cases:   34,786,802, Deaths:   479,682
Brazil Cases:   22,234,626, Deaths:   618,457

Related Recent Headlines:

 

U.S. Law, Courts, Crime, Race

washington post logoWashington Post, Investigation: Inside a district attorney’s campaign to reform the Austin police department, Neena Satija, Dec. 26, 2021 (print ed.). In just 10 months, the new prosecutor won indictments against nine law enforcement officials. Now he is in a showdown with police.

Those efforts have fueled one of the most heated showdowns playing out nationwide between police and prosecutors who have vowed to overhaul the criminal justice system, from San Francisco to Chicago to Baltimore. Those prosecutors have come under pointed criticism as violent crime has risen nationwide. San Francisco’s top prosecutor is facing a recall election after securing indictments of three police officers. In St. Louis, the prosecutor accused the police union in a lawsuit of interfering with her reform efforts.

washington post logoWashington Post, Book Review: For poor defendants, minor crimes can lead to devastating debts, Mark R. Rank (Herbert S. Hadley professor of social welfare at Washington University in St. Louis and a co-author of “Poorly Understood: What America Gets Wrong About Poverty”), Dec. 26, 2021 (print ed.). Columnist Tony Messenger explains how unaffordable fines and fees add up.

America has long had the highest rates of poverty among the wealthy industrialized countries. Not only do we lead in poverty, but our conditions of impoverishment are incredibly damaging. Rather than providing support to the poor, U.S. social policies appear designed to punish and stigmatize them. Nowhere is this more clear than in Tony Messenger’s book, Profit and Punishment: How America Criminalizes the Poor in the Name of Justice.

Since 2017, Messenger has been the metro columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Much of his work has focused on small-town America, where he has doggedly tracked down case after case of folks being jailed and their lives ruined because they could not afford the fines and fees imposed by the judicial system. His book follows three of them, all single mothers living in poverty.

The process goes something like this: An individual is arrested for a minor, nonviolent offense such as shoplifting, a traffic violation or possession of drugs. Bail is set at $500. The defendant is poor and does not have the cash. She is then placed in jail for days or weeks until her court hearing, but all this time the dollar clock is ticking. Most states have what are known as “pay-to-stay” statutes. This means that the individual is being charged for her room and board as long as she is behind bars.

Eventually she is encouraged to enter a guilty plea for a probationary sentence of one or two years. But now she must return to court each month and begin paying back her court fines and fees and pay-to-stay costs. Judges serve as debt collectors for the county government. And if the guilty party fails to show up or make a monthly payment, she often finds herself back in jail, with her debt rising even higher. As Messenger writes, “In most jurisdictions, the largest of these fines is the bill for time in jail, as if one has spent a year in a hotel.” Charles Dickens wrote about such debtors’ prisons in 19th-century England, and Messenger’s book shows that they are alive and well in 21st-century America.

The result of this process is that individuals may lose their jobs, their homes and their cars as a result of failing to pay the court costs. Many will never recover. In one particularly heart-rending story, Messenger writes about a woman who shoplifted an $8 tube of mascara from a Walmart and wound up owing $15,000 in court fines and fees.

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U.S. Politics, Elections, Governance

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Democrats’ 2022 choice: Govern or lose, E.J. Dionne Jr., right, Dec. 26, 2021 (print ed.). In this traditional moment of year-end ej dionne w open neckreflection, Democrats of every stripe have a lot of thinking to do and a big decision to make. They can begin the new year by delivering progress for working families, the environment and democracy itself, or they can watch their party implode.
Opinions to start the day, in your inbox. Sign up.

A week has passed since Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) delivered what appeared to be his Big No to President Biden’s Build Back Better plan — which, to be more precise, was his no on “this piece of legislation.”

There is an enormous difference between rejecting a deal altogether and pushing aside the program’s current legislative iteration. That’s also a source of guarded hope.

Eugene Robinson: Joe Manchin isn't the only obstacle to Build Back Better

Manchin’s sharp rebuke surprised many Democrats, including Biden, because throughout negotiations the West Virginia senator had said yes to a variety of programs and to various ways of paying for them. This is why the White House quickly shelved its anger toward Manchin and returned to insisting that there is common ground to be found.

Such a deal might be summarized as “climate and kids” or “climate, health and family,” which would be straightforward ways of selling what Biden is trying to do. It would build on Manchin’s last offer, which included universal prekindergarten, an expansion of Obamacare and hundreds of billions of dollars to fight climate change.

washington post logoWashington Post, Editorial: U.S. democracy frayed over the past year. Senate Democrats must repair the damage, Editorial Board, Dec. 26, 2021 (print ed.). American democracy frayed in 2021, as Republicans in states such as Georgia and Texas passed laws making it harder to vote, premised on the lie that fraud tipped the 2020 presidential election.

As GOP-controlled state legislatures forced through these antidemocratic policies on party-line votes, the U.S. Senate was silent, the Democratic majority unable to respond because Republicans filibustered bill after bill to ease access to the ballot box. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced last week that he intends to change this dynamic early next year, bringing up voting rights legislation once again and taking more assertive procedural moves to advance it.

Good. Voting is not an issue like health-care policy or tax rates, on which there is reasonable debate.

Neither voting bill that Democrats seek to pass should be controversial. One, the Freedom to Vote Act, would permit all voters to cast mail-in ballots in federal elections and require drop boxes.

The other bill Democrats want to pass, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, has bipartisan buy-in — if you count that a single GOP senator, Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, supports it. This bill would repair the 1965 Voting Rights Act, after the Supreme Court declared in 2013 that Congress would have to revise the law for its strongest provisions to once again apply.

Crucially, it would reimpose “pre-clearance” on states with a history of racially discriminatory voting laws, obligating such states to submit proposed election rule changes for federal review before phasing them in. Pre-clearance for decades discouraged state and local officials from seeking to tilt the playing field against racial minorities, recognizing that discrimination could be as obvious as a poll tax or as subtle as a seemingly small shift in polling place locations. Immediately after the court’s 2013 ruling, Republican-controlled states began passing anti-voting laws.

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World News, Human Rights

ny times logoNew York Times, Myanmar’s Army Is Accused of Massacring Dozens of Civilians, Richard C. Paddock, Dec. 26, 2021. At least 35 people were killed and their bodies burned, according to an international aid group and opponents of the military regime.

An international aid group and opponents of Myanmar’s ruling military have accused soldiers of killing at least 35 villagers who were fleeing combat on Christmas Eve and of then burning their bodies. The aid group said that two of its staff members may have been among those killed.

Photographs said to have been taken at the scene, in Kayah State, show the charred remains of bodies in the back of three trucks. According to the aid group, Save the Children, a car that two of its staff members had been using to drive home for the holidays was among a dozen or so charred vehicles at the scene. The staff members are now missing, the group said.

“We are horrified at the violence carried out against innocent civilians and our staff, who are dedicated humanitarians, supporting millions of children in need across Myanmar,” Save the Children’s chief executive, Inger Ashing, said in a statement on Saturday.

The army, which ruled Myanmar for nearly half a century before granting civilian leaders some power a decade ago, seized full control again in a Feb. 1 coup and has since mounted a vicious crackdown against its opponents, some of whom have taken up arms. The army, known as the Tatmadaw, has a long history of committing atrocities against civilians.

washington post logoWashington Post, At least 16 people killed in shipwreck off Greece, Miriam Berger, Dec. 26, 2021 (print ed.).  At least 14 people died and many more remained missing in two other maritime disasters near Greece this week.

At least 16 people are dead, among them an infant, after a boat carrying migrants capsized Friday near the Greek island of Paros — the third deadly incident requiring search-and-rescue operations this week, Greece’s coastguard reported, along a crucial corridor for refugees seeking to enter Europe.

Local media outlets reported Saturday that the coastguard had recovered overnight the bodies of 12 men, three women and an infant northwest of the site of the capsizing in the central Aegean Sea, Reuters reported.

Athens News Agency reported that 63 people had been rescued and would be temporarily housed on the island of Paros. The agency reported that some 80 people were estimated to have been on the boat, which Greek authorities said they suspected was en route from Turkey to Italy.

Greece shipping minister Giannis Plakiotakis, in a statement to Reuters, said trafficking gangs were responsible.

washington post logoWashington Post, Desmond Tutu, exuberant apostle of racial justice in South Africa, dies at 90, Glenn Frankel, Dec. 26, 2021. Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, South Africa’s ebullient apostle of racial justice and reconciliation who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his struggle against the system of white domination known as apartheid, died Dec. 26 in Cape Town. He was 90.

desmond tutu wThe cause of death was complications from cancer, according to Roger Friedman, spokesman for the Archbishop Desmond Tutu Intellectual Property Trust. Archbishop Tutu, right, was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1997, and he was hospitalized on several occasions in recent years to treat infections associated with his cancer treatment.

A small, effervescent man with a crooked nose and infectious toothy grin, Archbishop Tutu served as Black South Africa’s informal ambassador to the world during the dark days of repression and as a crucial voice in the campaign for racial equality that culminated with Nelson Mandela’s election as the country’s first Black president in 1994. Throughout the struggle, he preached nonviolence even while denouncing apartheid as “an evil system.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Armed intruder apprehended on Windsor Castle grounds as queen celebrates Christmas, Karla Adam, Dec. 26, 2021 (print ed.). Police arrested the 19-year-old outside the main residence of Queen Elizabeth II. 

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U.S. Media News

alex jones radio logo

Palmer Report, Opinion: The real reason Alex Jones just became such a major problem for Donald Trump, Bill Palmer, Dec. 26, 2021. For all the noise, for all the variables, and for all the chaos, there’s a rather straightforward explanation for why Donald Trump never did climb into contention for reelection at any point during his four years in office. That explanation: he entered office with an approval rating that was far too low to be viable, but he never was willing to make the kind of mainstream-appeal moves necessary to try to drive it higher, because he was afraid of alienating his own lunatic base in the process.

bill palmer report logo headerThis was, obviously, a losing strategy for Trump; he got blown out by millions of votes and lost the electoral college badly as well. But oddly enough, the past few days have shown that Trump was right to worry about what would happen if he ever dared defy his base.

In the latest sign that Trump has slipped cognitively to the point that he no longer remembers or understands how his own con games work, Trump abruptly decided to simply tell the truth about COVID vaccines: they work. They’re safe. They keep you out of the hospital. The booster is a good idea.

Yes, Trump spoke all of this truth, and he didn’t even throw in any lies about the vaccines. Of course this was all so he could try to falsely take credit for President Joe Biden’s successful vaccine rollout. But what Trump forgot is that his base of gullible losers doesn’t want to hear anything unless it allows them to feel like smart winners, while allowing them to believe that everyone else is a bunch of gullible losers. Trump would have needed to throw in something false and convenient and conspiratorial in order to have any chance of convincing his base to let him get away with becoming pro-vaccine. But he didn’t do that, because his brain has apparently become a bowl of jello.

Accordingly, Trump cheerleader Candace Owens was left trying to suggest that Donald Trump is too old to know how to use the internet and therefore doesn’t know about all the online “proof” that COVID vaccines are a conspiracy. Keep in mind that this was from someone who was trying to diplomatically split the difference. Then there was Alex Jones.

You can debate whether Alex Jones is an unhinged conspiracy theorist, or merely portrays one in order to pander to and profit from unhinged conspiracy theorists. But either way, Jones played the part this weekend when he accused Donald Trump of being “ignorant” and “evil” for daring to say that COVID vaccines are a good thing.

Keep in mind that as utterly deranged as COVID vaccine conspiracy theories are, Trump’s base believes every word of it, because Trump’s mouthpieces have spent all year amplifying and repeating it. Now Trump himself is directly admitting that none it was true – and tacitly admitting to his supporters that they’re not smart and special for having spent all year avoiding the vaccine. This is a cardinal sin for a con artist whose entire scheme has always been based on convincing the biggest of suckers that they’re the biggest of winners.

Alex Jones’ response is a problem for Donald Trump for two distinct reasons. First, it confirms that Trump has stupidly crossed the kind of line that’s turning his own base against him. So much for the fantasy that he was somehow going to mount a comeback in 2024.

Second, there’s the problem of Alex Jones himself. He was recently subpoenaed by the January 6th Committee. He’s signaled his intent to plead the fifth, a sign that he expects to be criminally charged by the DOJ and doesn’t want to make it easier for them. Of course Jones could make that problem go away simply by flipping on Trump. Up to now that may have seemed unthinkable. But now Trump has committed the kind of messaging sin that’s left Jones feeling so betrayed, he’s publicly lashing out at Trump with reckless abandon. Trump just picked precisely the wrong time to give Jones motivation to go save himself at Trump’s expense.

Daily Beast, Alex Jones’ Wife Arrested on Domestic Violence Charge, Zachary Petrizzo, Updated Dec. 25, 2021. The wife of InfoWars chief Alex Jones was arrested on Christmas Eve. “I love my wife and care about her, and it appears to be some kind of medication imbalance,” Jones said.

daily beast logoConspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ wife was arrested on Friday night stemming from a domestic violence charge. “Jail records show the 43-year-old faces misdemeanor charges of assault causing bodily injury to a family member and resisting arrest, search or transport,” The Associated Press reported. The AP added that Erika Wulff Jones was taken into custody and booked her into an Austin jail around 8:45 p.m. Friday.

The 9/11 truther, in a subsequent interview with The Associated Press, said the apparent Christmas Eve incident, he says, was the result of his wife having a “medication imbalance.” “It’s a private family matter that happened on Christmas Eve,” Jones said. “I love my wife and care about her, and it appears to be some kind of medication imbalance.” Jones and his far-right media empire InfoWars didn’t return The Daily Beast’s requests for comment on Saturday evening.

Press Run, Commentary: Media ignore a monster story — the brainwashing of Covid zombies, Eric Boehlert, right, Dec. 26, 2021. Trump voters gone mad.
eric.boehlertNew York Times still won't call them "brainwashed."

Sunday’s New York Times features a front-page piece about ‘vaccine resistant’ Americans — who are overwhelmingly Republican — and how despite the rapid spread of the Omicron variant, they refuse to get a free, safe, and miraculously effective vaccine. What was glaringly absent from the article was any discussion of “brainwashing,” when describing people who have obviously been brainwashed.

As background, see Press Run, Commentary: Media ignore a monster story — the brainwashing of Covid zombies, Eric Boehlert, Sept. 22, 2021. Trump voters gone mad. 

National Public Radio relayed more shocking Covid news on Monday: “In 2020, for the first time in recorded history, more people died in Alabama than were born in the state.” The pandemic has shrunk the red state. Yet local Republican leaders still oppose mask and vaccine mandates, leaving the Trump outpost exposed to more fatalities.

But like so many news outlets, NPR missed the real story. The pile of Alabama deaths continue to mount not simply because of Covid. But because so many people in the Trump-friendly state have been brainwashed by bad-faith partisan actors and they refuse to get inoculated. Anti-science Republicans seem determined to spread the virus among their own voters, which seems inconceivable.

Millions of conservative Americans are being brainwashed about the pandemic, and thousands are killing themselves in the process. Yet the media downplay the huge story, framing it simply as “vaccine hesitancy.”

The number of Americans who are dying every 36 hours from Covid now surpasses the total number of U.S. soldiers who were killed during 20 years of fighting in Afghanistan. It’s an entirely preventable crisis, yet it rages because we have people like the red state restaurant owner who is kicking out patrons if they refuse to take off their masks. It’s pure nihilism.

The mindless behavior is hard to describe, and the rest of the world must be looking on in slack-jawed astonishment as Trump voters lead a mad movement powered by Fox News. The network is doing what no other outlet has done in the history of television news — it’s deliberately getting people killed during a public health crisis by feeding eagerly gullible red state viewers a mountain of lies.

From PizzaGate, to QAnon, to the current anti-vaccine and anti-mask hysteria, the GOP has been brainwashed. It’s no secret — lots of victims openly admit it. Still, the press shies away, nervous about offending conservatives by portraying them as mindless zombies being easily duped about a miraculously safe and effective vaccine. (It’s the same reason news outlets refused to call Trump a “liar.”)

  •  Washington Post, Grace Mirabella (1929–2021): Vogue editor who went on to launch her own magazine dies at 92, Matt Schudel.

 

Dec. 25

Top Headlines

 

Inspiration

 

Virus Victims, Responses

 

U.S. Law, Courts, Crime, Race

 

U.S. Politics, Elections, Inflation, Governance

 

World News, Human Rights

 

Top Stories

 

james webb nasa launch nyt

washington post logoWashington Post, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope begins journey to study distant worlds, Joel Achenbach, Dec. 25, 2021. $10 billion successor to Hubble telescope will capture light from first stars and study distant worlds.

NASA’s revolutionary James Webb Space Telescope is finally in space. The Webb, charged with seeing deeper into the universe than any telescope ever built, blasted off right on time at 7:20 a.m. Saturday from the European Space Agency’s spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, on South America’s northeast coast.

nasa logoEarly reports from mission controllers said everything looked “nominal,” the word that the thousands of people who have worked on the mission were hoping to hear.

At launch, the $10 billion telescope, NASA’s long-delayed successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, was folded up upon itself and fully enveloped, unseen, in the cone of Arianespace’s heavy-lift Ariane 5 rocket, which rolled to the launchpad Thursday.

The critical elements of the launch went perfectly, culminating in a stunning — and, for humanity, probably the final — view of the Webb as it hurtled from the Earth, the imagery caught by a camera on the upper stage of the rocket. There are no cameras on the Webb. The booster camera showed the solar panels extending successfully from the spacecraft, a critically important moment that ensures the telescope will have power.

“There it is. There is your critical call. James Webb not only has legs, it has power," Rob Navias, NASA’s launch commentator, said. “Quite a Christmas present for the world’s astronomers.”

World Crisis Radio, Opinion: Christmas 2021 in the shadow of fascist coup, dictatorship, and civil war, Webster G. Tarpley, right, Dec. 25, 2021. Garland is webster tarpley 2007massively derelict in his duty to defend the US Constitution; AG’s soft on fascism policy cannot enable the rule of law; Public outcry demands decisive action against coup plotters past, present, and future; Non-feasance equals appeasement of totalitarian forces;

Reactionary economist Glenn Hubbard reveals GOP inflation demagogy is camouflage for brutal deflationary austerity on the Volcker model; Warren and other senators mull blocking nomination of Powell;
Desperate demagogue Putin doubles down on threats to West, pointing once again to his severe domestic problems;
This year’s holiday reading might include: Malaparte, Luttwak, Agamben, Carl Schmitt;

Corrupt US media are drowning in corporate greed and the cynical nihilism of many reporters; Time to think like Grant, not McClellan! Merry Christmas to listeners and friends of World Crisis Radio!

washington post logoWashington Post, Worn down by pandemic, many clergy have quit, Michelle Boorstein, Dec. 25, 2021 (print ed.). It was Christmas Eve and the Rev. Alyssa Aldape was getting ready for work. Over her decade in Baptist youth ministry, Dec. 24 meant prepping sermons at the church, sending out last-minute Christmas emails to her young people, robing up. After church, her Mexican American family would have tamales.

But this Christmas Eve day, Aldape was in her Van Ness apartment, in a green turtleneck and jeans, drinking iced coffee and getting ready for her shift at the retailer Madewell. She’d clock in, then spend the afternoon folding sweaters and greeting last-minute holiday shoppers at the door with her big smile and “Hi! Welcome!”

Aldape is part of an exodus of clergy who have left ministry in the past couple years because of a powerful combination of pandemic demands and political stress. Amid fights about masks and vaccine mandates, to how far religious leaders can go in expressing political views that might alienate some of their followers, to whether Zoom creates or stifles spiritual community, pastoral burnout has been high.

A Barna survey of Protestant pastors published last month found 38 percent said they’d considered quitting full-time ministry in the past year. Matthew Manion, director of the Center for Church Management at Villanova University, which was founded to help Catholic parishes, said he doesn’t know if priest exits are rising, “but stress levels are through the roof.” Diocesan leaders say there is an increase in requests for emotional and mental support to deal with the pandemic, racial awakening and political polarization, he said.

“Clergy are meant to be there for all their people — so if their people are having more challenges, more stress — and what’s made it particularly challenging is they can’t be together in their normal ways of being together. Spiritual counseling and being present for people is very, very difficult,” he said.

washington post logoWashington Post, Anger over mask rules, pandemic restrictions spurs states to curb health officials’ power, Amy Goldstein, Dec. 25, 2021. Republican lawmakers pass laws to restrict the power of health authorities to require masks, promote vaccinations and take other steps to protect the public health.

At the entrance to the Lowe’s in a central Ohio strip mall, a bright blue-and-white sign tells customers that, under local ordinances, they must wear a face covering inside. Next door, at Hale’s Ales & Kitchen, a sign asks customers to please be patient with a staff shortage — with no mention of masks.
FAQ: What to know about the omicron variant of the coronavirus

The city line between Columbus and suburban Hilliard crosses right through the strip mall, Mill Run Square. In Columbus, where the Lowe’s Home Improvement Store lies, the city council early in the coronavirus pandemic created a mask requirement that remains in place. In Hilliard, where Hales is located, the city council has not imposed a mask rule, despite entreaties from the top county health official as coronavirus cases spiked.

Under a new law in Ohio — one of at least 19 states this year that have restricted state or local authorities from safeguarding public health amid the coronavirus pandemic — Franklin County’s health commissioner Joe Mazzola can no longer intervene. The county health department was stripped of its power to compel people to wear masks even as the omicron variant fuels a fifth coronavirus surge in the United States.

washington post logoWashington Post, More than 3,800 flights canceled worldwide on Christmas Eve and Christmas, María Luisa Paúl and Hannah Knowles, Dec. 25, 2021 (print ed.). United Airlines said the omircon variant has had “a direct impact on our flight crews,” and Delta Air Lines said it had “exhausted all options and resources" before canceling flights.

Thousands of Christmastime flights have been canceled around the world as airlines say the fast-spreading omicron variant of the coronavirus is preventing staffers from working.

More than 3,000 flights were canceled globally for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, according to the website FlightAware, while another 2,000 flights were scrapped on Thursday. FlightAware said more than 20 percent of those canceled for Friday involved travel within, into or out of the United States.

United Airlines had said in a statement Thursday that it was canceling 120 flights on Friday, Christmas Eve, because the variant has had “a direct impact on our flight crews and the people who run our operation.” Delta said in a statement that its teams had “exhausted all options and resources — including rerouting and substitutions of aircraft and crews to cover schedules flying” before canceling over 90 flights on Christmas Eve due to weather events and staffing issues.

 

Inspiration

washington post logoWashington Post, Retropolis: ‘White Christmas’ was the song America needed to fight fascism, Dave Kindy, Dec. 25, 2021. “White Christmas” won the Academy Award for best original song in 1942. The title song was sung by Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye and Rosemary Clooney and written by Irving irving berlin ww1Berlin, shown in his World War I uniform in a Library of Congress photo.

On Christmas Day 1941, crooner Bing Crosby stepped up to the microphone to introduce his new song. He was performing live on his hugely popular national radio show on NBC, “Kraft Music Hall.”

As the orchestra began to play, Crosby’s calming baritone floated over the airwaves: “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas, just like the ones I used to know …”

He ended the wistful song of holidays past, and the audience politely clapped. It was the first time he had sung “White Christmas” — what would become Irving Berlin’s super seasonal classic — but hardly anyone noticed it then.

The United States, still numb from the devastating attack on Pearl Harbor a little more than two weeks earlier, was preparing for a deadly war and had little time for a sentimental song about “sleigh bells in the snow” and “merry and bright” days.

“America was massively distracted,” said James Kaplan, author of Irving Berlin: New York Genius, published in 2019. “This was only 17 days after the worst attack on the country ever. There were more pressing concerns at the time.”

Of course, “White Christmas” would become the biggest-selling single of all time. According to Guinness World Records, it has sold some 50 million copies worldwide, with another 50 million in album sales.

So how did “White Christmas” become the megahit it is today?

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: This Christmas, hope may feel elusive. But despair is not the answer, Michael Gerson, right (former chief speechwriter for President George W. Bush), Dec. 24, 2021 (print ed.). Many in michael gerson file photoour country have lost the simple confidence that better days are ahead, for a variety of understandable reasons.

There are the coronavirus’s false dawns, followed by new fears. There are rising prices and empty store shelves, as if in Soviet Romania. There is Afghanistan, descending into man-made catastrophe. There are increases in urban violence. And deeply embedded racial injustice. And an environment buckling under terrible strains. Everything seems crying out in chaotic chorus: Things are not getting better.

That spirit possesses our politics. The right sees a country in cultural decline, stripped of its identify and values. The left fears we are moving toward a new American authoritarianism. Both are ideologies of prophesied loss. In a society, such resentments easily become septic. So many otherwise irenic people seem captured by the politics of the clenched fist. A portion seem to genuinely wish some of their neighbors humiliation and harm.

Under such circumstances, it can feel impossible to sustain hope. Yet from a young age, if we are lucky, we are taught that hope itself sustains. It is one of the most foundational assurances of childhood for a parent to bend down and tell a crying child: It is okay. It will be all better. We have an early, instinctual desire to know that trials are temporary, that wounds will heal and all will be well in the end.

A columnist living through an appropriate column illustration should probably disclose it. I have been dealing with cancer for a long time. For most of that period, the cancer was trying to kill me without my feeling it. It was internal and theoretical. Now I have reached a different and unpleasant phase, in which the cancer is trying to kill me and making me feel it — the phase when life plans become unknitted and the people you love watch you be weak.

Christmas hope may well fall in the psychological category of wish fulfillment. But that does not disprove the possibility of actually fulfilled wishes. On Christmas, we consider the disorienting, vivid evidence that hope wins. If true, it is a story that can reorient every human story. It means that God is with us, even in suffering. It is the assurance, as from a parent, as from an angel, as from a savior: It is okay. And even at the extreme of death (quoting Julian of Norwich): “All shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

 

Virus Victims, Responses

ny times logoNew York Times, Another Christmas of Distress in America’s I.C.U.s, Sarah Bahr and Mike Baker, Dec. 25, 2021. Many health care workers are giving up their holiday to treat dangerously ill Covid patients. The toll on them is often severe.

Of all the Covid patients that Ronda Stevenson is treating over Christmas, there’s one she cannot stop thinking about. He has been hospitalized for 10 months, and in all that time his 7-year-old daughter has never once been allowed to visit, prohibited from the hospital by age restrictions that keep families separated. Situations like this are bringing even veteran health care workers to tears.

Ms. Stevenson, an intensive care unit nurse at Eskenazi Health in Indianapolis for the past seven years, cries as she talks about her patients and their families, making clear the grinding toll of the pandemic on already exhausted hospital work forces.

“We’re pretty short-staffed,” Ms. Stevenson said. She added: “It’s getting harder.”

Instead of taking holiday vacations this weekend, workers at strained hospitals across the nation are working 16-hour shifts. Some have been on the job every day for weeks. Festive meals have been replaced with protein bars and sports drinks.

This Christmas weekend, with the United States facing another surge of illness stoked by a proportion of the population that remains unvaccinated, frontline workers are again sacrificing time at home with family to tend to Covid patients. In Indiana, which has among the highest rates of hospitalization and lowest rates of vaccination in the country, the situation is especially acute.

washington post logoWashington Post, Denmark sees initial signs that dire omicron surge can be avoided, Chico Harlan, Dec. 25, 2021 (print ed.). A week ago, the country braced for what looked like its worst stretch of the pandemic. But its hospitalization rate is at the low end of predictions. The developments, coupled with Denmark’s speedy rollout of booster shots, have raised hopes the country can avoid the dire coronavirus surge for which it has been bracing.

denmark flagEurope faces its second covid Christmas with lockdowns, cancellations and rising cases

“It’s too early to relax, but it’s encouraging that we are not following the worst-case scenario,” said Tyra Grove Krause, the chief epidemiologist at Denmark’s State Serum Institute.

Denmark’s detailed, nationwide program for coronavirus testing and analysis gives its scientists a trove of real-time data about the pandemic. Because of that — and because it was one of the first countries outside of Africa to witness omicron’s explosive potential — it has turned into a European bellwether for what to expect with the omicron variant.

washington post logoWashington Post, Outbreak sidelines ship whose crew is fully immunized, Navy says, Andrew deGrandpre, Dec. 25, 2021. A coronavirus outbreak aboard the USS Milwaukee, whose entire crew was “100 percent immunized,” has forced the ship to remain in port after a scheduled stop in Cuba barely one week into its deployment, the Navy announced Friday.

An unspecified “portion” of the Milwaukee’s 105-person crew is now isolated on board the ship, according to Cmdr. Kate Meadows, a spokesperson for U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command. The Navy does not disclose infection counts “at the crew/unit level,” she said in an email.

Some of the personnel who tested positive for the virus have displayed mild symptoms, Meadows said. Officials have not determined whether the highly transmissible omicron variant — which has demonstrated an ability to evade coronavirus vaccines, leading to a surge in breakthrough infections — is responsible for the Milwaukee’s outbreak.

U.S. military personnel are required to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, but tens of thousands of troops have resisted those orders. Across the Navy, about 9,000 sailors remained only partially vaccinated as of this week, according to data maintained by the Pentagon.

ny times logoNew York Times, The U.S. will end the ban on travel to southern Africa, reversing rules imposed to combat Omicron’s spread, Glenn Thrush, Dec. 25, 2021 (print ed.). President Biden will remove the ban on travel between the United States and countries in southern Africa at midnight on Dec. 31, a senior administration official said on Friday, reversing restrictions imposed last month to combat the spread of the Omicron variant.

The region’s leaders had denounced the ban as unfair, discriminatory and unnecessary.

Mr. Biden made the decision this week on the advice of his medical team based on findings that existing Covid vaccines are effective against severe disease with the highly contagious Omicron variant, especially among people who have received a booster shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine, the senior official said in an email.

The decision followed the British government’s announcement on Tuesday that it was lifting its restrictions on travelers arriving from 11 African countries.

Officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also advised Mr. Biden and his team that Omicron, which has passed Delta as the dominant variant in the United States, was so widely present across the world that it no longer made sense to restrict travel to and from South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique and Namibia, the official said.

Daily Beast, Candace Owens: Trump Is Pro-Vax Because He’s ‘Too Old’ to Understand the Internet, Anna Venarchik, Updated Dec. 25, 2021. Far-right provocateur and anti-vaxxer Candace Owens, 32, took to Instagram to explain why she thinks Donald Trump unexpectedly defended COVID vaccines during an interview with her earlier this week.

daily beast logoThe reason? Trump, 75, is “too old” to know how to navigate the internet and find those “obscure websites” where, it seems that she believes, the truth about COVID and vaccines can only be found. “People oftentimes forget that, like, how old Trump is,” she said. “He comes from a generation—I’ve seen other people that are older have the exact same perspective, like, they came from a time before TV, before internet, before being able to conduct their independent research. And everything that they read in a newspaper that was pitched to them, they believed that that was a reality.”

Owens urged her conservative fanbase to take it easy on Trump, saying that she doesn’t think his support of the vaccine is “evil” or “based in any corruption.” But, she added, “he needs to have a larger conversation to understand what’s going on and why so many people are horrified by his remarks.”

Worldometer, World & U.S. Coronavirus Case Totals (updated Dec. 25, 2021), with some governments reporting lower numbers than the totals here and some experts saying the numbers are far higher:

World Cases: 279,471,736, Deaths: 5,411,749
U.S. Cases:     52,986,307, Deaths:    837,671
Indian Cases:   34,779,815, Deaths:    479,520
Brazil Cases:   22,230,737, Deaths:    618,429

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U.S. Law, Courts, Crime, Race

 

capa logo blue

Citizens Against Political Assassinations (CAPA), Commentary: Recently Released JFK Assassination Records, Cyril H. Wecht, M.D., J.D., right, famed cyril wecht capamedical school professor, CAPA chairman, former coroner in Pennsylvania's Allegheny County, author of the recent book The JFK Assassination Dissected and author or co-author of 60 other books, including texts widely used among fellow forensic pathologists).

CAPA has performed a preliminary review of the articles outlining the JFK assassination records that were recently released (a more detailed review will be undertaken in the near future and our assessment passed on to our supporters). The Daily Mail --  Classified JFK assassination files are FINALLY released by Jennifer Smith and Keith Griffith, updated Dec. 16, 2021 -- provided the most detailed information on the subject.

cyril wecht jfk assassination dissectedOur initial response to these documents is that they have one thing in common − they all can be construed to support the Warren Commission Report conclusion that [Lee Harvey] Oswald alone killed JFK. For instance, much is made of Oswald’s alleged trip to Mexico. However, the photographs alleged to be Oswald were obviously not Oswald and the audio recordings allegedly of him calling the embassy were listened to by the 12 special agents of the FBI familiar with his voice and firmly rejected as inauthentic and not Oswald in a confidential bureau memo.

It appears that the documents described so far seem to confirm Oswald’s connection to Russia and the KGB, intimating Oswald was a pawn of Russia and killed JFK at their behest. This has been reported for years though the concept of Oswald as the lone assassin has been totally disproved. However, the question arises, what if these documents that connect Oswald to Russia/KGB actually prove that Oswald WAS an intelligence asset of the U.S. being set up to be a future patsy for the assassination?

As quoted in the article, “In September 1963, two months before he killed JFK, Oswald met with Consul Valeriy Vladimirovich Kostikov, a KGB agent in Mexico City.” Note how the article states that “Oswald killed JFK” is a fact, as if there is no debate or question on the issue. The entire article is written with the assumption that Oswald, acting alone, killed JFK.

It is blatantly obvious that this release of documents serves the purpose of the government to keep any incriminating evidence out of the hands of the citizens and, particularly, researchers who are familiar with the case.

 

djt handwave file

Palmer Report, Opinion: It’s Christmas morning for everyone who wants to see Donald Trump taken down, Bill Palmer, right, Dec. 25, 2021. There’s a metaphor in bill palmerpolitics – it even made its way into the pilot episode of The West Wing – about it being “Christmas morning” for someone when their opponent unwittingly hands them a political gift. Of course right now it’s literally Christmas morning. Accordingly, Trump and certain Republicans appear to be in the process of handing us a rather sizable gift.

bill palmer report logo headerThe kicker is that at this point they don’t appear to be able to avoid handing us that gift. In reality they handed it to us nearly a year ago. Trump had already lost the election, the courts had already laughed at his appeals, and there was literally zero chance he was going to remain in office. But because he knew that the rest of his life would consist of civil and criminal consequences if he did leave office, he did something desperate and stupid – and he dragged large chunks of his own party into it.

Yes, at this point it’s accurate (if dark and brutal) to refer to Trump’s post-election criminal antics as a political gift. He had a number of his Republican allies commit election tampering in various states. He had a number of them get involved in planning January 6th. None of this had any chance whatsoever of helping Trump or the GOP. But because Trump was going to lose everything anyway, he demanded that the GOP follow him off that particular cliff – and many of them did.

Moreover, they all did it in remarkably stupid fashion. Trump got himself banned from social media, at a time when he was going to need his social media voice more than ever if he wanted to remain relevant. The Trump supporters who invaded the Capitol finally showed mainstream Americans in the middle that everything the anti-Trump people in their lives had been saying about pro-Trump people for four years really was true. More crucially, Team Trump left a trail of gigantic breadcrumbs that are now being used to take them down.

It’s not a coincidence that the letters the January 6th Committee sent this week to House Republicans Jim Jordan and Scott Perry just happen to focus on January 6th-related crimes that they allegedly committed with Donald Trump. The committee spent 2021 doing the ton of research and investigation required to learn every move these folks took, which is what you have to do before even engaging them. Let them know they’re nailed on certain things. Try to scare them into cooperating. Or bait them into lying during their testimony, then use a perjury referral to either send them to prison or scare them into caving. Or just ring them up for criminal contempt if they never do cooperate.

Yes, that’s right, there is now a distinct possibility that Jim Jordan and certain other House Republicans will be arrested for contempt in early 2022. Let that sink in. They’d be going on criminal trial right around the time the midterm elections heat up. Try to imagine the chaos for the Republican Party as it tries to find substitute candidates in those races, or defend its decision to let people seek reelection while they’re on criminal trial. Picture certain House Republicans in swing districts trying to figure out whether and how to distance themselves from their fellow House Republicans who are in the process of becoming convicted criminals.

That’s all before getting to the scenario where the January 6th Committee follows through on its stated goal and refers Donald Trump for criminal prosecution on charges like obstruction of Congress and Big Lie wire fraud. Yes, that’s right, the Republicans could find themselves trying to compete in the midterms while an indicted, arrested, obviously guilty, and howling mad Trump prepares to go on criminal trial.

It’s too early to predict precisely how all of this will play out. But it’s now abundantly clear how the January 6th Committee intends for things to play out. And if Team Trump wants to accuse the committee of making this political, then too bad, because the felonies that Trump and his people committed were overwhelmingly political to begin with. With its idiotic response to Trump’s 2020 loss, Trump and the GOP unwittingly handed everyone else a huge gift. It’s Christmas morning indeed.

Daily Beast, Alex Jones’ Wife Arrested on Domestic Violence Charge, Zachary Petrizzo, Updated Dec. 25, 2021. The wife of InfoWars chief Alex Jones was arrested on Christmas Eve. “I love my wife and care about her, and it appears to be some kind of medication imbalance,” Jones said.

daily beast logoConspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ wife was arrested on Friday night stemming from a domestic violence charge. “Jail records show the 43-year-old faces misdemeanor charges of assault causing bodily injury to a family member and resisting arrest, search or transport,” The Associated Press reported. The AP added that Erika Wulff Jones was taken into custody and booked her into an Austin jail around 8:45 p.m. Friday.

The 9/11 truther, in a subsequent interview with The Associated Press, said the apparent Christmas Eve incident, he says, was the result of his wife having a “medication imbalance.” “It’s a private family matter that happened on Christmas Eve,” Jones said. “I love my wife and care about her, and it appears to be some kind of medication imbalance.” Jones and his far-right media empire InfoWars didn’t return The Daily Beast’s requests for comment on Saturday evening.

ny times logoNew York Times, Congresswoman Is Carjacked at Gunpoint in Philadelphia, Amanda Holpuch, Dec. 25, 2021 (print ed.). Five teenagers were arrested in Delaware on Wednesday night after they were found inside a stolen car belonging to Representative Mary Gay Scanlon, who was carjacked earlier that day in Philadelphia, the authorities said.

Ms. Scanlon, Democrat of Pennsylvania, was unharmed in the carjacking, during which she was robbed at gunpoint around 2:45 p.m. on Wednesday after leaving a meeting at FDR Park in South Philadelphia, her office said in a statement.

“She thanks the Philadelphia Police Department for their swift response and appreciates the efforts of both the sergeant-at-arms in D.C. and her local police department for coordinating with Philly P.D. to ensure her continued safety,” the statement said.

At around 9 p.m. on Wednesday, Ms. Scanlon’s blue 2017 Acura MDX was found in Newark, Del., about 40 miles from where it was stolen, the Delaware State Police said in a statement.

Ms. Scanlon had been walking to her car when she was approached by two people, the Philadelphia police said in a statement. They were armed and demanded the keys to Ms. Scanlon’s car, the police said. She handed over her keys, and then one of the attackers drove off in the car while the other got in an S.U.V. and followed the stolen car, the police said.

The Delaware State Police said that the five suspects were all from Wilmington, Del. One of them, Josiah Brown, 19, who the State Police said in a statement had been “involved in the armed carjacking,” was in the custody of the F.B.I. for formal charging. The others, ages 13, 14, 15 and 16, were charged with receiving stolen property. The 15-year-old also was charged with resisting arrest and criminal mischief, the state police said.

As of Sunday, there had been nearly 2,300 gunpoint robberies in Philadelphia in 2021, an increase of 28 percent compared with the same period last year, when there were 1,775, according to police data. The number of gunpoint robberies in 2020, the first year of the coronavirus pandemic, was unusually low. In the five previous years, 2,163 to 2,885 gunpoint robberies were reported annually in the city, according to police data.

Ms. Scanlon took office in November 2018 after a special election. Her district includes Delaware County and parts of South Philadelphia, Chester County and Montgomery County.

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U.S. Politics, Elections, Governance

washington post logoWashington Post, Manchin told White House he would support some version of a tax on billionaires, Jeff Stein, Dec. 25, 2021 (print ed.). His offer comes as fellow a Democrat, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, raises new concerns, illustrating that the party has work to do.

Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) told the White House last week that he would support some version of a tax targeting billionaire wealth as part of President Biden’s Build Back Better economic agenda, according to three people familiar with his private offer.

Despite its endorsement from the most conservative Democrat, the tax on billionaires still faces long odds to approval as part of the final legislation, as it has been greeted skeptically by other Democratic lawmakers in both the House and Senate. It was also left out of the House Democrats’ version of Build Back Better after Manchin publicly criticized it in October.

Manchin’s offer to the White House — details of which The Washington Post reported earlier this week — included a list of spending and revenue proposals that he supports. Manchin listed the tax on billionaire wealth as an option toward the bottom of his list, the people said. It is unclear whether Manchin’s plan included a revenue estimate. The people spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the private offer.

Manchin’s private offer to Biden included pre-K, climate money, Obamacare — but excluded child benefit

Manchin’s inclusion of the measure reflects the potential common ground that remains between the president and the senator in his party most uneasy about the White House’s sprawling economic agenda, which could cost as much as $2 trillion over 10 years and remake significant parts of the American economy. Alan J. Auerbach, an economist at the University of California at Berkeley, has been advising Manchin personally about tax policy, two people familiar with the matter said. Auerbach declined to comment.

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World News, Human Rights

washington post logoWashington Post, Russia fines Google as Moscow pressures foreign tech firms to comply with strict rules on banned content, Isabelle Khurshudyan, Dec. 25, 2021 (print ed.). The $100 million penalty is by far the country’s largest fine on a Western tech giant to date. The content in question often relates to jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s network, which has been labeled as “extremist” in Russia.

google logo customA Russian court fined Google nearly $100 million Friday for “systematic failure to remove banned content” — the largest such penalty yet in the country as Moscow attempts to rein in Western tech giants.

The fine was calculated based on Google’s annual revenue, the court said. Roskomnadzor, Russia’s Internet regulator, told the court that Google’s 2020 turnover in the country exceeded 85 billion rubles, or about $1.15 billion.

The fine represents an escalation in Russia’s push to pressure foreign tech firms to comply with its increasingly strict rules on what it deems illegal content — particularly apps, websites, posts and videos related to jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s network, which has been labeled as extremist in the country.

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Dec. 24

Top Headlines

 

Inspiration

 

Investigations

 

Virus Victims, Responses

 

U.S. Law, Courts, Crime, Race

 

U.S. Politics, Elections, Inflation, Governance

 

World News, Human Rights

 

Media News

 

 Top Stories

 

U.S. Hospital Intensive Care Unit (ICU) capacity, with red at 95 percent (New York Times graphic from U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services data). 2021 nyt hhs

 

U.S. Hospital Intensive Care Unit (ICU) capacity, with red at 95 or more percent and tan at 90-95 percent (New York Times graphic from U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services data).

ny times logoNew York Times, Omicron Drives U.S. Virus Cases Past Delta’s Peak, Lauren Leatherby, Charlie Smart and Amy Schoenfeld Walker, Dec. 24, 2021 (print ed.). The Omicron variant, which is now dominant in the United States and spreading faster than any variant yet, has already pushed daily coronavirus case counts higher than the peak of the recent Delta wave. By most estimates, the country is in for a significant winter surge.

Although there are early positive signs out of South Africa and Britain that Omicron infections more often result in mild illness than previous variants, officials are warning that the new variant could swiftly overtax the health care system and bring significant disease to many communities.

The highly transmissible variant is causing near-vertical case growth in multiple U.S. cities, with figures doubling about every two to three days. Officials expect it to break records. The all-time high for average daily cases was 251,232, set in January. By some estimates, the United States could reach one million cases a day, even before the end of the year.

While Omicron’s speed now speaks for itself, scientists are still racing to understand its threat. Preliminary studies out of Scotland and England suggest that infections from the variant could be milder, but scientists caution that Omicron infections must be observed in the U.S. population before drawing conclusions.

Even if these early results hold and Omicron does cause mostly mild illness, the sheer magnitude of cases it causes could still escalate hospitalizations at a time when many medical centers are already full.

“When we have millions and millions and millions of people, all sick, all together at one time, it doesn’t take a large percentage of those people to topple over the hospitals,” said Dr. Hallie Prescott, associate professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan.

washington post logoWashington Post, More than 3,800 flights canceled worldwide on Christmas Eve and Christmas, María Luisa Paúl and Hannah Knowles, Updated: Dec. 24, 2021. United Airlines said the omircon variant has had “a direct impact on our flight crews,” and Delta Air Lines said it had “exhausted all options and resources" before canceling flights.

Thousands of Christmastime flights have been canceled around the world as airlines say the fast-spreading omicron variant of the coronavirus is preventing staffers from working.

More than 3,000 flights were canceled globally for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, according to the website FlightAware, while another 2,000 flights were scrapped on Thursday. FlightAware said more than 20 percent of those canceled for Friday involved travel within, into or out of the United States.

United Airlines had said in a statement Thursday that it was canceling 120 flights on Friday, Christmas Eve, because the variant has had “a direct impact on our flight crews and the people who run our operation.” Delta said in a statement that its teams had “exhausted all options and resources — including rerouting and substitutions of aircraft and crews to cover schedules flying” before canceling over 90 flights on Christmas Eve due to weather events and staffing issues.

In Australia, a Sydney Airport spokesman told the Sydney Morning Herald that 80 domestic cancellations on Friday would affect more than 500 flights, while about 50 flights in and out of Melbourne Airport were reportedly canceled as well.

 
 

President-elect Joe Biden (Gage Skidmore photo via Flickr).

 

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: Where’s Joe Biden? Charles M. Blow, Dec. 24, 2021 (print ed.). Joe Biden’s poll numbers keep sliding. Americans, including many of the people who voted for him, are not happy with him. They want him to be something different, to be someone different.

Some may think that these Americans misjudged the man they sent to the White House. I don’t share that view.

America didn’t misjudge Joe Biden. As president, he has been exactly who he said he’d be. But America did misjudge the kind of leader it wanted in this moment.

Last year, most Democrats had a single goal: to get rid of Donald Trump. He was degrading the country and possibly destroying it.

We were all living in a vortex of chaos. Every morning we rose to a fresh hell. What had he done and said today? How much more of this could we take? It felt at times like we were trapped in an abusive relationship. We just wanted out. We wanted relief.

Biden seemed, to many, to be the man who could provide it, the man who could loosen Trump’s stranglehold on our society. Democrats were afraid to take too much of a chance with their nominee. Wanting too much, let alone demanding it, felt dangerous.

So we settled on the elder statesman. The straight white man. The middle-of-the-roader: not too hot, not too cold, lukewarm.

He was the “scrappy kid from Scranton,” the unapologetic “union man” who could win back the pixies of politics: the working-class white voters who could back Barack Obama in one election and Trump in the next.

Biden pitched electability — moderation rather than transformation — and voters liked it.

When he took office, Representative Lisa Blunt Rochester of Delaware, who had chaired his campaign, told The Times that the president was projecting a sense of “calm resolve.”

Calm resolve may well be the working mantra of the Biden administration — and there have been successes and positive news under Biden — but Americans are now dealing with a virus that won’t go away, rising inflation, progressive legislation that is either stalled (like the Build Back Better bill) or abandoned (like Senator Cory Booker’s federal police reform bill).

A congressional committee is looking into the Jan. 6 insurrection and prosecutors around the country are looking into Trump, his campaign, his family and his companies, but he has yet to be held accountable for his multiple transgressions and is likely to run again in 2024.

The Biden administration needs a pinch of cayenne.

They thought that if they just kept their heads down and did the work, they would be rewarded. But that’s not the way the world works anymore, not in this moment, not after Trump.

If you put a megaphone down, someone else will pick it up. Silence creates a void aching to be filled.

As Politico reported in October, Biden had participated in just 10 one-on-one interviews in the first nine months of his presidency.

The publication called it “a distinct feature of this White House,” noting that “At this point in their presidencies, Barack Obama had participated in 131 interviews and Donald Trump had participated in 57 (16 of which were within the friendly confines of Fox News).”

Biden wasn’t always so reticent. As Politico noted, he was far more outspoken as vice president, giving at least twice the number of interviews by his first October in office as he has while president, sometimes even visiting all three network morning shows in a single day.

There is a hardening perception that the president isn’t even being silently productive, but voiceless and vacant. A new poll from Morning Consult and Politico finds that 42 percent of registered voters say that Biden has accomplished less than they expected. More than a quarter of Democrats felt this way.

Biden is being the president he campaigned to be. He is following that script to a T. But conditions on the ground have changed. What the American people want from their leader has changed. And Biden is going to have to change with them. He has to be the president America needs in December 2021, not the one it needed in December 2020.

Even with the real policy disappointments of the last few months, particularly around voting rights, Biden’s first year in office is far from a failure. But an alternate reality is growing in the minds of voters, and Biden himself is doing too little to squash it.

He needs to change the narrative, and the first step is to be more publicly present. Agreeing to an interview Wednesday with ABC’s David Muir was a start, but just one appearance won’t correct a season of shirking.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Supreme Court cases over vaccine mandates are really about whether government can protect us, Ruth Marcus, right, Dec. 23, 2021. ruth marcusWhat powers does the federal government possess to combat a deadly virus that doesn’t recognize state boundaries?

Must the federal government stand by helplessly when red-state governors, rather than adopting vaccine and mask mandates, instead block them — harming their own residents in the face of a pandemic that has already cost more than 810,000 lives?

Can federal agencies impose mandates using laws that were hardly designed with a global health crisis in mind? Or must regulators wait for that authority to be made clear by Congress, which has proved itself increasingly incapable of governing?

Those questions are at the heart of two cases that the Supreme Court is to hear early next month. The first involves an emergency rule issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration requiring that companies with more than 100 employees working indoors mandate that they be vaccinated or, if not, wear masks and be tested weekly. The second concerns a vaccination requirement for workers in hospitals, nursing homes and other health-care facilities that participate in the federal Medicare and Medicaid programs.

The decisions will likely turn on a technical parsing of the language of the statutes invoked to justify the rules. But underlying both disputes are fundamental questions about the proper division of authority between federal and state government and federal regulators’ capacity to respond quickly and effectively to emergency situations.

It’s good that the court has agreed to hear these cases, in particular that it took the unusual step of scheduling oral arguments while considering the cases on an emergency basis. But these mandates represent aggressive, even unprecedented, uses of federal regulatory authority, and there is ample reason to fear what might happen to them in the hands of a conservative court that wants to elevate state power, is itching to rein in administrative agencies and is disinclined — to put it mildly — to read agencies’ authorities broadly.

 

Inspiration

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: This Christmas, hope may feel elusive. But despair is not the answer, Michael Gerson, right (former chief speechwriter for President George W. Bush), Dec. 24, 2021 (print ed.). Many in michael gerson file photoour country have lost the simple confidence that better days are ahead, for a variety of understandable reasons.

There are the coronavirus’s false dawns, followed by new fears. There are rising prices and empty store shelves, as if in Soviet Romania. There is Afghanistan, descending into man-made catastrophe. There are increases in urban violence. And deeply embedded racial injustice. And an environment buckling under terrible strains. Everything seems crying out in chaotic chorus: Things are not getting better.

That spirit possesses our politics. The right sees a country in cultural decline, stripped of its identify and values. The left fears we are moving toward a new American authoritarianism. Both are ideologies of prophesied loss. In a society, such resentments easily become septic. So many otherwise irenic people seem captured by the politics of the clenched fist. A portion seem to genuinely wish some of their neighbors humiliation and harm.

Under such circumstances, it can feel impossible to sustain hope. Yet from a young age, if we are lucky, we are taught that hope itself sustains. It is one of the most foundational assurances of childhood for a parent to bend down and tell a crying child: It is okay. It will be all better. We have an early, instinctual desire to know that trials are temporary, that wounds will heal and all will be well in the end.

A columnist living through an appropriate column illustration should probably disclose it. I have been dealing with cancer for a long time. For most of that period, the cancer was trying to kill me without my feeling it. It was internal and theoretical. Now I have reached a different and unpleasant phase, in which the cancer is trying to kill me and making me feel it — the phase when life plans become unknitted and the people you love watch you be weak.

I am not near death and don’t plan to be soon. But there is a time in the progress of a disease such as mine when you believe that you will recover, that you will get better. And I have passed the point when that hope is credible. Now, God or fate has spoken. And the words clank down like iron gates: No, it will not be okay. You will not be getting better.

Such reflections flow naturally when you are writing from the antiseptic wonderland of the holiday hospital ward. But nearly every life eventually involves such tests of hope. Some questions, even when not urgent, are universal: How can we make sense of blind and stupid suffering? How do we live with purpose amid events that scream of unfair randomness? What sustains hope when there is scant reason for it?

The context of the Nativity story is misunderstood hope. The prophets and Jewish people waited for centuries in defiant expectation for the Messiah to deliver Israel from exile and enemies. This was essentially the embodied belief that something different and better was possible — that some momentous divine intervention could change everything.

But the long-expected event arrived in an entirely unexpected form. Not as the triumph of politics and power, but in shocking humility and vulnerability.

Or at least this is what the story says, which we try to interpret beneath limited, even conflicting texts. No matter how we react to the historicity of each element, however, the Nativity presents the inner reality of God’s arrival.

He is a God who chose the low way: power in humility; strength perfected in weakness; the last shall be first; blessed are the least of these.

He is a God who was cloaked in blood and bone and destined for human suffering — which he does not try to explain to us, but rather just shares. It is perhaps the hardest to fathom: the astounding vulnerability of God.

And he is a God of hope, who offers a different kind of security than the fulfillment of our deepest wishes. He promises a transformation of the heart in which we release the burden of our desires, and live in expectation of God’s unfolding purposes, until all his mercies stand revealed.

There is an almost infinite number of ways other than angelic choirs that God announces his arrival. I have friends who have experienced a lightning strike of undeniable mission, or who see God in the deep beauty of nature, or know Jesus in serving the dispossessed.

Christmas hope may well fall in the psychological category of wish fulfillment. But that does not disprove the possibility of actually fulfilled wishes. On Christmas, we consider the disorienting, vivid evidence that hope wins. If true, it is a story that can reorient every human story. It means that God is with us, even in suffering. It is the assurance, as from a parent, as from an angel, as from a savior: It is okay. And even at the extreme of death (quoting Julian of Norwich): “All shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

 

Investigations

myanmar map
washington post logoWashington Post, Investigations: ‘Burn it all down’: How Myanmar’s military razed villages to crush a growing resistance, Meg Kelly, Shibani Mahtani and Joyce Sohyun Lee, Dec. 24, 2021 (print ed., multimedia). A Washington Post analysis of videos and images, as well as eyewitness accounts, along with military documents shared with reporters, reveals a premeditated campaign of arson and killing that targeted civilians.

For decades, Thantlang had known peace. The town’s mostly Christian residents cherished their home among mountains in northwest Myanmar, where they hosted an annual soccer tournament. At Christmas, they would feast.

myanmar flagAll that changed after a military coup in February. Chin state, which includes Thantlang, had emerged as an unlikely stronghold for the resistance as Myanmar spiraled toward civil war.

In August, the military summoned town elders to deliver a warning. A commander “repeatedly told us that the town will be burned down to ash if we do not cooperate with them,” said a pastor from one of Thantlang’s churches, speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.

When the shelling began less than a month later, residents rushed to live-stream the carnage. Rebel fighters had ambushed junta forces, killing several soldiers, and the military responded by bombarding the town and setting more than a dozen mostly wooden homes on fire on Sept. 18.

Almost all of the town’s people fled, abandoning homes and possessions. Videos of Thantlang taken roughly a year apart capture the devastation left by the fires, which ripped through the town’s main corridor.

That was just the start.

Facing armed resistance after it seized power, the military, known as the Tatmadaw, has escalated its use of force against civilians using tactics honed during past atrocities. A Washington Post analysis of more than 300 videos and photos, some not previously made public, as well as satellite imagery, eyewitness accounts and military planning documents, reveals a premeditated campaign of arson and killing targeting civilians in Chin state beginning in September.

 

U.S. House Jan. 6 insurrection investigating committee members Liz Cheney (R-WY), Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) and Jamie Raskie (D-MD) are shown, left to right, in a file photo.U.S. House Jan. 6 insurrection investigating committee members Liz Cheney (R-WY), Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) and Jamie Raskin (D-MD) are shown, left to right, in a file photo.

washington post logoWashington Post, Thompson says Jan. 6 committee is focused on Trump’s hours of silence during attack, weighing criminal referrals, Tom Hamburger, Jacqueline Alemany, Josh Dawsey and Matt Zapotosky, Dec. 24, 2021 (print ed.). The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol is focusing intently on Donald Trump’s actions that day as it begins to discuss whether to recommend that the Justice Department open a criminal investigation into the former president.

Committee Chairman Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.) said in an interview that of particular interest is why it took so long for him to call on his supporters to stand down, an area of inquiry that includes obtaining several versions of a video Trump reportedly recorded before finally releasing a message 187 minutes after he told his supporters to march on the Capitol during the rally that preceded the attack.

“It appears that he tried to do a taping several times, but he wouldn’t say the right thing,” Thompson said, basing his statement on information the panel has gleaned from interviews with witnesses as well as media reports about that day.

He said the president’s delayed response to the Capitol attack could be a factor in deciding whether to make a criminal referral, which is when Congress informs the Justice Department it believes a crime has been committed. It would be up to federal prosecutors to decide whether to pursue a charge.

“That dereliction of duty causes us real concern,” Thompson said. “And one of those concerns is that whether or not it was intentional, and whether or not that lack of attention for that longer period of time, would warrant a referral.”

A criminal referral against a former president would be historic and would ratchet up the political tensions that continue to swirl over the congressional inquiry into the worst attack on the Capitol since the War of 1812 as Trump considers running again for president.

 

capitol guns drawn

Police with guns drawn watch as rioters and vandals break into the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo / J. Scott Applewhite) (Source: J. Scott Applewhite/AP).

brian sicknickA California woman was warned and then fatally shot as she and others in the mob shattered glass and tried to crawl up and through the hole in the door to enter the chamber where congressional members and staff had huddled for safety during the rampage. Dying also were four others, including Brian D. Sicknick, above, a Capitol Hill police officer murdered while trying to protect government workers during the pro-Trump insurrection. President Trump failed to order federal flags flown at half-mast in his honor, although House Speaker Nancy Pelosi did so over the flags she controls at the Capitol.

 ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: Will Donald Trump Get Away With Inciting an Insurrection? Laurence H. Tribe, Donald Ayer and Dennis Aftergut, Mr. Tribe taught constitutional law at Harvard for 50 years. Merrick Garland was one of his students. Mr. Ayer oversaw criminal prosecutions and investigations as Ronald Reagan’s U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of California. He later served as deputy attorney general. Mr. Aftergut handled a number of complex investigations and prosecutions as a federal prosecutor in San Francisco.

merrick garlandIn his nine months in office, Attorney General Merrick Garland, right, has done a great deal to restore integrity and evenhanded enforcement of the law to an agency that was badly misused for political reasons under his predecessor. But his place in history will be assessed against the challenges that confronted him. And the overriding test that he and the rest of the government face is the threat to our democracy from people bent on destroying it.

Mr. Garland’s success depends on ensuring that the rule of law endures. That means dissuading future coup plotters by holding the leaders of the insurrection fully accountable for their attempt to overthrow the government. But he cannot do so without a robust criminal investigation of those at the top, from the people who planned, assisted or funded the attempt to overturn the Electoral College vote to those who organized or encouraged the mob attack on the Capitol. To begin with, he might focus on Mark Meadows, Steve Bannon, Rudy Giuliani, John Eastman and even Donald Trump — all of whom were involved, in one way or another, in the events leading up to the attack.

Justice Department log circularAlmost a year after the insurrection, we have yet to see any clear indicators that such an investigation is underway, raising the alarming possibility that this administration may never bring charges against those ultimately responsible for the attack.

While the Justice Department has filed charges against more than 700 people who participated in the violence, limiting the investigation to these foot soldiers would be a grave mistake: As Joanne Freeman, a Yale historian, wrote this month about the insurrection, “Accountability — the belief that political power holders are responsible for their actions and that blatant violations will be addressed — is the lifeblood of democracy. Without it, there can be no trust in government, and without trust, democratic governments have little power.”

The legal path to investigate the leaders of the coup attempt is clear. The criminal code prohibits inciting an insurrection or “giving aid or comfort” to those who do, as well as conspiracy to forcibly “prevent, hinder or delay the execution of any law of the United States.” The code also makes it a crime to corruptly impede any official proceeding or deprive citizens of their constitutional right to vote.

Based purely on what we know today from news reports and the steady stream of revelations coming from the House select committee investigating the attack, the attorney general has a powerful justification for a robust and forceful investigation into the former president and his inner circle. As White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows was intimately involved in the effort to overturn the election. He traveled to Georgia last December, where he apparently laid the groundwork for the phone call in which the president pressured Georgia’s secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, to “find 11,780 votes.” Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio reportedly promoted a scheme to pressure Vice President Mike Pence to reject duly certified Joe Biden electors. And from their war room at the Willard Hotel, several members of the president’s inner circle hatched the legal strategy to overturn the results of the election.

The president himself sat back for three hours while his chief of staff was barraged with messages from members of Congress and Fox News hosts pleading with him to have Mr. Trump call off the armed mob whose violent passion he had inflamed. That evidence, on its own, may not be enough to convict the former president, but it is certainly enough to require a criminal investigation.

And yet there are no signs, at least in media reports, that the attorney general is building a case against these individuals — no interviews with top administration officials, no reports of attempts to persuade the foot soldiers to turn on the people who incited them to violence. By this point in the Russia investigation, the special counsel Robert Mueller had indicted Paul Manafort and Rick Gates and secured the cooperation of George Papadopoulos after charging him with lying to the F.B.I. The media was reporting that the special counsel’s team had conducted or scheduled interviews with Mr. Trump’s aides Stephen Miller and Mr. Bannon, as well as Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Of course, there is no way to know for sure whether Mr. Garland’s Department of Justice is investigating the leaders of the attack behind closed doors. Justice Department policy does not permit announcing investigations, absent exceptional circumstances. Mr. Garland, unlike his predecessor, plays by the book, keeping quiet about investigations until charges are filed. But the first of the rioters to plead guilty began cooperating with the Justice Department back in April. If prosecutors have been using their cooperation to investigate the top officials and operatives responsible for the siege of the Capitol and our democracy, there would likely be significant confirmation in the media by now.

It is possible that the department is deferring the decision about starting a full-blown investigative effort pending further work by the House select committee. It is even conceivable that the department is waiting for the committee’s final report so that federal prosecutors can review the documents, interviews and recommendations amassed by House investigators and can consider any potential referrals for criminal prosecution.

But such an approach would come at a very high cost. In the prosecution business, interviews need to happen as soon as possible after the events in question, to prevent both forgetfulness and witness coordination to conceal the truth. A comprehensive Department of Justice probe of the leadership is now more urgently needed than ever.

It is also imperative that Mr. Trump be included on the list of those being investigated. The media has widely reported his role in many of the relevant events, and there is no persuasive reason to exclude him.

First, he has no claim to constitutional immunity from prosecution. The Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel has recognized such immunity only for sitting presidents because a criminal trial would prevent them from discharging the duties of their office. Mr. Trump no longer has those duties to discharge.

Nor is exclusion of the former president remotely justified by the precedent President Gerald Ford set in pardoning Richard Nixon to help the country “heal” from Watergate. Even our proud tradition of not mimicking banana republics by allowing political winners to retaliate against losers must give way in the wake of violence perpetrated to thwart the peaceful transition of power. Refusing to at least investigate those who plot to end democracy — and who would remain engaged in efforts to do so — would be beyond foolhardy.

Furthermore, the pending state and local investigations in New York and Atlanta will never be able to provide the kind of accountability the nation clearly needs. The New York case, which revolves around tax fraud, has nothing to do with the attack on our government. The Atlanta district attorney appears to be probing Mr. Trump’s now infamous call to Mr. Raffensperger. But that is just one chapter of the wrongdoing that led up to the attack on the Capitol.

Significantly, even if the Atlanta district attorney is able to convict Mr. Meadows and Mr. Trump for interfering in Georgia’s election, they could still run for office again. Only convicting them for participating in an insurrection would permanently disqualify them from office under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment.

Some have expressed pessimism that the Department of Justice would be able to convict Mr. Trump. His guilt would ultimately be for a jury to decide, and some jurors might believe he deluded himself into believing his own big lie and thus genuinely thought he was saving, rather than sabotaging, the election. But concerns about a conviction are no reason to refrain from an investigation. If anything, a federal criminal investigation could unearth even more evidence and provide a firmer basis for deciding whether to indict.

To decline from the outset to investigate would be appeasement, pure and simple, and appeasing bullies and wrongdoers only encourages more of the same. Without forceful action to hold the wrongdoers to account, we will likely not resist what some retired generals see as a march to another insurrection in 2024 if Mr. Trump or another demagogue loses.

Throughout his public life, Mr. Garland has been a highly principled public servant focused on doing the right thing. But only by holding the leaders of the Jan. 6 insurrection — all of them — to account can he secure the future and teach the next generation that no one is above the law. If he has not done so already, we implore the attorney general to step up to that task.

Palmer Report, Opinion: Donald Trump’s last stand, Bill Palmer, right, Dec. 24, 2021. When the U.S. Court of Appeals swiftly ruled that the National Archives must bill palmerturn over incriminating evidence against Donald Trump to the January 6th Committee, it was a given that Trump would appeal to the Supreme Court. Yesterday he did precisely that. Here’s the thing.

Even this Supreme Court isn’t going to allow itself to get dragged into Donald Trump’s last stand, just as it made a point of steering clear of bill palmer report logo headerhis baseless 2020 election claims. Trump has no claim of privilege and therefore has no case, as the appeals court has already spelled out. So the Supreme Court is either going to refuse to hear his case at all, or 2) hear the case but swiftly rule against him. Either way, this will be over within weeks.

This comes even as the January 6th Committee has pretty clearly been gearing up to hold publicly televised hearings in the new year. As we predicted back when this court battle first began, the committee will end up receiving the National Archives evidence against Donald Trump right around the time it was planning to go at Trump with its public hearings.

This is shaping up to be Donald Trump’s last stand. He seems to know it too, given how desperately he’s trying to fight this losing battle in court, even knowing that it won’t help him in any real way, or somehow magically “run out the clock.” He simply has no choice but to fight a losing battle on this, knowing he’s screwed anyway.

 

Virus Victims, Responses

washington post logoWashington Post, Trump becomes vaccine advocate despite his base’s skepticism, Mariana Alfaro, Dec. 24, 2021 (print ed.). The former president is promoting coronavirus shots, saying they work and taking credit for their development while continuing to oppose mandates.

Former president Donald Trump has repeatedly promoted vaccines and boosters to his supporters in recent days, continuing to do so even after being booed for it.

covad 19 photo.jpg Custom 2In August, Trump called extra vaccine doses a “moneymaking operation,” and in September he said in that he “probably” would not get a booster. He also did not make public that he had received his first two doses during his presidency. But this week he became a vocal advocate for the shots — while maintaining an opposition to vaccine mandates.

On Sunday, during an event with former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, Trump revealed to a crowd of supporters that he had gotten a booster shot. He was immediately booed, but the former president told his supporters to knock it off.

“Don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t,” Trump scolded, waving his hand dismissively.

ny times logoNew York Times, The U.S. will end the ban on travel to southern Africa, reversing rules imposed to combat Omicron’s spread, Glenn Thrush, Dec. 25, 2021 (print ed.). President Biden will remove the ban on travel between the United States and countries in southern Africa at midnight on Dec. 31, a senior administration official said on Friday, reversing restrictions imposed last month to combat the spread of the Omicron variant.

The region’s leaders had denounced the ban as unfair, discriminatory and unnecessary.

Mr. Biden made the decision this week on the advice of his medical team based on findings that existing Covid vaccines are effective against severe disease with the highly contagious Omicron variant, especially among people who have received a booster shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine, the senior official said in an email.

The decision followed the British government’s announcement on Tuesday that it was lifting its restrictions on travelers arriving from 11 African countries.

Officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also advised Mr. Biden and his team that Omicron, which has passed Delta as the dominant variant in the United States, was so widely present across the world that it no longer made sense to restrict travel to and from South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique and Namibia, the official said.

washington post logoWashington Post, Inside Biden administration’s failure to avert a covid testing shortfall, Annie Linskey, Dec. 24, 2021 (print ed.). The administration focused on testing early on as a key element in returning the country to normal. But over time, its emphasis shifted sharply to vaccines.

On his first full day in office, President Biden signed an executive order to boost the availability of coronavirus testing. Five days later, standing in the White House with his health advisory team by his side, Biden called the fight against covid-19 a “wartime effort” and pledged that tests would be widely available.

In early September, amid the delta variant surge, Biden reiterated the promise that “every American, no matter their income, can access free and convenient tests.”

Now, nearly a full year into Biden’s term, as the virus has mutated its way through the Greek alphabet to the omicron variant, testing is in short supply in many places, leaving frustrated Americans waiting in long lines for tests — if they can get them at all.

That is feeding into a wave of concern, despondency and in some places near-frenzy at the likely approach of yet another spike in a pandemic the country has battled for nearly two years. This late-December disarray — crowded testing sites, empty drugstore shelves — is raising fresh questions about how Biden and his team have executed on his pledge to defeat the pandemic.

Worldometer, World & U.S. Coronavirus Case Totals (updated Dec. 24, 2021), with some governments reporting lower numbers than the totals here and some experts saying the numbers are far higher:

World Cases: 278,653,176, Deaths: 5,403,595
U.S. Cases:     52,788,451, Deaths:    834,455
Indian Cases:   34,772,657, Deaths:    479,133
Brazil Cases:   22,226,573, Deaths:     618,228

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U.S. Law, Courts, Crime, Race

ny times logoNew York Times, Democrats Say They Are Serious About State Elections. Are They Too Late? Blake Hounshell, Dec. 24, 2021. State-level races are becoming a central focus of American politics as the lasting effects of new congressional maps and election laws raise the stakes.

Late on Nov. 8, 2016, the mood inside President Barack Obama’s West Wing turned grim. Hillary Clinton was coming up short. The realization was growing that Donald J. Trump would be elected president.

Suddenly, David M. Simas, Mr. Obama’s political director, pumped his fist and called out, “Yes!”

A cautious, cerebral lawyer, Mr. Simas was not known for attention-getting exultation. Asked why he was cheering, he deadpanned: “We just won a North Carolina Supreme Court seat.”

Incongruous as it was, the moment of triumph in a relatively minor contest reflected a growing concern among Democratic leaders, all the way up to Mr. Obama, that their party needed a more assertive strategy for the end-of-decade redistricting fights to come. But as Democrats awakened to the depth of their plight, they found that learning to think small was easier said than done: Hopes of big gains at the state level in 2020, a crucial year for redistricting, did not materialize. Liberal voters showed they were less hungry to win those races than they were to oust Mr. Trump.

Now, however, state-level contests like those for governor’s offices, legislatures and courts are suddenly moving from the periphery to the center of American politics. And the ongoing tussle over political maps is just one front in a larger conflict: As Mr. Trump pushes his false claims of a stolen 2020 election, what was once seen at most as a decennial scrum for partisan advantage in the provinces of government is transforming, in some Democrats’ minds, into a twilight struggle for the future of American democracy.

“We’re at a moment of reckoning in America,” former Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said during a recent fund-raising event for the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, a group he formed that became the primary locus of Mr. Obama’s political activity when he left the White House. “I’m not being hyperbolic or alarmist. I think our democracy is on the line.”

Fund-raising appeals on behalf of Democratic legislative candidates note the fact that at least six Republican state lawmakers were in Washington on Jan. 6, and that Republican-led states from Arizona to Georgia have passed laws tightening the rules around voting. And revelations about Mr. Trump’s ad hoc efforts to overturn the previous presidential election are fueling fears that in a rematch of 2020, Mr. Trump might conspire with G.O.P. state lawmakers to alter the outcome illegitimately.

“We believe the right wing is signaling a strategy to steal the election through state legislatures in 2024,” said Daniel Squadron, a former New York state senator whose group, the States Project, has announced plans to raise $30 million to support Democratic candidates in state legislative races in 2022.

ny times logoNew York Times, The U.S. will end the ban on travel to southern Africa, reversing rules imposed to combat Omicron’s spread. Glenn Thrush, Dec. 24, 2021 (print ed.). President Biden will remove the ban on travel between the United States and countries in southern Africa at midnight on Dec. 31, a senior administration official said on Friday, reversing restrictions imposed last month to combat the spread of the Omicron variant.

The region’s leaders had denounced the ban as unfair, discriminatory and unnecessary.

Mr. Biden made the decision this week on the advice of his medical team based on findings that existing Covid vaccines are effective against severe disease with the highly contagious Omicron variant, especially among people who have received a booster shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine, the senior official said in an email.

The decision followed the British government’s announcement on Tuesday that it was lifting its restrictions on travelers arriving from 11 African countries.

Officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also advised Mr. Biden and his team that Omicron, which has passed Delta as the dominant variant in the United States, was so widely present across the world that it no longer made sense to restrict travel to and from South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique and Namibia, the official said.

ny times logoNew York Times, Despite Public Uproar, Number of Fatal Encounters With Police Is the Same, Dec. 24, 2021. George Floyd’s murder set off a national reassessment on race. But on the core issues of police violence and accountability, very little has changed.

For the second time this year, a jury in Minneapolis has ruled against a former police officer for killing a Black man.

Like the conviction of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd, the verdict on Thursday against Kimberly Potter on two counts of manslaughter for the shooting death of Daunte Wright during a traffic stop represented an unusual decision to send a police officer to prison.

And yet, despite the two high-profile convictions in Minneapolis, a review of the data a year and a half after America’s summer of protest shows that accountability for officers who kill remains elusive and that the sheer numbers of people killed in encounters with police have remained steady at an alarming level.

The murder of Mr. Floyd on a Minneapolis street corner drew millions to the streets in protest and set off a national reassessment on race that touched almost every aspect of American life, from corporate boardrooms to sports nicknames. But on the core issues that set off the social unrest in the first place — police violence and accountability — very little has changed.

Since Mr. Floyd’s death in May of last year, 1,646 people have been killed by the police, or about three people per day on average, according to Mapping Police Violence, a nonprofit that tracks people killed by the police. Although murder or manslaughter charges against officers have increased this year, criminal charges, much less convictions, remain exceptionally rare.

That underscores both the benefit of the doubt usually accorded law officers who are often making life-or-death decisions in a split second and the way the law and the power of police unions often protect officers, say activists and legal experts.

The convictions of both Mr. Chauvin, the former Minneapolis officer who was captured on an excruciating bystander video pinning Mr. Floyd to the ground for more than nine minutes as he gasped for air, and Ms. Potter strike some experts as tantalizing glimpses of a legal system in flux. Ms. Potter’s case, in particular, reflected the kind of split-second decision — she mistakenly used her gun instead of her Taser after Mr. Wright tried to flee an arrest — that jurors usually excuse even when something goes horribly wrong

Chris Uggen, a sociology and law professor at the University of Minnesota, said that even though the number of people killed by police remained prevalent, high-profile cases could still send a message to the police. “The probability of punishment is not zero,” he said. “So it moves the needle to some degree, and it can certainly affect the behaviors of police officers.”

But many experts are reluctant to read too much into a few isolated cases carried out in the glare of media scrutiny.

“Criminal trials are not designed to be instruments of change,” said Paul Butler, a professor at Georgetown University Law Center and a former prosecutor. “Criminal trials are about bringing individual wrongdoers to justice. So while there have been high-profile prosecutions of police officers for killing Black people, that doesn’t in and of itself lead to the kind of systemic reform that might reduce police violence.”

Philip M. Stinson, a criminal justice professor at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, who tracks police criminal charges and convictions, said Ms. Potter was the first female police officer convicted of a murder or manslaughter charge in an on-duty shooting since 2005. He said he believed that the number of deaths from excessive police force was higher than what was recorded and reflected in news coverage.

“Many police officers exhibit a fear of Black people,” he said. “Until we can address that, it is very difficult to bring about meaningful reforms.”

Gloria J. Browne-Marshall, a constitutional law professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, said accountability also needed to be aimed at prosecutors who gave officers “carte blanche” for a century until the recent show of public outrage. Change is not likely to come soon, she said.

“In these individual cases, justice won in the end,” she said. “But there is a lot of work that still needs to be done.”

Jim Pasco, the executive director of the National Fraternal Order of Police, said the rarity of criminal charges against officers doesn’t indicate a lack of accountability, but simply reflects that the vast majority of police shootings are lawful — with many occurring under dangerous circumstances where officers have to make quick, life-or-death situations.

 

Former Minneapolis Police Officer Kimberly Potter testifies during her manslaughter trial (Court TV photo via Associated Press).

Former Minneapolis Police Officer Kimberly Potter testifies during her manslaughter trial (Court TV photo via Associated Press). Her taser and pistol, cited as evidence in the case, are shown below as prosecution exhibits.

Kimberly Potter's taser and pistol, cited as evidence in the case, are shown below as prosecution exhibits.

ny times logoNew York Times, Kim Potter Is Convicted of Manslaughter in Death of Daunte Wright, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Dec. 24, 2021 (print ed.). The prosecution and defense had agreed that the police shooting was a mistake and that Ms. Potter, who is white, had meant to draw her Taser when she fatally shot Mr. Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, during a traffic stop.

The former police officer who fatally shot a man in a Minneapolis suburb after seeming to mistake her gun for her Taser was convicted of two counts of manslaughter on Tuesday, a rare guilty verdict for a police officer that is likely to send her to prison for years.

The jury of 12 took more than 27 hours over four days to reach the unanimous guilty verdicts for Kimberly Potter, a 49-year-old white woman who testified that she had never fired her gun on the police force in Brooklyn Center, Minn., until April 11, when she shot a single bullet into the chest of Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man who had been driving to a carwash.

Incidents in which police officers mistakenly fired their guns when they meant to draw their Tasers have not been common, but there have been several in recent years.

In 2018, a rookie Kansas police officer mistakenly shot a man who was fighting with a fellow officer. In 2019, a police officer in Pennsylvania shouted “Taser!” before shooting an unarmed man in the torso. And in one of the most publicized cases, a white police officer with the Bay Area Rapid Transit agency said he had meant to fire his Taser when he fatally shot Oscar Grant III, who was Black, as Mr. Grant was lying facedown on the train platform on New Year’s Day in 2009.

ny times logoNew York Times, Former Boston College Student Gets Suspended Sentence in Boyfriend’s Suicide, Christine Chung, Dec. 24, 2021 (print ed.). Inyoung You pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter in the suicide of her college boyfriend, to whom she had sent tens of thousands of abusive text messages.

A former Boston College student who sent her boyfriend tens of thousands of frenzied text messages, some telling him to “go kill yourself,” before he jumped to his death, received a suspended sentence and probation after pleading guilty on Thursday to involuntary manslaughter.

At the hearing in Boston, Judge Robert Ullmann of Suffolk County Superior Court advised the former student, Inyoung You, 23, to live her life in a manner honoring the memory of her boyfriend, Alexander Urtula, The Boston Globe reported.

The judge said he hoped Ms. You’s actions would “drive home to teens and young adults on social media that this type of messaging — demeaning someone when they’re feeling down, even suggesting suicide, can have devastating consequences.”

Ms. You was given a suspended two-and-a-half-year prison sentence and 10 years of probation. The suspended sentence means that she can avoid time behind bars if she upholds the terms of her probation, which include completing 300 hours of community service, continuing mental health treatment and abstaining from profit related to the case, her lawyer said.

Steven Kim, Ms. You’s lawyer, said the defendant gave up a pending appeal and accepted “her involuntary role in the tragic death” of Mr. Urtula.

In 2019, Mr. Urtula, then a 22-year-old student at Boston College, jumped off the Renaissance parking garage in Roxbury to his death, about an hour before he would have graduated.

During the couple’s 18-month relationship, Ms. You “engaged in deeply disturbing and at times relentless verbally, physically and psychologically abusive behavior toward Mr. Urtula,” the Suffolk County district attorney, Rachael Rollins, said in a statement on Thursday. The abuse increased in frequency and severity in the days leading up to his death, she added.

In their final text messages, Ms. You excoriated Mr. Urtula for turning off his location on his phone, which she habitually tracked, before apologizing and urging him to stop his suicide attempt.

The plea deal was made after consulting Mr. Urtula’s family, Ms. Rollins said, adding that “they believe this is something Alexander would have wanted.”

In a statement read in court, The Globe reported, Mr. Urtula’s family said: “We bear no feelings of anger or reprisal. We believe that time will take us through in the moments we mourn and celebrate his life.”

Ms. You’s case echoes that of Michelle Carter, who in 2017 was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in Massachusetts after urging her boyfriend, Conrad Roy III, to take his own life in 2014. Ms. Carter served 15 months of a two-and-a-half-year sentence and is now on probation.

A bill defining coerced suicide as a crime punishable by up to five years in jail, titled Conrad’s Law after Mr. Roy, has stalled since it was introduced in the Massachusetts State Legislature more than two years ago.

ny times logoNew York Times, Another Judge Quits Guantánamo Case, Carol Rosenberg, Dec. 24, 2021 (print ed.). No new judge has been named to preside in the trial of a Qaeda commander, which has had four judges in seven years.

A Marine judge presiding at a war crimes trial at Guantánamo Bay stepped down on Thursday because he was offered a fellowship at the F.B.I., the latest personnel change in what has become a revolving door at the court.

Lt. Col. Michael D. Zimmerman was the fourth judge to preside over the case of Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, 61, who was arraigned in 2014. Mr. Hadi is accused of commanding Taliban and Qaeda fighters who committed war crimes by targeting troops and civilians with suicide bombings and roadside explosives devices and by firing on medical evacuation helicopters in Afghanistan in 2003 and 2004.

Colonel Zimmerman’s departure illustrates a key problem that has bedeviled the hybrid military-civilian court that President George W. Bush established after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Unlike federal judges, who are given lifetime appointments, military judges generally serve for a few years at military commissions and then move on to other legal roles or retire, creating delays and disrupting continuity in cases.

The Sept. 11 trial has had four judges sit at Guantánamo in nearly a decade, and three military judges handled the cases administratively from afar during the coronavirus pandemic. The Saudi prisoner who is accused of plotting the suicide bombing in 2000 of the Navy destroyer Cole has had four judges in a decade. The case of the Qaeda courier Majid Khan involved four judges from guilty plea to jury sentence.

washington post logoWashington Post, Jurors at Elizabeth Holmes trial ask to hear recordings of her talking to investors, Nitasha Tiku and Rachel Lerman, Dec. 24, 2021 (print ed.). The jury in the Elizabeth Holmes trial asked the court to play recordings of the Theranos founder on an investor call on its third full day of deliberations here in the wire fraud trial of the Silicon Valley entrepreneur.

The portion of audio they requested featured some of the most consequential evidence in the trial because it featured Holmes, in her own words, fielding direct questions from her investors about the company’s finances and growth strategy.

The court played the recordings for the jurors Thursday, including one in which Holmes discussed Theranos’s work with pharmaceutical companies and with the military.

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U.S. Politics, Elections, Governance

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: This Christmas, Republicans are giving themselves congressional seats for life, Dana Milbank, right, Dec. 24, 2021 (print ed.).  dana milbank newestRepublican lawmakers this holiday season are unwrapping a rare and valuable gift: congressional seats for life.

Thanks to a breathtaking abuse of redistricting in GOP-controlled states, all but an unlucky handful of members of Congress will henceforth be exempt from listening to those god-awful whiners called “voters,” spared those bothersome contests known as “elections” and protected from other disagreeable requirements of “democracy.”

This year Republicans have managed to take fully 40 percent of competitive House seats out of play. All but about 25 seats of the 435 in the entire country will be insulated from the will of voters even during wave elections — not just for 2022, but for a decade.

The move might limit Republicans’ upside in next year’s midterms (they had to toss Democrats a few more safe seats to shore up their own), but it could also keep them in the majority for years, even if the national popular vote goes consistently against them. Already, Republicans could lose the popular vote by two or three percentage points and still control the House.

washington post logoWashington Post, Election commission dismisses complaints against USPS chief DeJoy over straw-donor allegation, Felicia Sonmez, Jacob Bogage us mail logoand Aaron C. Davis, Dec. 24, 2021 (print ed.). The FBI is investigating the postmaster general over similar allegations.

Federal campaign finance regulators have dismissed two complaints against Postmaster General Louis DeJoy following a legal review that concluded there was no evidence of wrongdoing by DeJoy within a five-year statute of limitations.

louis dejoy CustomThe government watchdog groups Campaign Legal Center and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) accused DeJoy, left, in complaints filed last year of running a “straw donor scheme” before he took office at the U.S. Postal Service. The complaints came after five people who worked for DeJoy’s former business told The Washington Post they were urged by his aides or by DeJoy himself to write checks and attend fundraisers for Republican candidates at his Greensboro, N.C., home between 2003 and 2014.

The watchdog groups said a pattern of contributions by some of DeJoy’s associates suggested he continued such a scheme — asking for contributions and reimbursing associates with salary or bonuses — as recently as 2018, even after he had sold his company but was still affiliated with it. But the Federal Election Commission released documents Wednesday showing nearly 20 people who worked for the successor company denied being pressured or reimbursed.

“In light of the specificity of the denials, along with the statute of limitations circumstances, we do not recommend that the Commission expend further resources on this matter,” attorneys for the FEC concluded in April, according to one of the documents the commission released supporting its decision.

In a statement Thursday, DeJoy praised the dismissals.

“I am pleased that this matter has been vetted and resolved by the Federal Election Commission,” DeJoy said. “I remain fully focused on the mission at hand: restoring financial sustainability and service excellence to the United States Postal Service.”

DeJoy could still face criminal exposure related to the alleged fundraising.

washington post logoWashington Post, Rudy Giuliani and One America News sued by Georgia poll workers falsely accused of electoral fraud, Andrew Jeong, Dec. 24, 2021 (print ed.). Ruby Freeman and her daughter Wandrea “Shaye” Moss allege that Giuliani and the far-right network knowingly spread misinformation.

Two election workers who counted votes for the 2020 presidential election filed a defamation lawsuit Thursday against the parent company of One oan logoAmerica News, senior staff at the far-right TV network and Rudolph W. Giuliani, who served as a personal lawyer to former president Donald Trump.

Ruby Freeman and her daughter Wandrea “Shaye” Moss, who worked in Fulton County, Ga., allege that One America News and Giuliani, who frequently appears on the network, knowingly spread misinformation about them, including falsehoods that they logged illegal ballots for Joe Biden in the election.

The two women “have become objects of vitriol, threats, and harassment … because of a campaign of malicious lies,” their attorneys wrote in the suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. “Deliberate efforts to spread disinformation about America’s election workers undermine the integrity of American elections … and accordingly, threaten democracy.”

The legal action seeks to force the defendants to delete false statements about the two women from their platforms. It also asks for compensatory and punitive damages.

Biden narrowly won Georgia’s 16 electoral votes in 2020, marking the first time a Democratic presidential nominee emerged victorious there since Bill Clinton in 1992. Trump and his supporters have repeatedly and falsely claimed that the 2020 election was stolen.

Giuliani, One America News and its senior staff named in the lawsuit — chief executive Robert Herring, president Charles Herring and chief White House correspondent Chanel Rion — did not immediately return requests for comment late Thursday.

The plaintiffs allege that One America News replayed a misleading video produced by the Trump campaign, which was presented by volunteer Trump attorney Jacki L. Pick as an example of election workers stuffing fraudulent ballots from purportedly hidden “suitcases.” Pick did not name the workers, although she said “one of them had the name Ruby across her shirt somewhere.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Manchin told White House he would support some version of a tax on billionaires, Jeff Stein, Dec. 24, 2021. His offer comes as fellow a Democrat, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, raises new concerns, illustrating that the party has work to do.

Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) told the White House last week that he would support some version of a tax targeting billionaire wealth as part of President Biden’s Build Back Better economic agenda, according to three people familiar with his private offer.

Despite its endorsement from the most conservative Democrat, the tax on billionaires still faces long odds to approval as part of the final legislation, as it has been greeted skeptically by other Democratic lawmakers in both the House and Senate. It was also left out of the House Democrats’ version of Build Back Better after Manchin publicly criticized it in October.

Manchin’s offer to the White House — details of which The Washington Post reported earlier this week — included a list of spending and revenue proposals that he supports. Manchin listed the tax on billionaire wealth as an option toward the bottom of his list, the people said. It is unclear whether Manchin’s plan included a revenue estimate. The people spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the private offer.

Manchin’s private offer to Biden included pre-K, climate money, Obamacare — but excluded child benefit

Manchin’s inclusion of the measure reflects the potential common ground that remains between the president and the senator in his party most uneasy about the White House’s sprawling economic agenda, which could cost as much as $2 trillion over 10 years and remake significant parts of the American economy. Alan J. Auerbach, an economist at the University of California at Berkeley, has been advising Manchin personally about tax policy, two people familiar with the matter said. Auerbach declined to comment.

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World News, Human Rights

washington post logoWashington Post, Russia fines Google as Moscow pressures foreign tech firms to comply with strict rules on banned content, Isabelle Khurshudyan, Dec. 25, 2021 (print ed.). The $100 million penalty is by far the country’s largest fine on a Western tech giant to date. The content in question often relates to jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s network, which has been labeled as “extremist” in Russia.

google logo customA Russian court fined Google nearly $100 million Friday for “systematic failure to remove banned content” — the largest such penalty yet in the country as Moscow attempts to rein in Western tech giants.

The fine was calculated based on Google’s annual revenue, the court said. Roskomnadzor, Russia’s Internet regulator, told the court that Google’s 2020 turnover in the country exceeded 85 billion rubles, or about $1.15 billion.

The fine represents an escalation in Russia’s push to pressure foreign tech firms to comply with its increasingly strict rules on what it deems illegal content — particularly apps, websites, posts and videos related to jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s network, which has been labeled as extremist in the country.

Recent Global Headlines:

 

U.S. Media News

ny times logoNew York Times, Judge Upholds His Block on New York Times Coverage of Project Veritas, Michael M. Grynbaum, Dec. 25, 2021 (print ed.). A New York trial court judge has upheld his order preventing The New York Times from publishing documents prepared by a lawyer for the conservative group Project Veritas, in a move that alarmed First Amendment advocates concerned about judicial intrusion into journalistic practices.

In a ruling made public on Friday, the judge, Justice Charles D. Wood of State Supreme Court in Westchester County, went further: He ordered The Times to immediately turn over any physical copies of the Project Veritas documents in question, and to destroy any electronic copies in the newspaper’s possession.

The Times said it would seek a stay of the ruling and was planning to appeal it.

“This ruling should raise alarms not just for advocates of press freedoms but for anyone concerned about the dangers of government overreach into what the public can and cannot know,” the publisher of The Times, A.G. Sulzberger, said in a statement on Friday. “In defiance of law settled in the Pentagon Papers case, this judge has barred The Times from publishing information about a prominent and influential organization that was obtained legally in the ordinary course of reporting.”

Mr. Sulzberger said Justice Wood’s order that the company return the documents had “no apparent precedent” and “could present obvious risks to exposing sources.”

A lawyer for Project Veritas, Elizabeth Locke, said in a statement on Friday: “Today’s ruling affirms that The New York Times’s behavior was irregular and outside the boundaries of law. The court’s thoughtful and well-researched opinion is a victory for the First Amendment for all journalists and affirms the sanctity of the attorney-client relationship.” Ms. Locke accused The Times of being “a vehicle for the prosecution of a partisan political agenda.”
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The judge’s order came about as part of a libel lawsuit filed in 2020 by Project Veritas, which is led by the provocateur James O’Keefe, that accused The Times of defamation.

The Justice Department is investigating Project Veritas for its possible role in the theft of a diary that belonged to Ashley Biden, President Biden’s daughter. The Times, in reporting on the investigation, published an article in November that quoted memos prepared by a lawyer for Project Veritas, which expounded on strategies that would allow the group to engage in deceptive reporting practices without breaking federal law.

Those memos predate, by several years, the libel case against The Times. But Project Veritas accused the newspaper of intruding on its right to attorney-client privilege. The group argued that the memos prepared by its lawyer were related to legal issues in its libel lawsuit against The Times and that the publication of the memos amounted to an attempt to embarrass a litigation opponent.

The order, issued by Justice Wood last month, had temporarily prevented the paper from further disseminating or seeking those memos and other privileged materials.

The leader of Project Veritas, Mr. O’Keefe, often uses surreptitious cameras and faked identities in videos that are meant to embarrass news outlets, Democratic officials, labor groups and liberals. In a statement on Friday about the judge’s ruling, Mr. O’Keefe wrote: “The Times is so blinded by its hatred of Project Veritas that everything it does results in a self-inflicted wound.”

In his new ruling, Justice Wood rejected the argument by The Times that the memos prepared by Project Veritas’s lawyer — which advised the conservative group on how to legally carry out deceptive reporting methods — were a matter of public concern.

“Undoubtedly, every media outlet believes that anything that it publishes is a matter of public concern,” the judge wrote. He added: “Our smartphones beep and buzz all day long with news flashes that supposedly reflect our browsing and clicking interests, and we can tune in or read the news outlet that gives us the stories and topics that we want to see. But some things are not fodder for public consideration and consumption.”

Justice Wood contended that his ruling did not amount to a restriction on the newspaper’s journalism.

“The Times is perfectly free to investigate, uncover, research, interview, photograph, record, report, publish, opine, expose or ignore whatever aspects of Project Veritas its editors in their sole discretion deem newsworthy, without utilizing Project Veritas’s attorney-client privileged memoranda,” the judge wrote.

Theodore J. Boutrous Jr., a lawyer who represents media outlets including CNN, said in an interview on Friday that the judge’s ruling was “way off base and dangerous.”

“It’s an egregious, unprecedented intrusion on news gathering and the news gathering process,” Mr. Boutrous said. “The special danger is it allows a party suing a news organization for defamation to then get a gag order against the news organization banning any additional reporting. It’s the ultimate chilling effect.”

 

Dec. 23

Top Headlines


Virus Victims, Responses


Investigations

 

U.S. Law, Courts, Crime, Race

 

U.S. Politics, Elections, Inflation, Governance

 

Environment, Climate

 

World News, Human Rights

 

Trump Watch, Corruption Probes

 

Media News

 

Top Stories

 

joe biden podium

washington post logo

Washington Post, Biden says supply chain crisis didn’t materialize: ‘Gifts are being delivered, shelves are not empty,’ Felicia Sonmez and John Wagner, Dec. 23, 2021 (print ed.). In a video conference, the president touted data showing that the U.S. economy is thriving.

President Biden on Wednesday touted his administration’s progress in keeping the American economy rolling, telling a group of business leaders and government officials that the supply chain crisis that was expected to hit the country during the holiday season has not materialized.

“We brought together business and labor leaders to solve problems,” Biden said at the White House, where he held a video conference with business leaders and officials in his supply chain task force. “And the much-predicted crisis didn’t occur. Packages are moving, gifts are being delivered, shelves are not empty.”

Earlier this year, tangled supply chains seemed likely to persist through the end of the year. In response, the White House formed a task force drawing on multiple Cabinet agencies, with Biden administration officials working to ease bottlenecks at a vital U.S. port complex in Southern California and calling for round-the-clock dock work as part of efforts to clear clogged freight channels. The mountains of freight marooned on wharves eventually started to shrink.

Several stakeholders taking part in Wednesday’s meeting, part of which was opened to the press, backed up Biden’s rosy assessments.

“I think the big headline here is freight movement off the ports is improving,” said Christopher Connor, chief executive officer of the American Association of Port Authorities “And that’s happening due to extraordinary efforts, collaborative efforts between all suppliers, participants coupled with creative solutions, which are easing congestion. Despite all reports to the contrary over several months, it is going to be a good holiday season.”

Fred Smith, chief executive officer of FedEx, said his company had managed to move 100 million packages during the weekend after Thanksgiving, the first of its peak season.

washington post logoWashington Post, FDA authorizes Pfizer’s anti-covid pill as omicron surges, Carolyn Y. Johnson, Dec. 23, 2021 (print ed.). The supply of Paxlovid will be limited initially, even as demand is expected to soar. Boxes containing pill packs of Paxlovid, the first oral antiviral medication to help keep covid-19 from worsening, are ready to go at a Pfizer distribution facility in Memphis. (courtesy of Pfizer)

pfizer logoFederal regulators Wednesday authorized the first easy-to-take pill to treat covid-19, a five-day regimen developed by Pfizer that will help refill the nation’s medicine cabinet even as the omicron variant has thwarted most other options.

Tens of thousands of pill packs of Pfizer’s Paxlovid are sitting in a Pfizer warehouse in Memphis, ready to be loaded onto trucks and planes in anticipation of the green light from the Food and Drug Administration. But as omicron cases skyrocket nationwide, doctors are expected to quickly burn through that initial supply of Paxlovid, which has shown to be 89 percent effective at keeping high-risk patients from developing severe illness when given within three days of symptoms starting.

 

bo joe biden wh

Then-President Obama and then vice Presiden Biden (White House file photo).

washington post logoWashington Post, Sign-ups for Obamacare reached a record after Congress lowered the costs and employer coverage fell, Margot Sanger-Katz, Dec. 23, 2021 (print ed.). A record number of Americans have signed up for health plans through the Affordable Care Act’s marketplaces for 2022, after Congress lowered the cost of Obamacare insurance and the pandemic rocked many Americans’ employer-provided coverage.

The Department of Health and Human Services said on Wednesday that 13.6 million people had enrolled in coverage that will begin on Jan. 1, more than in any previous year of the program. Enrollment remains open until Jan. 15 for those who want coverage that would begin in February.

“What a great day it is to really see how the programs are working as they are intended,” Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, the administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which manages the marketplaces, told reporters on a conference call.

The Biden administration has invested heavily in promoting the availability of insurance subsidies under the Affordable Care Act, and expanded the network of professionals available to help people enroll. But Ms. Brooks-LaSure said she thinks the main driver of the enrollment increase was the lower prices most Americans would pay.

A stimulus bill passed by Congress in March made many more Americans eligible for financial assistance in buying Obamacare plans. For most people with low incomes, comprehensive coverage is available for no premium.

Health officials said that enrollment gains were the largest in states that have not expanded their Medicaid programs, where Americans with incomes just above the poverty level qualify for Obamacare plans instead of Medicaid. Enrollment in Georgia grew by a third from last year, and enrollment in Texas increased by more than a quarter.

Other factors probably helped drive the enrollment boom as well. The economic disruptions of the pandemic mean that some Americans who lost job-based coverage may be purchasing their own plans now. And the Biden administration substantially increased its spending on advertising and other forms of outreach to make people aware of their options.

“The messaging angle here is also really important to even get people to the door,” said Cynthia Cox, the director of the program on the Affordable Care Act at the Kaiser Family Foundation. “And the subsidies make it more appealing to walk through the door to actually sign up.”

The administration also established a long “special enrollment period” related to the pandemic through the spring and summer. Millions of new customers signed up for insurance then and are renewing now.

Antiviral pills have been highly anticipated as a potential turning point in the pandemic, a new class of drugs that will help transform life-threatening covid-19 infections into a nuisance. But instead of reinforcing a growing arsenal of drugs, the pills are now urgently needed to help replace workhorse treatments that have for more than a year helped keep sick people out of hospitals but have been knocked out by omicron.

washington post logoWashington Post, Supreme Court sets hearing on Biden’s vaccine rules for workers, Robert Barnes, Dec. 23, 2021 (print ed.). The administration’s policies for health-care employees and private businesses carry implications for tens of millions of workers.

The Supreme Court on Wednesday night announced it will hold a special hearing next month to consider challenges to the Biden administration’s pandemic efforts affecting millions of workers, a nationwide vaccine-or-testing requirement for large employers and a separate coronavirus vaccine mandate for health-care workers.

Both policies have been at least partially blocked from going into effect by lower courts after challenges from Republican-led states, and from business and religious coalitions.

It is highly unusual for the justices to schedule such hearings on emergency requests. Both will be considered Jan. 7, the Friday before the court was to resume its normal schedule of oral arguments.

One of the cases involves a rule from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) that requires employers with 100 or more workers to have staff vaccinated or tested on a regular basis.

ny times logoNew York Times, White House Extends Student Loan Payment Freeze Through May 1, Katie Rogers and Tara Siegel Bernard, Dec. 22, 2021 (print ed.). President Biden, citing the pandemic, said on Wednesday that his administration had extended a moratorium on student loan repayments by 90 days, continuing a relief measure that began nearly two years ago under the Trump administration.

The extension affects about 41 million borrowers, including nearly 27 million who have not been paying their monthly bill since early 2020.

“While our jobs recovery is one of the strongest ever — with nearly six million jobs added this year,” Mr. Biden said in a statement, “we know that millions of student loan borrowers are still coping with the impacts of the pandemic and need some more time before resuming payments.”

Since his first days in office, Mr. Biden has been pressured by Democratic lawmakers who have urged him to deliver on a campaign promise of seeking to forgive $10,000 per person holding federal student loan debt. Since taking office, Mr. Biden has called for Congress to pass a bill rather than forgive the amount through executive action. And he has avoided more ambitious calls from lawmakers, including Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, who have asked the president to forgive as much as $50,000 through executive action.

 

donald trump money palmer report Custom

Palmer Report, Opinion: This is about to get “far worse” for Donald Trump, Ron Leshnower, Dec. 23, 2021. A new Trump-related legal development, though relatively small, is on track to bring sizeable consequences in 2022. It has nothing to do with the Big Lie or any of the other ignominies of Trump’s failed presidency. It is about an older multilevel marketing fraud that now threatens to expose Trump in an embarrassing and damning way, and it should keep Trump and his handlers up at night.

bill palmer report logo headerSix months ago, I wrote that the judge in the class-action lawsuit against the Trump family and Trump Organization related to a fraudulent desktop video phone service scheme they promoted on “Celebrity Apprentice” ordered Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) to let the scammed investors view hundreds of hours of never-before-seen footage. Their attorney, Robbie Kaplan, vowed to move as quickly as possible to get the recordings.

Bloomberg is now reporting that lawyers have indeed accessed the MGM tapes, after waiting for nearly two years. In a letter last week, Kaplan informed the judge that the lawyers are “working diligently to make efficient progress,” seeking unscripted chit-chat among the Trumps that could provide solid evidence of a scam.

In a follow-up letter to the judge sent yesterday, the lawyers announced they “already have identified multiple pieces of relevant footage which will serve as the basis for questioning at deposition.” According to subsequent Bloomberg reporting, the lawyers are prepared to wrap up the whole review in early January and depose Trump, Don Jr., and Ivanka before April 29.

Not only are these tapes producing the evidence the investors need to pursue justice against the Trumps, but they’re paving the way to depositions that could also serve to put Trump’s special brand of bigotry and sexism on full display. As former producer Bill Pruitt tweeted back in 2016 in the wake of the Access Hollywood tape release, this MGM footage is “far worse.” Stay tuned.

 

Virus Victims, Responses

washington post logoWashington Post, S. Africa’s huge omicron wave appears to be subsiding just as fast as it grew, Max Bearak, Dec. 23, 2021 (print ed.). U.K. data suggests omicron variant milder than delta strain. In less than a month, the country's outbreak has gone from a near-vertical rise to a near-vertical fall.

washington post logoWashington Post, With omicron, many vaccinated Americans will at some point test positive. Here’s what to do, Derek Hawkins and Lindsey Bever, Dec. 23, 2021 (print ed.). From at-home care to evaluating an emergency, here’s what to do if you get a breakthrough coronavirus infection.

With the omicron variant spreading rapidly, the United States is all but certain to see a sharp rise in breakthrough coronavirus infections among vaccinated people. These cases were relatively rare in the pre-omicron days, but the new variant has shown an ability to slip past the body’s first line of immune defenses. That means many Americans who have gotten the shots will at some point test positive.

Coronavirus vaccines act like a shield against disease, not an impenetrable barrier, and they offer protection against the omicron variant. Health authorities say booster shots of the Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine are the best defense against serious illness, providing robust protection against severe disease. Your likelihood of developing a breakthrough infection is lowest if you’ve gotten the additional shot. The initial two-shot vaccine regimen still offers protection, but it’s not as effective against the omicron variant without boosters.

If you do get a breakthrough infection, here’s some advice on how to navigate it.

While some breakthrough cases are asymptomatic, experts say most tend to bring mild to moderate symptoms. A cough, a sore throat, muscle aches and a low fever are common, but keep in mind that breakthrough symptoms don’t always resemble the version of covid-19 unvaccinated people get. Some patients report headaches, nasal congestion and sneezing — signs of illness more typically associated with colds or allergies.

When you’re feeling sick, or when you think you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus, the most important thing you can do from the get-go is to get tested. Laboratory-based polymerase chain reaction tests, or PCR tests, are most accurate, but at-home tests do a good job detecting symptomatic cases, too.

“Even if you think it’s just allergies, it would be best for you to go ahead and get a covid test and make sure you don’t have it before you go to work or school or church, because those symptoms can be very mild,” said S. Wesley Long, medical director of diagnostic microbiology at Houston Methodist hospital.

A positive test, whether done at home, in a doctor’s office or at a testing center, should be taken seriously, said Rob Murphy, an infectious-disease expert at Northwestern University.

Whether you have symptoms or not, you should first contact your health-care provider to determine the next steps. If you tested positive with a rapid test at home, a doctor may order a lab-based test for confirmation. Depending on your medical history, the doctor may recommend at-home care or clinical treatment.

anthony fauci graphic Custom

washington post logoWashington Post, Omicron variant ‘is going to find you,’ Fauci says in warning to the unvaccinated, Timothy Bella, Dec. 23, 2021 (print ed.). While the country grapples with the latest coronavirus explosion due to the fast-spreading omicron variant, Anthony S. Fauci (shown above in a file photo) on Tuesday reassured those Americans who are vaccinated and boosted that they would have considerable protection from serious illness.

But the nation’s top infectious-disease expert joined other public health officials nationwide in reiterating to the millions who remain unvaccinated that they are “very vulnerable” to infection from the country’s new dominant variant.

Fauci went one step further in predicting that omicron, which is even faster-spreading than the delta variant that sent infections spiking earlier in the year, “is going to find” those who are unvaccinated.

“That’s why I worry about the people who refuse to get vaccinated. When you’re dealing with any SARS-CoV-2 or covid-19 virus, it’s a problem,” he said to MSNBC’s Alicia Menendez. “When you’re dealing with one that spreads so rapidly and you are unvaccinated, the virus is going to find you.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Editorial: A new generation of vaccines could turn covid-19 from a pandemic to just a problem, Editorial Board, Dec. 22, 2021. After nearly two years of the pandemic, the first wave of vaccines have performed magnificently but also showed their limitations. In the United States, 240 million people are fully vaccinated, and an enormous amount of suffering and death has been averted. But vaccine efficacy began to wane, the need for boosters arose, and a new coronavirus variant is upending everything all over again. Is this the new normal?

covad 19 photo.jpg Custom 2Not necessarily. On top of the extraordinary biomedical achievements of the mRNA vaccines, efforts are underway to discover and develop new vaccines and other therapies for a second and third wave of pandemic response. The covid emergency has unleashed an unprecedented surge of innovation and teamwork in research. Just as the virus has spread around the world, so have scientists become more adept at rapid response, sharing genetic sequences and clinical data at the speed of light, enabling still more discovery.

After two years of research, scientists at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research are making progress toward the development of a pan-coronavirus vaccine, one that might work against all variants, including the new omicron and those potentially emerging in the future.

washington post logoWashington Post, Biden aides see March 2021 rescue package as initial economic buffer against omicron, Jeff Stein, Dec. 22, 2021. Restaurants are closing and people are cancelling plans because of the virus’s latest surge, but the White House sees no need yet for a big cash infusion.

White House officials are carefully watching the economic impact of the latest coronavirus surge, as concerns mount both at home and abroad that surging caseloads could again lead to restrictions that hurt growth and jobs.

At this point, Biden administration officials have not requested additional federal funding as the omicron variant rapidly spreads. And they are optimistic that the March 2021 stimulus package provides policymakers with the financial flexibility to mitigate the economic damage that might be caused by the new variant.

Still, many economists are watching the latest surge, particularly on the East Coast, with some alarm.

A few weeks ago, Mark Zandi, an economist frequently cited by the White House, was projecting that the economy would grow at a breakneck pace of 5 percent in the first quarter of 2022. As the omicron variant spread, however, Zandi revised his growth estimate down to 2 percent. Now he thinks odds are uncomfortably high that the economy may in fact contract at the start of next year.

ny times logoNew York Times, France and Italy Crack Down on Vaccine-Related Fraud, Staff Reports, Dec. 22, 2021 (print ed.). Several European countries are european union logo rectanglereporting more instances of fake Covid passes and vaccine certificates. The N.H.L. pauses its season because of Omicron. President Biden is to announce new steps to quell the latest outbreak, including buying 500 million tests to distribute free to the public.

Follow pandemic news.

  • France finds over 180,000 fake Covid passes, and Italy makes arrests in suspected false inoculations.
  • Biden plans to send military personnel to hospitals and to distribute 500 million tests to tackle Omicron.
  • Are American schools ready for the next big virus surge?
  • Here’s how to use rapid home tests (once you find one).
  • The N.H.L. paused its season ahead of a holiday break.
  • Britain offers $1.3 billion in aid to hospitality and leisure businesses.
  • Covid travel passes in the E.U. will expire after 9 months, the bloc says.
  • Will Omicron end the bull market? Three arguments for and against.

covad 19 photo.jpg Custom 2Worldometer, World & U.S. Coronavirus Case Totals (updated Dec. 23, 2021), with some governments reporting lower numbers than the totals here and some experts saying the numbers are far higher:

World Cases: 277,687,256, Deaths: 5,396,811
U.S. Cases: 52,510,978, Deaths: 833,029
Indian Cases: 34,765,976, Deaths: 478,759
Brazil Cases: 22,222,928, Deaths: 618,128

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Investigations

 

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washington post logoWashington Post, House Jan. 6 panel requests meeting with Rep. Jim Jordan, Felicia Sonmez and Eugene Scott, Dec. 23, 2021 (print ed.). In a letter to the GOP lawmaker, Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.) wrote, “We understand that you had at least one and possibly multiple communications with President Trump on January 6th. We would like to discuss each such communication with you in detail.”

The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob is seeking information from Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), above, one of former president Donald Trump’s staunchest allies on Capitol Hill.

Jordan has previously said that he cannot recall how many times he spoke with Trump on Jan. 6 but that they spoke at least once.

Also on Wednesday, a federal judge denied a motion by Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser, for a temporary restraining order against the select committee over subpoenas it has issued against him.

bennie thompson headshotIn a letter to Jordan on Wednesday, Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.), left, the chairman of the select committee investigating the attack, wrote, “We understand that you had at least one and possibly multiple communications with President Trump on January 6th. We would like to discuss each such communication with you in detail.”

Thompson also asked for details of any communications Jordan had on Jan. 5 or 6 with Trump’s legal team, White House staffers, members of the “war room” team that assembled at the Willard hotel ahead of the attack and any other individuals “involved in organizing or planning the actions and strategies for January 6th.”

He asked Jordan to meet with the panel on Jan. 3 or 4, 2022.

“The American people deserve a full and accurate accounting of what happened on January 6th,” Thompson wrote. “We aim to make informed legislative recommendations taking account of all relevant facts.”

Palmer Report, Opinion: It’s about to be Jim Jordan’s time in the barrel, Shirley Kennedy, right, Dec. 23, 2021. Finally, the House Select Committee has reached shirley kennedyout to one who was surely involved in Trump’s efforts to overturn the election, Jim Jordan.

Jordan is an impenitent Trump apologist, and when questioned earlier, claimed he could not recall whether he had spoken with Trump on January 6. Of course, we all now know that he not only spoke with him but did so several times during the day. One of the more frightening aspects about Jim Jordan according to CNN is that if Republicans take back the House in 2022, he stands to rise to a prominent position. Jordan willingly tried to help Trump stage a coup of our government, and he has no business being in government, let alone a position of power.

bill palmer report logo headerLike other Republicans, Jordan helped to spread the big lie. As CNN reported, Jordan appeared on Fox following the 2020 election. During his interview, Jordan said: “I don’t know how you can ever convince me that President Trump didn’t actually win this thing based on all the things you see.” Those “things” were only seen by those who wanted to see them. The rest of us saw how Democrats came out in record numbers to ensure that Trump was ushered out of the White House in 2021. New voters, young voters, and voters of all ethnic backgrounds banded together to give Joe Biden his victory. Those are the “things” that sane people saw. After saying such an outlandish thing on national television, CNN reported that one week later, Jordan said: “I’ve never said that this election was stolen.” Unbelievable. Again, Republicans think everyone is stupid, clueless, or just not paying attention, but we are paying full attention to everything they do.

Interestingly, the committee is now specifically seeking information on pardons that Trump may have been dangling to get people to cooperate with his unlawful activities. According to Rolling Stone, Jordan and Paul Gosar suggested “blanket pardons” to rally organizers, and the committee further wants information on Jordan’s role from November 2020 to January 2021 in Trump’s efforts to subvert democracy by overturning the election.

Jordan, of course, claims that he has “nothing to hide” and that he has been “straightforward all along.”

Palmer Report, Opinion: It’s now clear how the January 6th Committee is going to get to Donald Trump, Bill Palmer, Dec. 23, 2021. Yesterday was a bad day for Jim Jordan, as the House January 6th Committee formally requested his cooperation in its probe – meaning he’ll swiftly be subpoenaed, and then eventually referred for criminal contempt, if he doesn’t voluntarily cooperate. This was also a bad week for Jordan’s fellow House Republican Scott Perry, who got a similar letter from the committee.

But here’s the thing. While Jordan and Perry must be (and will be) held accountable for any criminal actions they committed in relation to the 2020 election, it’s becoming clear that this really isn’t about them. It’s about Donald Trump himself.

bill palmer report logo headerIt’s right there in the text of the letters that the committee sent. The letter to Jordan spells out that the committee wants to ask him about the presidential pardons that he allegedly offered to January 6th organizers. The letter to Perry focuses on his alleged role in trying to help Trump install Jeffrey Clark as Acting Attorney General so that Clark could illegally use the DOJ to try to keep Trump in power.

The common thread here is, obviously, Donald Trump. Yes, if Jordan did offer presidential pardons to people in exchange for putting January 6th together, that’s a felony and he’ll go down for it. But such a pardon wouldn’t have been granted by Jordan; it would have been granted by Donald Trump. If it can be proven that Trump and Jordan conspired to offer such pardons, then Trump will go down on a felony count as well.

Similarly, if Perry did conspire to install Clark as Acting AG for the specific purpose of carrying out illegal activities, then Clark will go down for it. But you have to “conspire” with someone else – and it’s Trump who would ultimately have had to make the personnel moves required to put Clark into that role. In such case Trump would be criminally culpable in that plot as well.

The pattern we’re starting to see is that the January 6th Committee is not just targeting House members who committed potentially illegal acts. It’s targeting them over potentially illegal acts that they committed with Donald Trump. This has the effect of not just pursuing justice when it comes to these House members, but also attempting to use their alleged crimes to prove Trump’s alleged crimes – or even get them to flip on Donald Trump in an effort to save themselves.

Keep in mind that the committee wouldn’t be going after these House Republicans if it didn’t already have a treasure trove of evidence on them. That’s what the committee was doing these past months when it was working with hundreds of lower level cooperative witnesses.

washington post logoWashington Post, Election officials face growing pressure campaign by Trump allies to revisit 2020 vote, Amy Gardner, Emma Brown and Josh Dawsey, Dec. 23, 2021 (print ed.). Well-funded allies of the former president have gained audiences with top state officials to push for examinations of the vote, and local residents have bombarded election administrators with their own demands to investigate.

More than a year after Donald Trump lost the presidency, election officials across the country are facing a growing barrage of claims that the vote was not secure and demands to investigate or decertify the outcome, efforts that are eating up hundreds of hours of government time and spreading distrust in elections.

The ongoing attack on the vote is being driven in part by well-funded Trump associates, who have gained audiences with top state officials and are pushing to inspect protected machines and urging them to conduct audits or sign on to a lawsuit seeking to overturn the 2020 results. And the campaign is being bolstered by grass-roots energy, as local residents who have absorbed baseless allegations of ballot fraud are now forcing election administrators to address the false claims.

The fallout has spread from the six states where Trump sought to overturn the outcome in 2020 to deep-red places such as Idaho, where officials recently hand-recounted ballots in three counties to refute claims of vote-flipping, and Oklahoma, where state officials commissioned an investigation to counter allegations that voting machines were hacked.More than a year after Donald Trump lost the presidency, election officials across the country are facing a growing barrage of claims that the vote was not secure and demands to investigate or decertify the outcome, efforts that are eating up hundreds of hours of government time and spreading distrust in elections.

The ongoing attack on the vote is being driven in part by well-funded Trump associates, who have gained audiences with top state officials and are pushing to inspect protected machines and urging them to conduct audits or sign on to a lawsuit seeking to overturn the 2020 results. And the campaign is being bolstered by grass-roots energy, as local residents who have absorbed baseless allegations of ballot fraud are now forcing election administrators to address the false claims.

The fallout has spread from the six states where Trump sought to overturn the outcome in 2020 to deep-red places such as Idaho, where officials recently hand-recounted ballots in three counties to refute claims of vote-flipping, and Oklahoma, where state officials commissioned an investigation to counter allegations that voting machines were hacked.

washington post logoWashington Post, First member of Proud Boys group pleads guilty in Capitol riot conspiracy, Rachel Weiner, Dec. 23, 2021 (print ed.). A New York man who was a member of the Proud Boys pleaded guilty Wednesday to obstructing Congress and conspiring to obstruct law enforcement during the pro-Trump riot on Jan. 6.

The plea to the felony charge is significant because Matthew Greene, 34, of Syracuse, admitted coordinating with other New York-based members of the extremist group at the front of the Capitol mob, although there is no evidence he actually entered the building. Greene is the first self-admitted member of the Proud Boys to plead guilty in a felony conspiracy case stemming from the riot and agree to cooperate with law enforcement. He is set to be sentenced March 10.

During a hearing in federal court in the District, Assistant U.S. Attorney Erik Kenerson said Greene will likely get credit at or after sentencing for cooperation and for acceptance of responsibility. The government estimates nonbinding sentencing guidelines of 41 to 51 months. Greene, whose lawyer says he has now disavowed his membership in the Proud Boys, has also agreed to pay a $2,000 fine.

dominic spaz pezzola mug resizedGreene said that on the night before the riot, he helped program handheld radios that belonged to Dominic Pezzola, right, a Rochester Proud Boy charged in the same conspiracy. Pezzola had said the national chairman of the Proud Boys would stop by to have his radio programmed, but he did not, according to Greene. The national chairman, Enrique Tarrio, was arrested Jan. 4 for burning a stolen “Black Lives Matter” flag during a previous protest in D.C. and ordered to stay out of the city.

Another Upstate New York Proud Boy, William Pepe, stayed in Greene’s hotel room, sleeping on the floor, according to the plea. The two met up with Pezzola and other Proud Boys at the Washington Monument on the morning of Jan. 6, according to the court record. They eventually marched to the Peace Monument outside the Capitol, where Greene said members of the Proud Boys were leading the crowd in chants. Greene said he followed Pepe, Pezzola and “dozens of Proud Boys” streaming onto the Capitol grounds; some tore down fencing along the way. He and Pezzola were “among the first wave to cross the downed police line” on the Capitol’s west side, according to his plea. Pepe was about fifteen seconds behind them, prosecutors said.

Greene said he, Pezzola and other Proud Boys were among those who then pushed past police through the scaffolding set up for President Biden’s inauguration and onto the building’s steps. Greene left at that point, retreating once police began using chemical irritants to control the crowd, according to prosecutors.

According to an indictment, Pezzola continued up the steps and used a riot shield taken from police to smash a window into the building before entering and smoking a cigar inside. Pepe was close behind, according to the government. Greene reconvened with the two men at his hotel later that night, according to the court record.

Pepe and Pezzola have pleaded not guilty, saying through lawyers that they did not plan with anyone for what happened Jan. 6. Pezzola has said through an attorney that his association with the Proud Boys was “minimal and short-lived,” and Pepe has said he was not in the same chapter as Pezzola and Greene.

Attorneys for Pepe, Pezzola and Tarrio did not immediately return requests for comment Wednesday evening.

After the riot, Greene bragged that “we took the capital,” and then ordered over 2,000 rounds of assault-rifle ammunition and a gas mask, according to court records. In encrypted conversations with other Proud Boys, he said they had to “take back our country,” and “stand together now or end up in the gulag separately,” according to court records. He downplayed his association with the group to the FBI, prosecutors said, while telling members to be on guard for law enforcement.

washington post logoWashington Post, Since October 2020, special counsel John Durham has spent $3.8 million probing Russia investigation, Matt Zapotosky, Dec. 23, 2021 (print ed.). Special counsel John Durham’s review of the FBI investigation into possible coordination between Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and the Russian government has cost U.S. taxpayers about $3.8 million since October 2020, according to a Justice Department report released Wednesday.

From April through September, Durham reported a tab of about $2.36 million, including about $1.89 million his team spent and about $471,000 recorded FBI logoby other Justice Department offices as being in support of his work.

More than $670,000 went toward personnel costs, more than $280,000 went toward travel and more than $797,000 went toward IT and litigative support, according to the report.

An accounting released earlier this year showed Durham’s investigation cost U.S. taxpayers about $1.45 million from mid-October 2020 through March 2021. The latest report includes some expenses from that prior time frame, which came in higher than had been estimated.

The tally is not a complete accounting of Durham’s expenses since his investigation began in the spring of 2019. Durham was the U.S. attorney in Connecticut when then-Attorney General William P. Barr first asked him to review the FBI investigation; at that time, he was not a special counsel who was required to publicly report investigative expenses.

 

U.S. Law, Courts, Crime, Race

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Lawfare, Commentary: Former Harvard Professor Convicted In Victory for Justice Department’s China Initiative, Brian Liu and Raquel Leslie, Dec. 23, 2021.  The Justice Department announced on Tuesday that Charles Lieber, former chair of Harvard’s Chemistry and Chemical Biology Department, was convicted by a federal jury in connection with his ties to China’s Thousand Talents Program.

Liebercharles lieber file, right, was convicted for failing to report income and making false statements to authorities regarding his affiliation with the Wuhan University of Technology (WUT). The conviction is a significant chapter in the story of the department’s China Initiative, which has recently come under fire by groups who allege that the program has led to racial profiling and amounts to prosecutorial overreach.

The jury convicted Lieber of knowingly and willfully making a materially false statement to federal authorities regarding his work with China’s Thousand Talents Program.

The program, launched in 2008, began with the aim of reversing brain drain by enticing Chinese scientists overseas to return to China. Over time, the program evolved to also recruit foreigners with expertise in key technologies. The program provided Lieber with $50,000 a month to work at WUT, in addition to up to $150,000 in living expenses and more than $1.5 million in grants. Though it is not illegal to participate in Chinese recruitment programs, federal prosecutors alleged that Lieber had failed to report these payments as required of scientists receiving federal funding.

Lieber was seen by some as a potential Nobel Prize winner for his work in nanotechnology. Nanotechnology, the manipulation of materials at a near-atomic level, is a strategically important field with civilian and military application in medicine, green energy, computing and propulsion. In 2012, China’s Academy of Sciences launched a Strategic Pioneering Programme dedicated to nanotechnology research, investing one billion yuan ($152 million) over five years. As a result of the investment, China now ranks first worldwide for the number of patents and articles published on nanotechnology.

Lieber’s prosecution is among the highest profile to come from the China Initiative. The Justice Department created the China Initiative during the Trump Administration in 2018 to prosecute intellectual property (IP) theft and protect U.S. research institutions and critical infrastructure from external threats.

The Biden administration has signaled to Congress that it plans to continue these efforts. In a congressional hearing in November, Attorney General Merrick Garland called China a “serious threat” with regard to IP theft and espionage. In the year-end update to its China Initiative information sheet, the department highlighted 15 prosecutions, indictments and operations from the past year. Separately, the MIT Technology Review published a database in December showing a total of 77 cases since 2018 with more than 150 defendants.

Academics and lawmakers have criticized the China Initiative, arguing that it has resulted in racial profiling against Asians and harmed U.S. technological competitiveness by chilling productive academic collaborations. This past July, in a letter signed by 90 members of Congress, Representative Ted Lieu warned about the risk of wrongful targeting of individuals of Asian descent.

Addressing these concerns, Garland spoke to the need for the Department of Justice to distinguish between countering the Chinese government and targeting Americans of Chinese descent: “We want to be careful to separate out a country that is a serious competitor with us . . . with Americans and also with residents who come from that country.” To distinguish the two issues, Professor Margaret Lewis of Seton Hall Law School has proposed renaming the initiative. Lewis argues that while fears of Chinese IP theft are not unfounded, the naming of a Justice Department initiative after a specific country unnecessarily feeds into xenophobia.

The Lieber trial was seen by some observers as not only a trial on Lieber’s conduct, but for the viability of the China Initiative writ large. It remains to be seen what impact Lieber’s conviction may have on the department’s broader China-related law enforcement efforts heading into next year.

U.S. Imposes Latest Round of Sanctions on China for Misusing Biotechnology Against Ethnic Minorities

The Biden administration announced on Dec. 16 that it imposed trade restrictions on dozens of Chinese government research institutes and private-sector tech firms over human rights violations and the alleged weaponization of technologies that undermine U.S. national security. Twelve Chinese research institutes and 22 Chinese tech firms, including China’s Academy of Military Medical Sciences, were blacklisted and barred from any exports or transfers of U.S. technology, except in limited cases with a license. The Commerce Department accused the entities of contributing to a broader Chinese government strategy to develop and deploy biotechnology “to support Chinese military end uses and end users, to include purported brain-control weaponry” for potential offensive use against Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities.

Amsterdam News, Brooklyn billionaire, buyer of looted antiquities worth millions, walks free in gov’t deal, Staff Report, Dec. 23, 2021. A golden bowl, a ceremonial libations vessel, a marble statue and a small chest for human remains were among the 180 reputedly stolen antiquities that decorated the homes and offices of a Brooklyn billionaire whose collection of the ancient artifacts was valued at $80 million.

Under a deal struck by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr., a multi-year, multinational investigation of artifacts in the possession of hedge fund pioneer Michael Steinhardt will not be prosecuted.

Steinhardt is one of the world’s most prolific buyers of ancient art and a dedicated supporter of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which named one of its Greek art galleries the Judy and Michael H. Steinhardt Gallery.

When the government seized at least nine items from his private collection, including a terra-cotta flask from the fourth century B.C. and Proto-Corinthian figures from the seventh century B.C. Forbes magazine carried a piece on the scandal titled “Ancient History for Sale.”

According to the search warrants, the pieces were purchased within the last 12 years for a total cost of $1.1 million and there is a possible charge of possession of stolen property, noted the Columbia University Journal of Law and the Arts.

The seized pieces were looted and illegally smuggled out of 11 countries, trafficked by 12 criminal smuggling networks, and lacked verifiable provenance prior to appearing on the international art market.

Prosecutors said Steinhardt had owned and traded more than 1,000 antiquities since 1987, and his art collection was valued at about $200 million.

“For decades, Michael Steinhardt displayed a rapacious appetite for plundered artifacts without concern for the legality of his actions, the legitimacy of the pieces he bought and sold, or the grievous cultural damage he wrought across the globe,” District Attorney Vance was quoted to say in a press release from his office. “[Steinhardt’s] pursuit of ‘new’ additions to showcase and sell knew no geographic or moral boundaries, as reflected in the sprawling underworld of antiquities traffickers, crime bosses, money launderers, and tomb raiders he relied upon to expand his collection.”

Joint investigations were conducted with authorities in Libya, Bulgaria, Egypt, Greece, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and Turkey.

The investigation began in 2017 over a 2,000-year-old Bull’s Head stolen from Lebanon during the Lebanese Civil War. It was determined that Steinhardt had purchased the multimillion-dollar statue then subsequently loaned it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Following an order from New York prosecutors, the Met surrendered the bull’s head, which is believed to be a stolen item.

Vance continued: “Even though Steinhardt’s decades-long indifference to the rights of peoples to their own sacred treasures is appalling, the interests of justice prior to indictment and trial favor a resolution that ensures that a substantial portion of the damage to world cultural heritage will be undone, once and for all.”

“This agreement establishes that Steinhardt will be subject to an unprecedented lifetime ban on acquiring antiquities,” he concluded.

Steinhardt’s lawyer praised the decision that ended with no charges against Steinhardt for items bought from “traffickers and tomb raiders” as long as Steinhardt returned them “expeditiously” to their native countries.

Steinhardt, 81, is a major contributor to New York University and to numerous charitable groups. There is a Steinhardt conservatory at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and a Steinhardt Gallery at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The fight against illicit trafficking of cultural property has been on top of the radar screen of UNESCO, a U.N. cultural organization which condemned an upsurge in the looting of archeological sites and the dismantling of ancient monuments as far back as 1930.

Their initiatives picked up steam this year at an international conference on the illicit trade in cultural goods estimated to be worth nearly $10 billion each year.

African countries which have sought the return of objects looted during the colonial era are Ethiopia, Benin, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Holland and Nigeria.

washington post logoWashington Post, Harvard chemistry professor found guilty of hiding ties to China, Bryan Pietsch, Dec. 23, 2021 (print ed.). Charles Lieber’s conviction is a victory for the U.S. Justice Department’s initiative against “economic espionage.”

A Harvard University chemistry professor was convicted in federal court on Tuesday of concealing his ties to China, securing a victory for the Justice Department’s controversial and faltering initiative to address accusations of “Chinese economic espionage” in the United States.

A jury in U.S. District Court in Boston found the professor, Charles Lieber, guilty on two counts of lying to federal authorities, two counts of falsifying tax returns and two counts of failing to report foreign finances.

Lieber, a former chair of Harvard’s chemistry department, had for three years worked as a “strategic scientist” at the Wuhan University of Technology in China as part of Beijing’s Thousand Talents recruitment program. As part of his contract from 2012 to 2015, according to an affidavit, the university in Wuhan paid Lieber a salary of as much as $50,000 per month, $150,000 in annual living expenses and grants of more than $1.5 million to create a research lab at the Chinese university.

harvard logoA Chinese contract described him as a “high-level foreign expert,” and in exchanges with officials at the university in Wuhan, he specified how he preferred to receive his salary — half in U.S. dollars, “with the remainder deposited” into a Chinese bank account, he wrote in 2014, according to the affidavit.

But in an interview with Defense Department investigators at his lab on Harvard’s campus in 2018, according to the affidavit, Lieber said he had never been asked to participate in the Thousand Talents program, and that he “wasn’t sure” how China categorized him.

Lieber also misled Harvard into making false statements to investigators from the National Institutes of Health about his involvement with the university in Wuhan and the Chinese program, prosecutors alleged. Harvard, which placed Lieber on paid administrative leave after his indictment in January 2020, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Lieber had secured millions of dollars in funding for Harvard, but the university left him “holding the bag” when he was charged, a defense attorney, Marc Mukasey, said in closing arguments, the Boston Globe reported. Harvard and Lieber had been engaged in a separate legal battle over the professor’s argument that the university was obligated to pay for his defense in the federal trial.

The Justice Department says China’s Thousand Talents program is an initiative designed to motivate experts in research and development to “transmit the knowledge and research they gain” in the United States to China. Participation in the program is not illegal; rather, Lieber’s charges centered on his false statements and concealment related to his involvement.

ny times logoNew York Times, The F.B.I. Deployed Surveillance Teams Inside Portland Protests, Mike Baker, Sergio Olmos and Adam Goldman, Dec. 23, 2021 (print ed.). Federal agents infiltrated Portland’s racial justice protests, dressing to blend in and capturing video. The tactics raised internal concern. 

In the hours after President Biden’s inauguration this year, protesters marched once again through the streets of Portland, Ore., sending a message that putting a Democrat in the White House would not resolve their problems with a system of policing and corporate wealth that they saw as fundamentally unfair.

“No cops, no prisons, total abolition,” they chanted. Some of the activists, dressed in the trademark uniform of solid black clothing and masks that often signals a readiness to make trouble without being readily identifiable, smashed windows at the local Democratic Party headquarters.

The event — like others that had consumed the city since the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis in 2020 — included a variety of anarchists, antifascists, communists and racial justice activists. But there were others mingling in the crowd that day: plainclothes agents from the FBI logoFederal Bureau of Investigation.

The F.B.I. set up extensive surveillance operations inside Portland’s protest movement, according to documents obtained by The New York Times and current and former federal officials, with agents standing shoulder to shoulder with activists, tailing vandalism suspects to guide the local police toward arrests and furtively videotaping inside one of the country’s most active domestic protest movements.

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U.S. Elections, Politics, Inflation, Governance

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New York Times, Heir Apparent or Afterthought? The Frustrations of Kamala Harris, Katie Rogers and Zolan Kanno-Youngs, Dec. 23, 2021. The vice president’s allies are increasingly concerned that President Biden relied on her to win but does not need her to govern.

The president needed the senator from West Virginia on his side, but he wasn’t sure he needed his vice president to get him there.

It was summertime, and President Biden was under immense pressure to win the support of Senator Joe Manchin III, whose decisive vote in a 50-50 chamber made him the president’s most delicate negotiating partner. Mr. Biden had invited Mr. Manchin to the Oval Office to privately make the case for his marquee domestic policy legislation. Just before Mr. Manchin arrived, he turned to Vice President Kamala Harris.

What he needed from her was not strategy or advice. He needed her to only say a quick hello, which she did before turning on her heel and leaving the room.

The moment, described as an exchange of “brief pleasantries” by a senior White House official and confirmed by two other people who were briefed on it, was a vivid reminder of the complexity of the job held by Ms. Harris: While most presidents promise their vice presidents access and influence, at the end of the day, power and responsibility are not shared equally, and Mr. Biden does not always feel a need for input from Ms. Harris as he navigates some of his most important relationships.

In Ms. Harris’s case, she came to the job without strong ties to key senators; one person briefed on the Oval Office meeting said it would be more productive if the discussion between Mr. Biden and Mr. Manchin remained private. It is unclear that the president had much sway on his own, either, given the senator’s decision this week to break with the White House over the domestic policy bill.

But without a headlining role in some of the most critical decisions facing the White House, the vice president is caught between criticism that she is falling short and resentment among supporters who feel she is being undercut by the administration she serves. And her allies increasingly are concerned that while Mr. Biden relied on her to help him win the White House, he does not need her to govern.

“I think she was an enormous help to the ticket during the campaign,” said Mark Buell, one of Ms. Harris’s earliest fund-raisers since her first race for district attorney in San Francisco. “I would like to see her employed in the same way, now that they’re implementing their objectives or goals.”

The urgency surrounding her position is tied to whether the president, who at 79 is the oldest person to hold the office, will run for re-election in 2024. He told ABC News on Wednesday that he would run again if he was in good health. But questions about Ms. Harris’s readiness for the top job are starting far earlier than is usual for an administration in its first year.

Ms. Harris declined requests for an interview, but White House officials said that her relationship with Mr. Biden is a partnership.

“The vice president has diligently worked alongside the president coordinating with partners, allies and Democratic members of the House and Senate to advance the goals of this administration,” said Sabrina Singh, Ms. Harris’s deputy press secretary.

An early front-runner whose presidential ambitions fizzled amid a dysfunctional 2020 campaign, Ms. Harris was pulled onto the Biden ticket for her policy priorities that largely mirrored his, and her ability as a Black woman to bolster support with coalitions of voters he needed to win the presidency. But according to interviews with more than two dozen White House officials, political allies, elected officials and former aides, Ms. Harris is still struggling to define herself in the Biden White House or meaningfully correct what she and her aides feel is an unfair perception that she is adrift in the job.

But the complexity of the issues she has been assigned, and the long-term solutions they require, should have prompted the West Wing to defend Ms. Harris more aggressively to the public, said Representative Karen Bass, Democrat of California and the former chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus.

On voting rights, Ms. Harris, who asked Mr. Biden if she could lead the administration’s efforts on the issue, has invited activists to the White House and delivered speeches. But her office has not developed detailed plans to work with lawmakers to make sure that two bills that would reform the system will pass Congress, according to a senior official in her office.

washington post logoWashington Post, Trump’s intentions aside, Ted Cruz says he’s next in line to secure the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, Mariana Alfaro, Dec. 23, 2021 (print ed.). The Texas senator, who placed second in the 2016 Republican presidential primaries, says there’s historical precedent for the runner-up to get the nod the next time around

ted cruz button white houseSen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), right, is expressing optimism about his odds of securing the 2024 Republican presidential nomination even as former president Donald Trump hints that he might run again.

In an interview with the Truth Gazette, a conservative outlet run by 15-year-old Brilyn Hollyhand, Cruz said he would “absolutely” consider a run for the White House in 2024. In fact, Cruz said he thinks it is very likely that Republican voters will give him the nomination.

Noting that he ended up “placing second” during the 2016 GOP primaries, Cruz said there is a historical precedent for runner-up candidates like him to get the nod the next time they jump into the presidential race.

“There’s a reason historically that the runner-up is almost always the next nominee,” Cruz said. “That’s been true going back to Nixon or Reagan, or McCain or Romney. That’s played out repeatedly.”

Republicans who come in second in the party’s primaries, Cruz said, jump into the next race “with just an enormous base of support.” He also noted that, in 2016, his campaign raised “over $92 million.”

“That’s the most money any Republican has ever raised in the history of presidential elections,” he told Hollyhand.

Open Secrets, which tracks fundraising, showed that Cruz raised the most of the also-rans (those who didn’t get the nomination) in the GOP primary.

However, Cruz’s theory didn’t work for Rick Santorum, the former senator from Pennsylvania who came in second in the 2012 Republican nomination contest but was nowhere near the top of the party’s pack in 2016.

Cruz was one of 17 Republican candidates in the GOP primaries in 2016. The nomination ultimately went to Trump, but only after an explosive race in which once-promising candidates like Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor and George H.W. Bush’s son, and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) were defeated.

“I ran in 2016; it was the most fun I’ve ever had in my life,” Cruz said.

In July, Cruz also mentioned that he was “certainly looking” at a 2024 presidential bid in an interview with conservative outlet Newsmax. His current Senate term ends in 2025. A spokesman for Cruz did not immediately respond for a request to comment on the senator’s 2024 plans.

While most of the GOP’s candidates in 2016 entered the race critical of Trump — before ultimately endorsing him — the showdowns between Cruz and Trump were often the most bitter.

At one point in the 2016 race, Trump insulted Cruz’s wife, Heidi, and suggested that Cruz’s father may have been involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Cruz, meanwhile, often called Trump a “coward” and a “pathological liar,” among other things. Cruz ended up dropping out of the race in May 2016 after losing the Indiana primary to Trump. He endorsed Trump in September.

Trump has signaled that he might run again in 2024. If so, he would be the heavy favorite to win the nomination, despite being impeached twice and facing multiple investigations related to his businesses.

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World News, Human Rights

washington post logoWashington Post, Analysis: Chile’s millennial president-elect is a sign of a very different ‘pink tide,’ Anthony Faiola, Dec. 23, 2021 (print ed.). The new crop of leftists scoring wins across the region diverges from the socialist leaders of the 2000s.

Across Latin America, the left is on the march, capturing the presidencies in Peru, Honduras and, on Sunday, Chile, adding to the ranks of other left-leaning governments already stretching from Mexico to Argentina. On the surface, it might seem like deja vu — a flashback to the “pink tide” of the 2000s that churned up globally known firebrands including the father of Venezuelan socialism, Hugo Chávez.

Take a closer look, though, and the new tide is different.

It is always dangerous to generalize a region populated by diverse nations with unique domestic dynamics. But compared to the 2000s, Latin America’s new crop of leftist leaders are, on average, less uniform and more measured. Their greatest commonality is their rise during the pandemic, which dealt Latin America the globe’s deepest economic blow and sent poverty rates soaring. A growing sense of inequality, festering government corruption and the failure of traditional political classes is punishing right-wing parties in power, giving room to disparate — if otherwise nontraditional — outsiders on the left.

Newly elected Chilean President Gabriel Boric and Taylor Swift (Photos by Martin Bernetti and Dimitrios Kambo via Getty Images).
Newly elected Chilean President Gabriel Boric and Taylor Swift (Photos by Martin Bernetti and Dimitrios Kambo via Getty Images).

Los Angeles Times, Chile’s new president: Gabriel Boric is a Swiftie, Suzy Exposito, Dec. 22, 2021 (print ed.) This week, 35-year-old Gabriel Boric Font became Chile’s youngest-ever president-elect.

But he also counts himself among an unexpected demographic: Taylor Swift fans. During a recent public appearance, a group of Chilean Swifties flocked to Boric and asked: “Are you a Swiftie, or not?” Boric quietly reached into his coat pocket and revealed a wallet-sized photo of Swift.

Online, Boric was widely touted by fans as the “Swiftie Candidate.” Wrote one Twitter user: “Swifties taking over the world one country at a time.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Hong Kong tears down ‘Pillar of Shame’ sculpture honoring Tiananmen victims, Shibani Mahtani and David Crawshaw, Dec. 23, 2021 (print ed.). Under the cover of darkness early Thursday, authorities in Hong Kong tore down a public sculpture dedicated to the victims of the Tiananmen Square massacre, accelerating a campaign to erase the crackdown from public recollection and stamp out dissent in a city that until recently was one of Asia’s freest.

The 26-foot-tall artwork, known as the “Pillar of Shame,” had stood at the University of Hong Kong for nearly a quarter-century and honored the hundreds, if not thousands, of students and others killed on June 4, 1989, when the Chinese military crushed pro-democracy protests.

The sculpture, depicting naked bodies twisted together, some in mid-scream, was created by Danish artist Jens Galschiot and was one of the last remaining Tiananmen commemorations on Chinese soil. Each year on the anniversary of the massacre, students would scrub and clean the memorial.
University students clean the memorial on June 4, 2019, on the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. (Kin Cheung/AP)

With students away on Christmas break, workers erected yellow barriers and large white curtains around the site of the sculpture on the university campus, while security guards kept onlookers away. Overnight, the artwork was dismantled into two pieces, wrapped up and taken away.

ny times logoNew York Times, U.S. Eases Pressure of Sanctions on Afghanistan, Alan Rappeport and Michael Crowley, Dec. 23, 2021 (print ed.). The Treasury Department issued new “general licenses” to help aid flow as a humanitarian crisis deepens.

The Biden administration on Wednesday took steps to ease the pressure that sanctions on the Taliban are having on Afghanistan as the combination of the pandemic, a severe drought, the loss of foreign aid and frozen currency reserves have left the country’s fragile economy on the brink of collapse.

The humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan has put the Biden administration on the defensive three months after the Taliban assumed power and American and international forces left the country. A thicket of American and international sanctions that were designed to cut the Taliban off from the international financial system have left the entire country with a cash shortage, crippling banks and businesses and sending prices soaring.

The United States does not recognize the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan. Following the group’s takeover of the country this year, the Biden administration froze $9.5 billion of Afghanistan’s foreign reserves, stopped sending shipments of dollars to Afghanistan’s central bank and pressured the International Monetary Fund to delay plans to transmit emergency reserve funds to the country.

The Treasury Department said on Wednesday that it was issuing new “general licenses” that would make it easier for nongovernmental organizations, international aid groups and the United States government to provide relief to the Afghan people while maintaining economic pressure on the Taliban.

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washington post logoWashington Post, A year ago, Fox News considered a breakup with Trump. 2021 changed those plans, Sarah Ellison, Dec. 24, 2021 (print ed.).
Going into 2022, the network’s alignment with Trump has it grappling with a pair of potentially catastrophic lawsuits. But its ratings are on top again.

In the weeks before the 2020 election, as Fox News executives and luminaries came to terms with its possible outcome, some began to see in it a long-awaited opportunity — a chance to break up with Donald Trump.

Yet the post-Trump era opened for Fox with a ratings drop that quickly prompted a recalibration of those 2021 visions.

Now, one year later, the dream some harbored of distancing from Trump is long over. The biggest threat Fox now faces is a pair of looming lawsuits from two voting technology companies that claim the network, far from turning away from Trump, allowed Trump-allied personalities — including on-air hosts as well as guests — to falsely malign them with bogus conspiracy theories about widespread election fraud in 2020.

Over the course of the year, Fox managed to reassert itself as the No. 1 ranked cable programmer — and wholeheartedly realigned itself with the former president and his supporters.

washington post logoWashington Post, Joan Didion (1934–2021): Author who chronicled decadence and hypocrisy in America dies at 87, Harrison Smith, Dec. 24, 2021 (print ed.). Joan Didion, a virtuosic prose stylist who for more than four decades explored the agitated, fractured state of the American psyche in her novels, essays, criticism and memoirs, and who as one of the “New Journalists” of the 1960s and ’70s helped reportorial nonfiction acquire the status of an art form, died Dec. 23 at her home in Manhattan. She was 87.

The cause was complications from Parkinson’s disease, according to a statement from her publisher, Knopf.

With an unwavering eye and piercing intellect, Ms. Didion revealed an America gripped by moral decadence and self-deception, in thrall to false narratives that offered little explanation about how the world worked.

Her trenchant, frequently contrarian opinions on subjects as varied as the films of Woody Allen and the traffic in Los Angeles were matched by a precise style that was nearly universally admired. “Try to rearrange one of her sentences,” New York Times critic John Leonard once wrote, “and you’ve realized that the sentence was inevitable, a hologram.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Joan Didion was essence of effortless cool amid a life of loss and disillusionment, Margaret Sullivan, Dec. 24, 2021 (print ed.). Her writer’s voice is an unmistakable through-line from work as early as “On Keeping a Notebook,” from the 1968 collection “Slouching Towards Bethlehem” all the way to “Blue Nights” in 2011.

michael fanone

Palmer Report, Opinion: Capitol Police Officer Michael Fanone makes his move, Bocha Blue, Dec. 23, 2021. To find love, we need look no further than among each other — and the valiant heroes who fought for us on January 6. One of those heroes is Capitol Police Officer Michael Fanone (shown above in a file photo).

CNNYou may have seen him on television, in particular CNN. He is as brave a hero as one can find. And on January 6, he was viciously beaten by crazed insurrectionists. They could not take away the love that shines from him.

bill palmer report logo headerFanone has been an outspoken critic of the January 6 attacks and has become an activist in his own right. He also testified before the January 6 committee. Sadly, some of his colleagues were reportedly not pleased with his activism. And now Fanone has resigned from the police force.

“Clearly, there are some members of our department who feel their oath is to Donald Trump and not to the constitution,” Fanone said. “I no longer felt like I could trust my fellow officers and decided to make a change.”

It is unfortunate that such a brave soul could possibly receive derision for his bravery, but this is the world we now live in.

The good news is that Fanone has a new job — and it’s with CNN. This is one of their better decisions. CNN has hired Fanone as a contributor on issues of law enforcement. The world is a better place with Fanone in it, and CNN will undoubtedly be a better network with Fanone on it. We wish him all the best in his new occupation.

washington post logoWashington Post, Americans distrust Facebook, TikTok, Instagram with their data and want privacy laws, poll finds, Heather Kelly and Emily Guskin, Dec. 23, 2021 (print ed.). Pulled between not trusting some tech companies and still wanting to use their products, people look to government regulation, according to a Washington Post-Schar School poll.

Dec. 22

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washington post logoWashington Post, Biden announces omicron battle plan to include a half-billion free at-home tests, Andrew Jeong, Dec. 22, 2021 (print ed.). New federal testing sites will also be established across the country, starting with one in New York City this week.\

washington post logoWashington Post, Biden says supply chain crisis didn’t materialize: ‘Gifts are being delivered, shelves are not empty,’ Felicia Sonmez and John Wagner, Dec. 22, 2021. In a video conference, the president touted data showing that the U.S. economy is thriving.

President Biden on Wednesday touted his administration’s progress in keeping the American economy rolling, telling a group of business leaders and government officials that the supply chain crisis that was expected to hit the country during the holiday season has not materialized.

“We brought together business and labor leaders to solve problems,” Biden said at the White House, where he held a video conference with business leaders and officials in his supply chain task force. “And the much-predicted crisis didn’t occur. Packages are moving, gifts are being delivered, shelves are not empty.”

Earlier this year, tangled supply chains seemed likely to persist through the end of the year. In response, the White House formed a task force drawing on multiple Cabinet agencies, with Biden administration officials working to ease bottlenecks at a vital U.S. port complex in Southern California and calling for round-the-clock dock work as part of efforts to clear clogged freight channels. The mountains of freight marooned on wharves eventually started to shrink.

Several stakeholders taking part in Wednesday’s meeting, part of which was opened to the press, backed up Biden’s rosy assessments.

“I think the big headline here is freight movement off the ports is improving,” said Christopher Connor, chief executive officer of the American Association of Port Authorities “And that’s happening due to extraordinary efforts, collaborative efforts between all suppliers, participants coupled with creative solutions, which are easing congestion. Despite all reports to the contrary over several months, it is going to be a good holiday season.”

Fred Smith, chief executive officer of FedEx, said his company had managed to move 100 million packages during the weekend after Thanksgiving, the first of its peak season.

washington post logoWashington Post, Supreme Court sets hearing on Biden’s vaccine rules for workers, Robert Barnes, Dec. 22, 2021. The administration’s policies for health-care employees and private businesses carry implications for tens of millions of workers.

The Supreme Court on Wednesday night announced it will hold a special hearing next month to consider challenges to the Biden administration’s pandemic efforts affecting millions of workers, a nationwide vaccine-or-testing requirement for large employers and a separate coronavirus vaccine mandate for health-care workers.

Both policies have been at least partially blocked from going into effect by lower courts after challenges from Republican-led states, and from business and religious coalitions.

It is highly unusual for the justices to schedule such hearings on emergency requests. Both will be considered Jan. 7, the Friday before the court was to resume its normal schedule of oral arguments.

One of the cases involves a rule from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) that requires employers with 100 or more workers to have staff vaccinated or tested on a regular basis.

ny times logoNew York Times, Live Updates, Biden Offers Reassurance as Omicron Surges: ‘This Is Not March of 2020,’ Staff Reports, Dec. 22, 2021 (print ed.). In a speech, President Biden told an anxious nation that “we should all be concerned about Omicron, but not panicked.”

His plan includes readying military medical workers to help hospitals, setting up testing and vaccine sites and distributing free tests. Here’s the latest.

Facing an alarming surge in coronavirus cases that threatens to overwhelm the nation’s hospital system, President Biden stepped up his administration’s pandemic response again on Tuesday and tried to reassure an anxious nation, telling Americans that “we should all be concerned about Omicron, but not panicked.”

In a White House address, Mr. Biden directed his defense secretary to get 1,000 military medical professionals ready to help where needed; he announced new vaccination and testing sites; and he said his administration was buying 500 million rapid Covid-19 tests to distribute free to the public.

But first, Mr. Biden took on the role of comforter-in-chief, reminding Americans that, despite the highly infectious new Omicron variant, the situation today is far different from when the pandemic began in early 2020, when there were no vaccines or treatments and vital medical equipment was in short supply. He insisted, as he has in the past, that there was no need for lockdowns now.

“This is not March of 2020,” Mr. Biden declared. “Two hundred million people are vaccinated. We’re prepared; we know more.”

Mr. Biden ran for office on a promise to curb the pandemic, only to be confronted with a shape-shifting virus that is now claiming more than 1,000 American lives every day and spreading with stunning speed, as well as a divisive political climate in which many Americans, particularly supporters of former President Donald J. Trump, have refused to get vaccinated.

In his remarks, Mr. Biden noted that Mr. Trump recently said he had received a booster shot, and that “thanks to the prior administration and the scientific community, America is one of the first countries to get the vaccine.”

He criticized the “dangerous misinformation on cable TV and social media,” and the companies and personalities who were “making money by peddling lies and allowing misinformation that can kill their own customers and their own supporters.”

While Mr. Biden acknowledged that the virus was infecting some vaccinated people, he urged unvaccinated Americans to get their shots, and vaccinated people to get boosters if they are eligible, saying that the unvaccinated have “a significantly higher risk of ending up in the hospital — or even dying.”

Some infectious disease experts say it is simply not possible now to stop the Omicron variant from spreading, and that the administration must focus on slowing it, protecting the most vulnerable and preventing already strained hospital systems from being overwhelmed.

“The main goal, really, is to prevent people from losing their health and straining hospitals, delaying cancer care and surgeries for people who need it, delaying health care worker burnout,” Lu Borio, a former acting chief scientist for the Food and Drug Administration, said in an interview.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported on Monday that Omicron, which was causing less than 1 percent of new Covid-19 cases in the United States as December began, now accounts for nearly three-quarters of new cases, a statistic that underscores the urgency of Mr. Biden’s moves.

 

lloyd austin o

washington post logoWashington Post, Pentagon updates rules to address extremism in the military, Karoun Demirjian and Alex Horton, Dec. 22, 2021 (print ed.). The new regulations stem from revelations that military personnel and veterans were among those who attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. The Pentagon is updating its personnel policies to address a concerning rise of extremism within the military and hold service members accountable for the views they express on social media, officials said Monday.

Department of Defense SealThe rules stem from revelations that military personnel and veterans were among those who attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. Upon taking office this year, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, above, pledged to study how prevalent the problem may be and take steps to eliminate it.

Senior U.S. defense officials said the Pentagon’s approach will not expressly prohibit membership in extremist groups — and does not target particular ideologies or political leanings, despite the prevalence of right-wing groups that participated in the Capitol attack. Instead, it focuses on addressing “actions” and will rely in large part on individual service members or outside law enforcement agencies to report concerning behavior.

 

Virus Victims, Responses

washington post logoWashington Post, S. Africa’s huge omicron wave appears to be subsiding just as fast as it grew, Max Bearak, Dec. 22, 2021. U.K. data suggests omicron variant milder than delta strain. In less than a month, the country's outbreak has gone from a near-vertical rise to a near-vertical fall.

ny times logoNew York Times, Guest Essay: Facts Alone Aren’t Going to Win Over the Unvaccinated. This Might, Anupam B. Jena and Christopher M. Worsham, Dec. 22, 2021 (print ed.). Dr. Jena is an economist, a physician and an associate professor of health care policy and medicine at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Worsham is a critical care physician and public health researcher at Harvard Medical School.

At this point in the pandemic, many Americans remain unvaccinated because they believe the coronavirus vaccine is unlikely to do them any good. They’re aware of the virus and the damage it can cause, but for any number of reasons, they simply don’t believe they should get a vaccine. We’ve spoken to patients like this in our practice, and we have observed in those conversations that providing more, frightening information intended to change their beliefs is ineffective for many or may even cause further entrenchment against vaccination.

Public health experts have tried many different methods to motivate behavior like vaccination. Our recent research shows even more clearly that providing additional information may not be one of the strongest tools.

In a study published on Dec. 13, we examined data from about 750,000 children who were eligible to receive the human papilloma virus vaccine to prevent cervical cancer. Since the HPV vaccine was approved in 2006, it has experienced resistance from parents and religious and conservative groups who see it as promoting sexual behavior. Its politicization was a preview for what has happened with the coronavirus vaccines in the United States.

Our research question was: Are mothers who themselves had cervical cancer more likely to have their children vaccinated against HPV? We thought that for this group of mothers, a lack of information about the consequences of HPV couldn’t possibly affect their decision to vaccinate their children against the virus. These women had personally suffered from cervical cancer, so, presumably, they would be especially well informed about the harms of this virus and the disease it causes.

What we found surprised us: The girls and boys whose mothers had cervical cancer were no more likely to be vaccinated against HPV compared with children whose mothers had no history of cervical disease.

Motivations behind vaccination decisions are complex; they vary from disease to disease and across time, social groups, culture and geography. But if personally having cervical cancer doesn’t seem to motivate mothers to vaccinate their children against HPV, we probably shouldn’t be surprised when hesitant Americans are not motivated to get vaccinated after a family member is hospitalized or even dies from Covid-19. Emergency room doctors sharing devastating stories from the hospital may, unfortunately, not meaningfully impact vaccination rates.

What interventions might work? Behavioral science research suggests that one of the best ways to motivate behavior is through incentives, either positive or negative. Incentives work because they do not force people to change their beliefs.

The incentive that seems to work especially well is the employer vaccine mandate, a negative incentive. “Get vaccinated or get fired” has shown to be an effective message. United Airlines, which mandated the coronavirus vaccination for its employees this past summer, reported in November that 100 percent of their customer-facing employees were vaccinated, and that only about 200 of their 67,000 employees had chosen termination over vaccination. Similar stories have played out among private and public sector employers that enforce mandates, with vaccination rates approaching 100 percent (including at our own hospital).

By now, it’s clear that the public health system does not know how to change people’s beliefs about vaccines. Until we do, America’s leaders should focus on other strategies, especially the ones we already know are effective.

washington post logoWashington Post, With omicron, many vaccinated Americans will at some point test positive. Here’s what to do, Derek Hawkins and Lindsey Bever, Dec. 22, 2021. From at-home care to evaluating an emergency, here’s what to do if you get a breakthrough coronavirus infection.

With the omicron variant spreading rapidly, the United States is all but certain to see a sharp rise in breakthrough coronavirus infections among vaccinated people. These cases were relatively rare in the pre-omicron days, but the new variant has shown an ability to slip past the body’s first line of immune defenses. That means many Americans who have gotten the shots will at some point test positive.

Coronavirus vaccines act like a shield against disease, not an impenetrable barrier, and they offer protection against the omicron variant. Health authorities say booster shots of the Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine are the best defense against serious illness, providing robust protection against severe disease. Your likelihood of developing a breakthrough infection is lowest if you’ve gotten the additional shot. The initial two-shot vaccine regimen still offers protection, but it’s not as effective against the omicron variant without boosters.

If you do get a breakthrough infection, here’s some advice on how to navigate it.

While some breakthrough cases are asymptomatic, experts say most tend to bring mild to moderate symptoms. A cough, a sore throat, muscle aches and a low fever are common, but keep in mind that breakthrough symptoms don’t always resemble the version of covid-19 unvaccinated people get. Some patients report headaches, nasal congestion and sneezing — signs of illness more typically associated with colds or allergies.

When you’re feeling sick, or when you think you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus, the most important thing you can do from the get-go is to get tested. Laboratory-based polymerase chain reaction tests, or PCR tests, are most accurate, but at-home tests do a good job detecting symptomatic cases, too.

“Even if you think it’s just allergies, it would be best for you to go ahead and get a covid test and make sure you don’t have it before you go to work or school or church, because those symptoms can be very mild,” said S. Wesley Long, medical director of diagnostic microbiology at Houston Methodist hospital.

A positive test, whether done at home, in a doctor’s office or at a testing center, should be taken seriously, said Rob Murphy, an infectious-disease expert at Northwestern University.

Whether you have symptoms or not, you should first contact your health-care provider to determine the next steps. If you tested positive with a rapid test at home, a doctor may order a lab-based test for confirmation. Depending on your medical history, the doctor may recommend at-home care or clinical treatment.

anthony fauci graphic Custom

washington post logoWashington Post, Omicron variant ‘is going to find you,’ Fauci says in warning to the unvaccinated, Timothy Bella, Dec. 22, 2021. While the country grapples with the latest coronavirus explosion due to the fast-spreading omicron variant, Anthony S. Fauci (shown above in a file photo) on Tuesday reassured those Americans who are vaccinated and boosted that they would have considerable protection from serious illness.

But the nation’s top infectious-disease expert joined other public health officials nationwide in reiterating to the millions who remain unvaccinated that they are “very vulnerable” to infection from the country’s new dominant variant.
FAQ: What to know about the omicron variant of the coronavirus

Fauci went one step further in predicting that omicron, which is even faster-spreading than the delta variant that sent infections spiking earlier in the year, “is going to find” those who are unvaccinated.

“That’s why I worry about the people who refuse to get vaccinated. When you’re dealing with any SARS-CoV-2 or covid-19 virus, it’s a problem,” he said to MSNBC’s Alicia Menendez. “When you’re dealing with one that spreads so rapidly and you are unvaccinated, the virus is going to find you.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Editorial: A new generation of vaccines could turn covid-19 from a pandemic to just a problem, Editorial Board, Dec. 22, 2021. After nearly two years of the pandemic, the first wave of vaccines have performed magnificently but also showed their limitations. In the United States, 240 million people are fully vaccinated, and an enormous amount of suffering and death has been averted. But vaccine efficacy began to wane, the need for boosters arose, and a new coronavirus variant is upending everything all over again. Is this the new normal?

covad 19 photo.jpg Custom 2Not necessarily. On top of the extraordinary biomedical achievements of the mRNA vaccines, efforts are underway to discover and develop new vaccines and other therapies for a second and third wave of pandemic response. The covid emergency has unleashed an unprecedented surge of innovation and teamwork in research. Just as the virus has spread around the world, so have scientists become more adept at rapid response, sharing genetic sequences and clinical data at the speed of light, enabling still more discovery.

After two years of research, scientists at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research are making progress toward the development of a pan-coronavirus vaccine, one that might work against all variants, including the new omicron and those potentially emerging in the future.

washington post logoWashington Post, D.C. to require coronavirus vaccination to enter restaurants, gyms and other businesses, Michael Brice-Saddler, Julie Zauzmer Weil and Jenna Portnoy, Dec. 22, 2021. The D.C. region, particularly the District, is staggering under a massive new wave of infections just days before the Christmas holiday,

People 12 and older will be required to show proof of coronavirus vaccination to enter many businesses in D.C., including restaurants, starting in mid-January under rules that Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) announced Wednesday.

The change comes two days after Bowser announced a host of new restrictions to curb record-setting numbers of daily coronavirus cases that have made D.C.'s new daily case rate higher than that of any state in the nation this week.

The region, particularly the District, is staggering under a massive new wave of infections just days before the Christmas holiday, leaving many residents canceling plans, holing up sick at home, or standing in hours-long lines in the cold to be the first to take home the city’s new free rapid tests on Wednesday.

After initially responding to the surge by reinstating an indoor mask mandate, announcing a forthcoming vaccine requirement for government workers without a test-out option, and introducing at-home rapid antigen tests for residents, Bowser will now require thousands of businesses to check that patrons are vaccinated.

washington post logoWashington Post, UCLA, Columbia, Duke among colleges planning to start January with remote instruction as omicron surges, Susan Svrluga, Dec. 22, 2021. At other schools, some faculty members are urging a more cautious start in January.

washington post logoWashington Post, FDA authorizes Pfizer’s anti-covid pill as omicron surges, Carolyn Y. Johnson, Dec. 22, 2021. The supply of Paxlovid will be limited initially, even as demand is expected to soar. Boxes containing pill packs of Paxlovid, the first oral antiviral medication to help keep covid-19 from worsening, are ready to go at a Pfizer distribution facility in Memphis. (courtesy of Pfizer)

pfizer logoFederal regulators Wednesday authorized the first easy-to-take pill to treat covid-19, a five-day regimen developed by Pfizer that will help refill the nation’s medicine cabinet even as the omicron variant has thwarted most other options.

Tens of thousands of pill packs of Pfizer’s Paxlovid are sitting in a Pfizer warehouse in Memphis, ready to be loaded onto trucks and planes in anticipation of the green light from the Food and Drug Administration. But as omicron cases skyrocket nationwide, doctors are expected to quickly burn through that initial supply of Paxlovid, which has shown to be 89 percent effective at keeping high-risk patients from developing severe illness when given within three days of symptoms starting.

washington post logoWashington Post, Sign-ups for Obamacare reached a record after Congress lowered the costs and employer coverage fell, Margot Sanger-Katz, Dec. 22, 2021. A record number of Americans have signed up for health plans through the Affordable Care Act’s marketplaces for 2022, after Congress lowered the cost of Obamacare insurance and the pandemic rocked many Americans’ employer-provided coverage.

The Department of Health and Human Services said on Wednesday that 13.6 million people had enrolled in coverage that will begin on Jan. 1, more than in any previous year of the program. Enrollment remains open until Jan. 15 for those who want coverage that would begin in February.

“What a great day it is to really see how the programs are working as they are intended,” Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, the administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which manages the marketplaces, told reporters on a conference call.

The Biden administration has invested heavily in promoting the availability of insurance subsidies under the Affordable Care Act, and expanded the network of professionals available to help people enroll. But Ms. Brooks-LaSure said she thinks the main driver of the enrollment increase was the lower prices most Americans would pay.

A stimulus bill passed by Congress in March made many more Americans eligible for financial assistance in buying Obamacare plans. For most people with low incomes, comprehensive coverage is available for no premium.

Health officials said that enrollment gains were the largest in states that have not expanded their Medicaid programs, where Americans with incomes just above the poverty level qualify for Obamacare plans instead of Medicaid. Enrollment in Georgia grew by a third from last year, and enrollment in Texas increased by more than a quarter.

Other factors probably helped drive the enrollment boom as well. The economic disruptions of the pandemic mean that some Americans who lost job-based coverage may be purchasing their own plans now. And the Biden administration substantially increased its spending on advertising and other forms of outreach to make people aware of their options.

“The messaging angle here is also really important to even get people to the door,” said Cynthia Cox, the director of the program on the Affordable Care Act at the Kaiser Family Foundation. “And the subsidies make it more appealing to walk through the door to actually sign up.”

The administration also established a long “special enrollment period” related to the pandemic through the spring and summer. Millions of new customers signed up for insurance then and are renewing now.

Antiviral pills have been highly anticipated as a potential turning point in the pandemic, a new class of drugs that will help transform life-threatening covid-19 infections into a nuisance. But instead of reinforcing a growing arsenal of drugs, the pills are now urgently needed to help replace workhorse treatments that have for more than a year helped keep sick people out of hospitals but have been knocked out by omicron.

washington post logoWashington Post, Biden aides see March 2021 rescue package as initial economic buffer against omicron, Jeff Stein, Dec. 22, 2021. Restaurants are closing and people are cancelling plans because of the virus’s latest surge, but the White House sees no need yet for a big cash infusion.

White House officials are carefully watching the economic impact of the latest coronavirus surge, as concerns mount both at home and abroad that surging caseloads could again lead to restrictions that hurt growth and jobs.

At this point, Biden administration officials have not requested additional federal funding as the omicron variant rapidly spreads. And they are optimistic that the March 2021 stimulus package provides policymakers with the financial flexibility to mitigate the economic damage that might be caused by the new variant.

Still, many economists are watching the latest surge, particularly on the East Coast, with some alarm.

A few weeks ago, Mark Zandi, an economist frequently cited by the White House, was projecting that the economy would grow at a breakneck pace of 5 percent in the first quarter of 2022. As the omicron variant spread, however, Zandi revised his growth estimate down to 2 percent. Now he thinks odds are uncomfortably high that the economy may in fact contract at the start of next year.

ny times logoNew York Times, France and Italy Crack Down on Vaccine-Related Fraud, Staff Reports, Dec. 22, 2021 (print ed.). Several European countries are european union logo rectanglereporting more instances of fake Covid passes and vaccine certificates. The N.H.L. pauses its season because of Omicron. President Biden is to announce new steps to quell the latest outbreak, including buying 500 million tests to distribute free to the public.

Follow pandemic news.

  • France finds over 180,000 fake Covid passes, and Italy makes arrests in suspected false inoculations.
  • Biden plans to send military personnel to hospitals and to distribute 500 million tests to tackle Omicron.
  • Are American schools ready for the next big virus surge?
  • Here’s how to use rapid home tests (once you find one).
  • The N.H.L. paused its season ahead of a holiday break.
  • Britain offers $1.3 billion in aid to hospitality and leisure businesses.
  • Covid travel passes in the E.U. will expire after 9 months, the bloc says.
  • Will Omicron end the bull market? Three arguments for and against.

ny times logoNew York Times, Are Schools Ready for the Next Big Virus Surge? Dana Goldstein, Dec. 22, 2021 (print ed.). Districts say they don’t want to close classrooms again. But the latest wave could challenge the rickety infrastructure that has kept schools running.

Districts have mostly reassured families that despite targeted classroom closures to contain spread of the virus, they plan to continue in-person learning until the Christmas break and reopen as planned in January. New York City, Boston and Montgomery County, Md., in suburban Washington, were among the large school systems that said they would not shift districtwide to remote learning, or would do so only if forced to by public health officials.

covad 19 photo.jpg Custom 2Worldometer, World & U.S. Coronavirus Case Totals (updated Dec. 22, 2021), with some governments reporting lower numbers than the totals here and some experts saying the numbers are far higher:

World Cases: 276,724,567, Deaths: 5,388,451
U.S. Cases:     52,253,848, Deaths:    830,990
Indian Cases:   34,758,481, Deaths:    478,325
Brazil Cases:   22,219,477, Deaths:    617,991

washington post logoWashington Post, One person caught the coronavirus. China locked down 200,000 of their neighbors, Lily Kuo, Dec. 22, 2021. The extreme response underlines China’s hypervigilance as Beijing prepares to host the Winter Olympics in February amid new local cases of the omicron variant.

In response to a single case of the coronavirus, Chinese authorities locked down a southern border city of more than 200,000 people this week, barring the entry of all goods and people. After a cluster of new cases in northwestern China, officials also sealed off a city of 13 million, ordering all residents to stay inside.

The extreme response underlines China’s hypervigilance as Beijing prepares to host the Winter Olympics in February amid new local cases of the omicron variant.

The city of Dongxing, which borders Vietnam in China’s southern Guangxi province, on Wednesday ordered all households to quarantine at home until further notice after a resident tested positive during a routine screening, according to state broadcaster CCTV. Schools, public transportation and most businesses, except for supermarkets and pharmacies, were temporarily shuttered as authorities launched a campaign to test everyone in the city.

washington post logoWashington Post, As omicron explodes around world, covid cases in Japan plummet — and no one knows exactly why, Michelle Ye Hee Lee and Julia Mio Inuma, Dec. 22, 2021. Call it the hunt for a potential “X factor,” such as genetics, that may explain the trend and inform how Japan could deal with the next wave.

While the new highly transmissible omicron variant has appeared in the country and experts suspect there is already some community spread, the overall transmission rate of the virus and coronavirus-related deaths in Japan have remained low.

“Honestly, we do not know the exact reason behind the sudden drop in covid deaths in Japan,” said Taro Yamamoto, professor of global health at Nagasaki University’s Institute of Tropical Medicine.

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, Japan has had much lower rates of infection and death than in many Western countries, though there was a severe spike over the summer that overwhelmed hospitals.

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Investigations

washington post logoWashington Post, House Jan. 6 panel requests meeting with Rep. Jim Jordan, Felicia Sonmez and Eugene Scott, Dec. 22, 2021. In a letter to the GOP lawmaker, Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.) wrote, “We understand that you had at least one and possibly multiple communications with President Trump on January 6th. We would like to discuss each such communication with you in detail.”

The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob is seeking information from Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), one of former president Donald Trump’s staunchest allies on Capitol Hill.

Jordan has previously said that he cannot recall how many times he spoke with Trump on Jan. 6 but that they spoke at least once.

Also on Wednesday, a federal judge denied a motion by Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser, for a temporary restraining order against the select committee over subpoenas it has issued against him.

In a letter to Jordan on Wednesday, Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.), the chairman of the select committee investigating the attack, wrote, “We understand that you had at least one and possibly multiple communications with President Trump on January 6th. We would like to discuss each such communication with you in detail.”

Thompson also asked for details of any communications Jordan had on Jan. 5 or 6 with Trump’s legal team, White House staffers, members of the “war room” team that assembled at the Willard hotel ahead of the attack and any other individuals “involved in organizing or planning the actions and strategies for January 6th.”

He asked Jordan to meet with the panel on Jan. 3 or 4, 2022.

“The American people deserve a full and accurate accounting of what happened on January 6th,” Thompson wrote. “We aim to make informed legislative recommendations taking account of all relevant facts.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Election officials face growing pressure campaign by Trump allies to revisit 2020 vote, Amy Gardner, Emma Brown and Josh Dawsey, Dec. 22, 2021. Well-funded allies of the former president have gained audiences with top state officials to push for examinations of the vote, and local residents have bombarded election administrators with their own demands to investigate.

More than a year after Donald Trump lost the presidency, election officials across the country are facing a growing barrage of claims that the vote was not secure and demands to investigate or decertify the outcome, efforts that are eating up hundreds of hours of government time and spreading distrust in elections.

The ongoing attack on the vote is being driven in part by well-funded Trump associates, who have gained audiences with top state officials and are pushing to inspect protected machines and urging them to conduct audits or sign on to a lawsuit seeking to overturn the 2020 results. And the campaign is being bolstered by grass-roots energy, as local residents who have absorbed baseless allegations of ballot fraud are now forcing election administrators to address the false claims.

The fallout has spread from the six states where Trump sought to overturn the outcome in 2020 to deep-red places such as Idaho, where officials recently hand-recounted ballots in three counties to refute claims of vote-flipping, and Oklahoma, where state officials commissioned an investigation to counter allegations that voting machines were hacked.More than a year after Donald Trump lost the presidency, election officials across the country are facing a growing barrage of claims that the vote was not secure and demands to investigate or decertify the outcome, efforts that are eating up hundreds of hours of government time and spreading distrust in elections.

The ongoing attack on the vote is being driven in part by well-funded Trump associates, who have gained audiences with top state officials and are pushing to inspect protected machines and urging them to conduct audits or sign on to a lawsuit seeking to overturn the 2020 results. And the campaign is being bolstered by grass-roots energy, as local residents who have absorbed baseless allegations of ballot fraud are now forcing election administrators to address the false claims.

The fallout has spread from the six states where Trump sought to overturn the outcome in 2020 to deep-red places such as Idaho, where officials recently hand-recounted ballots in three counties to refute claims of vote-flipping, and Oklahoma, where state officials commissioned an investigation to counter allegations that voting machines were hacked.

washington post logoWashington Post, First member of Proud Boys group pleads guilty in Capitol riot conspiracy, Rachel Weiner, Dec. 22, 2021. A New York man who was a member of the Proud Boys pleaded guilty Wednesday to obstructing Congress and conspiring to obstruct law enforcement during the pro-Trump riot on Jan. 6.

The plea to the felony charge is significant because Matthew Greene, 34, of Syracuse, admitted coordinating with other New York-based members of the extremist group at the front of the Capitol mob, although there is no evidence he actually entered the building. Greene is the first self-admitted member of the Proud Boys to plead guilty in a felony conspiracy case stemming from the riot and agree to cooperate with law enforcement. He is set to be sentenced March 10.

During a hearing in federal court in the District, Assistant U.S. Attorney Erik Kenerson said Greene will likely get credit at or after sentencing for cooperation and for acceptance of responsibility. The government estimates nonbinding sentencing guidelines of 41 to 51 months. Greene, whose lawyer says he has now disavowed his membership in the Proud Boys, has also agreed to pay a $2,000 fine.

dominic spaz pezzola mug resizedGreene said that on the night before the riot, he helped program handheld radios that belonged to Dominic Pezzola, right, a Rochester Proud Boy charged in the same conspiracy. Pezzola had said the national chairman of the Proud Boys would stop by to have his radio programmed, but he did not, according to Greene. The national chairman, Enrique Tarrio, was arrested Jan. 4 for burning a stolen “Black Lives Matter” flag during a previous protest in D.C. and ordered to stay out of the city.

Another Upstate New York Proud Boy, William Pepe, stayed in Greene’s hotel room, sleeping on the floor, according to the plea. The two met up with Pezzola and other Proud Boys at the Washington Monument on the morning of Jan. 6, according to the court record. They eventually marched to the Peace Monument outside the Capitol, where Greene said members of the Proud Boys were leading the crowd in chants. Greene said he followed Pepe, Pezzola and “dozens of Proud Boys” streaming onto the Capitol grounds; some tore down fencing along the way. He and Pezzola were “among the first wave to cross the downed police line” on the Capitol’s west side, according to his plea. Pepe was about fifteen seconds behind them, prosecutors said.

Greene said he, Pezzola and other Proud Boys were among those who then pushed past police through the scaffolding set up for President Biden’s inauguration and onto the building’s steps. Greene left at that point, retreating once police began using chemical irritants to control the crowd, according to prosecutors.

According to an indictment, Pezzola continued up the steps and used a riot shield taken from police to smash a window into the building before entering and smoking a cigar inside. Pepe was close behind, according to the government. Greene reconvened with the two men at his hotel later that night, according to the court record.

Pepe and Pezzola have pleaded not guilty, saying through lawyers that they did not plan with anyone for what happened Jan. 6. Pezzola has said through an attorney that his association with the Proud Boys was “minimal and short-lived,” and Pepe has said he was not in the same chapter as Pezzola and Greene.

Attorneys for Pepe, Pezzola and Tarrio did not immediately return requests for comment Wednesday evening.

After the riot, Greene bragged that “we took the capital,” and then ordered over 2,000 rounds of assault-rifle ammunition and a gas mask, according to court records. In encrypted conversations with other Proud Boys, he said they had to “take back our country,” and “stand together now or end up in the gulag separately,” according to court records. He downplayed his association with the group to the FBI, prosecutors said, while telling members to be on guard for law enforcement.

washington post logoWashington Post, Since October 2020, special counsel John Durham has spent $3.8 million probing Russia investigation, Matt Zapotosky, Special counsel John Durham’s review of the FBI investigation into possible coordination between Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and the Russian government has cost U.S. taxpayers about $3.8 million since October 2020, according to a Justice Department report released Wednesday.

john durham o portrait 2 croppedFrom April through September, Durham, right, reported a tab of about $2.36 million, including about $1.89 million his team spent and about $471,000 recorded by other Justice Department offices as being in support of his work.

More than $670,000 went toward personnel costs, more than $280,000 went toward travel and more than $797,000 went toward IT and litigative support, according to the report.

An accounting released earlier this year showed Durham’s investigation cost U.S. taxpayers about $1.45 million from mid-October 2020 through March 2021. The latest report includes some expenses from that prior time frame, which came in higher than had been estimated.

The tally is not a complete accounting of Durham’s expenses since his investigation began in the spring of 2019. Durham was the U.S. attorney in Connecticut when then-Attorney General William P. Barr first asked him to review the FBI investigation; at that time, he was not a special counsel who was required to publicly report investigative expenses.

 

jamal khashoggi entering consulate

washington post logoWashington Post, A UAE agency put Pegasus spyware on the phone of Jamal Khashoggi’s wife months before his murder, new forensics show, Dana Priest, Dec. 22, 2021 (print ed.). The new analysis, conducted by a research group devoted to uncovering cyber espionage, provides the first indication that a UAE agency placed the military-grade spyware on a phone used by someone in Khashoggi’s inner circle in the months before his murder.

Emirates flight attendant Hanan Elatr surrendered her two Android cellphones, laptop and passwords when security agents surrounded her at the Dubai airport. They drove her, blindfolded and in handcuffs, to an interrogation cell on the edge of the city, she said. There, she was questioned all night and into the morning about her fiance, Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi (shown above entering the facility where he would be butchered and at left in the Washington Post's newsroom).

jamal khashoggi washpost newsroom SmallThe next day, at 10:14 a.m. on April 22, 2018, while her devices were still in official custody, someone opened the Chrome browser on one of the Androids.

The spyware had been developed by an Israeli firm, NSO Group, for what it says is use against terrorists and criminals. The website was configured by NSO for a United Arab Emirates customer, said Marczak, whose research group is based at the University of nso group logoToronto and devoted to uncovering cyberespionage.

The new analysis provides the first indication that a UAE government agency placed the military-grade spyware on a phone used by someone in Khashoggi’s inner circle in the months before his murder.

“We found the smoking gun on her phone,” said Marczak, who examined Elatr’s two Androids at The Washington Post’s and her request. Emirati authorities returned them to her several days after her release.


U.S. Law, Courts, Crime, Race 

Trump-supporting former law school dean John Eastman, left, helps Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani inflame pro-Trump protesters in front the White House before the insurrection riot at the U.S. Capitol to prevent the presidential election certification of Joe Biden's presidency on Jan. 6, 2021 (Los Angeles Times photo). Trump-supporting former law school dean John Eastman, left, helps Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani inflame pro-Trump protesters in front the White House before the insurrection riot at the U.S. Capitol to prevent the presidential election certification of Joe Biden's presidency on Jan. 6, 2021 (Los Angeles Times photo). 

 washington post logoWashington Post, Lead Capitol riot charge is constitutional, judges find, Rachel Weiner, Dec. 22, 2021 (print ed.). Three federal judges have agreed that the most serious charge faced by those accused of participation in the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol is constitutional, a victory for the Justice Department and a blow to the defendants fighting those accusations.

The ruling came Monday evening from U.S. District Judge Amit B. Mehta, right, who is overseeing the prosecutions of more than a dozen people associated amit mehta Customwith the Oath Keepers, a self-styled militia group. Mehta joins judges Dabney L. Friedrich and Timothy J. Kelly, both of whom have moved to uphold the obstruction charges in other cases.

The same legal challenge has been raised by defendants in various Capitol riot prosecutions, from single-person indictments to sprawling conspiracy cases. One judge who has questioned the use of the obstruction charge has yet to rule on the issue.

Without that felony charge, prosecutors would be left with only minor charges against many they view as playing a major role in the riot. The Justice Department has avoided charges of sedition, a rarely used law, and not all those accused of acting as key instigators were seen assaulting police officers.

  • Washington Post, What crime might Trump have committed on Jan. 6? Liz Cheney points to one.

The ruling also has broader implications. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) has suggested former president Donald Trump could be charged with obstruction of an official proceeding.

Mehta had previously expressed concern that it was unclear what conduct counted as felony “obstruction of an official proceeding” as opposed to misdemeanor disruption of a congressional hearing — a difference between a potential sentence of six months and 20 years behind bars.

Lead felony charge against Jan. 6 defendants could be unconstitutionally vague, U.S. judge warns

But after months of consideration and legal arguments on both sides, Mehta ruled that the government had it right.

“Their alleged actions were no mere political protest,” he wrote. “They stand accused of combining, among themselves and with others, to force their way into the Capitol building, past security barricades and law enforcement, to ‘Stop, delay, and hinder the Certification of the Electoral College vote.’ ”

Defendants had argued that it was unclear whether the certification of President Biden’s victory counted as an “official proceeding.” Charging participants in the Jan. 6 riot with obstruction, they warned, could turn even peaceful protesters into potential felons.

Mehta said the “plain text” of the obstruction law covered the group’s actions, and that “even if there were a line of ambiguity ... their alleged acts went well beyond it.” Because the law requires the obstruction to be undertaken “corruptly,” he added, it does not imperil constitutionally protected free speech.

  • Washington Post, Right-wing, liberal vigils planned in D.C. on anniversary of Capitol riot

washington post logoWashington Post, Harvard chemistry professor found guilty of hiding ties to China, Bryan Pietsch, Dec. 22, 2021. Charles Lieber’s conviction is a victory for the U.S. Justice Department’s initiative against “economic espionage.”

A Harvard University chemistry professor was convicted in federal court on Tuesday of concealing his ties to China, securing a victory for the Justice Department’s controversial and faltering initiative to address accusations of “Chinese economic espionage” in the United States.

A jury in U.S. District Court in Boston found the professor, Charles Lieber, guilty on two counts of lying to federal authorities, two counts of falsifying tax returns and two counts of failing to report foreign finances.

Lieber, a former chair of Harvard’s chemistry department, had for three years worked as a “strategic scientist” at the Wuhan University of Technology in China as part of Beijing’s Thousand Talents recruitment program. As part of his contract from 2012 to 2015, according to an affidavit, the university in Wuhan paid Lieber a salary of as much as $50,000 per month, $150,000 in annual living expenses and grants of more than $1.5 million to create a research lab at the Chinese university.

A Chinese contract described him as a “high-level foreign expert,” and in exchanges with officials at the university in Wuhan, he specified how he preferred to receive his salary — half in U.S. dollars, “with the remainder deposited” into a Chinese bank account, he wrote in 2014, according to the affidavit.

But in an interview with Defense Department investigators at his lab on Harvard’s campus in 2018, according to the affidavit, Lieber said he had never been asked to participate in the Thousand Talents program, and that he “wasn’t sure” how China categorized him.

Lieber also misled Harvard into making false statements to investigators from the National Institutes of Health about his involvement with the university in Wuhan and the Chinese program, prosecutors alleged. Harvard, which placed Lieber on paid administrative leave after his indictment in January 2020, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Lieber had secured millions of dollars in funding for Harvard, but the university left him “holding the bag” when he was charged, a defense attorney, Marc Mukasey, said in closing arguments, the Boston Globe reported. Harvard and Lieber had been engaged in a separate legal battle over the professor’s argument that the university was obligated to pay for his defense in the federal trial.

The Justice Department says China’s Thousand Talents program is an initiative designed to motivate experts in research and development to “transmit the knowledge and research they gain” in the United States to China. Participation in the program is not illegal; rather, Lieber’s charges centered on his false statements and concealment related to his involvement.

ny times logoNew York Times, The F.B.I. Deployed Surveillance Teams Inside Portland Protests, Mike Baker, Sergio Olmos and Adam Goldman, Dec. 22, 2021. Federal agents infiltrated Portland’s racial justice protests, dressing to blend in and capturing video. The tactics raised internal concern. 

In the hours after President Biden’s inauguration this year, protesters marched once again through the streets of Portland, Ore., sending a message that putting a Democrat in the White House would not resolve their problems with a system of policing and corporate wealth that they saw as fundamentally unfair.

“No cops, no prisons, total abolition,” they chanted. Some of the activists, dressed in the trademark uniform of solid black clothing and masks that often signals a readiness to make trouble without being readily identifiable, smashed windows at the local Democratic Party headquarters.

The event — like others that had consumed the city since the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis in 2020 — included a variety of anarchists, antifascists, communists and racial justice activists. But there were others mingling in the crowd that day: plainclothes agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The F.B.I. set up extensive surveillance operations inside Portland’s protest movement, according to documents obtained by The New York Times and current and former federal officials, with agents standing shoulder to shoulder with activists, tailing vandalism suspects to guide the local police toward arrests and furtively videotaping inside one of the country’s most active domestic protest movements.

ny times logoNew York Times, Some Inmates Can Stay Confined at Home After Covid Emergency, Justice Dept. Says, Katie Benner, Zolan Kanno-Youngs and Charlie Savage, Dec. 22, 2021 (print ed.). The move reverses a Trump-era decision that would have sent many of the thousands of inmates released to home confinement during the pandemic back to prison.

The Justice Department moved on Tuesday to allow certain federal inmates to remain on home confinement when the government declares an end to the Covid emergency, reversing a Trump-era legal opinion that said the Bureau of Prisons would have to recall them to federal facilities.

The unusual shift was a rare instance when the department under Attorney General Merrick B. Garland reversed a high-profile Trump-era decision. It was also a victory for criminal justice advocates.

“Thousands of people on home confinement have reconnected with their families, have found gainful employment and have followed the rules,” Mr. Garland said in a statement.

Andrew Bates, a White House spokesman, said in a statement that President Biden also welcomed the change, noting “the relief it will mean for thousands of individuals on home confinement who have worked hard toward rehabilitation and are contributing to their communities.”

Congress gave the Bureau of Prisons the authority to release federal inmates to home confinement as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, passed in March 2020 to address threats posed by the coronavirus pandemic, including risks to people in overcrowded prisons.

But five days before Mr. Biden took office in January, the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel determined that nearly all those people would need to return to prison once the government said the pandemic no longer constituted an emergency.

Criminal justice advocates and some lawmakers — including Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois Democrat and the chairman of the Judiciary Committee — pressed the new administration to reverse course. But in July, The New York Times reported that Biden administration lawyers had decided that the Trump-era memo had correctly interpreted the law.

During a trip to Chicago days later, Mr. Durbin lobbied Mr. Garland to become personally involved, according to a person familiar with the matter. The next month, administration officials characterized the previous assessment as a preliminary review and said that a more formal one was underway.

As an alternative to keep some inmates on home confinement from returning to prison, the White House worked on a clemency program for some nonviolent drug offenders and considered using compassionate release for others.

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U.S. Elections, Politics, Inflation, Governance

ny times logoNew York Times, McConnell to Manchin: We’d Love to Have You, Joe, Carl Hulse, Dec. 22, 2021 (print ed.). Senator Joe Manchin’s opposition to bills has sparked Democratic outrage. Senator Mitch McConnell says it’s proof that he’s not welcome in his party any longer.

Senator Mitch McConnell is extending an open invitation to Senator Joe Manchin III — come on over to our side. Mr. McConnell, the Kentucky Republican and minority leader, said on Tuesday that he was astonished by the angry response that Mr. Manchin of West Virginia elicited from the White House and his fellow Democrats with his Sunday bombshell that he would oppose President Biden’s signature domestic policy bill.

The Senate, Mr. McConnell noted, is an institution where the most important vote is the next one, leaving the Republican leader perplexed as to what drove Democrats to impugn Mr. Manchin’s integrity by accusing him of reneging on commitments to the president.

“Why in the world would they want to call him a liar and try to hotbox him and embarrass him?” Mr. McConnell, who is just one Senate seat away from regaining the majority leader title, asked in an interview. “I think the message is, ‘We don’t want you around.’ Obviously that is up to Joe Manchin, but he is clearly not welcome on that side of the aisle.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Retired Colonel Had Unlikely Role in Pushing Baseless Election Claims, Alan Feuer, Dec. 22, 2021 (print ed.). Phil Waldron, who owns a bar in Texas, is a case study in how pro-Trump fringe players managed to get a hearing for conspiracy theories at the highest level during the presidential transition.

A few days after President Biden’s inauguration put to rest one of the most chaotic transitions in U.S. history, a former Army colonel with a background in information warfare appeared on a Christian conservative podcast and offered a detailed account of his monthslong effort to challenge the validity of the 2020 vote count.

In a pleasant Texas drawl, the former officer, Phil Waldron, told the hosts a story that was almost inconceivable: how a cabal of bad actors, including Chinese Communist officials, international shell companies and the financier George Soros, had quietly conspired to hack into U.S. voting machines in a “globalist/socialist” plot to steal the election.

In normal times, a tale like that — full of wild and baseless claims — might have been dismissed as the overheated rantings of a conspiracy theorist. But the postelection period was not normal, providing all sorts of fringe players an opportunity to find an audience in the White House.

Mr. Waldron stands as a case study. Working in conjunction with allies of President Donald J. Trump like Rudolph W. Giuliani, Sidney Powell and Representative Louie Gohmert of Texas, a member of the ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus — and in tandem with others like Michael T. Flynn, Mr. Trump’s first national security adviser and a retired lieutenant general — Mr. Waldron managed to get a hearing for elements of his story in the very center of power in Washington.

washington post logoWashington Post, Democratic Reps. Murphy, Roybal-Allard announce they will not seek reelection, Mariana Alfaro and Felicia Sonmez, Dec. 22, 2021 (print ed.). Reps. Stephanie Murphy (Fla.) and Lucille Roybal-Allard (Calif.) announced Monday that they will not run for reelection, adding to the ranks of House Democrats who are heading toward the exits ahead of the 2022 election.

Murphy, 43, is a three-term congresswoman and the first Vietnamese American woman to serve in Congress. Roybal-Allard, 80, is a House Appropriations subcommittee chair and was the first Mexican American woman elected to Congress. She is the daughter of former congressman Edward R. Roybal (D-Calif.) and, like her father, is retiring after three decades in the House.

democratic donkey logoHouse Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) thanked both for their service, hailing Murphy as “an inspiration to young women in America” and praising Roybal-Allard for her “unyielding commitment to our immigrant communities.”

Murphy and Roybal-Allard become the 21st and 22nd House Democrats to announce that they will not be running for reelection in 2022. In their announcements Monday, both women cited a desire to spend more time with their families. Murphy emphasized that her decision was not influenced by any fears that she may not fare well in a 2022 bid.

washington post logoWashington Post, Trump’s intentions aside, Ted Cruz says he’s next in line to secure the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, Mariana Alfaro, Dec. 22, 2021. The Texas senator, who placed second in the 2016 Republican presidential primaries, says there’s historical precedent for the runner-up to get the nod the next time around

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) is expressing optimism about his odds of securing the 2024 Republican presidential nomination even as former president Donald Trump hints that he might run again.

In an interview with the Truth Gazette, a conservative outlet run by 15-year-old Brilyn Hollyhand, Cruz said he would “absolutely” consider a run for the White House in 2024. In fact, Cruz said he thinks it is very likely that Republican voters will give him the nomination.

Noting that he ended up “placing second” during the 2016 GOP primaries, Cruz said there is a historical precedent for runner-up candidates like him to get the nod the next time they jump into the presidential race.

“There’s a reason historically that the runner-up is almost always the next nominee,” Cruz said. “That’s been true going back to Nixon or Reagan, or McCain or Romney. That’s played out repeatedly.”

Republicans who come in second in the party’s primaries, Cruz said, jump into the next race “with just an enormous base of support.” He also noted that, in 2016, his campaign raised “over $92 million.”

“That’s the most money any Republican has ever raised in the history of presidential elections,” he told Hollyhand.

Open Secrets, which tracks fundraising, showed that Cruz raised the most of the also-rans (those who didn’t get the nomination) in the GOP primary.

However, Cruz’s theory didn’t work for Rick Santorum, the former senator from Pennsylvania who came in second in the 2012 Republican nomination contest but was nowhere near the top of the party’s pack in 2016.

Cruz was one of 17 Republican candidates in the GOP primaries in 2016. The nomination ultimately went to Trump, but only after an explosive race in which once-promising candidates like Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor and George H.W. Bush’s son, and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) were defeated.

“I ran in 2016; it was the most fun I’ve ever had in my life,” Cruz said.

In July, Cruz also mentioned that he was “certainly looking” at a 2024 presidential bid in an interview with conservative outlet Newsmax. His current Senate term ends in 2025. A spokesman for Cruz did not immediately respond for a request to comment on the senator’s 2024 plans.

While most of the GOP’s candidates in 2016 entered the race critical of Trump — before ultimately endorsing him — the showdowns between Cruz and Trump were often the most bitter.

At one point in the 2016 race, Trump insulted Cruz’s wife, Heidi, and suggested that Cruz’s father may have been involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Cruz, meanwhile, often called Trump a “coward” and a “pathological liar,” among other things. Cruz ended up dropping out of the race in May 2016 after losing the Indiana primary to Trump. He endorsed Trump in September.

Trump has signaled that he might run again in 2024. If so, he would be the heavy favorite to win the nomination, despite being impeached twice and facing multiple investigations related to his businesses.

washington post logoWashington Post, Pause on student loan repayments is extended until May, Biden says, offering borrowers another pandemic reprieve, Nick Anderson and Jeff Stein, Dec. 22, 2021.

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World News, Human Rights

washington post logoWashington Post, Analysis: Chile’s millennial president-elect is a sign of a very different ‘pink tide,’ Anthony Faiola, Dec. 22, 2021. The new crop of leftists scoring wins across the region diverges from the socialist leaders of the 2000s.

gabriel boricAcross Latin America, the left is on the march, capturing the presidencies in Peru, Honduras and, on Sunday, Chile (with Gabriel Boric, right), adding to the ranks of other left-leaning governments already stretching from Mexico to Argentina.

On the surface, it might seem like deja vu — a flashback to the “pink tide” of the 2000s that churned up globally known firebrands including the father of Venezuelan socialism, Hugo Chávez.

Take a closer look, though, and the new tide is different.

It is always dangerous to generalize a region populated by diverse nations with unique domestic dynamics. But compared to the 2000s, Latin America’s new crop of leftist leaders are, on average, less uniform and more measured. Their greatest commonality is their rise during the pandemic, which dealt Latin America the globe’s deepest economic blow and sent poverty rates soaring. A growing sense of inequality, festering government corruption and the failure of traditional political classes is punishing right-wing parties in power, giving room to disparate — if otherwise nontraditional — outsiders on the left.

Newly elected Chilean President Gabriel Boric and Taylor Swift (Photos by Martin Bernetti and Dimitrios Kambo via Getty Images).
Newly elected Chilean President Gabriel Boric and Taylor Swift (Photos by Martin Bernetti and Dimitrios Kambo via Getty Images).

Los Angeles Times, Chile’s new president: Gabriel Boric is a Swiftie, Suzy Exposito, Dec. 22, 2021 (print ed.) This week, 35-year-old Gabriel Boric Font became Chile’s youngest-ever president-elect.

But he also counts himself among an unexpected demographic: Taylor Swift fans. During a recent public appearance, a group of Chilean Swifties flocked to Boric and asked: “Are you a Swiftie, or not?” Boric quietly reached into his coat pocket and revealed a wallet-sized photo of Swift.

Online, Boric was widely touted by fans as the “Swiftie Candidate.” Wrote one Twitter user: “Swifties taking over the world one country at a time.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Hong Kong tears down ‘Pillar of Shame’ sculpture honoring Tiananmen victims, Shibani Mahtani and David Crawshaw, Dec. 22, 2021.
Under the cover of darkness early Thursday, authorities in Hong Kong tore down a public sculpture dedicated to the victims of the Tiananmen Square massacre, accelerating a campaign to erase the crackdown from public recollection and stamp out dissent in a city that until recently was one of Asia’s freest.

The 26-foot-tall artwork, known as the “Pillar of Shame,” had stood at the University of Hong Kong for nearly a quarter-century and honored the hundreds, if not thousands, of students and others killed on June 4, 1989, when the Chinese military crushed pro-democracy protests.

The sculpture, depicting naked bodies twisted together, some in mid-scream, was created by Danish artist Jens Galschiot and was one of the last remaining Tiananmen commemorations on Chinese soil. Each year on the anniversary of the massacre, students would scrub and clean the memorial.
University students clean the memorial on June 4, 2019, on the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. (Kin Cheung/AP)

With students away on Christmas break, workers erected yellow barriers and large white curtains around the site of the sculpture on the university campus, while security guards kept onlookers away. Overnight, the artwork was dismantled into two pieces, wrapped up and taken away.

washington post logoWashington Post, One person caught the coronavirus. China locked down 200,000 of their neighbors, Lily Kuo, Dec. 22, 2021. The extreme response underlines China’s hypervigilance as Beijing prepares to host the Winter Olympics in February amid new local cases of the omicron variant.

In response to a single case of the coronavirus, Chinese authorities locked down a southern border city of more than 200,000 people this week, barring the entry of all goods and people. After a cluster of new cases in northwestern China, officials also sealed off a city of 13 million, ordering all residents to stay inside.

The extreme response underlines China’s hypervigilance as Beijing prepares to host the Winter Olympics in February amid new local cases of the omicron variant.

The city of Dongxing, which borders Vietnam in China’s southern Guangxi province, on Wednesday ordered all households to quarantine at home until further notice after a resident tested positive during a routine screening, according to state broadcaster CCTV. Schools, public transportation and most businesses, except for supermarkets and pharmacies, were temporarily shuttered as authorities launched a campaign to test everyone in the city.

ny times logoNew York Times, U.S. Eases Pressure of Sanctions on Afghanistan, Alan Rappeport and Michael Crowley, Dec. 22, 2021. The Treasury Department issued new “general licenses” to help aid flow as a humanitarian crisis deepens.

The Biden administration on Wednesday took steps to ease the pressure that sanctions on the Taliban are having on Afghanistan as the combination of the pandemic, a severe drought, the loss of foreign aid and frozen currency reserves have left the country’s fragile economy on the brink of collapse.

The humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan has put the Biden administration on the defensive three months after the Taliban assumed power and American and international forces left the country. A thicket of American and international sanctions that were designed to cut the Taliban off from the international financial system have left the entire country with a cash shortage, crippling banks and businesses and sending prices soaring.

The United States does not recognize the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan. Following the group’s takeover of the country this year, the Biden administration froze $9.5 billion of Afghanistan’s foreign reserves, stopped sending shipments of dollars to Afghanistan’s central bank and pressured the International Monetary Fund to delay plans to transmit emergency reserve funds to the country.

The Treasury Department said on Wednesday that it was issuing new “general licenses” that would make it easier for nongovernmental organizations, international aid groups and the United States government to provide relief to the Afghan people while maintaining economic pressure on the Taliban.

ny times logoNew York Times, How the Kremlin Is Militarizing Russian Society, Anton Troianovski, Ivan Nechepurenko and Valerie Hopkins, Photographs by Sergey Ponomarev, Dec. 22, 2021 (print ed.). With a “youth army,” a cathedral honoring the military and the promotion of patriotism, the government is preparing Russians for the possibility of a fight.

washington post logoWashington Post, French strike kills top Islamic State militant in West Africa blamed for deadly attack on aid workers, Rick Noack, Dec. 22, 2021 (print ed.). The French military said the strike was critical to prevent an expanding footprint of militant groups in the region.

France’s military said Tuesday that it killed an Islamic State-linked militant leader who is believed to have been involved in the murder of six French humanitarian workers in Niger in August 2020.

The French military said the strike was critical to prevent an expanding footprint of the militants, but it comes as France is drawing down its presence in the region — a move that has unsettled West African governments and security analysts.

France’s military named the target of Monday’s strike as Soumana Boura, the leader of a group of dozens of militant fighters in the west of Niger, who was hiding north of the town of Tillabéri.

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djt march 2020 Custom

Palmer Report, Opinion: Here come the fireworks, Bill Palmer, right, Dec. 21, 2021. Last night we all learned that the January 6th Committee has formally targeted bill palmerHouse Republican Scott Perry for his alleged role in Donald Trump’s 2020 election tampering criminal plot. Last night we also learned that the committee is looking at making a criminal referral against Trump for everything from obstruction of Congress to wire fraud.

What’s remarkable is that this is just the buildup before the committee begins its televised hearings in the new year and starts putting the bill palmer report logo headermost serious revelations out there. We suspected the committee would begin laying the groundwork for the hearings before the holidays, so as to steer the media’s and the public’s expectations in the right direction and build anticipation. Sure enough, that’s now happening.

The committee wouldn’t be putting it out there that it’s looking to refer Trump for prosecution on these specific charges unless it expects to amass (or more likely already has amassed) enough evidence to make an overwhelming and ironclad case against him. This answers the question of what the committee was doing during its months of closed door hearings with hundreds of cooperative lower level witnesses.

So here come the fireworks. The January 6th Committee is making clear that it now has enough evidence to begin formally targeting specific House Republicans, and strongly hinting that it now has enough evidence to take Donald Trump down. Going forward, the revelations that the committee feeds to the media every few days will surely only end up being even more revelatory. The biggest fireworks will begin after the holidays, but it’s obvious that the fireworks show is beginning already.

washington post logoWashington Post, Trump sues N.Y. attorney general in attempt to halt inquiry into his company, Mariana Alfaro and Jonathan O'Connell, Dec. 21, 2021 (print ed.). Letitia James is trying to get the former president to testify under oath.

Former president Donald Trump filed a lawsuit against New York Attorney General Letitia James on Monday in his latest attempt to halt her civil investigation into his business.

In the lawsuit, filed in a federal court in Upstate New York on behalf of Trump and his real estate company, the former president alleges that James’s inquiry into his business practices has violated his constitutional rights.

“Her mission is guided solely by political animus and a desire to harass, intimidate, and retaliate against a private citizen who she views as a political opponent,” Trump claims in the suit.

 

Media News, Freedom of Information

michael fanone

Palmer Report, Opinion: Capitol Police Officer Michael Fanone makes his move, Bocha Blue, Dec. 22, 2021. To find love, we need look no further than among each other — and the valiant heroes who fought for us on January 6. One of those heroes is Capitol Police Officer Michael Fanone (shown above in a file photo).

You may have seen him on television, in particular CNN. He is as brave a hero as one can find. And on January 6, he was viciously beaten by crazed insurrectionists. They could not take away the love that shines from him.

bill palmer report logo headerFanone has been an outspoken critic of the January 6 attacks and has become an activist in his own right. He also testified before the January 6 committee. Sadly, some of his colleagues were reportedly not pleased with his activism. And now Fanone has resigned from the police force.

“Clearly, there are some members of our department who feel their oath is to Donald Trump and not to the constitution,” Fanone said. “I no longer felt like I could trust my fellow officers and decided to make a change.”

It is unfortunate that such a brave soul could possibly receive derision for his bravery, but this is the world we now live in.

The good news is that Fanone has a new job — and it’s with CNN. This is one of their better decisions. CNN has hired Fanone as a contributor on issues of law enforcement. The world is a better place with Fanone in it, and CNN will undoubtedly be a better network with Fanone on it. We wish him all the best in his new occupation.

washington post logoWashington Post, Americans distrust Facebook, TikTok, Instagram with their data and want privacy laws, poll finds, Heather Kelly and Emily Guskin, Pulled between not trusting some tech companies and still wanting to use their products, people look to government regulation, according to a Washington Post-Schar School poll.

washington post logoWashington Post, Kyle Rittenhouse gets standing ovation from conservatives, says he may sue media outlets, Timothy Bella, Dec. 22, 2021. Weeks after Kyle Rittenhouse said he wanted to “lay low” when he was found not guilty of homicide, attempted homicide and other charges related to last year’s fatal shootings that rocked Kenosha, Wis., the teen was welcomed Monday at a conservative conference to music, pyrotechnics and a standing ovation from thousands of attendees.

“You’re a hero to millions,” Turning Point USA leader Charlie Kirk told Rittenhouse during the group’s AmericaFest gathering in Phoenix. “It’s an honor to be able to have you.”

Amid the pomp and circumstance for an 18-year-old who had the crowd chanting his name, Rittenhouse, who shot and killed two men and injured another during mass protests against police violence in August 2020, suggested Monday that lawsuits could be filed against media outlets for how they covered his murder trial.

If he sues media outlets, Rittenhouse would follow the recent footsteps of Nicholas Sandmann, who announced Friday that he has reached a settlement with NBC News regarding its coverage of an interaction between the Catholic school student and Native American activist Nathan Phillips in Washington during the March for Life in 2019. When asked by Fox about Sandmann’s latest settlement, Rittenhouse responded, “Good for him.”

The Washington Post settled a lawsuit by Sandmann’s parents last year. Sandmann’s family contended in a suit filed in 2019 that The Post defamed Sandmann in seven articles and in tweets promoting the articles. The Post has maintained that its reporting was accurate and fair.

Future of Freedom Foundation, Opinion: Max Boot’s Rant Against Oliver Stone, Jacob G. Hornberger, right, Dec. 22, 2021. Max Boot, a conservative who has long jacob hornberger newfavored regime-change operations on the part of the U.S. national-security establishment, is going after Hollywood producer and director Oliver Stone. His beef with Stone? He’s upset because Stone has long maintained that the U.S. national-security establishment employed one of its patented regime-change operations here at home, against President John F. Kennedy.

The title of Boot’s piece, which was published in the Washington Post, is “Oliver Stone Just Can’t Stop Spreading Lies About JFK’s Assassination.” In his article, he attacks Stone not only for his 1991 movie JFK but also for Stone’s latest update to the movie, JFK Revisited: Through the Looking Glass.

future of freedom foundation logo squareInterestingly, Boot makes a reference to Stone’s accusation “that Kennedy’s autopsy reports were falsified.”

Actually, the more accurate way to put it is that the U.S. national-security establishment conducted a fraudulent autopsy. That fraud was reflected in both the autopsy photographs as well as the final autopsy report.

But like many other proponents of the official lone-nut theory of the assassination, Boot doesn’t address any of the main features of the autopsy fraud in his rant against Stone.

Let’s take two examples. jacob hornberger jfk autopsy cover(Others are detailed in my two books The Kennedy Autopsy and The Kennedy Autopsy 2.)

For 30 years, the national-security establishment had falsely claimed that there was only one brain examination in the Kennedy autopsy.

It was a lie. And when people are lying about something that important, you know that they are up to something that is rotten and no good.

In the 1990s, the Assassination Records Review Board in the 1990s determined that there were two different brain examinations in the JFK autopsy, the second of which involved a brain that did not belong to Kennedy.

How did they determine this? The official photographer for the autopsy, John Stringer, was at the first brain exam. He stated that at that brain exam, the brain was “sectioned” or cut like a loaf of bread is cut. That’s standard procedure with an autopsy that involves a gunshot to the head. Stringer took photographs of the brain, which also is standard procedure.

jacob hornberg jfk autopsy2 coverOne of the three military pathologists who conducted the autopsy, Col. Pierre Finck, stated that he attended the brain examination. But he was not at the brain exam that Stringer attended. Stringer verified that. That means that there was a second brain exam. At that second brain exam, a different photographer was present taking photographs. The brain at the second brain exam was not “sectioned.” A sectioned brain cannot be reconstituted into a non-sectioned brand. That’s how we know that the brain at the second brain exam had to be a brain of someone other than Kennedy.

It’s also worth mentioning two other things about the brain exam. First, when Stringer was asked to examine the official photographs of Kennedy’s brain, he specifically denied that those were the photographs he took. Second, the autopsy report reflects that Kennedy’s brain weighed 1500 grams. An average brain weighs around 1350 grams. Everyone agrees that an extremely large portion of Kennedy’s brain was blown out by the shot that hit him in the head. At the risk of belaboring the obvious, there is no possibility that Kennedy’s brain could have weighed 1500 grams after having a large portion of it blown away by the gunshot.

max boot screen shotWhat does Boot, right, say about the two brain exams? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

There is something else worth noting. If it hadn’t been for Oliver Stone’s movie JFK, we would never have learned about this fraud. That’s because the national-security establishment would have continued lying about there being only one brain exam. It was Stone’s movie that led directly to the JFK Records Act and the ARRB whose job it was to enforce it. That’s how we learned about the fraud relating to the two brain exams.

 

 

oliver stone newseum

Filmmaker Oliver Stone poses with a display showing his iconic 1991 film JFK. A sequel, "JFK Revisited," was previewed last summer at the Cannes Film Festival and is being released this month in the United States via Showtime on Nov. 22 (Photo via The Newseum).

washington post logoWashington Post, Film Review: JFK’ at 30: Oliver Stone and the lasting impact of America’s most dangerous movie, Ann Hornaday, Dec. 22, 2021. Oliver Stone defied Washington, Hollywood and history itself to make his controversial JFK drama. Its legacy endures.

On a warm day in October, Oliver Stone leads a visitor into the sun room of his house in Brentwood, where he has been re-reading the daily journals he kept during the production of JFK, his kaleidoscopic drama about the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas.

Thirty years after its release in December of 1991, JFK’s influence can still be detected, on everything from Washington policy to Hollywood world-building. For baby boomers, it was a film that tapped into still-raw generational loss. For Gen-Xers, it defined all they knew about Kennedy and his death. Its form pushed visual language to visceral new extremes. Its content helped introduce a new generation to America’s long conspiratorial tradition. JFK is still with us, in style and substance.

Stone, 75, is recalling his preparations for the first day of filming on April 15, 1991. Peering avuncularly through a pair of reading glasses, he scans pages covered with looping blue scrawls.

JFK was a film conceived in grief, born of anxiety and destined for controversy. Adapted in part from the book On the Trail of the Assassins, by former New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison, the film examined Kennedy’s assassination through the cracked lens of Garrison’s 1969 prosecution of local businessman Clay Shaw, whom he accused of being part of a cabal that conspired to kill the president.

It was a scenario that radically challenged the findings of the Warren Commission, which had been tasked with investigating the murder, and whose members concluded that Kennedy was killed by a lone gunman named Lee Harvey Oswald. Garrison’s theory of the case was that the CIA — with whom Shaw had once worked — killed Kennedy because he wanted to de-escalate the conflict in Vietnam and dramatically reshape American foreign policy. A jury found Shaw not guilty in less than an hour.

Kennedy’s assassination had been the subject of speculation almost from the moment gunfire rang out in Dealey Plaza on Nov. 22, 1963. Two days later, Oswald himself would be shot and killed, an event that created a black hole of suspicion that only seemed to widen.

In 1979, the House Select Committee on Assassinations concluded that “Kennedy was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy.” By the time filming on JFK got underway, more than 70 percent of the American public — having witnessed the assassinations of Kennedy’s brother Robert and Martin Luther King Jr.; national intelligence malfeasance including domestic surveillance and foreign coups; and the scandals of Watergate and Iran-Contra — believed a larger conspiracy had been at play.

Stone counted himself among that number.

“I did have a very strong feeling at the beginning [of filming], a magnetic attachment to the idea that it had to be powerful people, and they had to have had permission,” he says. With JFK, he would give florid, expressionistic voice to the residual trauma and disenchantment of his generation.

“Oliver Stone ... posed the question, ‘Why was this material still closed?’ ” observes presidential historian Timothy Naftali. “He had a poisonous answer, which was this vast conspiracy. But the question was a good one. And because it was such a good question, it actually moved Congress to act.” (The 1992 law stipulated that all files be declassified by Oct. 26, 2017; although President Donald Trump delayed that date by three years, President Biden has proceeded with the release. More than 1,400 documents were made public on Dec. 15; the next batch is expected in December 2022.)

Then there is JFK as pure cinema. The film operates as a whirling, paradoxical gyre: sprawling and tightly coiled; hallucinatory and clearly legible; shockingly subversive and reassuringly old-school. One of the film’s most vivid characters, a shadowy government figure named Mr. X., played by Donald Sutherland, evoked the jittery political thrillers of the 1970s, while the presence of such beloved actors as Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau and Kevin Costner, who played Garrison, gave the film a wholesome, all-American patina (the mainstream appeal was reinforced by John Williams’s score).

Working with more than a dozen film stocks, Stone knit together documentary footage, fervid speculations, high-gloss Hollywood dramatizations and note-perfect reenactments, with results that were both technically groundbreaking and disquietingly seamless.

“The concept was that we were going to shake it up with this film,” Stone explains of his flashback-within-a-flashback approach. “Who’s telling the truth? The style would be fractured from the beginning.”

With a running time of more than three hours, "JFK” challenged conventional notions of how long audiences would sit for a complicated, talky story. Improbably, the film’s most effective moments are both monologues: Mr. X’s 17-minute tutorial on secret government machinations and Garrison’s climactic 20-minute courtroom stemwinder.

oliver stone jfk revisited posterThirty years after the release of JFK, it seems, Oliver Stone has not backed down. In November, he released JFK Revisited: Through the Looking Glass, a two-hour Showtime documentary in which he repeats the hypotheses he popularized in JFK, this time with fresh interviews and, he insists, new evidence. “Conspiracy theories are now conspiracy facts,” he declares early in the film.

He is more convinced than ever that Allen Dulles, who headed the CIA until Kennedy fired him in 1961, is at the center of it all. “He was on the Warren Commission, and he was the guy who attended the most meetings,” Stone says. “He supervised everything and made sure the CIA never really cooperated with the Warren Commission or gave them what they wanted.”

While it is true that the CIA either stonewalled or actively thwarted the Warren Commission and House Select Committee on Assassinations, that is not proof that Dulles conspired to kill Kennedy.

“Well, there’s no proof because we won’t allow the proof to come out!” Stone says with frustration. “Who knows what’s on paper? But we can’t even see those files.”

As for the “conspiracy theorist” label he has carried since making “JFK,” he is both philosophical and unapologetic. “I have really not gone in that direction,” he says, before adding: “Conspiracies have happened. Anybody who reads history knows that. But we act so innocent in America, like ‘Who, us?’ ” Stone laughs ruefully. “It just doesn’t work that way.”

 

Dec. 21

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washington post logoWashington Post, Biden announces omicron battle plan to include a half-billion free at-home tests, Andrew Jeong, Dec. 21, 2021. New federal testing sites will also be established across the country, starting with one in New York City this week.

ny times logoNew York Times, Live Updates, Biden Offers Reassurance as Omicron Surges: ‘This Is Not March of 2020,’ Staff Reports, Dec. 21, 2021. In a speech, President Biden told an anxious nation that “we should all be concerned about Omicron, but not panicked.”

His plan includes readying military medical workers to help hospitals, setting up testing and vaccine sites and distributing free tests. Here’s the latest.

Facing an alarming surge in coronavirus cases that threatens to overwhelm the nation’s hospital system, President Biden stepped up his administration’s pandemic response again on Tuesday and tried to reassure an anxious nation, telling Americans that “we should all be concerned about Omicron, but not panicked.”

In a White House address, Mr. Biden directed his defense secretary to get 1,000 military medical professionals ready to help where needed; he announced new vaccination and testing sites; and he said his administration was buying 500 million rapid Covid-19 tests to distribute free to the public.

But first, Mr. Biden took on the role of comforter-in-chief, reminding Americans that, despite the highly infectious new Omicron variant, the situation today is far different from when the pandemic began in early 2020, when there were no vaccines or treatments and vital medical equipment was in short supply. He insisted, as he has in the past, that there was no need for lockdowns now.

“This is not March of 2020,” Mr. Biden declared. “Two hundred million people are vaccinated. We’re prepared; we know more.”

Mr. Biden ran for office on a promise to curb the pandemic, only to be confronted with a shape-shifting virus that is now claiming more than 1,000 American lives every day and spreading with stunning speed, as well as a divisive political climate in which many Americans, particularly supporters of former President Donald J. Trump, have refused to get vaccinated.

In his remarks, Mr. Biden noted that Mr. Trump recently said he had received a booster shot, and that “thanks to the prior administration and the scientific community, America is one of the first countries to get the vaccine.”

He criticized the “dangerous misinformation on cable TV and social media,” and the companies and personalities who were “making money by peddling lies and allowing misinformation that can kill their own customers and their own supporters.”

While Mr. Biden acknowledged that the virus was infecting some vaccinated people, he urged unvaccinated Americans to get their shots, and vaccinated people to get boosters if they are eligible, saying that the unvaccinated have “a significantly higher risk of ending up in the hospital — or even dying.”

Some infectious disease experts say it is simply not possible now to stop the Omicron variant from spreading, and that the administration must focus on slowing it, protecting the most vulnerable and preventing already strained hospital systems from being overwhelmed.

“The main goal, really, is to prevent people from losing their health and straining hospitals, delaying cancer care and surgeries for people who need it, delaying health care worker burnout,” Lu Borio, a former acting chief scientist for the Food and Drug Administration, said in an interview.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported on Monday that Omicron, which was causing less than 1 percent of new Covid-19 cases in the United States as December began, now accounts for nearly three-quarters of new cases, a statistic that underscores the urgency of Mr. Biden’s moves.

 

Trump-supporting former law school dean John Eastman, left, helps Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani inflame pro-Trump protesters in front the White House before the insurrection riot at the U.S. Capitol to prevent the presidential election certification of Joe Biden's presidency on Jan. 6, 2021 (Los Angeles Times photo). Trump-supporting former law school dean John Eastman, left, helps Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani inflame pro-Trump protesters in front the White House before the insurrection riot at the U.S. Capitol to prevent the presidential election certification of Joe Biden's presidency on Jan. 6, 2021 (Los Angeles Times photo). 

 

robert palmer

This image provided by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia shows Robert S. Palmer, of Largo, Fla., hurling a fire extinguisher at police in the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. (U.S. District Court for District of Columbia / U.S. District Court)

washington post logoWashington Post, Lead Capitol riot charge is constitutional, judges find, Rachel Weiner, Dec. 21, 2021. Three federal judges have agreed that the most serious charge faced by those accused of participation in the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol is constitutional, a victory for the Justice Department and a blow to the defendants fighting those accusations.

The ruling came Monday evening from U.S. District Judge Amit B. Mehta, right, who is overseeing the prosecutions of more than a dozen people associated amit mehta Customwith the Oath Keepers, a self-styled militia group. Mehta joins judges Dabney L. Friedrich and Timothy J. Kelly, both of whom have moved to uphold the obstruction charges in other cases.

The same legal challenge has been raised by defendants in various Capitol riot prosecutions, from single-person indictments to sprawling conspiracy cases. One judge who has questioned the use of the obstruction charge has yet to rule on the issue.

Without that felony charge, prosecutors would be left with only minor charges against many they view as playing a major role in the riot. The Justice Department has avoided charges of sedition, a rarely used law, and not all those accused of acting as key instigators were seen assaulting police officers.

  • Washington Post, What crime might Trump have committed on Jan. 6? Liz Cheney points to one.

The ruling also has broader implications. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) has suggested former president Donald Trump could be charged with obstruction of an official proceeding.

Mehta had previously expressed concern that it was unclear what conduct counted as felony “obstruction of an official proceeding” as opposed to misdemeanor disruption of a congressional hearing — a difference between a potential sentence of six months and 20 years behind bars.

Lead felony charge against Jan. 6 defendants could be unconstitutionally vague, U.S. judge warns

But after months of consideration and legal arguments on both sides, Mehta ruled that the government had it right.

“Their alleged actions were no mere political protest,” he wrote. “They stand accused of combining, among themselves and with others, to force their way into the Capitol building, past security barricades and law enforcement, to ‘Stop, delay, and hinder the Certification of the Electoral College vote.’ ”

Defendants had argued that it was unclear whether the certification of President Biden’s victory counted as an “official proceeding.” Charging participants in the Jan. 6 riot with obstruction, they warned, could turn even peaceful protesters into potential felons.

Mehta said the “plain text” of the obstruction law covered the group’s actions, and that “even if there were a line of ambiguity ... their alleged acts went well beyond it.” Because the law requires the obstruction to be undertaken “corruptly,” he added, it does not imperil constitutionally protected free speech.

  • Washington Post, Right-wing, liberal vigils planned in D.C. on anniversary of Capitol riot

 

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washington post logoWashington Post, Pentagon updates rules to address extremism in the military, Karoun Demirjian and Alex Horton, Dec. 21, 2021. The new regulations stem from revelations that military personnel and veterans were among those who attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. The Pentagon is updating its personnel policies to address a concerning rise of extremism within the military and hold service members accountable for the views they express on social media, officials said Monday.

Department of Defense SealThe rules stem from revelations that military personnel and veterans were among those who attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. Upon taking office this year, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, above, pledged to study how prevalent the problem may be and take steps to eliminate it.

Senior U.S. defense officials said the Pentagon’s approach will not expressly prohibit membership in extremist groups — and does not target particular ideologies or political leanings, despite the prevalence of right-wing groups that participated in the Capitol attack. Instead, it focuses on addressing “actions” and will rely in large part on individual service members or outside law enforcement agencies to report concerning behavior.

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washington post logoWashington Post, Schumer vows vote on Build Back Better bill despite Manchin opposition, John Wagner, Dec. 21, 2021 (print ed.). Manchin’s opposition to bill undercuts Biden’s climate agenda.

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), above, vowed Monday to hold a vote early next year on a roughly $2 trillion bill to overhaul the country’s health-care, education, climate, immigration and tax laws, despite Sunday’s announcement by Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) that he could not support President Biden’s signature legislation.

Although the Build Back Better Act cannot pass without Manchin’s support in the evenly divided Senate, Schumer said a vote would put every senator on the record.

“Senators should be aware that the Senate will, in fact, consider the Build Back Better Act, very early in the new year so that every Member of this body has the opportunity to make their position known on the Senate floor, not just on television,” Schumer said. “We are going to vote on a revised version of the House-passed Build Back Better Act — and we will keep voting on it until we get something done.”

From charm offensive to scorched earth: How Biden’s fragile alliance with Manchin unraveled

joe manchin rejects bbb 12 19 2021Schumer’s letter came a day after Manchin, during an appearance on “Fox News Sunday,” right, delivered what many saw as a potentially fatal blow to one of the centerpieces of Biden’s agenda with his declaration that he “just can’t” support it.

Manchin’s announcement, which he later fleshed out in a statement, prompted a wave of criticism from fellow Senate Democrats as well as from the White House.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki unleashed a blistering 712-word written statement accusing Manchin of making a “sudden and inexplicable reversal in his position” and calling his comments a “breach of his commitments” to Biden and Democratic lawmakers, if he has decided to end negotiations.

In explaining his opposition after weeks of negotiations with Biden and his Senate colleagues, Manchin cited rising consumer prices, a growing federal debt and the arrival of a new coronavirus variant as reasons he could not supply his must-have vote.

In a letter Sunday night to colleagues, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) made no mention of Manchin but sai