Jan. 2022 News, Views

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Editor's Choice: Scroll below for our monthly blend of mainstream and alternative news and view in January, 2022

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

 

Jan. 28

Top Headlines

 

Pro-Trump Coup Attempt, Election Rights, Probes


Virus Victims, Responses


More On U.S. Supreme Court

 

More On Ukraine

 

World News, Human Rights, Disasters

 

U.S. Elections, Governance, Economy

 

More On U.S. Crime, Courts

 

U.S. Media News

 

Top Stories

washington post logoWashington Post, Putin stands fast on Ukraine demands in call with Macron, Robyn Dixon, Andrew Jeong and Rick Noack, Jan. 28, 2022. Russian President Vladimir Putin warned France’s Emmanuel Macron that further NATO expansion was “unacceptable” to Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin reiterated his call for “lasting, legally binding security guarantees” from the United States and NATO in a phone call Friday with his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, the Kremlin said, after a top Russian official threatened that Russia would “retaliate” if its demands were not met.

Putin warned Macron that further NATO expansion was “unacceptable” to Russia, saying that United States’ and NATO’s responses to Russia’s demands did not take into account Russia’s key security concerns, the Kremlin said.

It was Putin’s first conversation with a Western leader since Wednesday when Washington and NATO formally rejected Russia’s red line on NATO expansion. The Russian leader showed no sign of blinking in the face of transatlantic unity over NATO’s open-door policy and the rights of Ukraine and other nations to choose their own alliances. He complained that Western leaders were ignoring Russia’s concerns.

ny times logoNew York Times, Live Updates: U.S. Sees More Russian Troops Massing; Moscow Hints at Diplomatic Opening, Staff Reports, Jan. 28, 2022. The diplomatic push continued, with Russia’s foreign minister suggesting there was space to negotiate with the U.S. on limited security issues. President Emmanuel Macron of France spoke with President Vladimir Putin of Russia to try to ease tensions.

  • Ukrainian official urges U.S. to dial down its warnings: ‘Panic is the sister of failure.’
  • Russia’s foreign minister said that there was “a kernel of rationality” in the U.S. written response to its demands in the Ukraine crisis.
  • President Emmanuel Macron of France spoke with President Vladimir Putin of Russia to try to ease tensions.

washington post logoWashington Post, Crisis in Ukraine: Russia vows retaliation if key demand is unmet; France again tries diplomacy, Robyn Dixon, Andrew Jeong and Rick Noack, Jan. 28, 2022. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow would “retaliate” if its demands for a halt to NATO expansion were not met, shortly before French President Emmanuel Macron and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed the Ukraine crisis by phone Friday.

sergey lavrovSpeaking on Russian radio, Lavrov, right, ruled out a war “if it depends on the Russian Federation,” even as the country’s warships conducted live firing exercises in the Black Sea amid a massive military buildup near Ukraine. But he said there was “no room for compromise” on Russia’s key demands, which include an ultimatum that the United States and NATO permanently bar Ukraine from joining the Western alliance. Washington and its allies have rejected that demand.

As U.S. officials warn Russia could launch an attack on Ukraine at “any time,” Putin has a choice of either accepting the few compromises offered by the West, or launching a war that would devastate Ukraine and trigger sweeping sanctions designed to cripple Russia’s economy.

ny times logoNew York Times, In Standoff With Putin, Biden Makes Sure to Include European Allies, Mark Landler, Steven Erlanger and David E. Sanger, Jan. 28, 2022. When President Biden held a video call with European leaders about Ukraine this week, it had all the urgency of a Cold War-era crisis, replete with the specter of Russian tanks and troops menacing Eastern Europe. But Mr. Biden expanded the seats on his war council, adding Poland, Italy and the European Union to the familiar lineup of Britain, France and Germany.

The effort to be inclusive was no accident: After complaints from Europeans that they were blindsided by the swift American withdrawal from Afghanistan last summer, and that France was frozen out of a new defense alliance with Australia, Mr. Biden has gone out of his way to involve allies in every step of this crisis.

For the Biden administration, it amounts to a much-needed diplomatic reset. The United States, European officials say, has acted with energy and some dexterity in orchestrating the response to Russia’s threatening moves. Since mid-November, it has conducted at least 180 senior-level meetings or other contacts with European officials. Some marvel at having their American counterparts on speed dial.

washington post logoWashington Post, Biden vows to nominate a Black woman by end of Feb., John Wagner, Amy B Wang, Felicia Sonmez, Eugene Scott and Mariana Alfaro, Jan. 28, 2022 (print ed.). President Biden vowed Thursday to nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court by the end of February, saying “it’s long overdue.” His pledge came during a White House event with Justice Stephen G. Breyer, who told Biden in a letter released Thursday that he plans to retire at the end of the court’s current term, assuming his replacement is nominated and confirmed.

“I’m here today to express the nation’s gratitude to Justice Stephen Breyer for his remarkable career of public service and his clear-eyed commitment to making our country’s laws work for its people,” Biden said of Breyer, 83, who was nominated to the court in 1994 by President Bill Clinton.

Biden promised during the 2020 campaign to select a Black woman for any vacancy and maintained Thursday that he would fulfill that pledge. “I will select a nominee worthy of Justice Breyer’s legacy of excellence and decency,” Biden said.

Here’s what to know

  • Breyer’s retirement sets up a new election-year challenge as the deadlocked 50-50 Senate faces a Supreme Court confirmation fight focused on some of the most contentious issues in the nation’s cultural divide.
  • Breyer’s retirement abruptly puts a spotlight on a small circle of Black female jurists who are positioned to be chosen as Biden’s first pick to the Supreme Court.

washington post logoWashington Post, Pittsburgh bridge collapse injures 10 on day Biden visits to talk infrastructure, Timothy Bella, Naftali Bendavid and Ian Duncan, Jan. 28, 2022. A Pittsburgh bridge collapsed early Friday, according to authorities, injuring 10 people just hours before President Biden was scheduled to visit the city to talk about infrastructure.

Pittsburgh Public Safety acknowledged a “confirmed bridge collapse” at around 6:50 a.m. Photos showed at least four vehicles, including a Port Authority bus, on the Fern Hollow Bridge near Forbes and Braddock avenues. Another vehicle was shown dangling near the edge of the collapsed bridge, which is located in Frick Park and connects the Point Breeze, Regent Square and Squirrel Hill neighborhoods of Pittsburgh.

Three people were hospitalized, but none of the injuries are life-threatening, said Darryl Jones, chief of the Pittsburgh Bureau of Fire, at a news conference. A hospital spokesperson with UPMC Presbyterian told The Washington Post that three adult patients were in fair condition as of Friday morning.

Gainey told reporters that the bridge, which was built in 1970, was last inspected in September 2021. It’s not immediately clear whether any issues were reported during the most recent inspection.

The bridge — which has been estimated to carry about 14,500 vehicles a day — has been rated in poor condition in inspections dating back to 2011, according to the U.S. Transportation Department’s National Bridge Inventory. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation notes that a poor rating of a state bridge means that “deterioration of primary structural elements has advanced.” A September 2019 inspection of the city-owned Fern Hollow Bridge found that both its superstructure and deck were in poor condition.

Port Authority spokesman Adam Brandolph confirmed to The Post that a driver and two passengers were able to escape without injury. Rescuers rappelled about 150 feet while other first responders formed a human chain to help pull multiple people from the bus, according to the Associated Press.

“We are extremely thankful that no one from the bus reported any injuries, and grateful for the first responders who risked their own lives to save others,” Brandolph said.

The collapse comes the same day that Biden is visiting Pittsburgh to discuss infrastructure. As part of his trip, the president will visit the research and development hub of Mill 19, which was part of the infrastructure deal passed by Congress last year.

ny times logoNew York Times, U.S. Economy Grew at Fastest Rate in Decades in 2021, Talmon Joseph Smith, Jan. 28, 2022 (print ed.). The overall 2021 increase in the gross domestic product was the biggest in decades as the pandemic’s effects eased, though challenges continue. Continuing to rebound from the shocks of the pandemic, the nation’s economy expanded by 1.7 percent in the final three months of 2021, the Commerce Department announced Thursday.

joe biden resized oThe figure, which was adjusted for inflation, reflects the growth in gross domestic product — the broadest measure of the goods and services produced. On an annualized basis, the increase for the quarter was 6.9 percent.

For the full year, the economic expansion was 5.7 percent, the biggest since 1984 — an impressive feat, though one that also reflects the depth of the damage inflicted by the coronavirus the year before.

The strong fourth-quarter growth was driven in part by consumer spending, which “primarily reflected an increase in services, led by health care, recreation and transportation,” the Commerce Department said. Private investment and an increase in inventories were also major factors.

 

Pro-Trump Coup Attempt, Election Rights, Probes

 

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 Raskie (D-MD) are shown, left to right, in a file photo.

ny times logoNew York Times, Jan. 6 Committee Subpoenas Fake Trump Electors, Luke Broadwater and Alan Feuer, Jan. 28, 2022. The panel investigating the Capitol riot demanded information from 14 people who were part of bogus slates of electors for President Trump.

The panel demanded information from 14 people who were part of bogus slates of electors for President Donald J. Trump, digging deeper into an aspect of his efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol attack issued 14 subpoenas on Friday to people who falsely claimed to be electors for President Donald J. Trump in the 2020 election in states that were actually won by Joseph R. Biden Jr., digging deeper into Mr. Trump’s efforts to overturn the results.

The subpoenas target individuals who met and submitted false Electoral College certificates in seven states won by President Biden: Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, New Mexico, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

“The select committee is seeking information about attempts in multiple states to overturn the results of the 2020 election, including the planning and coordination of efforts to send false slates of electors to the National Archives,” Representative Bennie Thompson, Democrat of Mississippi and the chairman of the committee, said in a statement. “We believe the individuals we have subpoenaed today have information about how these so-called alternate electors met and who was behind that scheme.”

The so-called alternate electors met on Dec. 14, 2020, in seven states that Mr. Trump lost and submitted bogus slates of Electoral-College votes for him, the committee said. They then sent the false Electoral College certificates to Congress, an action Mr. Trump’s allies used to try to justify delaying or blocking the final step in confirming the 2020 election results — a joint session of Congress on Jan. 6, 2021, to formally count the electoral votes.

The 14 individuals subpoenaed on Friday were: Nancy Cottle and Loraine B. Pellegrino of Arizona; David Shafer and Shawn Still of Georgia; Kathy Berden and Mayra Rodriguez of Michigan; Jewll Powdrell and Deborah W. Maestas of New Mexico; Michael J. McDonald and James DeGraffenreid of Nevada; Bill Bachenberg and Lisa Patton of Pennsylvania; and Andrew Hitt and Kelly Ruh of Wisconsin.

Justice Department log circularThe subpoenas order the witnesses, all of whom claimed to be either a chair or secretary of the fake elector slates, to turn over documents and sit for depositions in February.

The committee’s subpoenas came as the Justice Department said this week it was investigating the fake electors.

The scheme to employ the so-called alternate electors was one of Mr. Trump’s most expansive efforts to overturn the election, beginning even before some states had finished counting ballots and culminating in the pressure placed on Vice President Mike Pence to throw out legitimate votes for Mr. Biden when he presided over the joint congressional session. At various times, the gambit involved lawyers, state lawmakers and top White House aides.

Mark MeadowsAs early as Nov. 4, Mark Meadows, then Mr. Trump’s chief of staff, received a message from an unidentified Republican lawmaker proposing an “aggressive strategy” to maintain his grip on power. According to the strategy, Republican-controlled legislatures in states like Georgia, North Carolina and Pennsylvania would “just send their own electors” to the Electoral College instead of those chosen by voters to represent Mr. Biden.

To promote the plan, Phill Kline, the director of the Amistad Project, a conservative legal group that was working with Mr. Trump’s lawyers on lawsuits to challenge the election, fanned across right-wing media outlets that day. And Stephen Miller, below right, a top adviser to stephen miller nbc screenshot whMr. Trump, announced on Fox News that state lawmakers in several key swing states were in the process of sending “an alternate slate of electors” to Congress.

Even after the Electoral College ignored the fake electors and certified Mr. Biden’s victory, Mr. Trump’s allies continued to push the scheme.

On Dec. 22, 2020, the Amistad Project filed a federal lawsuit asking a judge to essentially force Mr. Pence to recognize the fake elector slates when he presided over Congress’s official count on Jan. 6. While the lawsuit was dismissed, a Justice Department official, Jeffrey Clark, drafted a letter one week later laying out a plan to persuade officials in Georgia to call back their Biden electors and consider swapping them for those who support Mr. Trump. (The letter was never sent.)

The scheme gathered momentum as Jan. 6 approached.

On Dec. 31, according to Politico, Ms. Ellis wrote a legal memo to Mr. Trump advising him that six states had “electoral delegates in dispute” and that because of this conflict, Mr. Pence should not accept any electors from them, but rather ask state lawmakers which slate they wanted to use. On Jan. 5, 2020, with pressure building on Mr. Pence, Ms. Ellis wrote a second memo reasserting the vice president’s authority to refuse to consider electors from states that would have given Mr. Biden a victory.

Ultimately, the efforts were rejected by Mr. Pence.

 

stewart rhodesHuff Post, ‘Quick Reaction Forces’ And The Lingering Mysteries Of The Plot Against The Capitol, Ryan J. Reilly, Jan. 28, 2022. The Oath Keeper “QRFs” show how things could have been a lot worse, and how much more there is to learn.

The Comfort Inn location just off the interstate has three stars on Yelp, where reviewers noted it had free parking and free breakfast, but poor WiFi. It did well on TripAdvisor too, although one person reported they found a dead roach in the shower.

As a staging ground for an alleged seditious conspiracy, however, it was a pretty solid choice. The Comfort Inn Ballston had rooms available for members of the right-wing Oath Keepers organization at a reasonable rate. The hotel’s luggage carts were strong enough to lug the bins of weapons, ammunition and supplies that they wheeled in to prepare for Jan. 6, 2021. Its location right off the ramp to Route 66 eastbound, outside of rush hour, can get you to the U.S. Capitol in a hurry. Critically, it was located in the state of Virginia, where the alleged co-conspirators wouldn’t have to worry about those pesky D.C. gun laws until it was time to take over the federal government. Then the laws wouldn’t matter.
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The indictment of Oath Keepers founder Elmer Stewart Rhodes III, above, who was integral to the plot that unfolded in Ballston, on seditious conspiracy charges this month has once again drawn national attention to how supporters of President Donald Trump plotted to help stop the certification of President Joe Biden’s election victory on Jan. 6. Even after more than 700 arrests, and the hundreds of potential cases that remain, the latest indictment indicates there is much more we still don’t know about the most high-profile conspiracy case to emerge from the Jan. 6 investigation — and how much worse things could have been.

Part of the Oath Keepers’ conspiracy was standing up “Quick Reaction Forces” (QRFs) just outside of D.C. that were on standby to deliver guns into the capital on Jan. 6. The “base of operations,” according to the indictment, was the Comfort Inn Ballston, where the North Carolina QRF team leader reserved three rooms: one for their North Carolina team, another for the Arizona QRF team, and the third for the Florida QRF team. The indictment alleges they used those rooms to store and guard the firearms, although the four men on the North Carolina QRF team “kept their rifles ready to go in a vehicle parked in the hotel lot” according to a court filing.

“While certain Oath Keepers members and affiliates inside of Washington, D.C., breached the Capitol grounds and building, others remained stationed just outside of the city in QRF teams,” the indictment states. “The QRF teams were prepared to rapidly transfer firearms and other weapons into Washington, D.C., in support of operations aimed at using force to stop the lawful transfer of presidential power.”

Comfort Inn’s parent company did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but the inclusion of surveillance camera photos in court documents indicates it is cooperating with the FBI investigation.

A federal magistrate judge in Texas, where Rhodes was arrested, ordered the Oath Keepers founder held until trial this week. “Defendant created, staged, and controlled the QRF as a strategic force to escalate armed violence in support of the Raid upon his request,” wrote the federal magistrate judge.

The “stack” of Oath Keepers marched up the stairs in formation and breached the Capitol just after 2:30. Vallejo messaged Rhodes that they were “standing by” at the hotel at 2:38.

Court documents don’t indicate much about what happened after that, when the Capitol had been breached without the QRFs being called in. There’s no explicit acknowledgement that any of the three QRFs at the hotel left the facility, and there’s little reference to the specific activities of other groups that Rhodes seemed to allude to on Jan. 6.

Wayne Madsen Report, Investigative Commentary: The Republican Party is now the American Nazi Party, Wayne Madsen, left, author of 21 books, Jan. 28, 2022. Since the 1930s, there have wayne madsen may 29 2015 cropped Smallbeen several iterations of the American Nazi Party under various names -- German-American Bund, American Nazi Party, National Socialist White People's Party, National Socialist Party of America, and Groyper Army -- and leaders -- Fritz Kuhn, George Lincoln Rockwell, Frank Collin, David Duke, and Nick Fuentes.

Today, the American Nazis, more powerful than at any time in the past, are part and parcel of the Republican Party. In fact, among the Republican Party's current elected officials and supporters are several died-in-the-wool Nazis.

wayne madesen report logoThe transformation of the Republican Party into a virtual carbon copy of Adolf Hitler's Nazi Party began earlier than most people think. In 1989, Ku Klux Klan and National Socialist White People's Party leader David Duke was elected to the Louisiana House of Representatives as a Republican. In 1990, Duke was the only Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate against three Democrats. In the run-off election, in which Duke faced incumbent Senator J. Bennett Johnston, Duke -- the Nazi and Klansman -- received an astounding 43.5 percent of the vote to Johnston's 53.9 percent. That means that in 1990 607,391 Louisianans, many of them Republican, favored a Nazi as their U.S. Senator.

Trump's purge of the Republican Party is similar to Hitler eliminating any of his opponents in the Nazi Party, including those who were members of the party's first incarnation, the German Workers' Party (Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, DAP), which was formed in 1919. .

If anyone doubts that Trump would not emulate Hitler and order his opponents executed, consider that on January 6, Trump's army that invaded the U.S. Capitol were prepared to, as they chanted, "Hang Mike Pence!" The Trump army, that included several Nazis, also vowed to assassinate House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, incoming Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, and any other anti-Trump senator or representative they could have laid their hands on, including Ms. Cheney, Kinzinger, and others.

 djt resized joe bidenPalmer Report, Opinion: What are they even talking about? Bill Palmer, Jan. 28, 2022. Weeks ago I gave you a heads up that as it became more clear to bill palmerthe average American that Donald Trump’s future consists of indictment, criminal trials, and prison sentences, the media would push the “Trump 2024” narrative more loudly than ever. After all, it’s the only ratings-friendly narrative that they’ve been able to come up with in the past year. And if the facts start to make clear that Trump 2024 isn’t a real thing, then the media is going to need to shout down the facts in order to keep milking its preferred narrative.

bill palmer report logo headerIf some of you saw this as overly cynical on my part, that was understandable. The trouble is, the media is already in the process of proving me right. Days ago, the Washington Post published an article which claimed that Trump is unlikely to be indicted, and then went on to make the incredible claim that Trump will still be a serious candidate in the 2024 election even if he’s in prison at the time. Now things have gotten even stupider.

Multiple prominent political pundits are now hyping the notion that Donald Trump is such a lock to win in 2024, the only remote chance Joe Biden has of beating him is if he drops Kamala Harris from the ticket and replaces her with a Republican like Mitt Romney. No really, this is a narrative now.

Meanwhile back in the real world, if 2024 were Biden vs. Trump, Biden would be the overwhelming favorite because his numbers are so much better than Trump’s numbers. In fact the only way Biden could screw up that advantage would be if he did something absurd like dropping his Black woman running mate and replacing her with an anti-choice Republican man with vaguely institutionally racist tendencies. As usual, the pundits are demanding that the Democrats make the one move that be certain to sink them. But it’s more than that.

The media is clearly hoping to spend 2022 and maybe 2023 chasing ratings by pushing the fictional “Trump is a lock to win in 2024” narrative. In order to sell that narrative, the media has to promote two lies.

The first lie is that Biden is unpopular. That’s why most pundits insist his approval rating is in the mid thirties, when you can easily look up the averages and see that it’s in the mid forties. In order to keep up the appearance that Biden is unpopular, the media will continue promoting phony scandals about him, as well as the fictional claim that he’s looking to get rid of Kamala Harris. In other words, the media – even on the left – will ramp up its efforts to sabotage Biden.

The second lie is that Trump will somehow magically get away with his crimes. After all, they insist, he got away with his crimes while he was in office. That’s cute, but at the time he controlled the Department of Justice, and he had the office of the presidency to shield himself from state level prosecution. These days he has none of the above – which is why multiple District Attorneys are in the process of criminally indicting him.

No prosecutor is afraid of Trump anymore, because he’s powerless over them. But the more obviously powerless he’s become, the more the media insists that he’s more powerful than ever. After all, they have to sell the notion that Trump – who at this point is an addled semi-corpse whose only “escape” will be if he croaks before he’s convicted – is somehow secretly more powerful than ever.

Recent Headlines:

 

Virus Victims, Responses

ny times logoNew York Times, Live Updates: Ten Billion Vaccine Doses Have Been Administered Globally, Staff Reports, Jan. 28, 2022. The achievement could have covered one dose for every person on the planet. Instead, the distribution has been widely unequal. When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel rolled up his sleeve in December 2020 to receive a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine, kicking off one of the world’s first mass rollouts of Covid shots, he declared that it marked “the beginning of the end” of the pandemic.

Thirteen months later, his prediction has proved far from true, but 10 billion vaccine doses have been administered globally, a milestone that reflects the astonishing speed with which governments and drug companies have mobilized, allowing many nations to envision a near future in which their people coexist with the virus but aren’t confined by it.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • The world surpasses 10 billion vaccine doses administered, but gaps persist in who gets the shots.
  • A lockdown is quietly imposed in an area near Beijing as the Olympics approach.
  • A new poll asks: Why do some vaccinated people not get boosters?
  • The U.K. police ask that some details be omitted from a report on Downing Street parties during a lockdown.
  • A South Korean naval unit quarantines in Oman after a Covid outbreak on their ship.
  • Sarah Palin, who is unvaccinated, dined outdoors in New York City days after testing positive.

ny times logoNew York Times, As India’s Schools Stay Closed, Hopes Fade for a Lost Generation, Emily Schmall and Sameer Yasir, Jan. 28, 2022 (print ed.). Until the pandemic, India was pulling millions of people out of poverty, pinning its economic hopes on education. Those hopes for the future are now eroding.

Some children have forgotten the alphabet or what their classrooms look like. Others have dropped out of school entirely, scrounging for work and unlikely to ever resume their studies.

For years, India has been counting on its vast pool of young people as a wellspring of future growth, a “demographic dividend,” as many liked to put it. Now, after two years of the coronavirus pandemic, it is looking more like a lost generation, crushing the middle-class dreams of families looking for better opportunities for their children.

Hundreds of millions of students across India have received little to no in-person instruction with schools intermittently shut down since the start of the pandemic. As pandemic restrictions are lifted, then reimposed, schools are often the first places to close and the last to reopen.

Mahesh Davar, a farmhand in central India, is pained to see his young sons working beside him. He and his wife toiled in the fields to send their boys, now 12 and 14, to school, hoping it would secure them better jobs and easier lives.

washington post logoWashington Post, More than half of Virginia school districts are defying governor’s mask-optional order, Hannah Natanson, Jan. 28, 2022 (print ed.). About a week after announcing his executive order making masks optional in schools throughout Virginia, Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) said on a radio show that school districts statewide had rushed to comply.

“The reality is it’s about 25 out of our 130 school systems across Virginia who aren’t recognizing the rights of parents today,” Youngkin told conservative host John Fredericks on Monday, adding that the noncompliant districts were prioritizing “bureaucrats and politicians over the rights of parents.”

But a Washington Post analysis shows that the majority of Virginia public school districts — enrolling more than two-thirds of the state’s students — have opted to disobey Youngkin’s mask-optional order.

As of Wednesday, two days after the order was supposed to take effect, 69 districts, or 53 percent, are still requiring masks for all students inside schools. Cumulatively, those districts enroll 846,483 students, or about 67 percent of the state’s public school student population.

The divide falls along partisan lines, although not perfectly: Almost every district that opted to make masks optional is in a locality that voted for Youngkin in the 2021 gubernatorial election.

Washington Post, Opinion: Salt Lake Tribune alerts police to threats to staffers after covid-19 editorial, Erik Wemple, Jan. 28, 2022. The Salt Lake Tribune alerted police to threats that the newspaper received after publishing a Jan. 15 editorial that ripped state leaders for their response to covid-19, according to an email from executive editor Lauren Gustus to subscribers. “Sean Hannity and FoxNews — in addition elected leaders in Utah — talked about the editorial, and we received dozens of threats. Some went to every journalist at The Tribune,” Gustus wrote.

The editorial — “Utah leaders have surrendered to COVID pandemic” — criticized Gov. Spencer Cox (R) and state epidemiologist Leisha Nolen for their handling of a test shortage. “We’re recommending people who have symptoms, they really should stay home, act as if they have covid and not necessarily need to go get tested,” Nolen said at a Jan. 14 news conference.

Although the Tribune praised Cox and other leaders for urging citizens to get vaccinated, it wrote that they “have so proudly stood against the kind of vaccine mandates that civilized society has used for generations to effectively wipe out everything from polio to diphtheria to the measles.”

To all that, the editorial attached a nutty idea: “Were Utah a truly civilized place, the governor’s next move would be to find a way to mandate the kind of mass vaccination campaign we should have launched a year ago, going as far as to deploy the National Guard to ensure that people without proof of vaccination would not be allowed, well, anywhere,” reads the editorial. Governors have used the National Guard to enforce curfews and otherwise patrol areas where unrest has taken root; the National Guard deployed for months in D.C. after the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

There’s a difference, however, between securing the Capitol perimeter and restricting freedom of movement across a state measuring nearly 85,000 square miles. How would the plan even work?

“Wow. That’s tyranny, authoritarianism, you name it, and downright terrifying,” Hannity said on his Jan. 18 program.

Dwight Stirling, chief executive of the Center for Law and Military Policy, tells the Erik Wemple Blog via email that no governor could deploy the National Guard to restrict the movement of unvaccinated people. “This would constitute an extraordinary imposition of martial law, one of the most extreme in American history (if not the most extreme),” Stirling writes. “There is nothing in federal or state law that allows National Guard personnel to restrict civilians’ freedom of movement outside of a major civil disturbance.”

According to Gustus, the majority of the threats received by Tribune reporters were not local. Utah Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson tweeted about the piece, and that’s when “it took off,” says Gustus, referring to the backlash. A couple of the threats were severe enough that the paper sent them to the Salt Lake City police department. A spokesperson with the department told the Erik Wemple Blog that she would get back to us if there’s anything to report. The newspaper also brought “abusive followers” to the attention of Twitter.

At a Jan. 6 protest at the Utah Capitol, Salt Lake Tribune photographer Rick Egan was pepper-sprayed by a protester, who had taunted him by saying, “Look at you in your f---ing mask, you p---y.” Gustus wrote, “Rick has worked for The Tribune for more than 36 years. He’s the photographer who shows up at an event on his day off because he believes so deeply in what he does.”

The Tribune has devoted more time and funds to security precautions in recent months, according to Gustus. One of her concerns is that staffers’ addresses and other personal information might linger on the Internet, so the newspaper has advised them to engage services that scrub that material from public view and expense the cost to the newspaper. She has also had conversations with some reporters about enhancing security at their homes.

The Tribune in 2019 switched to nonprofit status after finding itself in a “precarious” financial position. Last November, Gustus declared the paper “sustainable” and noted that the newsroom was 23 percent bigger than a year before. In her letter to subscribers, Gustus included a donation appeal. “And so despite the death threats, we will continue to serve as a check against those in power. Every day. Our resolve is stronger than ever,” she wrote.

“Misinformation is seeping down into the cracks of our daily lives because of what’s happened over the past two years,” Gustus told the Erik Wemple Blog, “and we’ve got to be stronger than ever in our resolve to do local journalism.”

washington post logoWashington Post, A self-described ‘Freedom Convoy’ of Canadian truckers opposed to vaccine mandate arrives in Ottawa, Amanda Coletta and Adela Suliman, Jan. 28, 2022. ‘Freedom Convoy’ truckers head to anti-vaccine mandate protest.

A convoy of Canadian truckers and their supporters began arriving in Ottawa on Friday to protest a federal government vaccine requirement for cross-border truckers and other coronavirus public health measures, as police warned of social media actors inciting violence and “lone wolf individuals” seeking to disrupt it.

Both Canada and the United States announced last year that they would require truck drivers entering their respective countries to be fully vaccinated. Canada implemented its measure Jan. 15, while the U.S. requirement started on Jan. 22. Most cross-border trade between the two countries occurs over land.

The convoy’s size is unclear, and most of it is expected to arrive Saturday. Polls show vaccine mandates enjoy broad support here. Some 90 percent of Canadian truckers are vaccinated, according to the transport minister. The Canadian Trucking Alliance said it doesn’t support protests “on public roadways, highways and bridges.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dismissed the convoy as a “fringe minority” this week.

It has drawn support from several federal Conservative Party lawmakers, Donald Trump Jr. and Tesla founder Elon Musk, a known opponent of vaccine mandates. Some Canadians have gathered on highway overpasses to cheer the convoy on.
People rally in Vaughan, Ontario, on Jan. 27 for the “Freedom Convoy” of truck drivers that is making its way to Ottawa to protest coronavirus vaccine mandates by the Canadian government. (Arthur Mola/Arthur Mola/Invision/AP)

As it has approached Ottawa, officials have warned of disruptions. Analysts have raised concerns that what might have ostensibly started out as a protest against vaccine mandates has garnered support from people with a host of other grievances — conspiracy theorists, far-right agitators and anti-government types — and could devolve.

The head of security for the House of Commons advised lawmakers that some members of the convoy were seeking their addresses. Ottawa police say they’re preparing for risks including “counter demonstrations, blocking of intersections, interfering with critical infrastructure and unlawful and violent activity.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Sarah Palin, who is unvaccinated, dined outdoors in New York City only days after testing positive, Lauren McCarthy, Updated Jan. 28, 2022. Two days after Sarah Palin tested positive for the coronavirus, the former Alaska governor and vice presidential nominee dined outdoors in New York City on Wednesday evening, defying federal guidance that infected people isolate from others for at least five full days.

Ms. Palin, who is unvaccinated, returned to Elio’s, the Upper East Side restaurant where she had been seen dining indoors on Saturday despite the city’s requirement that indoor guests show proof of vaccination. Noncompliance can result in a $1,000 fine for business owners.

Luca Guaitolini, a manager for the restaurant who confirmed both of Ms. Palin’s visits in the past week, said the restaurant had “just made a mistake” on Saturday.

Mr. Guaitolini said in a statement on Thursday that she had returned to the restaurant Wednesday to “apologize for the fracas around her previous visit.” He said Ms. Palin was seated outdoors in accordance with the vaccine mandate and to protect the restaurant’s staff. “We are a restaurant open to the public, and we treat civilians the same,” he said.

Anne Isaak, the owner of Elio’s, said it was against her “clearly stated wishes that Sarah Palin dined outside last night,” according to The Washington Post.

An attorney for Ms. Palin did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The office of New York City Mayor Eric Adams urged New Yorkers who may have come in contact with Ms. Palin to get tested, and later shared an updated statement on the events.

“By repeatedly flouting C.D.C. guidelines, Ms. Palin has shown a complete disregard for the health and safety of small business workers and her fellow patrons,” a spokesman for City Hall said Thursday over email. “The city offers multiple resources to support isolation for those who test positive for Covid-19, and we encourage Ms. Palin to join the 98 percent of New Yorkers who report they have followed guidance on isolation.”

Ms. Palin also dined outdoors on Tuesday evening at Campagnola, another Upper East Side establishment, where she signed autographs and took selfies, according to Gothamist.

But unlike restaurants, there is no penalty for people who refuse to quarantine.

At a conservative conference last month in Phoenix, Ms. Palin told the crowd, “It’ll be over my dead body that I’ll have to get a shot.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Deadline Arrives for Many U.S. Health Workers to Get a Dose, Christine Chung and Staff Reports, Jan. 28, 2022 (print ed.). The rule, coming in stages, will ultimately affect about 10 million workers in hospitals, nursing homes and other providers that participate in Medicaid and Medicare;  Moderna is studying a booster shot to target Omicron, mirroring similar efforts by Pfizer and BioNTech. Here’s what you need to know:

  • covad 19 photo.jpg Custom 2The deadline arrives for unvaccinated health workers in half of the U.S. to get a first dose.
  • A coronavirus case in Beijing’s Olympic bubble is linked to a German team.
  • Hong Kong will cut its quarantine requirement to 14 days, down from 21.
  • Moderna begins a study of a booster designed to counter Omicron.
  • Omicron loosens its grip, but the pandemic hasn’t ended.
  • Neil Young is leaving Spotify after complaining that the service gave Joe Rogan and vaccine ‘misinformation’ a platform.
  • Here’s what to do if you lose your U.S. vaccination card.
  • An Israeli study finds a slightly higher-than-expected rate of heart problems in vaccinated boys.

Press Run, Commentary on Media: 3 Covid stories the press is getting wrong right now, Eric Boehlert, right, Jan. 28, 2022. Pandemic of the unvaccinated. eric.boehlertWednesday’s Wall Street Journal brought troubling news about Covid-19 deaths as the paper detailed how they “have reached the highest level since early last year,” emphasizing that the virus “spread wildly through the country and caused record-shattering count cases.”

The Journal article painted a dismaying picture of pandemic America, depicting the Omicron variant that was ravaging a defenseless nation as traveling at a “breakneck speed.” It wasn’t until near the end of the article though, that the newspaper noted, “data have shown that infection rates remain higher among the unvaccinated and that those without shots are significantly more likely to be hospitalized.”

Talk about burying the lede. Wednesday’s Journal headline, “Deaths Highest in Nearly a Year,” would have been more accurate if it had been, “The Unvaccinated Drive Death Surge to New Heights.”

As we approach our third year of the pandemic, here are three key ways the news media are failing the story right now.

The Journal piece was a perfect example of how the press is turning away from the pandemic story — tens of millions of Americans who have been fed a mountain of vaccine lies refuse to get inoculated, thereby sacrificing themselves on the altar of right-wing misinformation.

Is it deeply irrational and unprecedented in American history for a large swath of the country to refuse free, safe, and effective vaccines knowing they all run the clear risk of getting sick and dying? It’s not only unheard of for the United States, it’s unparalleled for any nation with an educated population.

We knew there would be organized and partisan vaccine skeptics. But key portions of the Republican Party, as well as Fox News’ entire primetime lineup, urging people not to get vaccinated; warning them the shots might kill them?

The press never anticipated that type of mass, delusional behavior, and today it’s still not sure how the cover the surreal phenomena that continues to unfold.

Nervous about offending Republicans and Fox News by depicting anti-science conservatives as flat-earth deniers who would rather risk the welfare of themselves and families than get a vaccine (developed under Trump!), the press tiptoes around the obvious insanity.

If Covid is a uniquely American problem today, it’s only because one of the two political parties wants it to be.

washington post logoWashington Post, Analysis: Spotify chose Joe Rogan over Neil Young because it’s not a music company, Travis M. Andrews, Jan. 28, 2022. In one corner was Joe Rogan, the stand-up comedian and former “Fear Factor” host turned provocative podcaster.

In the other stood Neil Young, the multi-Grammy-winning rock legend with a lifelong passion for progressive causes.

The battle lasted two days, and Rogan won without making a peep.

neil young spotifyYoung started the scuffle when he posted a letter to his website Monday, addressed to his manager and an executive at his record label, demanding that his music catalogue be removed from Spotify in response to “fake information about vaccines.”

Specifically, Young cited Joe Rogan — who hosts “The Joe Rogan Experience” podcast — and has suggested healthy, young people shouldn’t get vaccinated. After catching the coronavirus, Rogan also praised ivermectin, a medicine used to kill parasites in animals and humans that has no proven anti-viral benefits. “I want you to let Spotify know immediately TODAY that I want all my music off their platform,” he wrote. “They can have Rogan or Young. Not both.”

Two days later, without a word from Rogan, Spotify began the process of removing the famed rocker’s music, including his best-known hits such as “Heart of Gold,” “Harvest Moon” and “Rockin’ in the Free World.”

spotify logo

The speed of Spotify’s decision to sideline Young was jarring. So why did the company do it?

The answer is simple: This isn’t really a story about Rogan or Young. It’s a story about Spotify. And, despite public perception, Spotify isn’t a music company. It’s a tech company looking to maximize profits.

The company hasn’t been shy about its desire — in 2019, Spotify announced it was planning to spend up to $500 million to acquire companies “in the emerging podcast marketplace.”

That year it purchased Gimlet Media, home of podcasts such as “Reply All,” “Homecoming” and “Where Should We Begin? With Esther Perel,” for an estimated $230 million. It also spent more than $100 million on Anchor, a platform that lets users create and share their own podcasts.

The next year, Spotify spent nearly $200 million to acquire the Ringer and its suite of popular podcasts, such as “Binge Mode,” “The Press Box” and its founder’s “The Bill Simmons Podcast.” And, of course, it reportedly spent more than $100 million to acquire exclusive rights to a single show: the extremely popular, rabble-rousing “Joe Rogan Experience.”

“I think it comes down to, just frankly, business,” said John Simson, the program director for the business and entertainment program at American University. “In the music side of things, [Spotify is] paying out roughly 70 percent of all the revenue that comes in. It goes right back out as royalties. They’re looking for other places where the revenue split isn’t that dramatic. … Podcasts were certainly their go-to.”

Associated Press via HuffPost, Ontario Crowd Cheers On Trucker Convoy Protesting Vaccine Mandates, Staff Report, Jan. 27-28, 2022. The convoy of ap logotruckers set to descend on Canada’s capital has prompted police to prepare for the possibility of violence.

Crowds cheered, waved flags and hoisted signs in Ontario on Thursday as parts of a convoy of truckers headed for Ottawa to protest the Canadian government’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for cross-border drivers.

In a packed mall parking lot north of Toronto, supporters threw cash and food up to truckers in their vehicles on Thursday, while others held up signs protesting the government as transport trucks gradually rolled out. Some people harassed journalists covering the rally. Others cheered trucks on from overpasses.

The convoy of truckers set to descend on Canada’s capital has prompted police to prepare for the possibility of violence and politicians to warn against escalating rhetoric linked to the demonstration. A top Parliament official warned lawmakers to avoid the protest and to lock their doors amid reports their private homes may be targeted.

The truckers are, in part, protesting a new rule that took effect Jan. 15 requiring truckers entering Canada be fully immunized against the coronavirus. The United States has imposed the same requirement on truckers entering that country Jan, 22.

“Canadian truckers rule,” Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted in support of the convoy.

Some with extreme, far-right views have latched onto the protest against the mandate. One online video includes a man expressing hope the rally will turn into the Canadian equivalent of the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol by supporters of former President Donald Trump.

Opposition Conservative leader Erin O’Toole said he will meet with truckers but not the organizers of the convoy.

The Canadian Trucking Alliance has estimated that about 15% of truckers in Canada — as many as 16,000 — are not fully vaccinated

Mike Fabinski, a truck driver from Barrie, Ontario, said the mandate means he won’t be able to work cross-border routes any more.

“You want to be vaccinated, go ahead, your choice. I don’t want to be vaccinated, that’s my choice,” he said.
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Fabinski said he has been driving trucks for 20 years but has not been able to travel to the U.S. since the mandate became effective Jan 15.

“I was going non-stop until they started last Saturday,” he said. “Now I cannot go. I cannot work no more.”

The federal government ended truckers’ exemption to the vaccine mandate two weeks ago, meaning Canadian truck drivers need to be fully vaccinated if they want to avoid a two-week quarantine when they cross into Canada from the U.S.

Worldometer, World & U.S. Coronavirus Case Totals (updated Jan. 28, 2022), with some governments reporting lower numbers than the totals here and some experts saying the numbers are far higher:

World Cases: 367,423,717, Deaths: 5,658,763
U.S. Cases:     74,695,333, Deaths:    902,140
Indian Cases:   40,622,709, Deaths:    492,356
Brazil Cases:   24,782,922, Deaths:    625,169

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More On U.S. Supreme Court

 

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ny times logoNew York Times, Senate Democrats Plan to Move Quickly on Successor to Justice Breyer, Carl Hulse, Jan. 27, 2022 (print ed.). Given their tenuous majority, Democrats intend to act fast, anticipating roadblocks from Senator Mitch McConnell and Republicans.

Senate Democrats say they plan to move speedily to consider President Biden’s nominee for the Supreme Court vacancy created by the retirement of Justice Stephen G. Breyer, following the lead of Republicans who raced through the nomination of Justice Amy Coney Barrett in a matter of weeks before the 2020 elections.

Holding a bare 50-seat majority that is under severe threat in November’s midterm elections, Democrats acknowledged the need to act fast, particularly since an illness or death of one of their members could deprive them of their numerical advantage and greatly complicate efforts to fill the seat.

“President Biden’s nominee will receive a prompt hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee, and will be considered and confirmed by the full United States Senate with all deliberate speed,” Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, said on Wednesday after plans for Justice Breyer’s departure became public.

Democrats could confirm a successor to Justice Breyer without any Republican support under Senate rules that shield a Supreme Court nomination from a filibuster, but they must remain firmly united to do so.

washington post logoWashington Post, Incoming Georgetown Law administrator apologizes after tweets dean called ‘appalling,’ Lauren Lumpkin, Jan. 28, 2022 (print ed.). Ilya Shapiro is set to begin his role as senior lecturer and executive director of the Georgetown Center for the Constitution on Feb. 1.

The incoming leader of a Georgetown Law research institute has apologized after facing backlash for a series of now-deleted tweets about President Biden’s promise to nominate a Black woman for the Supreme Court that the school’s dean has called “appalling.”

Ilya Shapiro, the vice president and director of the Robert A. Levy Center for Constitutional Studies at the Cato Institute, is set to begin his new role as executive director of the Georgetown Center for the Constitution on Tuesday. Less than a week before Shapiro arrives on campus, his comments on Biden’s potential pick for the high court have drawn frustration from many in the community.

“Objectively best pick for Biden is Sri Srinivasan, who is solid prog & v smart. Even has identify politics benefit of being first Asian (Indian) American,” Shapiro wrote on Wednesday, following news that Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer will retire at the end of the current term. Srinivasan made history in 2020 when he became the first person of South Asian descent to lead a federal circuit court.

“But alas doesn’t fit into the latest intersectionality hierarchy so we’ll get lesser black woman,” Shapiro continued.

In a tweet that followed, Shapiro added that if Biden will only consider a Black woman to fill Breyer’s seat, his nominee “will always have an asterisk attached. Fitting that the Court takes up affirmative action next term.”

Biden, while campaigning in 2020, vowed to nominate a Black woman to the high court. He affirmed that commitment on Thursday.

The Supreme Court earlier this week announced it will examine admissions policies at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and whether universities can consider the race of applicants when trying to enroll diverse student bodies.

A third tweet included a poll in which Shapiro asked his followers if Biden is racist, sexist, both or neither for his commitment to selecting a Black female nominee.

Shapiro made similar remarks about identity following Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the high court in 2009. “In picking Sonia Sotomayor, President Obama has confirmed that identity politics matter to him more than merit,” he wrote in a CNN column, arguing that despite Sotomayor’s accomplishments, she would not have been seriously considered for the job if she were not Hispanic.

Shapiro, who will also work as a senior lecturer at Georgetown, did not immediately return a request for comment. In a tweet Thursday, he wrote: “I apologize. I meant no offense, but it was an inartful tweet. I have taken it down.”

William M. Treanor, dean and executive vice president of the Georgetown University Law Center, condemned Shapiro’s remarks in a statement.

“The tweets’ suggestion that the best Supreme Court nominee could not be a Black woman and their use of demeaning language are appalling,” Treanor said Thursday. “The tweets are at odds with everything we stand for at Georgetown Law and are damaging to the culture of equity and inclusion that Georgetown Law is building every day.”

Shapiro has been accused of racism and sexism for his remarks. The National Review, a conservative magazine, pushed back on the criticism and said Biden’s commitment to nominating a Black woman eliminates qualified candidates who do not fit the president’s criteria.

The incident comes almost a year after a Georgetown Law adjunct professor was fired after making statements about Black students that Treanor called “reprehensible.”

“I hate to say this. I end up having this angst every semester that a lot of my lower ones are Blacks,” the professor said in a video recording. “Happens almost every semester. And it’s like, ‘Oh, come on.’ You get some really good ones, but there are also usually some that are just plain at the bottom. It drives me crazy.”

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More On Ukraine

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ny times logoNew York Times, Analysis: Republican Rift on Ukraine Could Undercut U.S. Appeals to Allies, Jonathan Weisman, Jan. 27, 2022 (print ed.). G.O.P. leaders are attacking President Biden for what they call a weak response to Russian aggression, but their far-right flank is questioning U.S. involvement, and even its alliance with Kyiv.

As President Biden tries to forge a united allied response to Russian aggression in Ukraine, unity on the home front is strained by a Republican Party torn between traditional hawks in the leadership and a wing still loyal to Donald J. Trump’s isolationist instincts and pro-Russian sentiment.

Republican leaders, by and large, have struck an aggressive posture, encouraging Mr. Biden to get tougher on Russia, through immediate sanctions on Russian energy exports and more lethal aid to Ukraine’s military. But that message has been undermined by the party’s far right, which has questioned why the United States would side with Ukraine at all, and has obliquely suggested with no evidence that the president is bolstering his son Hunter Biden’s business interests.

Driven by a steady diet of pro-Russian or anti-interventionist rhetoric from the Fox News host Tucker Carlson, the Republican right has become increasingly vocal in undercutting not only U.S. foreign policy but also the positions of the party’s leaders.

The Republican representatives Matt Rosendale of Montana, Lauren Boebert of Colorado, Paul Gosar of Arizona, Thomas Massie of Kentucky, Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia; the Ohio Senate candidate J.D. Vance; and Donald Trump Jr. have weighed in to oppose confronting Russia or to suggest nefarious intentions on Mr. Biden’s part. Mr. Trump told the conservative podcast host Lou Dobbs that Mr. Biden’s reported plan to send as many as 50,000 troops to bolster Europe’s defenses was “crazy.”

Representative Michael R. Turner of Ohio, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, went on Fox News to confront Mr. Carlson.

“Why would we take Ukraine’s side and not Russia’s side?” Mr. Carlson pushed. “It’s a sincere question.”

Mr. Turner responded: “Ukraine is a democracy. Russia is an authoritarian regime that is seeking to impose its will upon a validly elected democracy in Ukraine, and we’re on the side of democracy.”

Such confrontations have muddied the Republican response, but more concerning are worries that the right could prompt U.S. allies to question Washington’s resolve. On a conference call on Wednesday with Ukrainian Americans, Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, expressed alarm about “the rhetoric of the far right.”

“Our allies are watching closely for signs of division here,” he said in an interview after the call. “The good news is, I detect no real traction of those messages from my Republican colleagues.”

 Wayne Madsen Report, Investigative Commentary, The new fascist Axis and its threat to democracy, Wayne Madsen, left, author of 21 books and former Navy intelligence officer, Jan. 27-28, 2022. As European fascist wayne madsen may 29 2015 cropped Smallleaders gather in Spain, Russia's paramilitary Wagner Group -- a modern-day Waffen-Schutzstaffel (Waffen-SS) -- consolidates power in Burkina Faso, and Russian-backed American fifth columnists like Fox's Tucker Carlson and retired Lt. General Michael Flynn engage in Russian-backed active measures (aktivnye meropriyatiya) in the United States, it is clear that the world faces, once again, the threat of a global fascist takeover of power.

wayne madesen report logoOnly a series of counter-attacks by the worldwide forces of anti-fascism can prevent what Vladimir Putin sees as his destiny: becoming leader of a Russian-dominated empire of client states and puppets subservient to Moscow.

Putin is undoubtedly watching and covertly supporting the consolidation of fascist forces in Europe and other countries.

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U.S. Politics, Governance, Economy

washington post logoWashington Post, A record 14.5 million Americans chose an Affordable Care Act health plan for this year, Amy Goldstein, Jan. 28, 2022 (print ed.). About 14.5 million Americans have signed up to get health coverage this year through Affordable Care Act insurance marketplaces, eclipsing the previous record enrollment by nearly 2 million.

The popularity of ACA health plans is a substantial slice of good news for President Biden, who has made expanding access to affordable health insurance one of his principal domestic policy aims, while some approaches he favors to achieve that goal have stalled on Capitol Hill.

The enrollment figure is the heart of a report to be released Thursday by the Department of Health and Human Services. The White House rushed out a statement from the president in advance, in which Biden said he was proud that the sign-ups are “the highest numbers ever produced in an open enrollment period.”

The tally is not quite final, so it probably will be higher in the end.

The 14.5 million figure includes a final count of 10 million consumers who chose health plans during the most recent open-enrollment window through HealthCare.gov, the federal insurance marketplace on which 33 states rely. For 17 states and the District of Columbia, which run their own insurance marketplaces under the ACA, the data being released Thursday includes their roughly 4.5 million sign-ups through Jan. 15, the deadline for the federal open enrollment.

Five state-run marketplaces plus the District’s are still open for consumers to buy health coverage for 2022. And three states and the District have created special enrollment periods that will allow uninsured residents longer to sign up for ACA coverage.

The ACA is a sprawling health-care law, pushed through a Democratic Congress in 2010, that has become a source of partisan warring ever since.

washington post logoWashington Post, Millions of Americans will soon have to scan their faces to access their IRS tax accounts, Drew Harwell, Jan. 28, 2022 (print ed.). The plan is one of the government’s biggest expansions yet of facial recognition software into people’s everyday lives. Millions of Americans will soon have to scan their faces to access their Internal Revenue Service tax accounts, one of the government’s biggest expansions yet of facial recognition software into people’s everyday lives.

irs logoTaxpayers will still be able to file their returns the old-fashioned way. But by this summer, anyone wanting to access their records — including details about child tax credits, payment plans or tax transcripts — on the IRS website will be required to record a video of their face with their computer or smartphone and send it to the private contractor ID.me to confirm their identity.

About 70 million Americans who have filed for unemployment insurance, pandemic assistance grants, child tax credit payments or other services have already been scanned by the McLean, Va.-based company, which says its client list includes 540 companies; 30 states, including California, Florida, New York and Texas; and 10 federal agencies, including Social Security, Labor and Veterans Affairs.

ny times logoNew York Times, Lori Lightfoot Promised to Change Chicago. Crises Keep Piling Up, Julie Bosman and Mitch Smith, Jan. 28, 2022. As mayor, she vowed to address racial and economic disparities. But her promises have run into obstacles, some within her control, others not.

Days into a dispute between Mayor Lori Lightfoot, right, and the Chicago Teachers Union, labor leaders outlined what they described as a grand lori lightfoot twitter Customcompromise. Students, who had been receiving no instruction after teachers voted to stop reporting to classrooms amid a coronavirus surge, would attend a few days of online school, followed by a full, in-person return.

Ms. Lightfoot was having none of it.

Within minutes, she and the head of the school district released a statement that accused union leadership of not listening. “We will not relent,” they said, calling instead for a swift return to in-person classes. Days later, it was the union that largely relented: Students returned to school buildings earlier than teachers had wanted, with some additional Covid safeguards in place.

The highly public, acerbic dispute with the teachers this month was characteristic of Ms. Lightfoot’s stewardship of Chicago. In nearly three years marked by a pandemic, soaring rates of violence and frequent labor battles, Ms. Lightfoot has shown herself to be a blunt orator and an unflinching negotiator. But her lofty campaign promises to “bring in the light,” reduce violence and overhaul governance in America’s third-largest city have repeatedly run up against an overwhelming news cycle, decades of inertia and her uncanny ability to make political enemies.

“Her style is a top-bottom approach, very different from what she campaigned on,” said Alderman Byron Sigcho-Lopez, whom Ms. Lightfoot once referred to as a “jackass” in hundreds of pages of her frank text messages that were obtained by The Chicago Tribune.

ny times logoNew York Times, Jeffrey Epstein’s estate is seeking $20 million for two private islands, Matthew Goldstein, Jan. 28, 2022. When Jeffrey Epstein died, he left behind an estate with an estimated value of $600 million. There were vast financial holdings, a private jet, and palatial properties including an island hideaway, a grand Manhattan mansion and a 7,600-acre New Mexico ranch.

But taxes, property upkeep and temperature-controlled storage for his art collection — as well as $121 million in settlements to more than 135 women who accused him of sexually abusing them when they were young — have since cut into the size of Mr. Epstein’s estate. It’s now worth about a third of its value when the financier, 66, hanged himself in a Manhattan jail cell while awaiting trial on sex-trafficking charges two and a half years ago.

jeffrey epstein sex offenderThe biggest continuing expense is legal costs: $30 million so far to law firms brought in to clean up Mr. Epstein’s affairs. Lawyers have helped hand out settlements, liquidate assets and sift through the complicated holdings of a man who once set up his own offshore bank.

The work won’t be over anytime soon. The estate must still resolve a civil fraud lawsuit, brought by the attorney general of the Virgin Islands, who claims Mr. Epstein used the territory to facilitate a criminal enterprise by bilking it out of more than $70 million in tax revenue. And Ghislaine Maxwell, the former

Not until all that is over will the estate dispense whatever is left, according to the terms of a secret trust that Mr. Epstein set up and named in a will drawn just two days before he died.

The details of the trust are not public. But Karyna Shuliak, Mr. Epstein’s girlfriend and the last person he spoke to on the phone before killing himself, will be one of the main beneficiaries, The New York Times previously reported. Ms. Shuliak, a native of Belarus, is a dentist who shared an office on the island of St. Thomas with Mr. Epstein’s Southern Trust Company. A lawyer for Ms. Shuliak declined to comment.

The estate has paid $9 million to the lawyers and their team who established and oversaw the victims restitution fund, and $21 million to at least 16 law firms for services and expenses, according to a review of quarterly financial statements filed by the estate in Superior Court in the Virgin Islands.

Five firms — Troutman Pepper, Hughes Hubbard & Reed, White & Case, McLaughlin & Stern and Kellerhals Ferguson Kroblin — have each taken in fees that exceed the nearly $900,000 average award to victims from the compensation fund. A lawyer for nine accusers who submitted claims took issue with the size of those legal bills.

“It is appalling that lawyers divvying up the estate of Jeffrey Epstein are profiting more than his victims,” said the Florida lawyer, Spencer Kuvin, who has been seeking compensation for some of Mr. Epstein’s accusers for more than a decade.

Daniel Weiner, a lawyer with Hughes Hubbard, which has billed the estate over $6 million, said it was wrong to compare the legal fees and the settlement amounts. He said the estate’s executors, Darren Indyke and Richard Kahn, had put no limitations on the amount of money handed out by the restitution fund, which an independent administrator oversaw.

The victims who participated, he added, were able to avoid litigation costs that could have reduced the amount they received. (Victims’ lawyers are being paid out of the awards; a one-third share is typical.)

washington post logoWashington Post, His daughter was shot and killed on live TV. Now he’s running for Congress, Meagan Flynn, Jan. 28, 2022 (print ed.). Seven years after a gunman killed his daughter during a live TV news broadcast, longtime Virginia gun-control advocate Andy Parker has decided to run for Congress.

Parker announced Thursday that he will seek the Democratic nomination in Virginia’s 5th Congressional District to challenge one of the most conservative members of the House and an ardent gun-rights supporter, Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.) — a tough race for a Democrat.

democratic donkey logoBut Parker said that fighting gun violence, though still important to him, is not the focal point of his congressional campaign. Over the past few years, Parker has been battling YouTube and other social-media platforms as he looks to remove videos of his daughter Alison Parker’s violent death.

He said he hoped taking on Big Tech and amending Section 230 — a provision in the Communications Decency Act that has largely shielded social media platforms from accountability if content posted on their sites causes harm — would be an issue that could “transcend parties” and unite people across the political spectrum in the 5th District.

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: How Crypto Became the New Subprime, Paul Krugman, right, Jan. 28, 2022 (print ed.). Crypto has become a pretty big paul krugmanasset class (and yielded huge capital gains to many buyers); by last fall the combined market value of cryptocurrencies had reached almost $3 trillion.

Since then, however, prices have crashed, wiping out around $1.3 trillion in market capitalization. As of Thursday morning, Bitcoin’s price was almost halfway down from its November peak. So who is being hurt by this crash, and what might it do to the economy?

Well, I’m seeing uncomfortable parallels with the subprime crisis of the 2000s. No, crypto doesn’t threaten the financial system — the numbers aren’t big enough to do that. But there’s growing evidence that the risks of crypto are falling disproportionately on people who don’t know what they are getting into and are poorly positioned to handle the downside.

What’s this crypto thing about? There are many ways to make digital payments, from Apple Pay and Google Pay to Venmo. Mainstream payment schemes, however, rely on a third party — usually your bank — to verify that you actually own the assets you’re transferring. Cryptocurrencies use complex coding to supposedly do away with the need for these third parties.

Skeptics wonder why this is necessary and argue that crypto ends up being an awkward, expensive way to do things you could have done more easily in other ways, which is why cryptocurrencies still have few legal applications 13 years after Bitcoin was introduced. The response, in my experience, tends to take the form of incomprehensible word salad.

Recent developments in El Salvador, which adopted Bitcoin as legal tender a few months ago, seem to bolster the skeptics: Residents attempting to use the currency find themselves facing huge transaction fees.

Still, crypto has been effectively marketed: It manages both to seem futuristic and to appeal to old-style goldbug fears that the government will inflate away your savings, and huge past gains have drawn in investors worried about missing out. So crypto has become a large asset class even though nobody can clearly explain what legitimate purpose it’s for.

Recent U.S. Politics-Governance Headlines:

 

World News, Human Rights, Disasters

 

  • New York Times, McConnell Warns Against ‘Radical’ Supreme Court Pick

ny times logoNew York Times, ISIS Fighters Get Surrender-or-Die Ultimatum in Syria Prison Standoff, Jane Arraf and Sangar Khaleel, Jan. 28, 2022. The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces militia demanded that about 60 ISIS militants, still holed up in a prison a week after they attacked it, give themselves up or risk being killed.

A U.S.-backed militia in Syria delivered a surrender-or-die ultimatum on Friday to dozens of Islamic State fighters holding out in a prison a week after they attacked it, saying they would face an all-out military assault if they did not give themselves up.

The Islamic State assaulted the Sinaa prison in the city of Hasaka in an attempt to free thousands of former ISIS fighters, breaching the walls with bombs and holding some of the almost 700 child detainees there as human shields, according to the militia, the Syrian Democratic Forces, or the S.D.F. The clashes drew in American forces to back the Kurdish-led S.D.F.

On Wednesday, the S.D.F. declared that it had regained full control of the entire prison complex after six days of fighting. But on Thursday, battles raged on to expel the fighters still holed up in the prison.

The U.S.-led coalition has conducted airstrikes and sent in a small number of ground troops to help the S.D.F. take back the prison in the biggest battle between American forces and ISIS since the fall of the last piece of the group’s so-called caliphate in 2019.

The makeshift prison held about 3,000 suspected ISIS fighters and almost 700 boys.

An S.D.F. spokesman said Wednesday that at least 30 militia fighters and more than 100 militants had been killed. The final tally is expected to be considerably higher.

ny times logoNew York Times, For Olympic Sponsors, ‘China Is an Exception,’ Alexandra Stevenson and Steven Lee Myers, Jan. 28, 2022 (print ed.). Pressure is mounting on companies to condemn the country’s human rights violations, but executives say the Games should not be politicized.

The prominence of these multinational companies, many of them American, has taken the political sting out of the efforts by Mr. Biden and other leaders to punish China for its human rights abuses, including a campaign of repression in the western region of Xinjiang that the State Department has declared a genocide.

The Olympic sponsorship reflects the stark choice facing multinational companies working in the country: Jeopardize access to an increasingly sensitive China, or deal with the reputational risk associated with doing business there. When it comes to the Beijing Olympics, the decision has been clear.

ny times logoNew York Times, On Patrol: 12 Days With a Taliban Police Unit in Kabul, Victor J. Blue, Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Safiullah Padshah, Photographs by Victor J. Blue, Jan. 28, 2022. Journalists from The New York Times spent 12 days with the small Taliban unit this fall, going on several patrols with them in their zone, Police District 3, and traveling to their homes in Wardak Province, a neighboring mountainous area.

The unit offers a telling snapshot of the Taliban’s rank-and-file fighters and the challenges Afghanistan’s rulers face in governing the nation.

washington post logoWashington Post, Jordanian army kills 27 alleged drug smugglers in wintry clash on Syrian border, Sarah Dadouch and Joby Warrick, Jan. 28, 2022 (print ed.). Jordanian troops killed 27 suspected drug smugglers in a dramatic gun battle along a snow-choked stretch of the Syrian border early Thursday, in what officials described as the bloodiest clash to date in an escalating conflict with criminal networks operating out of Syria.

Jordanian authorities said they seized a large trove of fenethylline — a popular amphetamine commonly known as Captagon — and thousands of packets of hashish after a shootout and chase that involved what one official called a “company-sized” column of smugglers and armed escorts that crossed into Jordan under the cover of a winter storm.

It was the most serious incident in a string of clashes with smugglers over the past two years as the kingdom has confronted a wave of illicit drugs spilling across the border from what U.S. and Middle Eastern officials say are major manufacturing hubs in Syria. Billions of dollars’ worth of Syrian-made Captagon has been seized over the past two years by authorities in nearly a dozen countries, from the Persian Gulf to southern Europe.

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washington post logoWashington Post, Federal judge throws out Biden administration’s massive Gulf of Mexico oil and gas lease sale, Anna Phillips and Maxine Joselow, Jan. 27, 2022. A federal judge on Thursday invalidated the largest offshore oil and gas lease sale in the nation’s history, ruling that the Biden administration violated federal law by relying on a seriously flawed analysis of the climate change impact of drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

The decision, by the the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, threw out 1.7 million acres of oil and gas leases that the Biden administration did not want to sell. Shortly after taking office, President Biden suspended new oil and gas drilling on lands and waters owned by the federal government. But after a Louisiana judge struck down the moratorium last summer, administration officials said they were forced to go through with the sale in November.

Environmental advocacy organizations challenged the sale, which netted nearly $192 million and ranked as the most profitable offshore auction since March 2019.

In his ruling, Judge Rudolph Contreras concluded that the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management had based its decision to hold the sale on a flawed environmental analysis that miscalculated the greenhouse gas emissions associated with future oil and gas drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. Completed under the Trump administration, the analysis found that the climate impacts would be worse if the acreage went unsold because foreign oil companies would increase their production, leading to more emissions of planet-warming gases.

The model and the set of assumptions that produced this result were “arbitrary and capricious,” Contreras wrote, reaching the same conclusion as both the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit and the District Court for the District of Alaska in previous cases concerning lease sales based on a similar analysis.

 washington post logoWashington Post, Va. judge reverses decision to place teen on sex offender registry in bathroom assault case, Justin Jouvenal, Jan. 27, 2022. A Virginia teen whose sexual assaults of fellow students in two Loudoun County high schools generated a political firestorm will not be placed on the sex offender registry normally reserved for adults after a judge reversed her previous sentence Thursday, according to a defense attorney.

Loudoun County Judge Pamela L. Brooks said she had erred in handing out the unusual penalty for the 15-year-old at the center of the high-profile cases that sparked protests and spurred Loudoun County schools to begin overhauling disciplinary procedures, attorney William Mann said. Brooks declined to comment after the hearing.

A team of attorneys for the teen asked the judge to rescind the sentence imposed at a January hearing, making technical arguments the sentencing wasn’t properly handled and the punishment was not appropriate for what the teen had done.

After the hearing, Mann said the goal of juvenile court is rehabilitation not punishment. He said a punishment that would have potentially put the teen on the sexual offender registry for the balance of his life is not compatible with that aim.

“If the person is young and does all the right things to make amends, don’t destroy them for the rest of their lives,” Mann said.

Loudoun County Commonwealth’s Attorney Buta Biberaj, who sought to place the teen on the sex offender registry, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The ruling did not affect other aspects of the sentencing. The teen will live in a residential treatment facility until he is 18 and will remain on probation.

Brooks, who is chief judge of the county’s juvenile and domestic relations court, said during the January sentencing hearing she had never placed a juvenile on the sex offender registry before, but she was making the move because she was incredibly disturbed by a psychological evaluation of the teen.

“What I read in those reports scared me,” Brooks said. “It scared me for your family. It scared me for society.”

Loudoun teen whose sexual assaults caused political firestorm placed on sex offender list

But during a hearing Thursday, a probation officer testified he was against putting the teen on the sex offender registry after looking at research showing teens that had been placed on the list had greater rates of recidivism afterward, Mann said. The judge cited the report in announcing her decision, Mann said.

The teen was found guilty of forcefully sexually assaulting a girl in a girls’ bathroom at Ashburn’s Stone Bridge High School in May when he was 14. While he was awaiting trial on the first case, the teen was transferred to Broad Run High School, where he forced a second girl into an empty classroom and inappropriately touched her in October. He was also found guilty in that case.

The cases stirred a backlash against a Loudoun County schools policy of allowing transgender teens to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity. The policy was put in place after the first assault.

The father of one of the teen victims said the perpetrator was “gender fluid.” Prosecutors said during the teen’s trial he was wearing a skirt at the time of the assault but have not commented on his gender identity. The Post generally doesn’t name juvenile perpetrators.

The case also became an issue in the governor’s race and led parents to question why the teen was allowed to attend a second school while he was awaiting trial on the first charge. Loudoun County officials promised major changes in the wake of the case.

Virginia’s new Attorney General Jason Miyares announced he was launching an investigation into the sexual assaults earlier this month when he took office.

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Media, Communications, Sports News

washington post logoWashington Post, Conspiracy theorists, banned on major social networks, spread message on newsletters, podcasts, Elizabeth Dwoskin, Jan. 28, 2022 (print ed.). Newsletter company Substack is making millions off anti-vaccine content, according to estimates.

Joseph Mercola, right, a leading anti-vaccine advocate whose screeds have been restricted by YouTube and Facebook, this month warned that the joseph mercolaunvaccinated might soon be imprisoned in government-run camps. The week before, he circulated a study purporting to use government data to prove that more children had died from covid shots than from the coronavirus itself.

Shut down by major social media platforms, Mercola has found a new way to spread these debunked claims: on Substack, the subscription-based newsletter platform that is increasingly a hub for controversial and often misleading perspectives about the coronavirus.

Substack, which researchers from the nonprofit Center for Countering Digital Hate say makes millions of dollars off anti-vaccine misinformation, on Wednesday defended its tolerance for publishing “writers with whom we strongly disagree.”

Prominent figures known for spreading misinformation, such as Mercola, have flocked to Substack, podcasting platforms and a growing number of right-wing social media networks over the past year after getting kicked off or restricted on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Now these alternative platforms are beginning to face some of the scrutiny that has imperiled social media services. But there’s a fundamental difference in the architecture of newsletters and podcasts when compared to that of social media companies. Social networks use algorithms to spread content — sometimes misinformation — to users who don’t want to see it. Newsletters and podcasts don’t.

These newer platforms cater to subscribers who seek out specific content that accommodates their viewpoints — potentially making the services less responsible for spreading harmful views, some misinformation experts say. At the same time, the platforms are exposing tens of thousands of people to misinformation each month — content that can potentially lead people to engage in behaviors that endanger themselves and others.

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 washington post logoWashington Post, Biden vows to nominate a Black woman by end of Feb., John Wagner, Amy B Wang, Felicia Sonmez, Eugene Scott and Mariana Alfaro, Jan. 27, 2022. President Biden vowed Thursday to nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court by the end of February, saying “it’s long overdue.” His pledge came during a White House event with Justice Stephen G. Breyer, who told Biden in a letter released Thursday that he plans to retire at the end of the court’s current term, assuming his replacement is nominated and confirmed.

“I’m here today to express the nation’s gratitude to Justice Stephen Breyer for his remarkable career of public service and his clear-eyed commitment to making our country’s laws work for its people,” Biden said of Breyer, 83, who was nominated to the court in 1994 by President Bill Clinton.

Biden promised during the 2020 campaign to select a Black woman for any vacancy and maintained Thursday that he would fulfill that pledge. “I will select a nominee worthy of Justice Breyer’s legacy of excellence and decency,” Biden said.

Here’s what to know

Breyer’s retirement sets up a new election-year challenge as the deadlocked 50-50 Senate faces a Supreme Court confirmation fight focused on some of the most contentious issues in the nation’s cultural divide.
Breyer’s retirement abruptly puts a spotlight on a small circle of Black female jurists who are positioned to be chosen as Biden’s first pick to the Supreme Court.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: How to make the Supreme Court confirmation process meaningful, Jennifer Rubin, Jan. 27, 2022. Ninety percent of the time spent during Supreme Court confirmation hearings is, candidly, wasted. Most senators use their time to pontificate or to ask questions the nominee plainly cannot answer (“Was Citizens United rightly decided?”). They do nothing to inform the public about the potential justice’s qualifications, ethical standing or judicial style.

But before we throw in the towel and conclude that these hearings are entirely worthless, consider what sort of questions should be asked and what they could tell us about the nominee.

For starters, we need to know more about the judge’s ethical antennae:

  • Would you continue to follow the code of ethics applicable to lower court judges if you are confirmed? Why shouldn’t the Supreme Court formally adopt that code for itself?
  • Should justices speak at partisan settings? Should they be concerned that their attendance at a group with a particular ideological bent would create the appearance of bias?
  • Should justices attend the State of the Union address?

We also need to know how the nominee treats precedent, which conservatives used to respect but now blithely wipe away when they “have the votes” to radically shift the law:

  • Should justices reverse decades of settled law? If so, when?
  • What factors go into the determination on whether to abandon precedent?
  • Should a change in the composition of the court decide whether precedent stands?

washington post logoWashington Post, With Breyer’s retirement, the fight in a 50-50 deadlocked Senate begins, Michael Scherer and Seung Min Kim, Jan. 27, 2022 (print ed.). Justice Stephen G. Breyer’s planned retirement set up a new election-year challenge as the deadlocked 50-50 Senate confronts a heated Supreme Court confirmation fight focused on some of the most contentious issues in the nation’s ongoing cultural divide.

The news Wednesday came as a relief for liberal activists, who have worried that Democrats would lose control of the Senate before Breyer left the court, and a much-needed shot of confidence to Democratic leaders, who view the politics of the high court this year as a bright spot in an otherwise gloomy election season. President Biden has promised to nominate the first Black woman to the high court, a prospect his party hopes will excite his core supporters by delivering on a campaign promise, keeping the politics of abortion in the headlines and reminding Democrats of the importance of holding on to Senate control.

“Watching the previous administration and Mitch McConnell stacking the courts with individuals who would overturn Roe v. Wade, that is not lost on Nevadans,” said Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), who is running for reelection in one of the most closely contested Senate races this fall. “People are going to be paying attention this year and next year. This is such an important, galvanizing issue in my state and across the country.”

 

supreme court resized 2021

ny times logoNew York Times, Justice Breyer to Retire From Supreme Court, Adam Liptak, right, Jan. 27, 2022 (print ed.). Justice Stephen G. Breyer, the senior member of the adam liptakSupreme Court’s three-member liberal wing, will retire, two people familiar with the decision said, providing President Biden a chance to make good on his campaign pledge to name a Black woman to the court.

Mr. Biden is expected to formally announce the retirement at the White House on Thursday, according to one person familiar with the planning for the event.

Justice Breyer, 83, the oldest member of the court, was appointed in 1994 by President Bill Clinton. After the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 2020 and the appointment of Justice Amy Coney Barrett by President Donald J. Trump, he became the subject of an energetic campaign by liberals who wanted him to step down to ensure that Mr. Biden could name his successor while Democrats control the Senate.

stephen breyer full portraitWith conservatives now in full control of the court, replacing Justice Breyer, left, with another liberal would not change its ideological balance or affect its rightward trajectory in cases on abortion, gun rights, religion and affirmative action.

But Democrats, who control the Senate now by the narrowest of margins, may have to act quickly if they want to ensure that the court does not become even more conservative. If they lose even a single seat in the midterm elections, the balance of power in the chamber would flip, making it much more difficult for Mr. Biden to win confirmation for his nominee.

Justice Breyer’s opinions have been those of a moderate liberal, marked by deference to experts, the ad hoc balancing of competing interests and alertness to fundamental fairness. His goal, he said, was to reinforce democracy and to supply workable legal principles for a sprawling and diverse nation.

He has been more likely to vote against criminal defendants than other liberal justices. On the other hand, as the years progressed, he has grown increasingly hostile to the death penalty.

He played a starring role in the court’s last term, writing majority opinions rejecting a challenge to the Affordable Care Act and protecting the free speech rights of a high school student.

In an interview in August, Justice Breyer said he was struggling with the question of when to step down.

“There are many things that go into a retirement decision,” he said.

He recalled approvingly something Justice Antonin Scalia had told him.

“He said, ‘I don’t want somebody appointed who will just reverse everything I’ve done for the last 25 years,’” Justice Breyer recalled. “That will inevitably be in the psychology” of his decision, he said.

“I don’t think I’m going to stay there till I die — hope not,” he said.

Over the years, Justice Breyer bristled at the accusation that judges act politically. “My experience of more than 30 years as a judge has shown me that, once men and women take the judicial oath, they take the oath to heart,” he said in April in a lecture at Harvard Law School. “They are loyal to the rule of law, not to the political party that helped to secure their appointment.”

On the bench, his demeanor was professorial, and his rambling questions, often studded with colorful hypotheticals, could be charming or exasperating. But they demonstrated a lively curiosity and an open mind.

If Mr. Biden succeeds in winning confirmation for his nominee to replace Justice Breyer, that justice is very likely to serve for decades.

washington post logoWashington Post, Breyer’s retirement renews focus on the Black women who could replace him, Seung Min Kim and Ann E. Marimow, Jan. 27, 2022 (print ed.). The expected retirement of Justice Stephen G. Breyer this year abruptly puts a renewed spotlight on a small circle of Black female jurists who are positioned to be chosen as President Biden’s first pick to the Supreme Court, potentially marking a milestone in the country’s history.

ketanji brown jackson robeThat shortlist, which could grow, is topped by Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, right, who was confirmed last year to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit as one of Biden’s first judicial nominees. Brown is a favorite of the Democrats’ liberal base, in part because of her history as a former public defender, an unusual background for a Supreme Court justice.

Another strong candidate is Leondra Kruger, a California Supreme Court justice who has previously rebuffed offers from the White House to take a job in the administration.

And a confirmation hearing slated for next week will put the spotlight on yet another Black woman who is being catapulted into the vacancy discussion: J. Michelle Childs, a federal judge and a favorite of House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.). Childs seized the attention of legal observers when Biden unexpectedly nominated her last month to serve on the high-profile D.C. circuit, surprising Washington area lawyers who had anticipated a pick with local ties.

Breyer is not expected to officially step down before the court’s term ends in June, creating an usually long period during which he will be on the bench while his departure is anticipated. Senior congressional aides said the Senate can process a nomination for a Supreme Court seat before it is formally vacant.

Senators on both sides quickly spoke out Wednesday about the kind of nominee they wanted as word spread of Breyer’s impending retirement.

ny times logoNew York Times, U.S. Economy Grew at Fastest Rate in Decades in 2021, Talmon Joseph Smith, Jan. 27, 2022. The overall 2021 increase in the gross domestic product was the biggest in decades as the pandemic’s effects eased, though challenges continue. Continuing to rebound from the shocks of the pandemic, the nation’s economy expanded by 1.7 percent in the final three months of 2021, the Commerce Department announced Thursday.

joe biden resized oThe figure, which was adjusted for inflation, reflects the growth in gross domestic product — the broadest measure of the goods and services produced. On an annualized basis, the increase for the quarter was 6.9 percent.

For the full year, the economic expansion was 5.7 percent, the biggest since 1984 — an impressive feat, though one that also reflects the depth of the damage inflicted by the coronavirus the year before.

The strong fourth-quarter growth was driven in part by consumer spending, which “primarily reflected an increase in services, led by health care, recreation and transportation,” the Commerce Department said. Private investment and an increase in inventories were also major factors.

washington post logoWashington Post, A record 14.5 million Americans chose an Affordable Care Act health plan for this year, Amy Goldstein, Jan. 27, 2022. About 14.5 million Americans have signed up to get health coverage this year through Affordable Care Act insurance marketplaces, eclipsing the previous record enrollment by nearly 2 million.

The popularity of ACA health plans is a substantial slice of good news for President Biden, who has made expanding access to affordable health insurance one of his principal domestic policy aims, while some approaches he favors to achieve that goal have stalled on Capitol Hill.

The enrollment figure is the heart of a report to be released Thursday by the Department of Health and Human Services. The White House rushed out a statement from the president in advance, in which Biden said he was proud that the sign-ups are “the highest numbers ever produced in an open enrollment period.”

The tally is not quite final, so it probably will be higher in the end.

The 14.5 million figure includes a final count of 10 million consumers who chose health plans during the most recent open-enrollment window through HealthCare.gov, the federal insurance marketplace on which 33 states rely. For 17 states and the District of Columbia, which run their own insurance marketplaces under the ACA, the data being released Thursday includes their roughly 4.5 million sign-ups through Jan. 15, the deadline for the federal open enrollment.

Five state-run marketplaces plus the District’s are still open for consumers to buy health coverage for 2022. And three states and the District have created special enrollment periods that will allow uninsured residents longer to sign up for ACA coverage.

The ACA is a sprawling health-care law, pushed through a Democratic Congress in 2010, that has become a source of partisan warring ever since.

washington post logoWashington Post, Millions of Americans will soon have to scan their faces to access their IRS tax accounts, Drew Harwell, Jan. 27, 2022. The plan is one of the government’s biggest expansions yet of facial recognition software into people’s everyday lives. Millions of Americans will soon have to scan their faces to access their Internal Revenue Service tax accounts, one of the government’s biggest expansions yet of facial recognition software into people’s everyday lives.

irs logoTaxpayers will still be able to file their returns the old-fashioned way. But by this summer, anyone wanting to access their records — including details about child tax credits, payment plans or tax transcripts — on the IRS website will be required to record a video of their face with their computer or smartphone and send it to the private contractor ID.me to confirm their identity.

About 70 million Americans who have filed for unemployment insurance, pandemic assistance grants, child tax credit payments or other services have already been scanned by the McLean, Va.-based company, which says its client list includes 540 companies; 30 states, including California, Florida, New York and Texas; and 10 federal agencies, including Social Security, Labor and Veterans Affairs.

washington post logoWashington Post, As it weighs action in Ukraine, Russia showcases its new military prowess, Paul Sonne, Isabelle Khurshudyan and Mary Ilyushina, Jan. 27, 2022 (print ed.). When Russian forces rolled into neighboring Georgia in 2008, they carried the baggage of an outdated Soviet-era military: subpar communications, old equipment and poor coordination. They even accidentally shot down their own planes.

Nearly a decade and a half later, as the Kremlin considers mounting an equally overt invasion of neighboring Ukraine, the Russian military has advanced significantly — and Russian President Vladimir Putin has shown a willingness to use it to get his way in global affairs.

“While we may see that Russia’s economic power is stagnant and global economic influence is in relative decline, Russian military power is not only not in decline but it has increased,” said Michael Kofman, a Russian military analyst at the Virginia-based research group CNA. “There is no evidence that Russia will become a lessened military threat in the future.”

washington post logoWashington Post, More than half of Virginia school districts are defying governor’s mask-optional order, Hannah Natanson, Jan. 27, 2022. About a week after announcing his executive order making masks optional in schools throughout Virginia, Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) said on a radio show that school districts statewide had rushed to comply.

“The reality is it’s about 25 out of our 130 school systems across Virginia who aren’t recognizing the rights of parents today,” Youngkin told conservative host John Fredericks on Monday, adding that the noncompliant districts were prioritizing “bureaucrats and politicians over the rights of parents.”

But a Washington Post analysis shows that the majority of Virginia public school districts — enrolling more than two-thirds of the state’s students — have opted to disobey Youngkin’s mask-optional order.

As of Wednesday, two days after the order was supposed to take effect, 69 districts, or 53 percent, are still requiring masks for all students inside schools. Cumulatively, those districts enroll 846,483 students, or about 67 percent of the state’s public school student population.

The divide falls along partisan lines, although not perfectly: Almost every district that opted to make masks optional is in a locality that voted for Youngkin in the 2021 gubernatorial election.

 

Pro-Trump Coup Attempt, Election Rights, Probes

 

Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes and his estranged wife, Tasha Adams, who has said that he is a

Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes and his estranged wife, Tasha Adams, who has said that he is a "complete sociopath" and that she felt Rhodes was personally dangerous to her and her family and also to the country.

washington post logoWashington Post, Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes ordered to remain jailed pending trial on Jan. 6 seditious conspiracy charge, Spencer S. Hsu and Mary Beth Gahan, Jan. 27, 2022 (print ed.). A federal judge ordered Stewart Rhodes to remain jailed Wednesday pending trial on a charge of seditious conspiracy, a major blow to the outspoken leader of the extremist group Oath Keepers and the highest-profile person charged in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.

Stewart Rhodes, founder of the Oath Keepers, is charged with seditious conspiracy (Aaron Davis/TWP)/“The evidence shows Defendant orchestrated a large-scale attack on the federal government with the purpose of intimidating, by violence, federal officials and disrupting official governmental proceedings incident to the transfer of power in the Executive Branch following a national election,” U.S. Magistrate Judge Kimberly C. Priest Johnson said in a 17-page detention order.

“On balance, the evidence in the record overall indicates Defendant’s release could endanger the safety and wellbeing of others. This factor weighs in favor of detention,” Johnson added, citing Rhodes’s alleged “authoritative role in the conspiracy, access to substantial weaponry, and ability to finance any future insurrection, combined with his continued advocacy for violence against the federal government.”

  • Read the judge's detention order here.

Rhodes has been detained since his Jan. 13 arrest by the FBI, and his lawyers vowed they would appeal the decision. Phillip A. Linder and James Lee Bright did not immediately respond to requests for comment after the judge released her order, but at a detention hearing Monday they argued for Rhodes release. They said he posed no risk of flight nor danger to the public during the hearing in which Rhodes sat before Johnson in a black and white jail jumpsuit with his hands shackled at his waist.

Rhodes has had the same address for two years, cooperated with the FBI since agents questioned him last May 3, 2021, and even allowed them access his phone’s contents, Linder said.

“You’ve seen what he looks like,” Bright said, referring to Rhodes’s trademark black eye patch and stocky build. “Everyone in America knows what he looks like. In terms of flight risks, there are none," he said, with Linder adding, “There will be a second decision.”

A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office for the District, which is prosecuting Capitol breach cases, declined to comment.

The order to incarcerate Rhodes is the latest turn in the government’s months-long pursuit of the former Army paratrooper and Yale Law graduate who has become one of the most visible figures of the far-right anti-government movement. Rhodes predicted his arrest in March 2021, and FBI agents seized his phone in May, even as he repeatedly denied wrongdoing. Rhodes has pleaded not guilty.

Rhodes said he was communicating with members of his group on Jan. 6, 2021, in an effort to “keep them out of trouble,” and he asserted that Oath Keepers associates who did go into the Capitol “went totally off mission.” He also denied plans to bring and stage firearms near Washington that day.

The jailing order against Rhodes came in the first case in which the Justice Department has leveled the historically rare charge of seditious conspiracy in the Capitol breach investigation, brought against Rhodes and 10 other Oath Keepers or associates.

Justice Department alleges Capitol riot was seditious conspiracy

The rioting at the Capitol followed a rally at the White House Ellipse, at which President Donald Trump urged his supporters to march to Congress. Pro-Trump rioters assaulted more than 100 officers and stormed Capitol offices, halting the proceedings as lawmakers were evacuated from the House floor.

Rhodes and co-conspirators planned “multiple ways to deploy force” to stop the lawful transfer of presidential power by Inauguration Day 2021, the government alleged. The group organized into teams, underwent paramilitary training, coordinated travel, assembled and staged weapons, and donned combat and tactical gear, prosecutors alleged.

All “were prepared to answer Rhodes’ call to take up arms at Rhodes’ direction,” the indictment states. They were evidently drawn to Washington partly in the hope that Trump would invoke the Insurrection Act, transforming the Oath Keepers into a kind of shock-troop militia to keep Trump in power in the White House despite the 2020 election results.

In their defense, Rhodes and other Oath Keepers have argued that their mission was to provide personal protection for Republican VIPs, including longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone. A number of the individuals charged as part of the alleged Oath Keeper conspiracy were involved in guarding Stone in the days and hours leading up to the attack on Congress.

Stone has not been charged with any wrongdoing and has consistently said he was not involved in the Capitol riot and did not have advance knowledge of the breach. Stone has said Oath Keepers members offered to provide him free security but that he did not know the faces or names of security guards he was photographed with in Washington before they were charged.

In her detention decision, Johnson said that while Rhodes had no criminal history, there was “some evidence of a propensity towards violence in Defendant’s personal relationship,” citing testimony by Rhodes’s estranged wife. Rhodes has said he not filed federal income tax since 2007, the judge noted.

Johnson also said Rhodes’s continued advocacy for violence against the federal government was reinforced by his “technical savvy, military training and familiarity with encrypted communications,” which she said are nearly impossible to monitor and that Rhodes was known to use.

That combination "gives rise to a credible threat that Defendant’s release might endanger others by fostering the planning and execution of additional violent events,” the judge concluded

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Media, Communications, Sports News

neil young spotify

washington post logoWashington Post, Spotify pulls Neil Young’s music after his ultimatum against Joe Rogan and vaccine misinformation, Travis M. Andrews, Jan. 27, 2022 (print ed.). Spotify is in the process of removing Neil Young’s music two days after Young posted a letter on his website demanding that his catalogue be removed in response to the “fake information about vaccines” on the platform.

neil young album cover“We want all the world’s music and audio content to be available to Spotify users. With that comes great responsibility in balancing both safety for listeners and freedom for creators,” a Spotify spokesman told The Washington Post in a statement. “We have detailed content policies in place and we’ve removed over 20,000 podcast episodes related to covid-19 since the spotify logostart of the pandemic. We regret Neil’s decision to remove his music from Spotify, but hope to welcome him back soon.”

Young’s letter, which has since been deleted, was addressed to his manager and an executive at his record label and cited Joe Rogan by name as part of his issue with Spotify. “I am doing this because Spotify is spreading fake information about vaccines — potentially causing death to those who believe the disinformation being spread by them,” he wrote in the letter, according to Rolling Stone. “Please act on this immediately today and keep me informed of the time schedule.”

“I want you to let Spotify know immediately TODAY that I want all my music off their platform,” the letter continued. “They can have Rogan or Young. Not both.”

washington post logoWashington Post, YouTube permanently bans Fox News host Dan Bongino for posting covid misinformation, Gerrit De Vynck, Jan. 27, 2022 (print ed.). The conservative media figure already has a bigger following on video streaming platform Rumble. Google-owned YouTube said it had permanently banned prominent conservative media figure Don Bongino from its site after he repeatedly broke its rules on posting coronavirus misinformation.

dan bonginoBongino, right, who hosts a show on Fox News in addition to talk radio shows and online broadcasts, had been given a strike and a week-long suspension from YouTube earlier in January for saying in one of his videos that masks were useless. He uploaded another video later in the month that also broke the platform’s rules on coronavirus misinformation. When he tried to upload a third video, the company banned him permanently.

Pro-Trump influencers flocked to alternative social networks. Their follower counts stalled soon after.

youtube logo CustomYouTube has had rules against posting false or misleading information about the coronavirus and vaccines since the beginning of the pandemic, although critics have said the company enforces its rules unevenly. In September, it took down the accounts of several anti-vaccine influencers after years of research from misinformation researchers suggesting the platform played a role in the growth of vaccine hesitancy.

Bongino did not respond to a request for comment, but a Twitter account associated with one of his shows posted a tweet saying, “Good riddance to YouTube.” Bongino had around 870,000 subscribers on YouTube but has over 2 million on Rumble, a video platform popular with right-wing figures who say Big Tech is censoring them. He had threatened to leave YouTube before the ban.

Dan Bongino threatened to quit his radio show over a vaccine mandate. So, why hasn’t he?

Bongino is one of a small handful of conservative figures who have been handed permanent suspensions from the big social media companies. President Donald Trump was permanently suspended from Twitter after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. Twitter also permanently banned Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) this month after she also repeatedly posted false information about the coronavirus, though she is still able to use her official congressional Twitter account. For the most part, the social media companies have instead opted for short-term suspensions. Trump is also banned from Facebook and YouTube, but the companies have both left the door open to letting him return.

Bongino and other conservative media figures have used the bans and suspensions to promote alternative social media networks that purport to have fewer rules about what can and can’t be said, such as Gettr, Gab, Telegram and Rumble. A Washington Post analysis of audience data for 47 right-wing influencers showed that when they moved to one of the alternative networks, their follower counts jumped but then quickly stagnated and stopped growing at the same speed as they had on the more mainstream networks.

washington post logoWashington Post, Conspiracy theorists, banned on major social networks, spread message on newsletters, podcasts, Elizabeth Dwoskin, Jan. 27, 2022. Newsletter company Substack is making millions off anti-vaccine content, according to estimates.

Joseph Mercola, a leading anti-vaccine advocate whose screeds have been restricted by YouTube and Facebook, this month warned that the unvaccinated might soon be imprisoned in government-run camps. The week before, he circulated a study purporting to use government data to prove that more children had died from covid shots than from the coronavirus itself.

Shut down by major social media platforms, Mercola has found a new way to spread these debunked claims: on Substack, the subscription-based newsletter platform that is increasingly a hub for controversial and often misleading perspectives about the coronavirus.

Substack, which researchers from the nonprofit Center for Countering Digital Hate say makes millions of dollars off anti-vaccine misinformation, on Wednesday defended its tolerance for publishing “writers with whom we strongly disagree.”

Prominent figures known for spreading misinformation, such as Mercola, have flocked to Substack, podcasting platforms and a growing number of right-wing social media networks over the past year after getting kicked off or restricted on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Now these alternative platforms are beginning to face some of the scrutiny that has imperiled social media services. But there’s a fundamental difference in the architecture of newsletters and podcasts when compared to that of social media companies. Social networks use algorithms to spread content — sometimes misinformation — to users who don’t want to see it. Newsletters and podcasts don’t.

These newer platforms cater to subscribers who seek out specific content that accommodates their viewpoints — potentially making the services less responsible for spreading harmful views, some misinformation experts say. At the same time, the platforms are exposing tens of thousands of people to misinformation each month — content that can potentially lead people to engage in behaviors that endanger themselves and others.

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Virus Victims, Responses

ny times logoNew York Times, Live Updates: Deadline Arrives for Many U.S. Health Workers to Get a Dose, Christine Chung and Staff Reports, Jan. 27, 2022. The rule, coming in stages, will ultimately affect about 10 million workers in hospitals, nursing homes and other providers that participate in Medicaid and Medicare;  Moderna is studying a booster shot to target Omicron, mirroring similar efforts by Pfizer and BioNTech. Here’s what you need to know:

  • The deadline arrives for unvaccinated health workers in half of the U.S. to get a first dose.
  • A coronavirus case in Beijing’s Olympic bubble is linked to a German team.
  • Hong Kong will cut its quarantine requirement to 14 days, down from 21.
  • Moderna begins a study of a booster designed to counter Omicron.
  • Omicron loosens its grip, but the pandemic hasn’t ended.
  • Neil Young is leaving Spotify after complaining that the service gave Joe Rogan and vaccine ‘misinformation’ a platform.
  • Here’s what to do if you lose your U.S. vaccination card.
  • An Israeli study finds a slightly higher-than-expected rate of heart problems in vaccinated boys.

washington post logoWashington Post, Live Updates: Even as U.S. cases drop, global vaccine inequity could prolong pandemic, experts warn, Amy Cheng and Adela Suliman, Jan. 27, 2022. As coronavirus cases and hospitalizations driven by the omicron variant slowly recede in the United States, public health experts are warning that global vaccine disparities could threaten progress toward ending the pandemic.

“Vaccine equity is absolutely critical,” Maria Van Kerkhove, the World Health Organization’s covid-19 technical chief, said in a Q&A session on Tuesday. “The fact remains that more than 3 billion people haven’t received their first dose yet, so we have a long way to go.”

WHO officials and others in recent days have stressed that inequity drives transmission and increases the likelihood of new variants. Even though over 60 percent of the world’s population has received at least one coronavirus vaccine dose, fewer than 10 percent of people in low-income countries have done so, according to Our World in Data.

During a Wednesday news briefing, leading U.S. infectious-disease expert Anthony S. Fauci reiterated the importance of vaccination in driving down the spread of the virus, highlighting the 400 million free doses the United States has shipped to 112 countries.

Here’s what to know

  • Although U.S. case numbers are heading in the right direction, Fauci warned Wednesday that eliminating the virus remains unlikely. “We still have a way to go,” he said.
  • Millions of children in the Americas have missed regular shots for diseases such as measles and diphtheria because of the pandemic. The drop in vaccination coverage could put countries at risk of losing two decades of immunization progress, a WHO official said Wednesday.
  • The head of the Federal Reserve signaled Wednesday that the central bank will begin raising interest rates in March to tackle inflation, pointing to strong job growth amid the pandemic.
  • Moderna announced that it is beginning human trials to test its coronavirus vaccine that has been modified to target the omicron variant.

ny times logoNew York Times, Vaccination Gap Could Let Another Dangerous Variant Emerge, Experts Say, Staff Report, Jan. 27, 2022 (print ed.). Omicron waves may be subsiding in parts of North America and Europe, but more than three billion people around the world have yet to receive a single vaccine shot, a World Health Organization official said.

A coronavirus wave driven by the highly infectious Omicron variant wave may be cresting in parts of North America and Europe, but new cases are still climbing in less-vaccinated regions, and World Health Organization leaders warn that the global surge and the world’s wide vaccine gap could set the cdc logo Customstage for another dangerous variant.

Maria Van Kerkhove, the agency’s Covid-19 technical lead, said in a livestream hosted on Tuesday that challenges existed in every country about reaching the most vulnerable unvaccinated communities.

“The fact remains that more than three billion people haven’t received their first dose yet, so we have a long way to go,” said Dr. Van Kerkhove, noting that about 21 million cases were reported to the agency last week. “There are many countries still in the middle of this Omicron wave.”

New daily cases remain at record highs globally, averaging about 3.3 million — an increase of more than 25 percent over two weeks and a staggering rise compared with a rate of about 600,000 a day in early December, according to a New York Times database that uses data from Johns Hopkins University. Cases have continued to rise in Latin America, the Middle East and Asia.

And Omicron is still spreading in Eastern and Central Europe, where vaccination rates are lagging.

ny times logoNew York Times, New research has identified four factors that could predict if a person will develop long Covid, Pam Belluck, Updated Jan. 26, 2022. If further study confirms the findings, they could lead to ways to prevent and treat the complex condition.

covad 19 photo.jpg Custom 2It is one of many mysteries about long Covid: Who is more prone to developing it? Are some people more likely than others to experience physical, neurological or cognitive symptoms than can emerge, or linger for, months after their coronavirus infections have cleared?

Now, a team of researchers who followed more than 200 patients for two to three months after their Covid diagnoses report that they have identified biological factors that might help predict if a person will develop long Covid.

The study, published Tuesday by the journal Cell, found four factors that could be identified early in a person’s coronavirus infection that appeared to correlate with increased risk of having lasting symptoms weeks later.

Worldometer, World & U.S. Coronavirus Case Totals (updated Jan. 27, 2022), with some governments reporting lower numbers than the totals here and some experts saying the numbers are far higher:

World Cases: 363,693,138, Deaths: 5,647,470
U.S. Cases:     74,176,403, Deaths:    898,680
Indian Cases:   40,371,500, Deaths:    491,729
Brazil Cases:   24,553,950, Deaths:    624,507

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More On U.S. Supreme Court

 

senate democrats logo

ny times logoNew York Times, Senate Democrats Plan to Move Quickly on Successor to Justice Breyer, Carl Hulse, Jan. 27, 2022 (print ed.). Given their tenuous majority, Democrats intend to act fast, anticipating roadblocks from Senator Mitch McConnell and Republicans.

Senate Democrats say they plan to move speedily to consider President Biden’s nominee for the Supreme Court vacancy created by the retirement of Justice Stephen G. Breyer, following the lead of Republicans who raced through the nomination of Justice Amy Coney Barrett in a matter of weeks before the 2020 elections.

Holding a bare 50-seat majority that is under severe threat in November’s midterm elections, Democrats acknowledged the need to act fast, particularly since an illness or death of one of their members could deprive them of their numerical advantage and greatly complicate efforts to fill the seat.

“President Biden’s nominee will receive a prompt hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee, and will be considered and confirmed by the full United States Senate with all deliberate speed,” Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, said on Wednesday after plans for Justice Breyer’s departure became public.

Democrats could confirm a successor to Justice Breyer without any Republican support under Senate rules that shield a Supreme Court nomination from a filibuster, but they must remain firmly united to do so.

With the Senate evenly split, Vice President Kamala Harris could be called upon to break a tie vote over any nominee, giving Democrats the upper hand as long as all of the members who usually vote with them rally behind whomever the president chooses.

But even with the numbers and the rules working in their favor, Democrats are well aware that they have a narrow path and that plans could go awry. They are wary of Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the minority leader, who has previously bedeviled Democrats on high court fights and is known for finding novel ways to use the chamber’s rules to his advantage, even when they appear stacked against him.

Mr. McConnell is generally eager to use any means at his disposal to delay or derail Democrats’ best-laid plans, particularly when it comes to the Supreme Court. In 2016, he summarily blocked President Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick B. Garland, citing the presidential election 10 months off. He then pushed Justice Barrett through at President Donald J. Trump’s urging in the days before the 2020 election.

As they assessed the coming fight, Democrats predicted on Wednesday that Republicans would throw up procedural roadblocks and arguments in an effort to slow the process and sink a nominee they are likely to consider too liberal.

“If all Democrats hang together — which I expect they will — they have the power to replace Justice Breyer in 2022 without one Republican vote in support,” Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, said in a statement.
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If any Senate Democrat broke from the party on the nomination — as Senators Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona have on major policy issues in the Biden era — it could endanger the president’s pick and provide cover for Republicans to be in opposition as well. But despite splits on some policy issues, Democrats have so far supported the judicial candidates the Biden administration has put forward.

Mr. McConnell did not weigh in on Wednesday with his views on the coming vacancy, telling the news media in Kentucky that he would await a formal announcement from Justice Breyer. He said it was too early to know what his party’s response would be.
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“We don’t even know who the nominee is yet,” Mr. McConnell said.

The Judiciary Committee has been preparing for a potential Supreme Court showdown since Democrats took over the Senate a year ago and Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, became the committee’s chairman.

Senate officials said the 11-11 split on the panel because of the evenly divided Senate could create difficulties of its own and that research was already underway on how to address some potential problems, such as making sure Republicans are not able to block action by refusing to participate.

Though he has long experience on the panel and has participated in multiple Supreme Court showdowns, this would be Mr. Durbin’s first time overseeing a confirmation.

“With this Supreme Court vacancy, President Biden has the opportunity to nominate someone who will bring diversity, experience and an evenhanded approach to the administration of justice,” Mr. Durbin said, promising to “expeditiously” move the nominee through the committee.

Democrats, relieved that Justice Breyer was stepping down while they still controlled the Senate, called on Mr. Biden to follow through on his promise to nominate the first Black woman to the court.

“I trust President Biden to move forward an exceptional nominee who will uphold all American’s rights and liberties — including protecting voting rights and reproductive rights,” said Senator Patty Murray of Washington, the No. 3 Democrat. “I am ready to move as quickly as possible to consider and confirm a highly qualified nominee who will break barriers and make history as the first Black woman on the Supreme Court of the United States.”

Mr. Schumer wants the entire process to take weeks, not months, according to a person familiar with his thinking who spoke about it on the condition of anonymity.

Presidents have historically taken anywhere from days to months to make a nomination to the Supreme Court after a vacancy occurs. Justice Breyer is preparing to retire at the end of the Supreme Court term in June, but Democrats plan to begin the process of confirming a nominee to succeed him as soon as Mr. Biden announces a candidate. The new justice could then be seated shortly after Justice Breyer officially steps down, the person familiar with Mr. Schumer’s thinking said.

Given the current level of political polarization, only a handful of Senate Republicans are likely to be in play as potential supporters of the president’s nominee.

Many Republicans in the Senate have, as a matter of course, opposed Mr. Biden’s nominees for seats on the lower federal courts, portraying them as too progressive. The intense spotlight of a Supreme Court nomination — and the importance Republican voters traditionally place on the court — will make drawing support from across the aisle even tougher for the president.

washington post logoWashington Post, Breyer’s legacy: A centrist pragmatist and defender of the court’s reputation, Ann E. Marimow, Jan. 27, 2022 (print ed.). Justice Stephen G. Breyer will leave a legacy as a steadfast supporter of abortion rights, the environment and health-care coverage.

In nearly three decades on the Supreme Court, Justice Stephen G. Breyer routinely found himself on the losing side of contentious issues but managed to cultivate collegiality as a centrist problem-solver, concerned about the real-world implications of the court’s decisions and protecting its reputation.

Often overshadowed by the late liberal icon Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Breyer will leave a legacy when he retires at the end of the current term as a steadfast supporter of abortion rights, the environment and health-care coverage — and for his questions about the constitutionality of the death penalty.

Breyer, a nominee of President Bill Clinton, has served his entire tenure on a court with conservatives in the majority that became more conservative the longer he served. He is retiring at a time when six of the nine justices are ideologically to his right and chosen by Republican presidents.
Supreme Court Justice Breyer is retiring. Here’s what happens next.

But Breyer looked for compromise even as he defended affirmative action in university admissions, same-sex marriage and the First Amendment.

“He is a pragmatist who believes deeply that our Constitution and our government should work for the American people, and those beliefs in turn have shaped the way he thinks about the role of the courts in our system of government,” Brianne Gorod, a former law clerk to Breyer and now chief counsel at the Constitutional Accountability Center, said in a statement Wednesday.

“While he was frequently in dissent over the course of his time on the Court, he always remained optimistic, confident that in the end our government will work, and the courts will play an important role in making that happen. That optimism and confidence will also be an important part of his legacy.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Breyer’s act of listening will pave the way to a healthier democracy, Neal Katyal, Jan. 27, 2022 (print ed.). Neal Katyal, who clerked for Justice Stephen G. Breyer, is a former acting U.S. solicitor general.

In the days to come, there will and should be a lot of pieces written about Justice Stephen G. Breyer’s brilliance and influence on the Supreme Court. This is not one of them. Of course, the justice is brilliant; his opinions will have a deep impact on our democracy for decades to come. But his execution of those rulings, and the way he carried himself on the court, may stand as an even greater legacy still. At this tense moment in our history, where the mere act of hearing someone out is considered betrayal, Breyer points the way to a healthier democracy.

I had the privilege of clerking for Breyer in his second year on the court, in 1996-1997. The justice clearly did not want to appear to be like Felix Frankfurter, another Harvard law professor turned justice. Instead, he tacked in the opposite direction — becoming a listener instead of a pontificator.

Consider just how different that is from the political debates today, where extremist ideology has attacked things that should be noncontroversial, from wearing masks to taking vaccines, from addressing global warming to protecting voting rights.

America stands at a crossroads. On one path is more toxic extremism, the culmination of which we witnessed on Jan. 6. Despite that armed insurrection, the path remains just as seductive as ever to many.

The other path is quieter and more difficult to practice. It is a path forged by Breyer: respect for others, reverence for the law, and most of all, a commitment to listening to and learning from one another.

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More On Ukraine

tucker carlson fox horizontal

ny times logoNew York Times, Analysis: Republican Rift on Ukraine Could Undercut U.S. Appeals to Allies, Jonathan Weisman, Jan. 27, 2022 (print ed.). G.O.P. leaders are attacking President Biden for what they call a weak response to Russian aggression, but their far-right flank is questioning U.S. involvement, and even its alliance with Kyiv.

As President Biden tries to forge a united allied response to Russian aggression in Ukraine, unity on the home front is strained by a Republican Party torn between traditional hawks in the leadership and a wing still loyal to Donald J. Trump’s isolationist instincts and pro-Russian sentiment.

Republican leaders, by and large, have struck an aggressive posture, encouraging Mr. Biden to get tougher on Russia, through immediate sanctions on Russian energy exports and more lethal aid to Ukraine’s military. But that message has been undermined by the party’s far right, which has questioned why the United States would side with Ukraine at all, and has obliquely suggested with no evidence that the president is bolstering his son Hunter Biden’s business interests.

Driven by a steady diet of pro-Russian or anti-interventionist rhetoric from the Fox News host Tucker Carlson, the Republican right has become increasingly vocal in undercutting not only U.S. foreign policy but also the positions of the party’s leaders.

The Republican representatives Matt Rosendale of Montana, Lauren Boebert of Colorado, Paul Gosar of Arizona, Thomas Massie of Kentucky, Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia; the Ohio Senate candidate J.D. Vance; and Donald Trump Jr. have weighed in to oppose confronting Russia or to suggest nefarious intentions on Mr. Biden’s part. Mr. Trump told the conservative podcast host Lou Dobbs that Mr. Biden’s reported plan to send as many as 50,000 troops to bolster Europe’s defenses was “crazy.”

Representative Michael R. Turner of Ohio, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, went on Fox News to confront Mr. Carlson.

“Why would we take Ukraine’s side and not Russia’s side?” Mr. Carlson pushed. “It’s a sincere question.”

Mr. Turner responded: “Ukraine is a democracy. Russia is an authoritarian regime that is seeking to impose its will upon a validly elected democracy in Ukraine, and we’re on the side of democracy.”

Such confrontations have muddied the Republican response, but more concerning are worries that the right could prompt U.S. allies to question Washington’s resolve. On a conference call on Wednesday with Ukrainian Americans, Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, expressed alarm about “the rhetoric of the far right.”

“Our allies are watching closely for signs of division here,” he said in an interview after the call. “The good news is, I detect no real traction of those messages from my Republican colleagues.”

 Wayne Madsen Report, Investigative Commentary, The new fascist Axis and its threat to democracy, Wayne Madsen, left, author of 21 books and former Navy intelligence officer, Jan. 27, 2022. As European fascist wayne madsen may 29 2015 cropped Smallleaders gather in Spain, Russia's paramilitary Wagner Group -- a modern-day Waffen-Schutzstaffel (Waffen-SS) -- consolidates power in Burkina Faso, and Russian-backed American fifth columnists like Fox's Tucker Carlson and retired Lt. General Michael Flynn engage in Russian-backed active measures (aktivnye meropriyatiya) in the United States, it is clear that the world faces, once again, the threat of a global fascist takeover of power.

wayne madesen report logoOnly a series of counter-attacks by the worldwide forces of anti-fascism can prevent what Vladimir Putin sees as his destiny: becoming leader of a Russian-dominated empire of client states and puppets subservient to Moscow.

Putin is undoubtedly watching and covertly supporting the consolidation of fascist forces in Europe and other countries.

 

U.S. Politics, Governance, Economy

washington post logoWashington Post, His daughter was shot and killed on live TV. Now he’s running for Congress, Meagan Flynn, Jan. 27, 2022. Seven years after a gunman killed his daughter during a live TV news broadcast, longtime Virginia gun-control advocate Andy Parker has decided to run for Congress.

Parker announced Thursday that he will seek the Democratic nomination in Virginia’s 5th Congressional District to challenge one of the most conservative members of the House and an ardent gun-rights supporter, Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.) — a tough race for a Democrat.

democratic donkey logoBut Parker said that fighting gun violence, though still important to him, is not the focal point of his congressional campaign. Over the past few years, Parker has been battling YouTube and other social-media platforms as he looks to remove videos of his daughter Alison Parker’s violent death.

He said he hoped taking on Big Tech and amending Section 230 — a provision in the Communications Decency Act that has largely shielded social media platforms from accountability if content posted on their sites causes harm — would be an issue that could “transcend parties” and unite people across the political spectrum in the 5th District.

ny times logoNew York Times, E.P.A. Chief Vows to ‘Do Better’ to Protect Poor Communities, Lisa Friedman, Jan. 27, 2022 (print ed.). The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to announce a plan to help disadvantaged communities struggling with polluted air and water.

michael reganMichael S. Regan, left, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, traveled to Jackson, Miss., in November to discuss the city’s poor water quality at an elementary school where children have to drink bottled water and use portable restrooms outside the building.

The day he arrived, the halls were largely empty. Students had been sent home because the water pressure at the school was so low that even the portable toilets couldn’t flush.

That scene and others he witnessed as he traveled to low-income communities in Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas and elsewhere have prompted him to make some changes, he said.

On Wednesday the E.P.A. announced that it will step up monitoring and enforcement of federal rules regarding air and water quality, particularly in communities of color, which are disproportionately burdened by pollution.

“Seeing the situation for myself, talking directly to community members, it is startling where we get to this point — the point where children miss school days because the water isn’t safe,” Mr. Regan said. He called the environmental conditions he had witnessed in many parts of the nation “unacceptable in the United States of America.”

President Biden has made addressing racial disparities, including those related to the environment, a core part of his agenda. He convened an advisory council made up of some of the pioneers in the environmental justice movement. He instructed agencies to incorporate environmental justice into decision making. And he pledged that disadvantaged communities would receive at least 40 percent of the benefits from federal investments in climate and clean energy programs.

But recently Mr. Biden’s top environmental justice appointee, Cecilia Martinez, and another appointee, David Kieve, who had conducted outreach with environmental justice groups for the White House, both left their posts.

The departures have prompted concerns about the future of Mr. Biden’s environmental justice agenda.

Mr. Regan did not address the issue directly on Tuesday in a call with reporters, but he said he felt an obligation to marginalized communities where “folks have been waiting long enough” for federal attention. He has spent the last year touring towns and meeting with community members as part of what the E.P.A. has called his Journey to Justice tour.

“I pledge to do better by people in communities who have been hurting for far too long,” Mr. Regan said.

The agency will increase unannounced inspections to keep polluting industries “on their toes,” Mr. Regan said, asserting that the Trump administration had not conducted enough such inspections. Monitoring of polluting industries fell off sharply in March 2020 when the Trump administration said those industries would not be held responsible if the pandemic made it difficult to comply with federal limits on air and water pollution or requirements to manage hazardous waste or ensure safe drinking water.

washington post logoWashington Post, Biden administration cancels mining leases near Minnesota wilderness, in reversal of Trump-era decision, Dino Grandoni, Jan. 27, 2022 (print ed.). A proposed copper and nickel mine near the popular Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness has been at the center of a tug of war between Democratic and Republicans administrations.

The Biden administration has canceled two leases near Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness — a remote, lake-pocked region at the center of a blistering fight over whether to mine near one of the nation’s most popular wilderness destinations.

On Wednesday, the Interior Department said it found that the leases to extract copper, nickel and other valuable metals in northern Minnesota were improperly renewed under Donald Trump. The Biden administration’s decision will help protect the hundreds of lakes, streams and wetlands in the nearly 1.1 million-acre wilderness area hugging the Canadian border from the potential toxic leaching from mining.

“The Department of the Interior takes seriously our obligations to steward public lands and waters on behalf of all Americans,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a statement. “We must be consistent in how we apply lease terms to ensure that no lessee receives special treatment.”

New York Times, Opinion: How Crypto Became the New Subprime, Paul Krugman, Jan. 27, 2022. If the stock market isn’t the economy — which it isn’t — then cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin really, really aren’t the economy. Still, crypto has become a pretty big asset class (and yielded huge capital gains to many buyers); by last fall the combined market value of cryptocurrencies had reached almost $3 trillion.

Since then, however, prices have crashed, wiping out around $1.3 trillion in market capitalization. As of Thursday morning, Bitcoin’s price was almost halfway down from its November peak. So who is being hurt by this crash, and what might it do to the economy?

Well, I’m seeing uncomfortable parallels with the subprime crisis of the 2000s. No, crypto doesn’t threaten the financial system — the numbers aren’t big enough to do that. But there’s growing evidence that the risks of crypto are falling disproportionately on people who don’t know what they are getting into and are poorly positioned to handle the downside.

What’s this crypto thing about? There are many ways to make digital payments, from Apple Pay and Google Pay to Venmo. Mainstream payment schemes, however, rely on a third party — usually your bank — to verify that you actually own the assets you’re transferring. Cryptocurrencies use complex coding to supposedly do away with the need for these third parties.

Skeptics wonder why this is necessary and argue that crypto ends up being an awkward, expensive way to do things you could have done more easily in other ways, which is why cryptocurrencies still have few legal applications 13 years after Bitcoin was introduced. The response, in my experience, tends to take the form of incomprehensible word salad.

Recent developments in El Salvador, which adopted Bitcoin as legal tender a few months ago, seem to bolster the skeptics: Residents attempting to use the currency find themselves facing huge transaction fees. Still, crypto has been effectively marketed: It manages both to seem futuristic and to appeal to old-style goldbug fears that the government will inflate away your savings, and huge past gains have drawn in investors worried about missing out. So crypto has become a large asset class even though nobody can clearly explain what legitimate purpose it’s for.

But now crypto has crashed. Maybe it will recover and soar to new heights, as it has in the past. For now, however, prices are way down. Who are the losers?

 Recent U.S. Politics-Governance Headlines:

 

World News, Human Rights, Disasters

washington post logoWashington Post, Harris’s visit to Honduras provides a potent image of change in both countries, Cleve R. Wootson Jr. and Kevin Sieff, Jan. 27, 2022. The looming question as Harris returns to Northern Triangle: Will corruption stymie progress? The vice president visited Honduras for the inauguration of its first female leader, who the U.S. hopes will help stem corruption in a region rife with government abuse and unethical excess.

As Vice President Harris attended the presidential inauguration of Xiomara Castro in Honduras on Thursday, the White House hoped it would display much more than a show of support during a historic meeting of female “firsts.”

“Looking forward to this partnership,” Harris told Castro during a meeting Thursday afternoon, as she announced new U.S.-supplied vaccines for the country.

In Castro, the first woman to lead Honduras, the administration believes America has found an ally who will help stem corruption in a region rife with government abuse and unethical excess. Stanching graft, advisers to Harris say, is a pivotal step to improve the lives of Hondurans, and to give them a reason to stay in their home country instead of making a dangerous trip in search of a better life in the United States.

But Harris’s attendance at the inauguration Thursday also provided a potent image of change in both countries. Harris, the first female vice president of the United States, stood to the side of the stage as Castro, the first female president of Honduras, delivered her inaugural address.

Harris traveled with all the trappings of a head of state — a ceremonial military escort, a red carpet rolled to the door of her helicopter, and a receiving line of Honduran officials — although she arrived late at the inauguration due to what a White House official said was “to allow motorcade routes to be cleared.”

When she was introduced at the inauguration, just after Castro was officially sworn in, there were loud cheers and a chant of “Viva Honduras!” as she waved to the crowd.

And she listened intently as Castro detailed hopeful plans for the country, including battling corruption, fighting narcotics traffickers and reducing poverty.

At a bilateral meeting with Castro in the afternoon, Harris said the Biden administration would be sending several hundred thousand more doses of coronavirus vaccines over the next two months. It would also supply 500,000 pediatric syringes and more than $1.3 million to help health and educational facilities.

The United States will also provide an additional $500,000 to support the Honduras government’s coronavirus vaccine and biosafety communications campaign and to strengthen vaccine deployment.

“I’d like to publicly congratulate you on your election. We’ve been watching the election process closely,” Harris said. “We appreciate that your election was a democratic election.”

According to the vice president’s office, they also discussed cooperation on a range of other issues, including “addressing the root causes of migration, combating corruption, and expanding economic opportunity.” Harris said she welcomed Castro’s focus on countering corruption, and they discussed their shared concerns with gender-based violence in Honduras.

washington post logoWashington Post, Jordanian army kills 27 alleged drug smugglers in wintry clash on Syrian border, Sarah Dadouch and Joby Warrick, Jordanian troops killed 27 suspected drug smugglers in a dramatic gun battle along a snow-choked stretch of the Syrian border early Thursday, in what officials described as the bloodiest clash to date in an escalating conflict with criminal networks operating out of Syria.

Jordanian authorities said they seized a large trove of fenethylline — a popular amphetamine commonly known as Captagon — and thousands of packets of hashish after a shootout and chase that involved what one official called a “company-sized” column of smugglers and armed escorts that crossed into Jordan under the cover of a winter storm.

It was the most serious incident in a string of clashes with smugglers over the past two years as the kingdom has confronted a wave of illicit drugs spilling across the border from what U.S. and Middle Eastern officials say are major manufacturing hubs in Syria. Billions of dollars’ worth of Syrian-made Captagon has been seized over the past two years by authorities in nearly a dozen countries, from the Persian Gulf to southern Europe.

washington post logoWashington Post, Islamic State militants still holed up in Syrian prison, Kurdish-led forces admit, Louisa Loveluck, Jan. 27, 2022. The U.S.-backed SDF said 60 to 90 militants were hiding in the northern section of the facility. 

A U.S.-backed force battling Islamic State militants for control of a Syrian prison said Thursday that the fight continued, despite having claimed victory a day earlier.

The Ghwaryan prison in the northeastern city of Hasakah has been at the center of a week-long standoff with inmates and outside attackers resisting the combined might of the Syrian Democratic Forces and the U.S.-led coalition that supports it.

The facility, a former school building, houses thousands of alleged Islamic State supporters, most of them captured during the battle to retake the final sliver of land in what the Islamist group once called its caliphate. Roughly 700 minors held there, some separated from their mothers in detention camps once they reached the age of 12, also were caught in the fighting as their wing of the prison became the site of the final standoff.

washington post logoWashington Post, Mexico offers bodyguards and bulletproof vests to vulnerable journalists. It hasn’t been enough, Alejandra Ibarra Chaoul and Kevin Sieff, Jan. 27, 2022. Veteran news reporter María de Lourdes Maldonado López knew there were people who wanted her dead, so she applied for the only protection she knew: an unusual Mexican government program that promised to defend vulnerable journalists with state-funded bodyguards, bulletproof vests and other protection.

Maldonado López seemed certain to qualify. She was a well-known broadcast journalist in Tijuana, where for years she had received threats, including two attacks on her car and multiple promises to hunt her down.

More than 140 journalists have been killed in Mexico since 2000, making it one of the deadliest countries in the world for members of the news media. A decade ago, authorities attempted a solution: the Protection Mechanism for Human Rights Defenders and Journalists, a government-funded private security service for reporters, photographers and activists under threat.

At least 467 journalists are registered in the $23 million-a-year program, which offers a range of safeguards: full-time bodyguards, antiballistic gear, at-home panic buttons and surveillance cameras. In some cases, the government relocates journalists to different parts of the country, a kind of witness protection program for reporters.

Maldonado López applied for protection through the state of Baja California. Her colleague Alfonso Margarito Martínez Esquivel, a freelance photographer in Tijuana who had become the target of a Facebook smear campaign, was in the process of applying.

Both knew the dangers of reporting in Tijuana. Sometimes the threats came from organized crime. Sometimes they came from government officials. Applying for protection from the state was not ideal, but it was the only affordable protection they could find.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: A pope complicit in sex crime coverups bids moral authority goodbye, David Von Drehle, right, Jan. 27, 2022 (print ed.). david von drehle twitterEveryone with open eyes can now see that the hierarchy of the Catholic Church never underestimated the problem of priests as sexual predators. They weren’t taken by surprise. Church leaders have known for decades exactly how vast the issue was, how all-consuming, from the humble parish all the way to the top in Rome.

They knew, because they tried to cover it up.

A church-authorized investigation in Germany has produced a multivolume report on sexual abuse in the archdiocese of Munich. In it, pope benedict XVI 2010 10 17 4we see the archbishop himself at meetings more than 40 years ago, weighing the future of a criminally abusive priest — without a thought, it appears, of turning the man in to the police.

It is a sadly familiar story: secret conclaves of men in collars, flouting the laws of one nation after another to shuffle the abusers and launder their crimes.

Only in this case, the archbishop of Munich was Joseph Ratzinger, who now goes by the title Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI (shown at right in a 2010 file photo). After the report was published, the elderly retired pontiff was forced to admit that his testimony was false when he told investigators he had not attended one especially egregious coverup meeting.

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washington post logoWashington Post, Federal judge throws out Biden administration’s massive Gulf of Mexico oil and gas lease sale, Anna Phillips and Maxine Joselow, Jan. 27, 2022. A federal judge on Thursday invalidated the largest offshore oil and gas lease sale in the nation’s history, ruling that the Biden administration violated federal law by relying on a seriously flawed analysis of the climate change impact of drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

The decision, by the the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, threw out 1.7 million acres of oil and gas leases that the Biden administration did not want to sell. Shortly after taking office, President Biden suspended new oil and gas drilling on lands and waters owned by the federal government. But after a Louisiana judge struck down the moratorium last summer, administration officials said they were forced to go through with the sale in November.

Environmental advocacy organizations challenged the sale, which netted nearly $192 million and ranked as the most profitable offshore auction since March 2019.

In his ruling, Judge Rudolph Contreras concluded that the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management had based its decision to hold the sale on a flawed environmental analysis that miscalculated the greenhouse gas emissions associated with future oil and gas drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. Completed under the Trump administration, the analysis found that the climate impacts would be worse if the acreage went unsold because foreign oil companies would increase their production, leading to more emissions of planet-warming gases.

The model and the set of assumptions that produced this result were “arbitrary and capricious,” Contreras wrote, reaching the same conclusion as both the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit and the District Court for the District of Alaska in previous cases concerning lease sales based on a similar analysis.

 

washington post logoWashington Post, Va. judge reverses decision to place teen on sex offender registry in bathroom assault case, Justin Jouvenal, Jan. 27, 2022. A Virginia teen whose sexual assaults of fellow students in two Loudoun County high schools generated a political firestorm will not be placed on the sex offender registry normally reserved for adults after a judge reversed her previous sentence Thursday, according to a defense attorney.

Loudoun County Judge Pamela L. Brooks said she had erred in handing out the unusual penalty for the 15-year-old at the center of the high-profile cases that sparked protests and spurred Loudoun County schools to begin overhauling disciplinary procedures, attorney William Mann said. Brooks declined to comment after the hearing.

A team of attorneys for the teen asked the judge to rescind the sentence imposed at a January hearing, making technical arguments the sentencing wasn’t properly handled and the punishment was not appropriate for what the teen had done.

After the hearing, Mann said the goal of juvenile court is rehabilitation not punishment. He said a punishment that would have potentially put the teen on the sexual offender registry for the balance of his life is not compatible with that aim.

“If the person is young and does all the right things to make amends, don’t destroy them for the rest of their lives,” Mann said.

Loudoun County Commonwealth’s Attorney Buta Biberaj, who sought to place the teen on the sex offender registry, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The ruling did not affect other aspects of the sentencing. The teen will live in a residential treatment facility until he is 18 and will remain on probation.

Brooks, who is chief judge of the county’s juvenile and domestic relations court, said during the January sentencing hearing she had never placed a juvenile on the sex offender registry before, but she was making the move because she was incredibly disturbed by a psychological evaluation of the teen.

“What I read in those reports scared me,” Brooks said. “It scared me for your family. It scared me for society.”

Loudoun teen whose sexual assaults caused political firestorm placed on sex offender list

But during a hearing Thursday, a probation officer testified he was against putting the teen on the sex offender registry after looking at research showing teens that had been placed on the list had greater rates of recidivism afterward, Mann said. The judge cited the report in announcing her decision, Mann said.

The teen was found guilty of forcefully sexually assaulting a girl in a girls’ bathroom at Ashburn’s Stone Bridge High School in May when he was 14. While he was awaiting trial on the first case, the teen was transferred to Broad Run High School, where he forced a second girl into an empty classroom and inappropriately touched her in October. He was also found guilty in that case.

The cases stirred a backlash against a Loudoun County schools policy of allowing transgender teens to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity. The policy was put in place after the first assault.

The father of one of the teen victims said the perpetrator was “gender fluid.” Prosecutors said during the teen’s trial he was wearing a skirt at the time of the assault but have not commented on his gender identity. The Post generally doesn’t name juvenile perpetrators.

The case also became an issue in the governor’s race and led parents to question why the teen was allowed to attend a second school while he was awaiting trial on the first charge. Loudoun County officials promised major changes in the wake of the case.

Virginia’s new Attorney General Jason Miyares announced he was launching an investigation into the sexual assaults earlier this month when he took office.

washington post logoWashington Post, Many want policing to change, but these self-proclaimed experts tell officers they’re just fine, Robert Klemko, Jan. 27, 2022 (print ed.). While most of the country says police are not trained well in avoiding excessive force, these police trainers stress confrontation and blame news organizations for criticism of law enforcement.

washington post logoWashington Post, A co-worker invited him to a rural cabin. He was killed hours later, María Luisa Paúl, Jan. 27, 2022 (print ed.). The last time Carmela King saw her fiance, she dropped him off to hang out with a co-worker in rural Pennsylvania. Her last “Love You” text message went unanswered. A few hours later, she said, his dead body was lying across the cabin’s front lawn — his back peppered with multiple bullet wounds.

Peter Bernardo Spencer was killed Dec. 12 — more than six weeks ago. Since then, no charges have been filed in the killing of the 29-year-old father-to-be.

“He was a good man and his life mattered,” King said. “He deserved to be here to raise his child and to be the family man, the husband, and the hard-working man he desired to be.”

For 45 days, the people accused of killing Spencer have walked free — leaving his family, activists and religious groups flummoxed. The incident, they said, underscores a grim double standard in which the wheels of justice operate differently based on the victim’s skin color.

Spencer, who emigrated from Jamaica in 2013, was found dead shortly before 2:30 a.m. in Rockland, Pa. — some 85 miles north of Pittsburgh — according to a Pennsylvania State Police news release. Officers also found multiple firearms, “ballistic evidence” and drugs at the cabin.

The suspect — described as a 25-year-old White man — and three other individuals, who are also White, were detained and questioned. All four were released after consultation with the Venango County District Attorney’s Office. The State Police’s Heritage Affairs team, which responds to hate- or bias-related crimes, was notified — but Spencer’s death is not being investigated as a hate crime.

“I would love to see a district attorney who finds a crime scene with a house full of Black people, a White guy in the yard with nine bullet holes, and then detains them and lets them all go,” said civil rights attorney Paul Jubas, who is advising Spencer’s family. “I would love to see what the response is to that. That district attorney would be instantly out of office the next day. White America would not stand for that.”

Venango County District Attorney Shawn White urged patience Tuesday in a statement sent to The Washington Post, saying that while he recognized the family’s desire for information, his office must conduct a thorough investigation.

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Jan. 26

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Pro-Trump Coup Attempt, Election Rights, Probes

 

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ny times logoNew York Times, Justice Breyer to Retire From Supreme Court, Adam Liptak, right, Jan. 26, 2022. Justice Stephen G. Breyer, the senior member of the adam liptakSupreme Court’s three-member liberal wing, will retire, two people familiar with the decision said, providing President Biden a chance to make good on his campaign pledge to name a Black woman to the court.

Mr. Biden is expected to formally announce the retirement at the White House on Thursday, according to one person familiar with the planning for the event.

Justice Breyer, 83, the oldest member of the court, was appointed in 1994 by President Bill Clinton. After the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 2020 and the appointment of Justice Amy Coney Barrett by President Donald J. Trump, he became the subject of an energetic campaign by liberals who wanted him to step down to ensure that Mr. Biden could name his successor while Democrats control the Senate.

stephen breyer full portraitWith conservatives now in full control of the court, replacing Justice Breyer, left, with another liberal would not change its ideological balance or affect its rightward trajectory in cases on abortion, gun rights, religion and affirmative action.

But Democrats, who control the Senate now by the narrowest of margins, may have to act quickly if they want to ensure that the court does not become even more conservative. If they lose even a single seat in the midterm elections, the balance of power in the chamber would flip, making it much more difficult for Mr. Biden to win confirmation for his nominee.

Justice Breyer’s opinions have been those of a moderate liberal, marked by deference to experts, the ad hoc balancing of competing interests and alertness to fundamental fairness. His goal, he said, was to reinforce democracy and to supply workable legal principles for a sprawling and diverse nation.

He has been more likely to vote against criminal defendants than other liberal justices. On the other hand, as the years progressed, he has grown increasingly hostile to the death penalty.

He played a starring role in the court’s last term, writing majority opinions rejecting a challenge to the Affordable Care Act and protecting the free speech rights of a high school student.

In an interview in August, Justice Breyer said he was struggling with the question of when to step down.

“There are many things that go into a retirement decision,” he said.

He recalled approvingly something Justice Antonin Scalia had told him.

“He said, ‘I don’t want somebody appointed who will just reverse everything I’ve done for the last 25 years,’” Justice Breyer recalled. “That will inevitably be in the psychology” of his decision, he said.

“I don’t think I’m going to stay there till I die — hope not,” he said.

Over the years, Justice Breyer bristled at the accusation that judges act politically. “My experience of more than 30 years as a judge has shown me that, once men and women take the judicial oath, they take the oath to heart,” he said in April in a lecture at Harvard Law School. “They are loyal to the rule of law, not to the political party that helped to secure their appointment.”

On the bench, his demeanor was professorial, and his rambling questions, often studded with colorful hypotheticals, could be charming or exasperating. But they demonstrated a lively curiosity and an open mind.

If Mr. Biden succeeds in winning confirmation for his nominee to replace Justice Breyer, that justice is very likely to serve for decades.

 

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washington post logoWashington Post, Paris talks aim to resolve Ukraine crisis, as U.S. steps up arms shipments to Kyiv, Robyn Dixon and Bryan Pietsch, Jan. 26, 2022. Adding to the growing tension, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said his country “would not sit idly by in this situation.”

 

olavo de carvalho AP photoGuardian, Covid denialist and Bolsonaro ally Olavo de Carvalho died of virus, says daughter, Tom Phillips, Jan. 26, 2022 (print ed.). Olavo de Carvalho, the coronavirus-denying mentor of Jair Bolsonaro and Brazil’s radical right, has died in the United States, with one of his children citing Covid-19 as the cause. He is shown above in an Associated Press file photo.

“The family … asks for prayers for the professor’s soul,” relatives said on Twitter after announcing the death of the 74-year-old polemicist – a towering figure in contemporary Brazilian politics who was adored and abhorred in equal measure by millions of followers and foes.

The statement did not say how Carvalho – a former astrologer who repeatedly trivialized Covid as the “moronavirus” – had died. However, his estranged daughter, Heloísa de Carvalho, said coronavirus was the cause.

“He has blood on his hands,” she told the magazine Veja, blaming her father’s “denialist ideas” and dissemination of fake news for the Brazilian government’s delay in purchasing Covid vaccines. “But I do not celebrate his death.”

Bolsonaro – whose shock 2018 election was turbocharged by Carvalho’s extreme and often expletive-ridden teachings – lamented the loss of “one of the greatest thinkers in our country’s history” and declared a national day of mourning. “Olavo was a … beacon for millions of Brazilians,” Brazil’s ultraconservative president claimed.

The president’s son, Eduardo, also celebrated the pipe-smoking septuagenarian whose influence was such that he reputedly named several members of Bolsonaro’s cabinet despite having lived in the US since 2005.

Progressive Brazilians – disgusted by the leading role they claim Carvalho played in poisoning their country’s social and political life and spreading life-threatening misinformation about Covid – rejected such eulogies.

Before his death Carvalho continually minimized coronavirus – which has killed nearly 625,000 Brazilians and 5.6 million people globally – peddled conspiracies about its origins, and attacked those trying to slow its spread. It is unclear if he had been vaccinated.

In May 2020, as Covid pummeled South America, Carvalho tweeted: “The fear of a supposedly deadly virus is nothing more than a little horror story designed to scare the population and make them accept slavery as they would a present from Father Christmas.”

Carvalho branded containment measures “the most enormous and sordid crime ever committed against the entire human species” and once alleged the global health emergency “simply doesn’t exist”. On another occasion he said only “a perfect fool” would believe the spread of the “Chinese virus” was accidental.

“Does the moronavirus really kill people or does he just help them become statistics?” he wondered last January as Brazil’s death toll rose to over 200,000.

When Twitter deleted one of Carvalho’s posts for violating its rules on spreading harmful or misleading information about Covid, he told the company’s then president Jack Dorsey: “You can stick your network up your” buttocks.

Felipe Neto, one of Brazil’s top online influencers, tweeted: “The far right will now try to turn Olavo de Carvalho into a martyr, a hero. Olavo is one of the main culprits for the sea of mud into which we have sunk.”

 

Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes and his estranged wife, Tasha Adams, who has said that he is a

Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes and his estranged wife, Tasha Adams, who has said that he is a "complete sociopath" and that she felt Rhodes was personally dangerous to her and her family and also to the country.

washington post logoWashington Post, Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes ordered to remain jailed pending trial on Jan. 6 seditious conspiracy charge, Spencer S. Hsu and Mary Beth Gahan, Jan. 26, 2022. A federal judge ordered Stewart Rhodes to remain jailed Wednesday pending trial on a charge of seditious conspiracy, a major blow to the outspoken leader of the extremist group Oath Keepers and the highest-profile person charged in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.

Stewart Rhodes, founder of the Oath Keepers, is charged with seditious conspiracy (Aaron Davis/TWP)/“The evidence shows Defendant orchestrated a large-scale attack on the federal government with the purpose of intimidating, by violence, federal officials and disrupting official governmental proceedings incident to the transfer of power in the Executive Branch following a national election,” U.S. Magistrate Judge Kimberly C. Priest Johnson said in a 17-page detention order.

“On balance, the evidence in the record overall indicates Defendant’s release could endanger the safety and wellbeing of others. This factor weighs in favor of detention,” Johnson added, citing Rhodes’s alleged “authoritative role in the conspiracy, access to substantial weaponry, and ability to finance any future insurrection, combined with his continued advocacy for violence against the federal government.”

  • Read the judge's detention order here.

Rhodes has been detained since his Jan. 13 arrest by the FBI, and his lawyers vowed they would appeal the decision. Phillip A. Linder and James Lee Bright did not immediately respond to requests for comment after the judge released her order, but at a detention hearing Monday they argued for Rhodes release. They said he posed no risk of flight nor danger to the public during the hearing in which Rhodes sat before Johnson in a black and white jail jumpsuit with his hands shackled at his waist.

Rhodes has had the same address for two years, cooperated with the FBI since agents questioned him last May 3, 2021, and even allowed them access his phone’s contents, Linder said.

“You’ve seen what he looks like,” Bright said, referring to Rhodes’s trademark black eye patch and stocky build. “Everyone in America knows what he looks like. In terms of flight risks, there are none," he said, with Linder adding, “There will be a second decision.”

A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office for the District, which is prosecuting Capitol breach cases, declined to comment.

The order to incarcerate Rhodes is the latest turn in the government’s months-long pursuit of the former Army paratrooper and Yale Law graduate who has become one of the most visible figures of the far-right anti-government movement. Rhodes predicted his arrest in March 2021, and FBI agents seized his phone in May, even as he repeatedly denied wrongdoing. Rhodes has pleaded not guilty.

Rhodes said he was communicating with members of his group on Jan. 6, 2021, in an effort to “keep them out of trouble,” and he asserted that Oath Keepers associates who did go into the Capitol “went totally off mission.” He also denied plans to bring and stage firearms near Washington that day.

The jailing order against Rhodes came in the first case in which the Justice Department has leveled the historically rare charge of seditious conspiracy in the Capitol breach investigation, brought against Rhodes and 10 other Oath Keepers or associates.

Justice Department alleges Capitol riot was seditious conspiracy

The rioting at the Capitol followed a rally at the White House Ellipse, at which President Donald Trump urged his supporters to march to Congress. Pro-Trump rioters assaulted more than 100 officers and stormed Capitol offices, halting the proceedings as lawmakers were evacuated from the House floor.

Rhodes and co-conspirators planned “multiple ways to deploy force” to stop the lawful transfer of presidential power by Inauguration Day 2021, the government alleged. The group organized into teams, underwent paramilitary training, coordinated travel, assembled and staged weapons, and donned combat and tactical gear, prosecutors alleged.

All “were prepared to answer Rhodes’ call to take up arms at Rhodes’ direction,” the indictment states. They were evidently drawn to Washington partly in the hope that Trump would invoke the Insurrection Act, transforming the Oath Keepers into a kind of shock-troop militia to keep Trump in power in the White House despite the 2020 election results.

In their defense, Rhodes and other Oath Keepers have argued that their mission was to provide personal protection for Republican VIPs, including longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone. A number of the individuals charged as part of the alleged Oath Keeper conspiracy were involved in guarding Stone in the days and hours leading up to the attack on Congress.

Stone has not been charged with any wrongdoing and has consistently said he was not involved in the Capitol riot and did not have advance knowledge of the breach. Stone has said Oath Keepers members offered to provide him free security but that he did not know the faces or names of security guards he was photographed with in Washington before they were charged.

In her detention decision, Johnson said that while Rhodes had no criminal history, there was “some evidence of a propensity towards violence in Defendant’s personal relationship,” citing testimony by Rhodes’s estranged wife. Rhodes has said he not filed federal income tax since 2007, the judge noted.

Johnson also said Rhodes’s continued advocacy for violence against the federal government was reinforced by his “technical savvy, military training and familiarity with encrypted communications,” which she said are nearly impossible to monitor and that Rhodes was known to use.

That combination "gives rise to a credible threat that Defendant’s release might endanger others by fostering the planning and execution of additional violent events,” the judge concluded.

 

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ny times logoNew York Times, OSHA is withdrawing its requirement that large employers mandate vaccinations or regular testing, Emma Goldberg, Jan. 26, 2022 (print ed.). In pulling the rule, the Biden administration acknowledged what most businesses expected: the plan to make companies mandate vaccines-or-tests is over.

The Supreme Court’s decision, which was 6 to 3, with the liberal justices in dissent, said the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, did not have the authority to require workers to be vaccinated for coronavirus or tested weekly, describing the agency’s approach as “a blunt instrument.” The mandate would have applied to some 80 million people if it had not been struck down.

Without the Labor Department’s standard in effect, employers are subject to a patchwork of state and local laws on Covid-19 workplace safety, with places like New York City requiring vaccine mandates and other governments banning them.

“OSHA continues to strongly encourage the vaccination of workers against the continuing dangers posed by Covid-19 in the workplace,” the Labor Department wrote in the notice of its withdrawal.

washington post logoWashington Post, Black and Latino voters have been shortchanged in redistricting, some judges say, Colby Itkowitz and Harry Stevens, Jan. 26, 2022. Even as Democrats have fared better than expected in new maps, Republicans have chopped up minority communities in some states. The rapid growth of the nation’s Latino and Black population over the past decade is not reflected in any of the new maps passed so far, except California’s.

New congressional maps are completed in more than half the country, and so far Democrats have been spared the redistricting losses they endured a decade ago, a small mercy for their efforts to cling to their fragile House majority.

But advocates for voting rights say that raw political calculation overshadows another reality — how map drawers have manipulated the lines mostly at the expense of minorities.

Across the country, the White population has shrunk over the past decade as minority communities have swelled, according to the 2020 Census. Yet, the rapid growth of Latinos and Blacks is not reflected in any of the new maps passed so far, except California’s, which added five seats where Latinos make up the majority of adults. Black-majority districts decreased by five seats while majority-White districts grew by eight seats, according to a Washington Post analysis looking at the 28 states that have completed congressional maps.

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washington post logoWashington Post, Speaker Pelosi announces she is running for reelection to House seat, Felicia Sonmez and Donna Cassata, Jan. 26, 2022 (print ed.). The California Democrat made the announcement in a video statement.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) (shown in a file photo) announced Tuesday that she is running for reelection, citing the “crucial” need to defend American democracy through legislation on voting rights and other issues.

Pelosi, 81, has served in Congress since 1987.

“While we have made progress, much more needs to be done to improve people’s lives,” Pelosi said in a video posted to her Twitter feed. “Our democracy is at risk because of assaults on the truth, the assault on the U.S. Capitol, and the state-by-state assault on voting rights. This election is crucial. Nothing less is at stake than our democracy.”

She added: “But as we say, we don’t agonize, we organize. And that is why I am running for reelection to Congress and respectfully seek your support. I would be greatly honored by it and grateful for it.”

House Democrats begin preparing for the post-Pelosi era

Pelosi has led House Democrats for 19 years through the presidencies of George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Donald Trump and now President Biden. She was instrumental in ensuring the passage of the Affordable Care Act during Obama’s tenure; Democrats’ focus on preserving the law helped the party reclaim the House majority in 2018.

In 2018, Pelosi said this term would be her last as speaker, but she made no mention of her plans in the announcement Tuesday.

Pelosi, the first woman to be elected House speaker, has managed to unite the moderate and liberal factions in her party to pass legislation, while previous speakers — most notably John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) — often struggled with the fractious GOP.

In her video Tuesday, Pelosi spoke directly to the camera, with the San Francisco skyline behind her. She thanked her constituents for “giving me the privilege to represent our city and our San Francisco values in the Congress — human rights, reproductive justice, LGBTQ equality, respect for immigrants and care for each other.”

 

Pro-Trump Coup Attempt, Election Rights, Probes

Palmer Report, Opinion: DOJ confirms it’s looking into Donald Trump campaign-led phony election certificate scheme, Bill Palmer, right, Jan. 26, 2022. For bill palmerweeks now, breadcrumbs have been emerging which collectively served to strongly suggest that the Department of Justice has in fact been building a criminal case against Donald Trump. It’s reportedly been asking Capitol attackers to formally attest that Trump incited them. It’s been attempting to flip the Oath Keepers against members of Trump’s inner circle, and so on. Now the DOJ is directly confirming that it’s looking into at least one aspect of the Trump 2020 campaign’s actions.

bill palmer report logo headerLast week multiple state-level Attorneys General publicly filed criminal referrals with the Department of Justice in relation to the scheme to file phony election certificates falsely claiming that Donald Trump won the 2020 election. Last night Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco confirmed to CNN that the DOJ is “reviewing” the matter. This may not sound like much. But given the notoriously tight lipped nature of the Garland DOJ, it’s actually a big deal, for two reasons.

First, this DOJ basically never says anything about still-in-progress actions that it’s taking. Yet in this instance the number two person at the DOJ sat down with a major media outlet – knowing that this question was coming – and instead of saying “we don’t comment on such matters,” she confirmed Justice Department log circularthat DOJ is in fact looking into the matter.

Second, last week CNN reported that the phony election certificate scheme was in fact coordinated by Rudy Giuliani and other unnamed Trump 2020 campaign officials. Now that the DOJ is publicly confirming that it’s looking into that scheme, by definition it means that the DOJ is looking into the Trump 2020 campaign. That’s huge.

Skeptics are going to insist that the DOJ merely “looking into” the Trump campaign is not enough. But given how reserved this DOJ is with its words, “looking into” is the most that we’re going to get for now; even if the DOJ is already deep into a criminal inquiry into the Trump 2020 campaign, it wouldn’t tell us as much right now. And to be clear, when you’re investigating something, you’re literally “looking into” the matter. So yes, this means that the DOJ is investigating the matter. The only question is whether it’s reached the level of a formal criminal investigation or if it’s merely an informal investigation to determine whether to open a criminal investigation.

As a side note, we still don’t know whether the DOJ already knew about the election certificate scheme at the time the media publicly broke it open; for all we know the DOJ may have already been probing this for months, and the recent state-level criminal referrals were merely for something that the DOJ is already probing.

While there are a number of unknowns here, we should stop and take in just how big of a deal it is that the DOJ and its secretive leadership just made a point of telling us all that they’re looking into a criminal conspiracy that was orchestrated by some of Donald Trump’s top 2020 campaign officials. So much for the notion that Merrick Garland and his DOJ are doing “nothing” about Trump.

washington post logoWashington Post, Jan. 6 influencer who called for ‘civil war’ sentenced to probation, Spencer S. Hsu, Jan. 26, 2022 (print ed.). Brandon Straka’s FBI logosentencing illustrates why Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes faces seditious conspiracy charge but Straka doesn’t.

Many extreme pro-Trump voices cast Jan. 6 as the first shot of a “revolution,” but Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes is charged with seditious conspiracy while others aren’t. The sentencing of right-wing influencer Brandon Straka illustrates why.

Politico, Judge presses ahead with April trial for several Oath Keepers, Josh Gerstein and Kyle Cheney, Jan. 25, 2022. The case includes defendants facing obstruction charges, rather than those who were recently charged with seditious conspiracy in the Jan. 6 insurrection.

politico CustomA federal judge insisted on Tuesday that the first criminal trial for Oath Keepers who entered the Capitol on Jan. 6 open in Washington this April, a timeline he said he was committed to despite vocal objections from some defense attorneys who worry they wouldn’t have enough time to wade through a massive — and growing — trove of digital evidence.

Justice Department log circularJudge Amit Mehta, below left, set the April 19 date for a subset of the 22 Oath Keepers charged with a sweeping conspiracy to obstruct the transfer of presidential power from Donald Trump to President Joe Biden. Mehta said he expected the first trial to include defendants who haven’t been detained and are facing obstruction charges, rather than those who were recently charged with seditious amit mehta Customconspiracy and might take more time to build their defenses.

“This trial date is going to have to hold. … This case has got to go forward,” Mehta said during a hearing held by video conference with prosecutors and defense lawyers. “There’s ample time to get ready.”

Although defense lawyers said they were facing a mountain of videos, smartphone downloads and other evidence that is challenging to review, Mehta said he believed that most of the evidence directly relevant to most of the Oath Keeper defendants had been turned over some time ago and that the bulk of the remainder was evidence about the Capitol riot generally that probably won’t be germane to anyone’s defense.

Mehta’s timeline means that the government faces the likelihood of having its first conspiracy trial open without the marquee defendant they charged for the first time earlier this month: Oath Keepers’ founder Stewart Rhodes.

The sequence also means the highly anticipated charge the government dusted off to level at Rhodes and 10 other members of his group a couple of weeks ago — seditious conspiracy — won’t go in front of a jury until July at the earliest, after the first Oath Keepers group. Mehta also set a tentative date in September for a third trial, since it could be difficult to try so many defendants at once, especially with coronavirus restrictions in place.

Mehta said he expected that Rhodes’ case, since it was only recently charged, would take longer to prepare. Rhodes’ lawyer Phillip Linder said he anticipated being ready for the July date.

Linder noted that Rhodes was awaiting a ruling from a magistrate judge in Texas on whether he should be released pending trial. Both the Justice Department and Rhodes’ attorneys say they’ll appeal the ruling if they lose, sending the matter to Mehta.

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More On U.S. Supreme Court

 

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ny times logoNew York Times, Senate Democrats Plan to Move Quickly on Successor to Justice Breyer, Carl Hulse, Jan. 26, 2022. Given their tenuous majority, Democrats intend to act fast, anticipating roadblocks from Senator Mitch McConnell and Republicans.

Senate Democrats say they plan to move speedily to consider President Biden’s nominee for the Supreme Court vacancy created by the retirement of Justice Stephen G. Breyer, following the lead of Republicans who raced through the nomination of Justice Amy Coney Barrett in a matter of weeks before the 2020 elections.

Holding a bare 50-seat majority that is under severe threat in November’s midterm elections, Democrats acknowledged the need to act fast, particularly since an illness or death of one of their members could deprive them of their numerical advantage and greatly complicate efforts to fill the seat.

“President Biden’s nominee will receive a prompt hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee, and will be considered and confirmed by the full United States Senate with all deliberate speed,” Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, said on Wednesday after plans for Justice Breyer’s departure became public.

Democrats could confirm a successor to Justice Breyer without any Republican support under Senate rules that shield a Supreme Court nomination from a filibuster, but they must remain firmly united to do so.

With the Senate evenly split, Vice President Kamala Harris could be called upon to break a tie vote over any nominee, giving Democrats the upper hand as long as all of the members who usually vote with them rally behind whomever the president chooses.

But even with the numbers and the rules working in their favor, Democrats are well aware that they have a narrow path and that plans could go awry. They are wary of Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the minority leader, who has previously bedeviled Democrats on high court fights and is known for finding novel ways to use the chamber’s rules to his advantage, even when they appear stacked against him.

Mr. McConnell is generally eager to use any means at his disposal to delay or derail Democrats’ best-laid plans, particularly when it comes to the Supreme Court. In 2016, he summarily blocked President Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick B. Garland, citing the presidential election 10 months off. He then pushed Justice Barrett through at President Donald J. Trump’s urging in the days before the 2020 election.

As they assessed the coming fight, Democrats predicted on Wednesday that Republicans would throw up procedural roadblocks and arguments in an effort to slow the process and sink a nominee they are likely to consider too liberal.

“If all Democrats hang together — which I expect they will — they have the power to replace Justice Breyer in 2022 without one Republican vote in support,” Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, said in a statement.
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If any Senate Democrat broke from the party on the nomination — as Senators Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona have on major policy issues in the Biden era — it could endanger the president’s pick and provide cover for Republicans to be in opposition as well. But despite splits on some policy issues, Democrats have so far supported the judicial candidates the Biden administration has put forward.

Mr. McConnell did not weigh in on Wednesday with his views on the coming vacancy, telling the news media in Kentucky that he would await a formal announcement from Justice Breyer. He said it was too early to know what his party’s response would be.
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“We don’t even know who the nominee is yet,” Mr. McConnell said.

The Judiciary Committee has been preparing for a potential Supreme Court showdown since Democrats took over the Senate a year ago and Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, became the committee’s chairman.

Senate officials said the 11-11 split on the panel because of the evenly divided Senate could create difficulties of its own and that research was already underway on how to address some potential problems, such as making sure Republicans are not able to block action by refusing to participate.

Though he has long experience on the panel and has participated in multiple Supreme Court showdowns, this would be Mr. Durbin’s first time overseeing a confirmation.

“With this Supreme Court vacancy, President Biden has the opportunity to nominate someone who will bring diversity, experience and an evenhanded approach to the administration of justice,” Mr. Durbin said, promising to “expeditiously” move the nominee through the committee.

Democrats, relieved that Justice Breyer was stepping down while they still controlled the Senate, called on Mr. Biden to follow through on his promise to nominate the first Black woman to the court.

“I trust President Biden to move forward an exceptional nominee who will uphold all American’s rights and liberties — including protecting voting rights and reproductive rights,” said Senator Patty Murray of Washington, the No. 3 Democrat. “I am ready to move as quickly as possible to consider and confirm a highly qualified nominee who will break barriers and make history as the first Black woman on the Supreme Court of the United States.”

Mr. Schumer wants the entire process to take weeks, not months, according to a person familiar with his thinking who spoke about it on the condition of anonymity.

Presidents have historically taken anywhere from days to months to make a nomination to the Supreme Court after a vacancy occurs. Justice Breyer is preparing to retire at the end of the Supreme Court term in June, but Democrats plan to begin the process of confirming a nominee to succeed him as soon as Mr. Biden announces a candidate. The new justice could then be seated shortly after Justice Breyer officially steps down, the person familiar with Mr. Schumer’s thinking said.

Given the current level of political polarization, only a handful of Senate Republicans are likely to be in play as potential supporters of the president’s nominee.

Many Republicans in the Senate have, as a matter of course, opposed Mr. Biden’s nominees for seats on the lower federal courts, portraying them as too progressive. The intense spotlight of a Supreme Court nomination — and the importance Republican voters traditionally place on the court — will make drawing support from across the aisle even tougher for the president.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: This is not how the Supreme Court is supposed to work, Jennifer Rubin, Jan. 26, 2022. The announcement that Justice Stephen G. Breyer will retire from the Supreme Court came as a relief to Democrats and defenders of democracy. The reaction is certainly not because Breyer has been a negligent jurist or because he failed to defend our democratic institutions. To the contrary, he has been a model member of the court — conscientious, thoughtful, decorous.

So why are those who admire Breyer the most cheering the loudest? Because President Biden, with his a bare majority in the Senate, will be able to name a replacement who might prevent the further diminution of the court’s stature.

Think how bizarre that is. We take for granted in our cynical political environment that Democrats will react to news of Breyer’s retirement with relief — or even joy. But this actually highlights the degree to which the Supreme Court has lost credibility and has ceased to function as an impartial interpreter of the law.

We know a Republican-controlled Senate would not confirm a Biden pick. We know Breyer could have stayed on the court longer if not for his concern that he would be replaced by a radical partisan, or that his seat would be left open until a GOP president and Senate could replace him.

It is also clear that a Biden pick is needed to defend fundamental constitutional rights, as the court’s six-member majority has a different agenda: imposition of an ideological (if not theological) agenda from the bench. And that the right-wing majority is impervious to reason and appeals to precedent. Instead, it has pre-decided every case of political import and will reach a conclusion pleasing to their political patrons.

More things we can be sure of: During the Senate confirmation hearings for Biden’s nominee, Republicans will speechify about critical race theory, hypocritically denounce judicial activism and insist the nominee’s failure to agree with their ideological position on guns or abortion or whatever is grounds for opposing their confirmation. Republicans, after confirming GOP presidents’ nominees who refused to give a straight answer to scores of questions, will also complain the nominee has been evasive and, therefore, should be disqualified. Maybe the nominee will get a few Republican votes. Maybe.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Breyer’s act of listening will pave the way to a healthier democracy, Neal Katyal, Jan. 26, 2022. Neal Katyal, who clerked for Justice Stephen G. Breyer, is a former acting U.S. solicitor general.

In the days to come, there will and should be a lot of pieces written about Justice Stephen G. Breyer’s brilliance and influence on the Supreme Court. This is not one of them. Of course, the justice is brilliant; his opinions will have a deep impact on our democracy for decades to come. But his execution of those rulings, and the way he carried himself on the court, may stand as an even greater legacy still. At this tense moment in our history, where the mere act of hearing someone out is considered betrayal, Breyer points the way to a healthier democracy.

I had the privilege of clerking for Breyer in his second year on the court, in 1996-1997. The justice clearly did not want to appear to be like Felix Frankfurter, another Harvard law professor turned justice. Instead, he tacked in the opposite direction — becoming a listener instead of a pontificator.

Consider just how different that is from the political debates today, where extremist ideology has attacked things that should be noncontroversial, from wearing masks to taking vaccines, from addressing global warming to protecting voting rights.

America stands at a crossroads. On one path is more toxic extremism, the culmination of which we witnessed on Jan. 6. Despite that armed insurrection, the path remains just as seductive as ever to many.

The other path is quieter and more difficult to practice. It is a path forged by Breyer: respect for others, reverence for the law, and most of all, a commitment to listening to and learning from one another.

washington post logoWashington Post, Retropolis, The Past, Rediscovered: Ginni Thomas is not the first Supreme Court spouse to imperil a justice, James D. Robenalt, Jan. 26, 2022. Virginia “Ginni” Thomas’s connections to controversial conservative causes, including her supportive Facebook posts on the day of the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, have sparked calls for her spouse, Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, to resign or be impeached, following a revealing New Yorker profile by Jane Mayer.

Journalist Michael Tomasky wrote in the New Republic that “in a sane world,” Mayer’s expose “would set off a series of events that would lead to her husband Clarence Thomas’s impeachment and removal from the Supreme Court.”

Resignation or impeachment is highly unlikely but wouldn’t be unprecedented. The only time a Supreme Court justice has resigned under threat of impeachment, the decision to step down was prompted in part by allegations of wrongdoing by the justice’s spouse.

And if history is any guide, Republicans would have good reason to oppose calls for Thomas to leave the court.

The justice who resigned was Abe Fortas, who had been a President Lyndon B. Johnson nominee. Fortas stepped down in May 1969, four months after Richard Nixon took office as president. Fortas’s downfall was part of a broader campaign by Nixon to dismantle the liberal Warren Court and create vacancies that he could fill with candidates in his own political image. Nixon’s success in ousting and replacing Fortas ended up putting a profound conservative stamp on the court for more than three decades to come.

 

Virus Victims, Responses

ny times logoNew York Times, Covid Live Updates: Vaccination Gap Could Let Another Dangerous Variant Emerge, Experts Say, Staff Report, Jan. 26, 2022. Omicron waves may be subsiding in parts of North America and Europe, but more than three billion people around the world have yet to receive a single vaccine shot, a World Health Organization official said.

A coronavirus wave driven by the highly infectious Omicron variant wave may be cresting in parts of North America and Europe, but new cases are still climbing in less-vaccinated regions, and World Health Organization leaders warn that the global surge and the world’s wide vaccine gap could set the stage for another dangerous variant.

Maria Van Kerkhove, the agency’s Covid-19 technical lead, said in a livestream hosted on Tuesday that challenges existed in every country about reaching the most vulnerable unvaccinated communities.

“The fact remains that more than three billion people haven’t received their first dose yet, so we have a long way to go,” said Dr. Van Kerkhove, noting that about 21 million cases were reported to the agency last week. “There are many countries still in the middle of this Omicron wave.”

New daily cases remain at record highs globally, averaging about 3.3 million — an increase of more than 25 percent over two weeks and a staggering rise compared with a rate of about 600,000 a day in early December, according to a New York Times database that uses data from Johns Hopkins University. Cases have continued to rise in Latin America, the Middle East and Asia.

And Omicron is still spreading in Eastern and Central Europe, where vaccination rates are lagging.

Although vaccine shortages are easing, only about 62 percent of the world’s population has received at least one shot, and a striking divide between the rich and poor regions of the world remains. In low-income countries, only 10 percent of the population has received at least one dose. In high- and upper-middle-income countries, 78 percent have received at least one dose.

The potential consequences of the vaccine gap have been underscored by Omicron, which was first identified in southern Africa. Low vaccination coverage creates conditions for widespread virus circulation and with that the possibility of new variants emerging.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Omicron’s spread underscores the potential consequences of the global vaccine gap, experts say.
  • With record virus numbers and Omicron on the rise, South Korea tries a new testing plan.
  • An Australian aid ship with a coronavirus outbreak docks in Tonga.
  • New York State’s mask policy is back in effect after a judge grants a stay.
  • ‘The Daily’ asks: What do people in the U.S. make of this stage of the pandemic?

ny times logoNew York Times, New research has identified four factors that could predict if a person will develop long Covid, Pam Belluck, Updated Jan. 26, 2022. If further study confirms the findings, they could lead to ways to prevent and treat the complex condition.

covad 19 photo.jpg Custom 2It is one of many mysteries about long Covid: Who is more prone to developing it? Are some people more likely than others to experience physical, neurological or cognitive symptoms than can emerge, or linger for, months after their coronavirus infections have cleared?

Now, a team of researchers who followed more than 200 patients for two to three months after their Covid diagnoses report that they have identified biological factors that might help predict if a person will develop long Covid.

The study, published Tuesday by the journal Cell, found four factors that could be identified early in a person’s coronavirus infection that appeared to correlate with increased risk of having lasting symptoms weeks later.

washington post logoWashington Post, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. apologizes for saying the unvaccinated have less freedom than Anne Frank did, Andrew Jeong, Jan. 26, 2022 (print ed.). Robert F. Kennedy Jr. apologized Tuesday for invoking Anne Frank to imply Jews had more freedoms during the Holocaust than unvaccinated Americans do today — remarks that drew a public backlash and criticism from Kennedy’s wife.

Kennedy had referenced Frank, a child who died in a Nazi concentration camp, while speaking in front of the Lincoln Memorial on Sunday at an anti-rfk jr gage skidmore Customvaccine rally. “Even in Hitler’s Germany, you could cross the Alps to Switzerland. You could hide in an attic like Anne Frank did,” said Kennedy, a longtime opponent of vaccines who has spread unsupported claims about shots shown to protect against covid-19.

On Tuesday, after intense criticism, he tweeted that to “the extent my remarks caused hurt, I am truly and deeply sorry.”

“I apologize for my reference to Anne Frank, especially to families that suffered the Holocaust horrors,” wrote Kennedy, right,the son of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy (D-N.Y.) and nephew of President John F. Kennedy. “My intention was to use examples of past barbarism to show the perils from new technologies of control.”

Even before the pandemic, Kennedy’s statements on vaccines and support for conspiracy theories put him at odds with family members, health professionals and historians. Some social media platforms have banned him. But his speech Sunday drew especially strong condemnation.

The Auschwitz Memorial expressed anger at his comments in a tweet without naming him. “Exploiting … the tragedy of people who suffered, were humiliated, tortured & murdered by the totalitarian regime of Nazi Germany — including children like Anne Frank — in a debate about vaccines & limitations during global pandemic is a sad symptom of moral & intellectual decay.” The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum released a similar statement.

Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt tweeted that the statements were “deeply inaccurate, deeply offensive and deeply troubling.”

cheryl hines rfk jrKennedy’s wife, actress Cheryl Hines (shown with him at left), also distanced herself from his remarks. “My husband’s opinions are not a reflection of my own,” she tweeted. “While we love each other, we differ on many current issues.”

In a statement sent Monday to the Associated Press by a spokeswoman for Kennedy, he said he “compared no one to the Nazis or Adolf Hitler.”

“I referred to Anne Frank’s terrible two year ordeal only by way of showing that modern surveillance capacity would make her courageous feat virtually impossible today,” Kennedy said.

It was not the first time Kennedy has invoked the Holocaust in reference to vaccines. In 2015, he said of vaccinations: “They get the shot, that night they have a fever of a hundred and three, they go to sleep, and three months later their brain is gone. This is a holocaust, what this is doing to our country.”

For years, Kennedy, an environmental lawyer and author, has publicly supported the claim that vaccines cause autism. They do not.

In 2005, Kennedy incorrectly wrote in an article published in Rolling Stone and Salon that an ingredient in some new vaccines, thimerosal, was dangerous and that the government was hiding its links to autism. Rolling Stone issued several corrections. Salon retracted the story from its website. Kennedy expanded the article into a book published in 2014.

Such views have invited rebukes from other family members, including one from niece Kerry Kennedy Meltzer, an internal medicine resident physician. In an opinion piece for the New York Times in December 2020, when coronavirus vaccines were first being rolled out, Meltzer said she loved her uncle. “But when it comes to vaccines, he is wrong,” she wrote.

In a 2019 opinion piece for Politico Magazine, Kennedy’s siblings and a different niece noted how President Kennedy had signed the 1962 Vaccination Assistance Act, to highlight that his nephew’s inaccurate statements on vaccines were worsening a measles outbreak in the country at the time.

Barbara A. Perry, director of presidential studies at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center and a Kennedy family scholar, said she suspected Robert Kennedy Jr.’s opposition to vaccine mandates came from his work as an environmentalist.

He has campaigned against pollutants, such as mercury, that contaminate food sources, Perry said in an interview. “Clearly he doesn’t want people poisoned in the environment by pollutants,” she said. “In his mind, I guess, it’s a pretty easy step to [think] not poisoning the body through vaccination.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Free N95 masks now available at some U.S. pharmacies, Amy Cheng, Adela Suliman and Hannah Knowles, Jan. 26, 2022 (print ed.). Could the pandemic be stabilizing? The WHO says it might be, but ‘our work is not done;’There’s a new version of omicron, but so far it doesn’t appear to be more dangerous; London police to investigate Downing Street parties, raising stakes for Boris Johnson.

ABC-TV (Boston), Boston hospital denies heart transplant to man who hasn't gotten COVID-19 vaccine, Will McDuffie, Jan. 26, 2022. The hospital said a vaccine is just one of many criteria for a new heart.

The family of a Boston man is speaking out after they say their 31-year-old son was struck from a waitlist for a heart transplant because he was not vaccinated against COVID-19.

DJ Ferguson, who was diagnosed with arrhythmia four years ago, was admitted to Brigham and Women's Hospital after suffering heart failure this winter, his parents told ABC News. But after reviewing Ferguson's medical history, which showed he had not received a coronavirus shot, hospital staff told Ferguson that his vaccination status made him ineligible for a new heart, according to his parents.

Tracey and David Ferguson insisted their son does not oppose vaccines; he just worries the COVID-19 shot would complicate his heart condition, they said.

"He's not an anti-vaxxer. He has all of his vaccines, and he's an informed patient who is concerned because of his current cardiac crisis," Tracey Ferguson said.

However, doctors say the risk of severe illness and inflammation of the heart from contracting COVID-19 is much more likely than the low risk of heart inflammation from the vaccine, which is usually temporary.

National transplant associations recommend the COVID-19 vaccines before transplants, as do many medical centers, because after a transplant, the patient’s immune system can become compromised from medications necessary to keep the organ and the patient alive, making the individual at risk for severe illness and death if they become infected with COVID-19.

The coronavirus vaccine is just one of several vaccinations required for patients who receive a transplant at Brigham and Women's Hospital, a spokesperson at the facility told ABC News. These requirements "create both the best chance for a successful operation and optimize the patient's survival after transplantation, given that their immune system is dramatically suppressed," spokesperson Serena Bronda wrote in an email.

Since only about half of people waiting for an organ transplant will receive one, according to the hospital, doctors try to ensure that the organs go to people with the best chance of survival after the operation.

ny times logoNew York Times, New York Mask Policy Back in Effect After Judge Grants Stay, Jan. 26, 2022 (print ed.). An appeals court judge temporarily blocked a lower-court ruling that struck down the mask mandate a day before. Here’s the latest on the pandemic. New York State’s indoor mask mandate will remain in effect after an appeals court judge on Tuesday temporarily blocked a lower-court ruling from a day before that had abruptly struck down the rule and created confusion across schools and businesses.

Worldometer, World & U.S. Coronavirus Case Totals (updated Jan. 26, 2022), with some governments reporting lower numbers than the totals here and some experts saying the numbers are far higher:

World Cases: 359,968,382, Deaths: 5,636,697
U.S. Cases:     73,449,185, Deaths:    894,880
Indian Cases:   40,085,116, Deaths:    491,154
Brazil Cases:   24,334,072, Deaths:    623,901

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Media, Communications, Sports News

washington post logoWashington Post, Severe chip shortage could force companies to shut factories if deliveries are disrupted, Commerce Dept. says, Jeanne Whalen, Jan. 26, 2022 (print ed.). Wafer-thin inventories leave factories vulnerable to shutdowns if their chip deliveries are interrupted by weather events or covid-19 Manufacturers and other buyers of computer chips had less than five days’ supply of some chips on hand late last year, leaving them vulnerable to any disruptions in deliveries, the Commerce Department reported Tuesday as it pushed Congress to endorse federal aid for chipmakers.

commerce dept logoThe report highlighted the severity of a global shortage that has hobbled manufacturing and fueled inflation for more than a year, and that defies easy solutions.

Manufacturers’ median chip inventory levels have plummeted from about 40 days’ supply in 2019 to less than five days, according to a survey of 150 companies worldwide that the Commerce Department conducted in September 2021.

“This means a disruption overseas, which might shut down a semiconductor plant for 2-3 weeks, has the potential to disable a manufacturing facility and furlough workers in the United States if that facility only has 3-5 days of inventory,” the Commerce Department concluded in a six-page summary of its findings.

steve bannon exlarge

washington post logoWashington Post, Bannon was deplatformed. Now an obscure media mogul keeps him on air, Isaac Stanley-Becker, Jan. 26, 2022 (print ed.). ‘War Room’ is at the center of a fledgling network monetizing what some employees saw as ‘Trump propaganda.’

Two years after being cast out of the White House, Stephen K. Bannon (shown above in a file photo) spoke from a steep, dusty hill outside El Paso, asking for donations. The former investment banker and Hollywood producer wanted cash in 2019 for his latest quest, to privately build President Donald Trump’s stalled border wall.

Not many news outlets were paying attention — except for one focusing on his every word.

fox news logo SmallIt wasn’t Fox News or Newsmax. It wasn’t even Breitbart News, the far-right website Bannon once led, using it to help remake the GOP and elect Trump.

The coverage came from an upstart network run by a little-known media mogul in Colorado, a felon with a record of unpaid taxes and a robert sigg headshotfamily history marked by tragedy and violence. The mogul, Robert J. Sigg, left, and shown below right in a mug shot, found news value in Bannon’s mission to the desert, which ultimately resulted in fraud charges.

When Bannon launched his own talk show in the fall of 2019, calling it “War Room,” he quickly handed over its distribution to Sigg.

More than two years later, the arrangement has paid off for both men. Sigg used “War Room” as a springboard for an expanded network of conservative hosts — bringing him the commercial opportunity he sought.

robert sigg mug shotsThe network, Real America’s Voice, helped sustain Bannon despite his removal from YouTube, Spotify and other mainstream platforms. It brings his show into as many as 8 million homes hooked up to Dish satellite television, many in rural, conservative areas without reliable cable coverage.

The rise of Real America’s Voice, built around Bannon and distant from the traditional power structures of cable television and talk radio, reveals how the country’s fractured media landscape has empowered unconventional actors following market incentives toward more and more extreme content.

“We were told fairly regularly we were Trump propaganda,” said a former Real America’s Voice producer, who, like about a dozen other current and former employees of Sigg’s business, spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid professional reprisal. “That is what our role was. That was the spotify logomessage from the top: ‘We’re a Trump propaganda network.’ That’s where the money was.”

That market was left open when Fox News and Newsmax pulled back from topics most motivating to Trump’s base, said Bannon, such as resistance to vaccines, cries of voter fraud and unproven ideas about federal agents provoking the pro-Trump riot at the Capitol.

“War Room” focuses on those topics. Its influence comes not just from the number of people watching, which is difficult to measure across platforms, but also from the audience’s willingness to take political action, whether marching against vaccine mandates or running for local office. The show, broadcast live six days a week from Bannon’s Capitol Hill townhouse, is the gathering point for the pro-Trump movement — with Bannon embracing the role of a wartime general leading followers into 2022, or what he calls the “valley of decision.”

 ny times logoNew York Times, Can CNN’s Hiring Spree Get People to Pay for Streaming News? John Koblin and Michael M. Grynbaum, Jan. 26, 2022. The network’s boss, Jeff Zucker, has tried to make up for lost time by signing Chris Wallace, Audie Cornish and Eva Longoria.

CNNA couple of months ago, CNN’s forthcoming streaming channel was perceived as little more than a curiosity in the television news business: just another cable dinosaur trying to make the uneasy transition into the digital future.

In fact, the plan to start CNN+, which is expected to go live by late March, amounted to a late arrival to the subscription-based streaming party, more than three years after Fox News launched Fox Nation.

Then the hirings began.

washington post logoWashington Post, Spotify pulls Neil Young’s music after his ultimatum against Joe Rogan and vaccine misinformation, Travis M. Andrews, Jan. 26, 2022. Spotify is in the process of removing Neil Young’s music two days after Young posted a letter on his website demanding that his catalogue be removed in response to the “fake information about vaccines” on the platform.

neil young album cover“We want all the world’s music and audio content to be available to Spotify users. With that comes great responsibility in balancing both safety for listeners and freedom for creators,” a Spotify spokesman told The Washington Post in a statement. “We have detailed content policies in place and we’ve removed over 20,000 podcast episodes related to covid-19 since the spotify logostart of the pandemic. We regret Neil’s decision to remove his music from Spotify, but hope to welcome him back soon.”

Young’s letter, which has since been deleted, was addressed to his manager and an executive at his record label and cited Joe Rogan by name as part of his issue with Spotify. “I am doing this because Spotify is spreading fake information about vaccines — potentially causing death to those who believe the disinformation being spread by them,” he wrote in the letter, according to Rolling Stone. “Please act on this immediately today and keep me informed of the time schedule.”

“I want you to let Spotify know immediately TODAY that I want all my music off their platform,” the letter continued. “They can have Rogan or Young. Not both.”

washington post logoWashington Post, David Ortiz elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame; Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens fall short, Chelsea Janes, Jan. 26, 2022 (print ed.). It was the final year on the writers’ ballot for Barry Bonds,

Barry Bonds, who has the most home runs in the history of Major League Baseball, was not voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in his final year on the ballot, the Hall announced Tuesday night. Roger Clemens, whose seven Cy Young Awards are two more than any other pitcher, did not receive enough votes in his final year, either.

major league baseball mlb logoArguably the greatest hitter and pitcher of the steroid-tainted 1990s will have to rely on a veteran committee as their last chance to reach Cooperstown. Enough voting members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America decided the stars’ ties to performance-enhancing drugs disqualified them from that aspect of baseball immortality, though their numbers undoubtedly belong in the Hall.

Players need to receive 75 percent of the vote to be elected. On Tuesday, Bonds received 66 percent, and Clemens garnered 65.2 percent.

Svrluga: Is Barry Bonds’s Hall of Fame banishment a tragedy or a shame? How about both?

The writers did elect former Boston Red Sox star David Ortiz (77.9 percent) in his first year on the ballot, even though his candidacy was no less complicated than those of Bonds and Clemens. Ortiz spent most of his career as a designated hitter, meaning he rarely played the field. Among Hall of Famers, only Harold Baines, Edgar Martinez, Paul Molitor and Frank Thomas can say the same. Ortiz hit more home runs (541) than any of them, and his on-base-plus-slugging percentage (.931) is just two points lower than Martinez’s.

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U.S. Politics, Governance, Economy

ny times logoNew York Times, E.P.A. Chief Vows to ‘Do Better’ to Protect Poor Communities, Lisa Friedman, Jan. 26, 2022. The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to announce a plan to help disadvantaged communities struggling with polluted air and water.

michael reganMichael S. Regan, left, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, traveled to Jackson, Miss., in November to discuss the city’s poor water quality at an elementary school where children have to drink bottled water and use portable restrooms outside the building.

The day he arrived, the halls were largely empty. Students had been sent home because the water pressure at the school was so low that even the portable toilets couldn’t flush.

That scene and others he witnessed as he traveled to low-income communities in Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas and elsewhere have prompted him to make some changes, he said.

On Wednesday the E.P.A. announced that it will step up monitoring and enforcement of federal rules regarding air and water quality, particularly in communities of color, which are disproportionately burdened by pollution.

“Seeing the situation for myself, talking directly to community members, it is startling where we get to this point — the point where children miss school days because the water isn’t safe,” Mr. Regan said. He called the environmental conditions he had witnessed in many parts of the nation “unacceptable in the United States of America.”

President Biden has made addressing racial disparities, including those related to the environment, a core part of his agenda. He convened an advisory council made up of some of the pioneers in the environmental justice movement. He instructed agencies to incorporate environmental justice into decision making. And he pledged that disadvantaged communities would receive at least 40 percent of the benefits from federal investments in climate and clean energy programs.

But recently Mr. Biden’s top environmental justice appointee, Cecilia Martinez, and another appointee, David Kieve, who had conducted outreach with environmental justice groups for the White House, both left their posts.

The departures have prompted concerns about the future of Mr. Biden’s environmental justice agenda.

Mr. Regan did not address the issue directly on Tuesday in a call with reporters, but he said he felt an obligation to marginalized communities where “folks have been waiting long enough” for federal attention. He has spent the last year touring towns and meeting with community members as part of what the E.P.A. has called his Journey to Justice tour.

“I pledge to do better by people in communities who have been hurting for far too long,” Mr. Regan said.

The agency will increase unannounced inspections to keep polluting industries “on their toes,” Mr. Regan said, asserting that the Trump administration had not conducted enough such inspections. Monitoring of polluting industries fell off sharply in March 2020 when the Trump administration said those industries would not be held responsible if the pandemic made it difficult to comply with federal limits on air and water pollution or requirements to manage hazardous waste or ensure safe drinking water.

washington post logoWashington Post, Biden administration cancels mining leases near Minnesota wilderness, in reversal of Trump-era decision, Dino Grandoni, Jan. 26, 2022. A proposed copper and nickel mine near the popular Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness has been at the center of a tug of war between Democratic and Republicans administrations.

The Biden administration has canceled two leases near Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness — a remote, lake-pocked region at the center of a blistering fight over whether to mine near one of the nation’s most popular wilderness destinations.

On Wednesday, the Interior Department said it found that the leases to extract copper, nickel and other valuable metals in northern Minnesota were improperly renewed under Donald Trump. The Biden administration’s decision will help protect the hundreds of lakes, streams and wetlands in the nearly 1.1 million-acre wilderness area hugging the Canadian border from the potential toxic leaching from mining.

“The Department of the Interior takes seriously our obligations to steward public lands and waters on behalf of all Americans,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a statement. “We must be consistent in how we apply lease terms to ensure that no lessee receives special treatment.”

 

melania trump hat french

washington post logoWashington Post, Melania Trump auctioned off her hat, and became the latest victim of the cryptocurrency crash, Jada Yuan, Jan. 26, 2022 (print ed.). The former first lady’s chapeau (shown above) appears to have fetched $90,000 below her asking price.

Melania Trump began 2022 by announcing she’d be auctioning off a hat, along with two other items, for the low, low starting bid of $250,000.

Her website, MelaniaTrump.com, allowed the bids only to be made in cryptocurrency. Remember this. This will be important.

She called the auction the “Head of State” collection. It included the custom-made, wide-brimmed white hat she’d worn to meet French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife, Brigitte, during the Trumps’ first state visit at the White House in April 2018 — autographed — plus a watercolor of Trump in the hat, and a non-fungible token, or NFT, depicting the image.

One year after leaving the White House, Melania Trump is remaking herself as an entrepreneur. In a vast departure from previous first ladies — but in keeping with her business trajectory before her husband became president, when she licensed her name to jewelry and skin care lines — she is reviving her personal brand for monetary gain.

That plan, though, has an unexpected gum in the works: the massive cryptocurrency crash.

“A portion of the proceeds derived from this auction will provide foster care children with access to computer science and technology education,” read a small disclosure on the auction’s website. The rest, presumably, will go to Trump herself. Trump’s office did not respond to questions about how much of the proceeds will be donated, and to which charity.

When The Washington Post checked the hat auction exactly two days before its indeterminate ending time (advertised as Tuesday at 11:59 p.m. PST, although a countdown clock on the website ran 24 hours faster than that), the starting bid had dropped to $155,916, and continued to fluctuate around that level. At an earlier point in the 14-day auction, the bids had reached more than $275,000.

But the auction was only accepting bids in cryptocurrency, which has taken a nosedive in the last week, with bitcoin falling 20 percent and Ethereum 30 percent.

Melania Trump’s hat auction may have become unlikely collateral damage in the crisis, a prime example of what happens when risk-taking intersects with terrible timing. The only cryptocurrency accepted on Trump’s website is Solana (SOL), which has been one of the hardest-hit, falling more than 40 percent over the previous week. The Solana blockchain (a distributed database that stores a secure and decentralized record of digital transactions) also had an outage on Friday and Saturday, further adding to its free fall. Had this auction taken place in December 2021, Trump would have been accepting bids in Solana during a surge in which its value had increased 11,150 percent since the beginning of the year.

Instead, Trump’s auction closed early Tuesday morning (again, a day earlier than advertised on the website), with the hat and its lot appearing to go for around $90,000 below the asking price. Bidding was at $160,218 and still open well past midnight on Jan. 25, but when The Post checked in on the auction at 3:30 a.m. PST — 19.5 hours before the advertised end time — the site read, “Auction Ended.” No final price is listed.

Bitcoin price falls sharply amid Wall Street sell-off, with value cut in half since November

This is all happening at a time when the Trump family’s business practices are under intense scrutiny, including by New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) who has filed evidence in a civil investigation against former president Trump and his three eldest children focusing on the ways he allegedly misrepresented his assets to secure favorable loans and insurance policies.

washington post logoWashington Post, Crypto collapse erases more than $1 trillion in wealth, forcing a reckoning for everyday investors, Tory Newmyer, Jeff Stein and Nitasha Tiku, Jan. 26, 2022 (print ed.). Some are rethinking their plans; others say they are invested for the long term.

By the end of last year, the value of Hasten Carter’s cryptocurrency holdings had climbed to about $250,000. He moved to a nicer apartment, bought a new truck, and started thinking about pursuing his dream of a full-time career in game development.

But over the past two months, the value of cryptocurrencies has plummeted, taking with it much of Carter’s digital nest egg, a mix of Ethereum, the second-most popular cryptocurrency, and a number of more obscure coins.

“It’s gotten out of hand to the point where I’m not sure I’m comfortable I can keep my money,” said Carter, 30, who has kept his day job at a Nashville sign-making business. Of his hopes for a new career, he said: “I’m not sure if it’s as wise of a decision.”

Thousands of Americans who jumped into crypto investing over the past two years in hopes of a rocket ride to instant wealth now face a similar reckoning: Prices for cryptocurrencies — from relative stalwarts such as bitcoin and Ethereum to more exotic tokens — have cratered since reaching all-time highs in early November, wiping out an astonishing $1.35 trillion in value globally, nearly half of the total market, according to CoinMarketCap.

washington post logoWashington Post, Rep. Jim Cooper won’t seek reelection, accuses GOP of ‘dismembering’ his Nashville district, Felicia Sonmez, Jan. 26, 2022 (print ed.). Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) said Tuesday that he will not run for reelection, accusing his state’s General Assembly of “dismembering Nashville” in the once-a-decade redistricting process.

democratic donkey logoCooper, 67, is the 29th House Democrat to announce retirement ahead of November’s midterm elections. The Nashville area congressman will have served 32 years in Congress when he retires next January. He first represented Tennessee’s 4th District from 1983 to 1995, then represented the 5th District beginning in 2002. He also pursued an unsuccessful Senate bid in 1994.

Cooper’s announcement comes after Tennessee’s Republican-controlled General Assembly approved a redistricting plan that will split Davidson County, which includes Nashville, into three congressional districts. Currently, the entire county is within the 5th District.

U.S. House logo“Despite my strength at the polls, I could not stop the General Assembly from dismembering Nashville,” Cooper said in a statement Tuesday. “No one tried harder to keep our city whole. I explored every possible way, including lawsuits, to stop the gerrymandering and to win one of the three new congressional districts that now divide Nashville. There’s no way, at least for me in this election cycle, but there may be a path for other worthy candidates.”

Cooper said he was announcing his decision “promptly so that others have more time to campaign,” and he pledged to return the individual donations his campaign had received.

Community organizer Odessa Kelly had announced a Democratic primary challenge against Cooper last year. In recent days, she has sharply criticized state Republicans’ redistricting plan, accusing GOP lawmakers of “once again trying to take away the votes of Black people in our state.”

 Recent U.S. Politics-Governance Headlines:

 

World News, Human Rights, Disasters

washington post logoWashington Post, Russia conducts new military exercises amid flurry of U.S., NATO diplomacy, Robyn Dixon, Rachel Pannett and David L. Stern, Jan. 26, 2022 (print ed.). Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov accused the United States on Tuesday of “building up tension” over Ukraine, as Russia launched simultaneous military exercises across the country involving thousands of troops, warplanes, naval ships, tanks and short-range ballistic missiles.

Peskov said Russia was closely watching U.S. moves, including the Pentagon’s decision to put 8,500 troops on high alert Monday for possible deployment to Europe.

“We are observing these actions of the United States with profound concern,” Peskov said, speaking to journalists Tuesday.

Russia’s intensive wave of military exercises sent a message of military power designed to keep Moscow’s foes off balance and increase pressure on NATO and Ukraine. The military announced exercises and preparedness checks in southern, western and eastern Russia; the Baltic Sea and Transnistria, Moldova, on Ukraine’s western border; and Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula annexed by Russia in 2014. Vessels from Russia’s Pacific Fleet drilled with Chinese ships in the Arabian Sea.Analysis: U.S., some European allies divided on whether Putin is bluffing.

ny times logoNew York Times, As West Warns of Russian Attack, Ukraine Sends Different Message, Michael Schwirtz, Jan. 26, 2022 (print ed.). Analysts are puzzled over Ukraine’s “stay calm” posture. But some say that after years of war, the country calculates risks differently.

ny times logoNew York Times, Live Updates: Russia Dismisses U.S. Threat to Personally Sanction Putin as Bluster, Staff Reports, Jan. 26, 2022. The war of words between Washington and Moscow escalated as President Biden sought to deter President Vladimir Putin from invading Ukraine. Follow updates.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Biden says the U.S. is willing to levy personal sanctions against Putin.
  • What U.S. sanctions on Putin might look like.
  • The U.S. plans to bolster the fuel supply to Europe, in case Russia cuts off gas and oil.
  • Ukraine’s leaders are playing down the threat from Russia. Why?
  • Russia steps up disinformation campaign as it tries to build support over Ukraine.
  • Why Ukraine is important to Putin.

ny times logoNew York Times, Germany Wavers in the Ukraine Standoff, Worrying Its Allies, Katrin Bennhold, Updated Jan. 26, 2022. Germany's muddled stance has fueled doubts about its reliability as an ally and added to concerns that Russia could sow division.

The United States and its NATO allies are moving to bulk up their military commitments in the Baltics and Eastern Europe as the standoff with Russia Department of Defense Sealover Ukraine deepens.

Denmark is sending fighter jets to Lithuania and a frigate to the Baltic Sea. France has offered to send troops to Romania. Spain is sending a frigate to the Black Sea. President Biden has put thousands of U.S. troops on “high alert.”

And then there is Germany. In recent days Germany — Europe’s largest and richest democracy, strategically situated at the crossroads between East and West — has stood out more for what it will not do than for what it is doing.

No European country matters more to European unity and the Western alliance. But as Germany struggles to overcome its post-World War II reluctance to lead on security matters in Europe and set aside its instinct to accommodate rather than confront Russia, Europe’s most pivotal country has waffled in the first crucial test for the new government of Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

ny times logoNew York Times, What happens if Russia cuts off Europe’s natural gas supply? Stanley Reed, Jan. 26, 2022 (print ed.). Europe is a huge customer of Russia’s fossil fuels. Gas from the U.S. and elsewhere is helping offset fears of a midwinter cutoff.

Wayne Madsen Report, Investigative Commentary: Where the first armed skirmish in history between U.S. and Russian ground units is likely to occur, wayne madsen may 29 2015 cropped SmallWayne Madsen, left, author of 21 books, former Navy intelligence officer, NSA analyst and Finland-based security consultant, Jan. 26, 2022.

Allies in World War II, there has never been an armed skirmish between U.S. and Russian forces since, even during the tensest times of the Cold wayne madesen report logoWar. But that could soon change. The strong possibility that U.S. and Russian forces could engage in combat likely won't occur in Ukraine or in the Baltic countries but far from Europe.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: A pope complicit in sex crime coverups bids moral authority goodbye, David Von Drehle, Jan. 26, 2022. Everyone with open eyes can now see that the hierarchy of the Catholic Church never underestimated the problem of priests as sexual predators. They weren’t taken by surprise. Church leaders have known for decades exactly how vast the issue was, how all-consuming, from the humble parish all the way to the top in Rome.

They knew, because they tried to cover it up.

A church-authorized investigation in Germany has produced a multivolume report on sexual abuse in the archdiocese of Munich. In it, we see the archbishop himself at meetings more than 40 years ago, weighing the future of a criminally abusive priest — without a thought, it appears, of turning the man in to the police.

It is a sadly familiar story: secret conclaves of men in collars, flouting the laws of one nation after another to shuffle the abusers and launder their crimes. Only in this case, the archbishop of Munich was Joseph Ratzinger, who now goes by the title Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. After the report was published, the elderly retired pontiff was forced to admit that his testimony was false when he told investigators he had not attended one especially egregious coverup meeting.

washington post logoWashington Post, Analysis: Nayib Bukele trades bitcoin naked. El Salvador is paying the price, Anthony Faiola, Jan. 26, 2022. Beware of naked millennial presidents bearing bitcoin.

El Salvador, economists say, is learning that lesson the hard way. President Nayib Bukele — who dropped the mic on Twitter this month by claiming he trades his country’s cash for bitcoin on his phone while “naked” — oversaw the cryptocurrency’s adoption as legal tender three-and-a-half months ago.

Since then, its plunging value, the vice president of Moody’s credit rating agency estimates, has cost the national treasury up to $22 million worth of precious reserves. The country’s bonds have tanked. Fears of diminished financial transparency, meanwhile, has stalled a vital loan deal with the International Monetary Fund, which urged El Salvador on Tuesday to drop bitcoin as legal tender.

“El Salvador now has the most distressed sovereign debt in the world, and it’s because of the bitcoin folly,” economist Steve Hanke told Fortune. “The markets think that Bukele’s gone mad, and he has.”

The 40-year-old bad boy of Latin American politics who favors backward baseball caps and cool-dude shades pitched the cryptocurrency last year as a companion to the U.S. dollar, which entered use as El Salvador’s national coin in 2001. The digitally mined bitcoin would be a great economic equalizer, he pledged, freeing his remittance-dependent people from the yoke of high transfer fees while helping poor Salvadorans without bank accounts access financial services for the first time.

When Bukele dreams, he dreams big. Back in November, when bitcoin was nearly twice its current value of around $36,000 a pop, Bukele announced a $1 billion “bitcoin bond” to build a new, tax-free city in the shadow of the Conchagua volcano. Lit by geothermal energy from the mountain, the circular, bitcoin-shaped urbanization would be blessed with modern towers, bars, restaurants, a railway and its own airport — presumably in part to accommodate the private jets of high-rolling crypto investors.

Jaime Reusche, vice president at Moody’s, told me that Bukele, a former advertising executive, is still targeting a bitcoin bond offering in February or March. If he finds any takers, the plan is use half the funds to build the city, and the other half to invest in bitcoin, the future profits of which could be shared with investors later, Reusche said.

“It makes very little sense,” Reusche told me. “If investors wanted exposure to bitcoin, they should simply buy bitcoin, not El Salvador’s risk.”

Skeptical Salvadorans gained access to bitcoin though a state-run digital wallet called “Chivo” — local slang for “cool” — as well as branded ATMs.

But, as Fortune’s Shawn Tully reported, Salvadorans found that accessing remittances in bitcoin “is shockingly costly — on both ends of the transaction.” Crypto exchanges charge the sender commissions of 2 percent to 4 percent for changing dollars for bitcoin. When deposits digitally land in a Chivo wallet, Salvadorans — many of whom don’t want to hold bitcoin — end up going to an ATM, where they can convert withdrawals to dollars. The ATM provider takes another 5 percent cut. In total, fees can run between 7 percent and 9.5 percent, potentially higher.

“Over 80 percent of the people surveyed by the El Salvador Chamber of Commerce said that they don’t want remittances in bitcoin, and over nine in 10 rejected the idea of taking their salaries in coins,” Tully wrote.

washington post logoWashington Post, Chinese teen who found his birth parents via social media kills himself after reunion takes dark turn, Lyric Li and Christian Shepherd, Jan. 26, 2022. It began as a feel-good story for China’s modern age that played out in the bright glare of social media. Liu Xuezhou, a teenage teacher in training who had been adopted as an infant, found his birth parents after posting a video about his search. In a remarkably short time, police found them and organized a meeting.

On Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, Liu shared photos of the reunion dinner, his birth father beaming beside a police officer, as well as a screenshot of his birth mother asking for an address to send winter clothes.

But within weeks, the story of a happy homecoming unraveled into tragedy. The parents, both now remarried with other people, fell out with Liu after he publicly claimed he had been sold, not given away. Liu asked for financial support. His birth mother blocked him on the messaging app WeChat. As the fight played out on social media, commentators took sides and piled on, many accusing Liu of being selfish.

ny times logoNew York Times, Kurdish-Led Militia Claims to Retake Prison Stormed by ISIS, Staff Reports, Jan. 26, 2022. The Syrian Democratic Forces said they had regained control of a prison in the city of Hasaka days after it was attacked by Islamic State fighters. Here’s the latest.

 ny times logoNew York Times, U.S. to Back Up Europe’s Fuel Flow, in Case Russia Cuts It Off, Jan. 26, 2022 (print ed.). Russia announced military drills near Ukraine, a day after U.S. troops were placed on “high alert.” President Biden held talks with European leaders as fears of a Russian invasion deepened.

The Biden administration announced on Tuesday that it was working with gas and crude oil suppliers from the Middle East, North Africa and Asia to bolster supplies to Europe in coming weeks, in an effort to blunt the threat that Russia could cut off fuel shipments in the escalating conflict over Ukraine.

European allies have been cautious in public about how far they would go in placing severe sanctions on Moscow if it invades Ukraine. Germany has been especially wary; it has shuttered many of its nuclear plants, increasing its dependence on natural gas imports to generate electricity.

The U.S. said it was working to bolster alternative fuel sources to Europe in the event that Russia threatens to block shipments in the conflict over Ukraine. The theory is that, if European allies are reassured about energy supplies, they would be more willing to place sanctions on Moscow. Here’s the latest.

ny times logoNew York Times, With Russia’s penchant for misdirection, Ukrainian soldiers are unable to predict its next move, Andrew E. Kramer, Jan. 26, 2022 (print ed.). The Ukrainian soldiers watch and wait, nervously peering through a periscope from an icy trench at a forward observation post in eastern Ukraine.

Western governments have sounded alarms that Russia is prepared to attack Ukraine at any time. The Biden administration is considering moving troops, warships and artillery into Eastern Europe and NATO announced on Monday that member countries are sending ships and jets to the region.

But how, exactly, military action might start has become an anxious guessing game for military analysts, for Western and Ukrainian officials — and not least for Ukrainian soldiers, who are likely to be the first to find out.

washington post logoWashington Post, Prince Andrew’s legal peril puts focus on how he’ll pay, including sale of ski chalet, Greg Miller, Jan. 26, 2022 (print ed.). Prince Andrew has been stripped of his military titles, royal honorifics and any illusion that his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, will stand by him in a sexual abuse lawsuit now moving forward in U.S. federal court.

Assets including a chalet in Switzerland could soon be gone as well, sold off to raise cash for legal fees and the prospect of a multimillion-dollar judgment or settlement in a case alleging that he had sex with a teenager without her consent two decades ago.

prince andrew august 2014Andrew quietly cleared the way to sell his seven-bedroom Swiss lodge with an indoor swimming pool late last year, paying millions he owed the previous owner to remove a court claim that would have impeded putting the property on the market.

The Duke of York had for years failed to pay the final $8 million installment of the $29 million purchase, citing a lack of funds, said Isabelle de Rouvre, a French national who sold the property to Andrew and his ex-wife, Sarah Ferguson, in 2014.
They finally came forward with the money two months ago, de Rouvre said, “only because they want to sell.” Noting Andrew’s mounting legal troubles, she said in an interview with The Washington Post, “you can see where [any proceeds] are going to go.”

A spokesperson for Prince Andrew declined to comment for this article “on what are private financial matters.”

The Swiss property is one of the few obvious sources of revenue available for a prince long accused of living beyond his means and associating with problematic elites, including Jeffrey Epstein, the American financier and convicted sex offender accused of arranging sexual encounters for Andrew.

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More On U.S. Crime, Courts

Daily Beast, Florida Shock Jock in Matt Gaetz Circle Pleads Guilty, Jose Pagliery and Roger Sollenberger, Jan. 26, 2022. The feds are closing in on Rep. Matt Gaetz for his alleged underage sex crimes with yet another criminal case, this time against a key witness: his wingman’s best friend.

“Big Joe” Ellicott, a former Florida shock jock with potentially key information about the sex trafficking ring involving Rep. Matt Gaetz, has pleaded guilty in federal court, The Daily Beast has learned.

daily beast logoEllicott is the long-time best friend of corrupt Florida tax official Joel Greenberg, who was Gaetz’s wingman in the underage sex operation, according to several sources with direct knowledge of their relationship. Last year, The Daily Beast revealed that Ellicott knew intimate details about the teenage girl who was paid for sex by the group—and actually texted what essentially amounted to a confession that they were scrambling to try and coverup details about their sex with a 17-year-old from the feds.

joel greenberg seminole county tax collectorEllicott was particularly legally exposed through his involvement with Greenberg, right, who ran the small Central Florida tax agency like a fiefdom where he hired his friends for no-show jobs. That appears to be what took Ellicott down.

In court documents last week, Ellicott was accused of fraud for agreeing to “pay bribes and kickbacks” to a public official and a separate drug crime: illegally selling the attention deficit hyperactivity disorder prescription medicine Adderall. On Jan. 18, Ellicott signed a plea agreement admitting to both crimes.

According to prosecutors, Ellicott was the intermediary in the kickback arrangement, carrying a $6,000 cash bribe from an unnamed tax office contractor to a Public Official—Greenberg. In exchange for the bribe, Greenberg and the contractor worked out a deal where the contractor inflated invoices for work with the tax office, pocketing the difference.

Ellicott also copped to selling a single unnamed client more than $5,000 worth of Adderall over the course of two years. The client made the payments to Ellicott’s company, “Uncle Joe’s Coins,” and transferred money via check and Venmo, according to the agreement. One $95 Venmo payment was disguised as “2 hour full body massage.”

Joe Zwick, an attorney for Ellicott, told The Daily Beast that his client has been cooperating in the sex trafficking case against Gaetz. That case is being handled by Justice Department prosecutors in Washington, D.C., and is separate from the local ongoing investigation into Greenberg and the tax office, which gave rise to the charges in Ellicott’s case.

washington post logoWashington Post, Many want policing to change, but these self-proclaimed experts tell officers they’re just fine, Robert Klemko, Jan. 26, 2022. While most of the country says police are not trained well in avoiding excessive force, these police trainers stress confrontation and blame news organizations for criticism of law enforcement.

ny times logoNew York Times, Political Consultant Admits Hiring 2 Men to Kill Longtime Associate, Ed Shanahan and Tracey Tully, Jan. 26, 2022 (print ed.). Sean Caddle, whose clients have included prominent New Jersey Democrats, pleaded guilty in a scheme that led to a fatal stabbing.

A New Jersey political consultant admitted on Tuesday that he hired two men to kill a longtime associate who had worked for him on campaigns, and was found fatally stabbed in his burning apartment eight years ago, federal officials said.

Over the years, the consultant, Sean Caddle, has counted several prominent North Jersey Democrats among his clients, including Senator Robert Menendez, according to interviews and federal election records.

Mr. Caddle, 44, of Hamburg, N.J., pleaded guilty via videoconference in Federal District Court in Newark to conspiracy to commit murder for hire. A judge allowed him to remain free, confined to his home, on a $1 million bond. He faces up to life in prison. A sentencing date has not been set.

Neither a court filing nor federal officials identified the victim, but their description matched the details of the killing of Michael Galdieri, 52, a longtime Hudson County, N.J., political operative, as reported by The Jersey Journal of Jersey City.

“This was a callous and violent crime, and this defendant is as responsible as the two men who wielded the knife,” Philip R. Sellinger, the U.S. attorney for New Jersey, said in a statement.

stormy daniels 60 minutes cbs

ny times logoNew York Times, Michael Avenatti Will Represent Himself During Remainder of His Trial, Colin Moynihan, Jan. 26, 2022 (print ed.). Mr. Avenatti is accused of impersonating and defrauding Stormy Daniels, shown above, when he served as her lawyer. The decision means he will likely cross-examine her during his trial.

Michael Avenatti, the brash lawyer who became one of former President Donald J. Trump’s most outspoken foils before being felled by accusations of fraud, will represent himself for the remainder of his criminal trial in Manhattan, a judge ruled on Tuesday.

michael avenatti twitterMr. Avenatti made the request just after a lunch break but before jurors had returned to a courtroom in Federal District Court in Manhattan, where testimony in his trial on wire fraud and aggravated identity theft began on Monday.

He is accused of impersonating his client — the pornographic film actress Stormy Daniels — and convincing her literary agent to send him nearly $300,000 in publisher’s payments meant for her.

On Tuesday morning the third witness in the trial, Judy Regnier, a former office manager for Mr. Avenatti’s firm in 2018, testified that the firm had been short on money at the time.

But before her cross-examination began, Mr. Avenatti told Judge Jesse M. Furman that he and his lawyers disagreed on how they would question Ms. Regnier.

“I’m making a formal application to represent myself,” he said, adding that there had been a “breakdown” between him and his existing defense lawyers.

After questioning Mr. Avenatti about his decision and explaining its risks, Judge Furman agreed to allow him to serve as his own lawyer.

The judge noted that Mr. Avenatti had little experience with criminal cases, and cautioned him to “make your choice with your eyes wide open.”

The decision makes it likely that Mr. Avenatti will cross-examine Ms. Daniels, who is widely expected to be called as a witness during the trial.

ny times logoNew York Times, Nearly Two Dozen Charged in Fraud Ring That Staged Car Crashes, U.S. Says, Neil Vigdor, Updated Jan. 26, 2022. The elaborate scheme, which took place from 2017 to 2020 in Washington State, cost insurers $1 million, the authorities said.

The collisions often took place at night on desolate roads, investigators said: that way there would be no witnesses.

But the damage, resulting from more than a dozen car crashes in Washington State over three years and totaling nearly $1 million in false insurance claims, was no accident, according to newly unsealed federal court documents.

Some of the claimants had placed weights on car seats to get the airbags to deploy, even fastening a seatbelt around a case of bottled water, the authorities said. They went so far as to use hammers to smash windows and sought emergency medical treatment for injuries that did not exist, the court documents said.

Twenty-three people have been charged for their roles in staging the collisions from 2017 to 2020 and obstructing the subsequent investigation, federal prosecutors in the Eastern District of Washington announced on Monday as an 81-page indictment was unsealed in the case.

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Jan. 25

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Pro-Trump Coup Attempt, Election Rights, Probes

 

Virus Victims, Responses

 

U.S. Media, Sports, Education News

 

Investigations

 

World News, Human Rights, Disasters

 

U.S. Elections, Governance, Economy

 

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washington post logoWashington Post, Russia conducts new military exercises amid flurry of U.S., NATO diplomacy, Robyn Dixon, Rachel Pannett and David L. Stern, Jan. 25, 2022. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov accused the United States on Tuesday of “building up tension” over Ukraine, as Russia launched simultaneous military exercises across the country involving thousands of troops, warplanes, naval ships, tanks and short-range ballistic missiles.

Peskov said Russia was closely watching U.S. moves, including the Pentagon’s decision to put 8,500 troops on high alert Monday for possible deployment to Europe.

“We are observing these actions of the United States with profound concern,” Peskov said, speaking to journalists Tuesday.

Russia’s intensive wave of military exercises sent a message of military power designed to keep Moscow’s foes off balance and increase pressure on NATO and Ukraine. The military announced exercises and preparedness checks in southern, western and eastern Russia; the Baltic Sea and Transnistria, Moldova, on Ukraine’s western border; and Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula annexed by Russia in 2014. Vessels from Russia’s Pacific Fleet drilled with Chinese ships in the Arabian Sea.Analysis: U.S., some European allies divided on whether Putin is bluffing.

ny times logoNew York Times, Live Updates: U.S. to Back Up Europe’s Fuel Flow, in Case Russia Cuts It Off, Jan. 25, 2022. Russia announced military drills near Ukraine, a day after U.S. troops were placed on “high alert.” President Biden held talks with European leaders as fears of a Russian invasion deepened.

The Biden administration announced on Tuesday that it was working with gas and crude oil suppliers from the Middle East, North Africa and Asia to bolster supplies to Europe in coming weeks, in an effort to blunt the threat that Russia could cut off fuel shipments in the escalating conflict over Ukraine.

European allies have been cautious in public about how far they would go in placing severe sanctions on Moscow if it invades Ukraine. Germany has been especially wary; it has shuttered many of its nuclear plants, increasing its dependence on natural gas imports to generate electricity.

The U.S. said it was working to bolster alternative fuel sources to Europe in the event that Russia threatens to block shipments in the conflict over Ukraine. The theory is that, if European allies are reassured about energy supplies, they would be more willing to place sanctions on Moscow. Here’s the latest.

ny times logoNew York Times, As West Warns of Russian Attack, Ukraine Sends Different Message, Michael Schwirtz, Jan. 25, 2022. Analysts are puzzled over Ukraine’s “stay calm” posture. But some say that after years of war, the country calculates risks differently.

ny times logoNew York Times, With Russia’s penchant for misdirection, Ukrainian soldiers are unable to predict its next move, Andrew E. Kramer, Jan. 25, 2022. The Ukrainian soldiers watch and wait, nervously peering through a periscope from an icy trench at a forward observation post in eastern Ukraine.

Western governments have sounded alarms that Russia is prepared to attack Ukraine at any time. The Biden administration is considering moving troops, warships and artillery into Eastern Europe and NATO announced on Monday that member countries are sending ships and jets to the region.

But how, exactly, military action might start has become an anxious guessing game for military analysts, for Western and Ukrainian officials — and not least for Ukrainian soldiers, who are likely to be the first to find out.

osha logo

ny times logoNew York Times, OSHA is withdrawing its requirement that large employers mandate vaccinations or regular testing, Emma Goldberg, Jan. 25, 2022. In pulling the rule, the Biden administration acknowledged what most businesses expected: the plan to make companies mandate vaccines-or-tests is over.

The Supreme Court’s decision, which was 6 to 3, with the liberal justices in dissent, said the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, did not have the authority to require workers to be vaccinated for coronavirus or tested weekly, describing the agency’s approach as “a blunt instrument.” The mandate would have applied to some 80 million people if it had not been struck down.

Without the Labor Department’s standard in effect, employers are subject to a patchwork of state and local laws on Covid-19 workplace safety, with places like New York City requiring vaccine mandates and other governments banning them.

“OSHA continues to strongly encourage the vaccination of workers against the continuing dangers posed by Covid-19 in the workplace,” the Labor Department wrote in the notice of its withdrawal.

washington post logoWashington Post, U.S. puts 8,500 troops on heightened alert as Russia masses troops on Ukraine border, Robyn Dixon, David L. Stern, Missy Ryan and Karoun Demirjian, Jan. 25, 2022 (print ed.).  The tense conflict over Ukraine shifted further into full crisis mode Monday, with NATO saying it was moving more military equipment into Eastern Europe and Russia continuing to build up massed forces along the border with Ukraine, amid fears that it will invade its neighbor.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia was watching NATO’s moves and President Vladimir Putin was “taking measures to ensure that our security and our interests are properly protected.”

The Belarusian Defense Ministry said Monday that Russia troops continued to arrive in the country, which borders Ukraine, ahead of a major training exercise next month. Further video surfaced on social media Monday showing Russian military convoys and trains with military equipment moving across southern Russia and Belarus.

NATO said Monday that member nations would send additional ships and fighter jets to reinforce the alliance’s eastern reaches, just as the Biden administration put 8,500 troops on heightened alert for a potential parallel deployment.

“NATO will continue to take all necessary measures to protect and defend all Allies, including by reinforcing the eastern part of the Alliance,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said of new NATO deployments.

The American forces put on standby include U.S.-based intelligence and reconnaissance troops, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said.

“This is really about reassuring the eastern flank of Europe,” Kirby told reporters. “It’s proving how seriously the United States takes our Article V commitment,” he added, referring to NATO’s mutual defense clause.

The preparations for a possible reinforcement of NATO allies bordering Russia came as President Biden held a secure video call with European leaders to discuss the increasing tensions over Ukraine and U.S. officials threatened to impose new export controls aimed at damaging strategic Russian industries.

Western nations also began taking the kind of dramatic steps reserved for the eve of anticipated armed action.

washington post logoWashington Post, Analysis: DeSantis, conservatives erupt over FDA pulling monoclonal antibodies shown to be ineffective against omicron, Aaron Blake, Jan. 25, 2022. First it was hydroxychloroquine. Then it was ivermectin. Now the right is crying foul over the FDA withholding two monoclonal antibody treatments that studies show are not effective against omicron.

Few things inspire as much passion in the Republican base these days as alternative and often-unproven coronavirus treatments — even as many in the party continue to shun the most proven-effective treatment: vaccination.

In 2020, the prime example was hydroxychloroquine. In 2021, it was ivermectin. And early in 2022, it’s monoclonal antibodies, which multiple early studies suggest are not effective against the now-dominant omicron variant.

The Food and Drug Administration announced Monday that it would halt emergency-use authorizations for two monoclonal antibody therapies, one made by Regeneron Pharmaceuticals and one by Eli Lilly. At least with these monoclonal antibodies, unlike hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin, there was evidence they were once quite effective; that’s just not the situation we find ourselves in at this point.

nancy pelosi horizontal uncredited older Custom

washington post logoWashington Post, Speaker Pelosi announces she is running for reelection to House seat, Felicia Sonmez and Donna Cassata, Jan. 25, 2022. The California Democrat made the announcement in a video statement.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) (shown in a file photo) announced Tuesday that she is running for reelection, citing the “crucial” need to defend American democracy through legislation on voting rights and other issues.

Pelosi, 81, has served in Congress since 1987.

“While we have made progress, much more needs to be done to improve people’s lives,” Pelosi said in a video posted to her Twitter feed. “Our democracy is at risk because of assaults on the truth, the assault on the U.S. Capitol, and the state-by-state assault on voting rights. This election is crucial. Nothing less is at stake than our democracy.”

She added: “But as we say, we don’t agonize, we organize. And that is why I am running for reelection to Congress and respectfully seek your support. I would be greatly honored by it and grateful for it.”

House Democrats begin preparing for the post-Pelosi era

Pelosi has led House Democrats for 19 years through the presidencies of George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Donald Trump and now President Biden. She was instrumental in ensuring the passage of the Affordable Care Act during Obama’s tenure; Democrats’ focus on preserving the law helped the party reclaim the House majority in 2018.

In 2018, Pelosi said this term would be her last as speaker, but she made no mention of her plans in the announcement Tuesday.

Pelosi, the first woman to be elected House speaker, has managed to unite the moderate and liberal factions in her party to pass legislation, while previous speakers — most notably John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) — often struggled with the fractious GOP.

In her video Tuesday, Pelosi spoke directly to the camera, with the San Francisco skyline behind her. She thanked her constituents for “giving me the privilege to represent our city and our San Francisco values in the Congress — human rights, reproductive justice, LGBTQ equality, respect for immigrants and care for each other.”

 

Pro-Trump Coup Attempt, Election Rights, Probes

Wayne Madsen Report, Investigative Commentary: United States is a "flawed democracy" heading for "hybrid regime" status, Wayne Madsen, left, Jan. 24-25, wayne madsen may 29 2015 cropped Small2022. Yet another major right-of-center watchdog of telltale signs of global authoritarianism has reduced the “democracy” ranking of the United States.

The latest is the annual Democracy Index ranking by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), which cited new flaws in United States civic wayne madesen report logolife. The EIU is part of the Economist Group publishing house that puts out "The Economist" magazine. The EIU also has an extremely cozy relationship with Britain's Secret Intelligence Service (MI-6) and is well-integrated with City of London banking interests, and so cannot be considered as some kind of leftist fringe organization.

In 2016, the EIU for the first time reduced the United States index description from a "full democracy" to a "flawed democracy" with the election of Donald Trump as president. This year it further downgraded the United States due to a worsening situation with regard to suppression of the electoral franchise.

State laws being enacted by Republican state governors and legislatures that will further restrict voting rights are sure to move the United States into the hybrid regime category, where it will join such kleptocratic and fascist-oriented regimes as Turkey, Haiti, Guatemala, Pakistan, Morocco, Moldova, Nigeria, and Uganda. Currently, the United States shares flawed democracy status with Tunisia, Israel, the Philippines, Indonesia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, and Serbia.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Republicans lied about the need for a Jan. 6 commission, Jennifer Rubin, right and author of the recent book Resistance, Jan. 25, 2022. Among Republicans’ many jennifer rubin new headshotfeeble excuses for nixing a bipartisan commission on the Jan. 6 insurrection was the notion that there was nothing more to learn about that day. As Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) put it this past May, “It’s not at all clear what new facts or additional investigation yet another commission could actually lay on top of existing efforts by law enforcement and Congress."

It’s never a good look to make assurances that there is nothing to find out about a secret plot to overturn an election. But McConnell’s statement was also absurdly wrong. It is hard to recount all that we have learned from the House select committee’s investigation on Jan. 6. Thanks jennifer rubin book resistanceto the committee’s work, for example, we discovered:

The president and assistant attorney general Jeffrey Clark schemed to involve the Justice Department in a plot to invalidate the election;

An executive order was drafted to allow the federal government to seize voting machines;

Seven states put forth fake slates of electors;

Then-President Donald Trump was reportedly in contact with a team led by Rudolph W. Giuliani, John Eastman, Boris Epshteyn and Stephen K. Bannon, who set up a post at the Willard hotel working to delay certification of electoral votes; and

Republican members of Congress sent texts to then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows concerning the plan to engage the Justice Department or to prevent Congress from counting the electoral votes.

djt maga hatMoreover, the cooperation the committee has received from Trump administration officials, including former attorney general William P. Barr, means we might get unique insight into the effort to discredit mail-in ballots well in advance of the election. This will be essential, especially because one party is actively attempting to create a false account of events.

Even before the select committee’s anticipated hearings take place, it has provided a more complete perspective on the insurrection. Far from a single effort to overturn the election results by inflaming a mob, this was a multipronged coup attempt involving arguably dozens of officials in the federal government and state governments. The unwillingness of the participants to blow the whistle in real time — including those who resigned quietly — should shock and dismay Americans.

Palmer Report, Opinion: Donald Trump’s world is a ticking time bomb and it’s about to go off, Bill Palmer, right, Jan. 24, 2022. Over the past year we’ve grown bill palmeraccustomed to the political news being a bit less hectic than it had been during the previous four years when a psychotic traitor was occupying the office of President of the United States. Now we’re in cleanup mode, which tends to move far more incrementally, due to the nature of the legal system. But lately things have suddenly begun heating up in remarkable fashion. Here’s what all has transpired in the past week:

bill palmer report logo headerThe courts finally ruled that the majority of Rudy Giuliani’s seized communications were not protected by attorney-client privilege and turned them over to the DOJ, which is now free to indict Rudy as soon as it wants.

– The DOJ gave Matt Gaetz’s ex-girlfriend immunity in exchange for testifying against him to a grand jury, which will ostensibly indict him any day now. Gaetz’s former associate Joel Greenberg has also finally decided that he’s ready to be sentenced, meaning he expects Gaetz to get indicted soon, which will allow him to get credit for the results of his cooperation.

– The New York Attorney General announced in a court filing that she has evidence that Donald Trump and multiple members of his family committed financial fraud. Although she made the filing in her civil probe into the Trump Organization, she’s also jointly running a criminal probe into Trump with the Manhattan District Attorney, so her announcement seems to signal near-certain criminal indictments against the Trump family.

– The Fulton County Georgia District Attorney decided to empanel a special grand jury in her criminal probe into Donald Trump’s election fraud, a fairly clear signal that she intends to indict Trump, and that she wants to do so as soon as the constraints of the legal system will allow. She also previously met with Trump’s criminal defense attorneys, prompting Trump to go ballistic in a press release a short time later, another clear signal that she intends to indict him.

– The Supreme Court ruled that Donald Trump has no executive privilege argument in relation to January 6th, prompting the National Archives to deliver a ton of incriminating evidence to the January 6th Committee. This also wiped out the legal argument that the likes of Mark Meadows have been trying to use while attempting to avoid getting indicted for contempt of Congress.

Again, these developments have all happened within the past week. These are the kinds of developments that the “good guys” have spent the past year diligently working toward, and now that hard work is finally paying off. Donald Trump himself is on a clear track to be criminally indicted in multiple jurisdictions, and it’s a matter of who gets to him first. Numerous close Trump allies are weeks at most away from federal indictment, which will force them to consider flipping on Trump.

Oh and by the way, it was just eleven days ago that the DOJ arrested the entire Oath Keepers leadership in order to pressure them to flip on the Trump world people who are on the next rung up the ladder from them. At this point Trump world is taking so many devastating blows, it’s almost difficult to keep track of them all. And because Trump is just a Florida Man at this point without the office of the presidency to shield him, there’s nothing he can to do stop his world from being torn apart around him. Tick tock.

washington post logoWashington Post, Jan. 6 influencer who called for ‘civil war’ sentenced to probation, Spencer S. Hsu, Jan. 25, 2022. Brandon Straka’s sentencing illustrates why Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes faces seditious conspiracy charge but Straka doesn’t.

Many extreme pro-Trump voices cast Jan. 6 as the first shot of a “revolution,” but Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes is charged with seditious conspiracy while others aren’t. The sentencing of right-wing influencer Brandon Straka illustrates why.

Politico, Judge presses ahead with April trial for several Oath Keepers, Josh Gerstein and Kyle Cheney, Jan. 25, 2022. The case includes defendants facing obstruction charges, rather than those who were recently charged with seditious conspiracy in the Jan. 6 insurrection.

politico CustomA federal judge insisted on Tuesday that the first criminal trial for Oath Keepers who entered the Capitol on Jan. 6 open in Washington this April, a timeline he said he was committed to despite vocal objections from some defense attorneys who worry they wouldn’t have enough time to wade through a massive — and growing — trove of digital evidence.

Justice Department log circularJudge Amit Mehta set the April 19 date for a subset of the 22 Oath Keepers charged with a sweeping conspiracy to obstruct the transfer of presidential power from Donald Trump to President Joe Biden. Mehta said he expected the first trial to include defendants who haven’t been detained and are facing obstruction charges, rather than those who were recently charged with seditious conspiracy and might take more time to build their defenses.

“This trial date is going to have to hold. … This case has got to go forward,” Mehta said during a hearing held by video conference with prosecutors and defense lawyers. “There’s ample time to get ready.”

Although defense lawyers said they were facing a mountain of videos, smartphone downloads and other evidence that is challenging to review, Mehta said he believed that most of the evidence directly relevant to most of the Oath Keeper defendants had been turned over some time ago and that the bulk of the remainder was evidence about the Capitol riot generally that probably won’t be germane to anyone’s defense.

Mehta’s timeline means that the government faces the likelihood of having its first conspiracy trial open without the marquee defendant they charged for the first time earlier this month: Oath Keepers’ founder Stewart Rhodes.

The sequence also means the highly anticipated charge the government dusted off to level at Rhodes and 10 other members of his group a couple of weeks ago — seditious conspiracy — won’t go in front of a jury until July at the earliest, after the first Oath Keepers group. Mehta also set a tentative date in September for a third trial, since it could be difficult to try so many defendants at once, especially with coronavirus restrictions in place.

Mehta said he expected that Rhodes’ case, since it was only recently charged, would take longer to prepare. Rhodes’ lawyer Phillip Linder said he anticipated being ready for the July date.

Linder noted that Rhodes was awaiting a ruling from a magistrate judge in Texas on whether he should be released pending trial. Both the Justice Department and Rhodes’ attorneys say they’ll appeal the ruling if they lose, sending the matter to Mehta.

washington post logoWashington Post, Georgia prosecutor granted special grand jury in probe of Trump’s efforts to overturn state’s vote results, Amy B Wang and John Wagner, Jan. 25, 2022 (print ed.). The Fulton County district attorney was authorized to seat a grand jury beginning on May 2 for a period not to exceed 12 months.

The Atlanta area prosecutor weighing whether former president Donald Trump and others committed crimes by trying to pressure Georgia election officials has been granted a special purpose grand jury to aid in her investigation.

Fulton County Superior Court judges on Monday approved the request made last week by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis and said she will be allowed to seat a special grand jury on May 2, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

The special grand jury can continue for a period “not to exceed 12 months,” Christopher Brasher, chief judge of Fulton County Superior Court, wrote in an order.

“The special purpose grand jury shall be authorized to investigate any and all facts and circumstances relating directly or indirectly to alleged violations of the laws of the State of Georgia, as set forth in the request of the District Attorney referenced hereinabove,” he added. “The special purpose grand jury … may make recommendations concerning criminal prosecution as it shall see fit.”

Politico, Investigation: Capitol Police examines backgrounds, social media feeds of some who meet with lawmakers, Betsy Woodruff Swan and Daniel Lippman, Jan. 25, 2022 (print ed.). The little-known new practice by the department’s intelligence analysts, instituted since the Jan. 6 attack, is highly controversial given the civil liberties concerns it raises.

politico CustomAfter the Jan. 6 insurrection, the Capitol Police’s intelligence unit quietly started scrutinizing the backgrounds of people who meet with lawmakers, according to three people familiar with the matter.

Politico also viewed written communications describing the new approach, part of a host of changes that the department implemented after the Capitol attack. Examining the social media feeds of people who aren’t suspected of crimes, however, is a controversial move for law enforcement and intelligence officials given the civil liberties concerns it raises.

cdc logo CustomAmong those who have been subject to new Capitol Police scrutiny are Hill staffers, the three people said. All spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.

Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-N.D.) said in an interview that he is unaware of any members who know about the “very, very bad” practice.

“Whatever they think that sounds like for security, it sounds dangerously close — if not already over the line — to spying on members of Congress, their staff, their constituents and their supporters,” said Armstrong, a former criminal defense attorney.

“Anybody involved with implementing this without making it known to the actual members of Congress should resign or be fired immediately,” he added. “And I’m not big on calling for resignations.”

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Virus Victims, Responses

washington post logoWashington Post, Antibodies that block omicron found to persist 4 months after Pfizer booster, Carolyn Y. Johnson, Jan. 25, 2022 (print ed.). A major question about boosters has been how quickly protection will fade. The study suggests a second booster may not yet be necessary.

Virus-fighting antibodies capable of blocking the omicron variant persist four months after a third shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine, according to a new study.

pfizer logoThe study, which was published on a preprint server Saturday, gives a first hint about the durability of coronavirus vaccine protection, with a key line of immune defense remaining intact. The study has not yet been peer-reviewed and will need to be replicated and extended to a longer period.

The laboratory study suggests a fourth shot may not be needed right away — a question that has caused anxiety for people wondering if and when they would need to get another booster.

“This is very, very new for the field,” said Pei-Yong Shi, a microbiologist at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, whose team tested antibodies in the blood of vaccinated people against an omicron-like virus in collaboration with Pfizer scientists. “That really shows that at least up to four months, post-dose three, there is still substantial neutralizing activity against omicron.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. apologizes for saying the unvaccinated have less freedom than Anne Frank did, Andrew Jeong, Jan. 25, 2022. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. apologized Tuesday for invoking Anne Frank to imply Jews had more freedoms during the Holocaust than unvaccinated Americans do today — remarks that drew a public backlash and criticism from Kennedy’s wife.

Kennedy had referenced Frank, a child who died in a Nazi concentration camp, while speaking in front of the Lincoln Memorial on Sunday at an anti-vaccine rally. “Even in Hitler’s Germany, you could cross the Alps to Switzerland. You could hide in an attic like Anne Frank did,” said Kennedy, a longtime opponent of vaccines who has spread unsupported claims about shots shown to protect against covid-19.

On Tuesday, after intense criticism, he tweeted that to “the extent my remarks caused hurt, I am truly and deeply sorry.”

“I apologize for my reference to Anne Frank, especially to families that suffered the Holocaust horrors,” wrote Kennedy, the son of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy (D-N.Y.) and nephew of President John F. Kennedy. “My intention was to use examples of past barbarism to show the perils from new technologies of control.”

Even before the pandemic, Kennedy’s statements on vaccines and support for conspiracy theories put him at odds with family members, health professionals and historians. Some social media platforms have banned him. But his speech Sunday drew especially strong condemnation.

The Auschwitz Memorial expressed anger at his comments in a tweet without naming him. “Exploiting … the tragedy of people who suffered, were humiliated, tortured & murdered by the totalitarian regime of Nazi Germany — including children like Anne Frank — in a debate about vaccines & limitations during global pandemic is a sad symptom of moral & intellectual decay.” The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum released a similar statement.

Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt tweeted that the statements were “deeply inaccurate, deeply offensive and deeply troubling.”

Kennedy’s wife, actress Cheryl Hines, also distanced herself from his remarks. “My husband’s opinions are not a reflection of my own,” she tweeted. “While we love each other, we differ on many current issues.”

In a statement sent Monday to the Associated Press by a spokeswoman for Kennedy, he said he “compared no one to the Nazis or Adolf Hitler.”

“I referred to Anne Frank’s terrible two year ordeal only by way of showing that modern surveillance capacity would make her courageous feat virtually impossible today,” Kennedy said.

It was not the first time Kennedy has invoked the Holocaust in reference to vaccines. In 2015, he said of vaccinations: “They get the shot, that night they have a fever of a hundred and three, they go to sleep, and three months later their brain is gone. This is a holocaust, what this is doing to our country.”

For years, Kennedy, an environmental lawyer and author, has publicly supported the claim that vaccines cause autism. They do not.

In 2005, Kennedy incorrectly wrote in an article published in Rolling Stone and Salon that an ingredient in some new vaccines, thimerosal, was dangerous and that the government was hiding its links to autism. Rolling Stone issued several corrections. Salon retracted the story from its website. Kennedy expanded the article into a book published in 2014.

Such views have invited rebukes from other family members, including one from niece Kerry Kennedy Meltzer, an internal medicine resident physician. In an opinion piece for the New York Times in December 2020, when coronavirus vaccines were first being rolled out, Meltzer said she loved her uncle. “But when it comes to vaccines, he is wrong,” she wrote.

In a 2019 opinion piece for Politico Magazine, Kennedy’s siblings and a different niece noted how President Kennedy had signed the 1962 Vaccination Assistance Act, to highlight that his nephew’s inaccurate statements on vaccines were worsening a measles outbreak in the country at the time.

Barbara A. Perry, director of presidential studies at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center and a Kennedy family scholar, said she suspected Robert Kennedy Jr.’s opposition to vaccine mandates came from his work as an environmentalist.

He has campaigned against pollutants, such as mercury, that contaminate food sources, Perry said in an interview. “Clearly he doesn’t want people poisoned in the environment by pollutants,” she said. “In his mind, I guess, it’s a pretty easy step to [think] not poisoning the body through vaccination.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Live Updates: Free N95 masks now available at some U.S. pharmacies, Amy Cheng, Adela Suliman and Hannah Knowles, Jan. 25, 2022. Could the pandemic be stabilizing? The WHO says it might be, but ‘our work is not done;’There’s a new version of omicron, but so far it doesn’t appear to be more dangerous; London police to investigate Downing Street parties, raising stakes for Boris Johnson.

Free N95 masks are now available at some U.S. stores as part of the White House’s plan to hand out 400 million of them from the Strategic National Stockpile.

Midwest grocer Meijer said Monday that it has received some 3 million N95 masks from the Health and Human Services Department and will hand out boxed sets of three to customers who want them. Another Midwest supermarket chain, Hy-Vee, said in a tweet that its pharmacies are now offering free N95 masks, as well.

Other major chains are expected to start giving out masks later this week. Walgreens spokeswoman Alex Brown said she expects the first stores to begin offering the masks Friday. Three free N95 masks will be available for each adult, federal officials said.

In preparation for the rollout, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this month provided its most explicit guidance on the protection afforded by different types of masks. Well-fitting N95 masks, it says, “offer the highest level of protection.”

Here’s what to know

  • Pfizer and its German partner, BioNTech, have begun testing a vaccine tailored to battle the omicron variant of the coronavirus, the companies announced Tuesday.
  • British police said Tuesday they would begin investigating parties held at 10 Downing Street during coronavirus lockdowns. The development puts further pressure on Prime Minister Boris Johnson after a British news outlet reported two more social gatherings, including one to celebrate his birthday.
  • A UNICEF report released Sunday indicated that more than 616 million children around the world are still affected by covid-induced disruptions to their education, as school systems grapple with whether, and for how long, to close schools again amid omicron surges.
  • The Food and Drug Administration removed two monoclonal antibody therapies from the list of covid-19 treatments for now, announcing that they’re ineffective against the omicron variant.

washington post logoWashington Post, FDA expected to sharply restrict use of 2 monoclonal antibodies, Laurie McGinley, Jan. 25, 2022 (print ed.). Data show the therapies by Regeneron and Eli Lilly are not effective against the omicron variant, officials say.

covad 19 photo.jpg Custom 2The Food and Drug Administration on Monday took two monoclonal antibody therapies off the list of covid-19 treatments for now, saying the medications should not be used anywhere in the United States because they are ineffective against the dominant omicron variant.
FAQ: What to know about the omicron variant of the coronavirus

As a result, the Biden administration said it will pause distribution of the therapies, manufactured by Regeneron Pharmaceuticals and Eli Lilly, to the states.

Patrizia Cavazzoni, director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said in a statement that data show the two antibody treatments “are highly unlikely to be active against the omicron variant, which is circulating at a very high frequency throughout the United States.” Omicron is responsible for more than 99 percent of cases in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

ny times logoNew York Times, New York Mask Policy Back in Effect After Judge Grants Stay, Jan. 25, 2022. An appeals court judge temporarily blocked a lower-court ruling that struck down the mask mandate a day before. Here’s the latest on the pandemic. New York State’s indoor mask mandate will remain in effect after an appeals court judge on Tuesday temporarily blocked a lower-court ruling from a day before that had abruptly struck down the rule and created confusion across schools and businesses.

The decision on Tuesday came after a ruling on Monday by Justice Thomas Rademaker, of State Supreme Court in Nassau County, who had said the rule requiring masks violated the State Constitution.

His ruling had abruptly nullified part of the rule imposed Gov. Kathy Hochul last month, amid a surge in coronavirus cases driven by the Omicron variant, that required masks or proof of full vaccination at all indoor public spaces statewide.

Ms. Hochul immediately vowed to fight the decision, with Letitia James, the state attorney general, filing a motion to stay the ruling in an attempt to put it on hold while the state filed a formal appeal.

On Tuesday afternoon, Justice Robert J. Miller, the state appeals court judge, sided with the state and granted the stay, effectively allowing the mask rule to temporarily go back into effect. Justice Miller scheduled another hearing on the matter for Friday morning.

Worldometer, World & U.S. Coronavirus Case Totals (updated Jan. 25, 2022), with some governments reporting lower numbers than the totals here and some experts saying the numbers are far higher:

World Cases: 356,532,019, Deaths: 5,625,361
U.S. Cases:     72,958,690, Deaths:    891,595
Indian Cases:   39,799,202, Deaths:    490,462
Brazil Cases:   24,134,946, Deaths:    623,412

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Media, Communications, Sports News

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: Attack of the Right-Wing Thought Police, Paul Krugman, right, Jan. 25, 2022 (print ed.). Americans like to think of their paul krugmannation as a beacon of freedom. And despite all the ways in which we have failed to live up to our self-image, above all the vast injustices that sprang from the original sin of slavery, freedom — not just free elections, but also freedom of speech and thought — has long been a key element of the American idea.

Now, however, freedom is under attack, on more fronts than many people realize. Everyone knows about the Big Lie, the refusal by a large majority of Republicans to accept the legitimacy of a lost election. But there are many other areas in which freedom is not just under assault but in retreat.

Let’s talk, in particular, about the attack on education, especially but not only in Florida, which has become one of America’s leading laboratories of democratic erosion.

Republicans have made considerable political hay by denouncing the teaching of critical race theory; this strategy has succeeded even though most voters have no idea what that theory is and it isn’t actually being taught in public schools. But the facts in this case don’t matter, because denunciations of C.R.T. are basically a cover for a much bigger agenda: an attempt to stop schools from teaching anything that makes right-wingers uncomfortable.

I use that last word advisedly: There’s a bill advancing in the Florida Senate declaring that an individual “should not be made to feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race.” That is, the criterion for what can be taught isn’t “Is it true? Is it supported by the scholarly consensus?” but rather “Does it make certain constituencies uncomfortable?”

Anyone tempted to place an innocuous interpretation on this provision — maybe it’s just about not assigning collective guilt? — should read the text of the bill. Among other things, it cites as its two prime examples of things that must not happen in schools “denial or minimization of the Holocaust, and the teaching of critical race theory” — because suggesting that “racism is embedded in American society” (the bill’s definition of the theory) is just the same as denying that Hitler killed six million Jews.

What’s really striking, however, is the idea that schools should be prohibited from teaching anything that causes “discomfort” among students and their parents. If you imagine that the effects of applying this principle would be limited to teaching about race relations, you’re being utterly naïve.

For one thing, racism is far from being the only disturbing topic in American history. I’m sure that some students will find that the story of how we came to invade Iraq — or for that matter how we got involved in Vietnam — makes them uncomfortable. Ban those topics from the curriculum!

Then there’s the teaching of science. Most high schools do teach the theory of evolution, but leading Republican politicians are either evasive or actively deny the scientific consensus, presumably reflecting the G.O.P. base’s discomfort with the concept. Once the Florida standard takes hold, how long will teaching of evolution survive?

Geology, by the way, has the same problem. I’ve been on nature tours where the guides refuse to talk about the origins of rock formations, saying that they’ve had problems with some religious guests.

Oh, and given the growing importance of anti-vaccination posturing as a badge of conservative allegiance, how long before basic epidemiology — maybe even the germ theory of disease — gets the critical race theory treatment?

And then there’s economics, which these days is widely taught at the high school level. (Full disclosure: Many high schools use an adapted version of the principles text I co-author.) Given the long history of politically driven attempts to prevent the teaching of Keynesian economics, what do you think the Florida standard would do to teaching in my home field?

The point is that the smear campaign against critical race theory is almost certainly the start of an attempt to subject education in general to rule by the right-wing thought police, which will have dire effects far beyond the specific topic of racism.

And who will enforce the rules? State-sponsored vigilantes! Last month Ron DeSantis, Florida’s governor, proposed a “Stop Woke Act” that would empower parents to sue school districts they claim teach critical race theory — and collect lawyer fees, a setup modeled on the bounties under Texas’ new anti-abortion law. Even the prospect of such lawsuits would have a chilling effect on teaching.

Did I mention that DeSantis also wants to create a special police force to investigate election fraud? Like the attacks on critical race theory, this is obviously an attempt to use a made-up issue — voter fraud is largely nonexistent — as an excuse for intimidation.

OK, I’m sure that some people will say that I’m making too much of these issues. But ask yourself: Has there been any point over, say, the past five years when warnings about right-wing extremism have proved overblown and those dismissing those warnings as “alarmist” have been right?

washington post logoWashington Post, Severe chip shortage could force companies to shut factories if deliveries are disrupted, Commerce Dept. says, Jeanne Whalen, Jan. 25, 2022. Wafer-thin inventories leave factories vulnerable to shutdowns if their chip deliveries are interrupted by weather events or covid-19 Manufacturers and other buyers of computer chips had less than five days’ supply of some chips on hand late last year, leaving them vulnerable to any disruptions in deliveries, the Commerce Department reported Tuesday as it pushed Congress to endorse federal aid for chipmakers.

The report highlighted the severity of a global shortage that has hobbled manufacturing and fueled inflation for more than a year, and that defies easy solutions.

Manufacturers’ median chip inventory levels have plummeted from about 40 days’ supply in 2019 to less than five days, according to a survey of 150 companies worldwide that the Commerce Department conducted in September 2021.

“This means a disruption overseas, which might shut down a semiconductor plant for 2-3 weeks, has the potential to disable a manufacturing facility and furlough workers in the United States if that facility only has 3-5 days of inventory,” the Commerce Department concluded in a six-page summary of its findings.

steve bannon exlarge

washington post logoWashington Post, Bannon was deplatformed. Now an obscure media mogul keeps him on air, Isaac Stanley-Becker, Jan. 25, 2022. ‘War Room’ is at the center of a fledgling network monetizing what some employees saw as ‘Trump propaganda.’

Two years after being cast out of the White House, Stephen K. Bannon (shown above in a file photo) spoke from a steep, dusty hill outside El Paso, asking for donations. The former investment banker and Hollywood producer wanted cash in 2019 for his latest quest, to privately build President Donald Trump’s stalled border wall.

Not many news outlets were paying attention — except for one focusing on his every word.

fox news logo SmallIt wasn’t Fox News or Newsmax. It wasn’t even Breitbart News, the far-right website Bannon once led, using it to help remake the GOP and elect Trump.

The coverage came from an upstart network run by a little-known media mogul in Colorado, a felon with a record of unpaid taxes and a robert sigg headshotfamily history marked by tragedy and violence. The mogul, Robert J. Sigg, left, found news value in Bannon’s mission to the desert, which ultimately resulted in fraud charges.

When Bannon launched his own talk show in the fall of 2019, calling it “War Room,” he quickly handed over its distribution to Sigg.

More than two years later, the arrangement has paid off for both men. Sigg used “War Room” as a springboard for an expanded network of conservative hosts — bringing him the commercial opportunity he sought.

The network, Real America’s Voice, helped sustain Bannon despite his removal from YouTube, Spotify and other mainstream platforms. It brings his show into as many as 8 million homes hooked up to Dish satellite television, many in rural, conservative areas without reliable cable coverage.

The rise of Real America’s Voice, built around Bannon and distant from the traditional power structures of cable television and talk radio, reveals how the country’s fractured media landscape has empowered unconventional actors following market incentives toward more and more extreme content.

“We were told fairly regularly we were Trump propaganda,” said a former Real America’s Voice producer, who, like about a dozen other current and former employees of Sigg’s business, spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid professional reprisal. “That is what our role was. That was the message from the top: ‘We’re a Trump propaganda network.’ That’s where the money was.”

That market was left open when Fox News and Newsmax pulled back from topics most motivating to Trump’s base, said Bannon, such as resistance to vaccines, cries of voter fraud and unproven ideas about federal agents provoking the pro-Trump riot at the Capitol.

“War Room” focuses on those topics. Its influence comes not just from the number of people watching, which is difficult to measure across platforms, but also from the audience’s willingness to take political action, whether marching against vaccine mandates or running for local office. The show, broadcast live six days a week from Bannon’s Capitol Hill townhouse, is the gathering point for the pro-Trump movement — with Bannon embracing the role of a wartime general leading followers into 2022, or what he calls the “valley of decision.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Neil Young Posts and Removes a Letter Demanding Spotify Remove His Music, Jenny Gross, Jan. 26, 2022 (print ed.). A letter briefly appeared on Monday on Neil Young’s website that asked to remove his music from Spotify, according to Rolling Stone, in protest of the platform’s streaming of the podcaster Joe Rogan, who has been dismissive of the coronavirus vaccine.

neil young album cover“I am doing this because Spotify is spreading fake information about vaccines — potentially causing death to those who believe the disinformation being spread by them,” Mr. Young wrote, according to Rolling Stone. “Please act on this immediately today and keep me informed of the time schedule.”

He wrote: “They can have Rogan or Young. Not both.”

The letter was addressed to his manager and an executive at his record label, Rolling Stone reported. It no longer appeared on the website on Tuesday morning.

spotify logoSpotify did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday. Frank Gironda, Mr. Young’s manager, told The Daily Beast that Mr. Young published the letter on Monday. “It’s something that’s really important to Neil,” Mr. Gironda told The Daily Beast. “He’s very upset about this disinformation.”

Mr. Young’s letter appeared to add to the pressure on Spotify to take a stronger stance on vaccine misinformation. This month, hundreds of scientists, professors and public health professionals asked Spotify, which is based in Stockholm, to develop a policy to handle misinformation about Covid-19 on its platform.

In a letter published online, the experts wrote about a Dec. 31 episode of “The Joe Rogan Experience” that featured Dr. Robert Malone, an infectious-disease researcher who they said promoted “several falsehoods about Covid-19 vaccines.”

“By allowing the propagation of false and societally harmful assertions, Spotify is enabling its hosted media to damage public trust in scientific research and sow doubt in the credibility of data-driven guidance offered by medical professionals,” the letter said.

It also said Spotify should “immediately establish a clear and public policy to moderate misinformation on its platform.”

The company, which says its podcast platform has more than 299 million monthly listeners, has previously said in a written statement that it prohibits dangerous, false or deceptive material about Covid-19 and that it has removed content that violate its policies. But episodes that appear to violate those terms still appear on the platform.

Digital Music News, Spotify Stock (SPOT) Has Lost Nearly 25% of Its Value In 2022 and 45% Over the Past Year — What’s Going On? Dylan Smith, Jan. 25, 2022. Spotify stock (NYSE: SPOT) dipped by nearly five percent during Tuesday’s trading hours and has parted with almost one-quarter of its value since the start of 2022. All of which is prompting Wall Street — and previously high-flying stakeholders — to discuss the downturn’s potential causes.

Having finished at $193.52 per share on Monday, Spotify stock was worth $184.04 per share when the market closed on Tuesday – a 4.92 percent decrease on the day, a 13.59 percent decline across the last five days, and a full 23.50 percent falloff over the past six months.

spotify logoFurthermore, as mentioned at the outset, SPOT’s present value represents a 24.62 percent slip since 2022’s beginning, when the stock was worth north of $244 per share.

The broader slide is stunning: back in late January of 2021, SPOT was hovering around $337 a share. Since that point, SPOT has witnessed a $152 plunge, which translates into a 45% drop in just one year. Tuesday’s price represents a modest 24.42 percent gain from the Stockholm-based company’s 2018 public offering.

Of course, it’s impossible to pinpoint the precise factors that are dragging SPOT down, but the movement arrives amid broader market corrections and a shift away from unprofitable and/or tech stocks.

The S&P 500 is down about 9.2 percent on the year.

Politico, “Stupid son of a …”: Biden makes plain his opinion of Fox reporter’s question, Myah Ward, Jan. 25, 2022 (print ed.).Jan. 24, 2022. The president didn’t appear to be speaking directly to Peter Doocy but was bluntly sarcastic after being asked about the political implications of inflation.

politico CustomPresident Joe Biden on Monday called a reporter a “stupid son of a bitch” after he was asked whether inflation was a “political liability in the midterms.”

joe biden resized oIt wasn’t just any reporter. It was Fox News’ Peter Doocy, the network’s rising star who is known for needling the president and for his clashes with White House press secretary Jen Psaki during daily briefings. Doocy has covered Biden from the start of his presidential campaign and was named a White House correspondent in early 2021.

It didn’t seem as if Biden was speaking directly to Doocy, though it’s unclear whether the moment was a hot-mic mistake or meant for the room to hear. The exchange happened during Biden’s meeting with the White House Competition Council, where he discussed his work to lower rising prices.

Following Biden’s remarks, journalists began shouting questions at the president as they were ushered out of the room.

fox news logo Small“Do you think inflation is a political liability ahead of the midterms?” Doocy asked, according to the official White House transcript, which included the full exchange.

The president, who is known for having a short temper and not the cleanest of vocabularies during heated moments, spoke right above his microphone. “No, it’s a great asset — more inflation,” Biden said, shaking his head. “What a stupid son of a bitch.”

Last week, Biden took questions from reporters for 111 minutes at the White House, answering on everything from Covid missteps and his Build Back Better agenda to Russia and Ukraine. When it was Doocy’s turn, Biden joked that the reporter always asked him the “nicest questions.”

“I got a whole binder full,” Doocy said.

“I know you do,” Biden said. “None of them make a lot of sense to me.”

washington post logoWashington Post, David Ortiz elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame; Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens fall short, Chelsea Janes, Jan. 25, 2022. It was the final year on the writers’ ballot for Barry Bonds,

Barry Bonds, who has the most home runs in the history of Major League Baseball, was not voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in his final year on the ballot, the Hall announced Tuesday night. Roger Clemens, whose seven Cy Young Awards are two more than any other pitcher, did not receive enough votes in his final year, either.

major league baseball mlb logoArguably the greatest hitter and pitcher of the steroid-tainted 1990s will have to rely on a veteran committee as their last chance to reach Cooperstown. Enough voting members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America decided the stars’ ties to performance-enhancing drugs disqualified them from that aspect of baseball immortality, though their numbers undoubtedly belong in the Hall.

Players need to receive 75 percent of the vote to be elected. On Tuesday, Bonds received 66 percent, and Clemens garnered 65.2 percent.

Svrluga: Is Barry Bonds’s Hall of Fame banishment a tragedy or a shame? How about both?

The writers did elect former Boston Red Sox star David Ortiz (77.9 percent) in his first year on the ballot, even though his candidacy was no less complicated than those of Bonds and Clemens. Ortiz spent most of his career as a designated hitter, meaning he rarely played the field. Among Hall of Famers, only Harold Baines, Edgar Martinez, Paul Molitor and Frank Thomas can say the same. Ortiz hit more home runs (541) than any of them, and his on-base-plus-slugging percentage (.931) is just two points lower than Martinez’s.

washington post logoWashington Post, Sarah Palin’s defamation trial against New York Times delayed by positive coronavirus test, Sarah Ellison, Jan. 24, 2022. The long-awaited trial, which could test key First Amendement protections for media, is rescheduled for Feb. 3. 

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Investigations

ny times logoNew York Times, Roles of F.B.I. and Informants Muddle the Michigan Governor Kidnapping Case, Neil MacFarquhar, Jan. 25, 2022 (print ed.). Before five men stand trial for plotting to abduct Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, lawyers are examining more than 1,000 hours of secretly recorded conversations.

gretchen whitmer o smile CustomOn a rainy night in northern Michigan in September 2020, a group of armed men divided among three cars surveyed the landscape around the vacation cottage of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, right, considering how to kidnap her as payback for her Covid-19 lockdown measures.

Two men descended from the lead car to inspect a bridge on Route 31 in nearby Elk Rapids, assessing what was needed to blow it up to delay any police response to the house on nearby Birch Lake.

FBI logoLater, after team members returned to the rural camp where they had already conducted military-style training exercises, a man identified as “Big Dan” in government documents asked the assembled group, “Everybody down with what’s going on?” Another man responded, “If you are not down with the thought of kidnapping, don’t sit here.”

Of the dozen men on that nighttime surveillance mission, four of them, including “Big Dan” were either government informants or undercover F.B.I. agents, according to court documents.

The events of that night will be a key element when, on March 8, five men charged with plotting to abduct the Democratic governor from her vacation cottage will go on trial in U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids, Mich.

The trial is being closely watched as one of the most significant recent domestic terrorism cases, a test of Washington’s commitment in the wake of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol to pursue far-right groups who seek to kindle a violent, anti-government insurgency or even a new civil war.

michigan mapThe effort to prosecute the kidnapping plot is sprawling. Both the prosecution and the defense are relying heavily on more than 1,000 hours of conversations and other events secretly recorded by informants or undercover agents. The defense lawyers want the case thrown out on entrapment grounds, accusing investigators of “egregious overreaching” by manipulating the accused men to drive the plot forward. Prosecutors will attempt to prove that the suspects were inclined toward the violence from the start.

In another challenge for the case, prosecutors have made an unusual decision not to call to the witness stand three F.B.I. agents with high-profile roles in the investigation. One agent was fired last summer after being charged with domestic violence. Another agent, while supervising “Big Dan,” tried to build a private security consulting firm based in part on some of his work for the F.B.I.

All 14 suspects arrested in October 2020 were members of the Wolverine Watchmen or other armed, paramilitary groups. One of the six facing a federal kidnapping conspiracy charge pleaded guilty and is expected to testify against the rest. The other eight, who participated in some military-style training, were accused in two separate, ongoing state cases on a lesser charge of providing material support for terrorism.

In recent weeks, the already complicated case has become more entangled, with the two sides arguing over what evidence can be presented in federal court.

The informant known as “Big Dan” or “Confidential Human Source-2” in government papers will be the star witness for the prosecution. Descriptions of Dan’s interactions with the suspects are rife throughout the court documents, and he already testified extensively in one state case last year.

Around March 2020, Dan, a veteran in his mid-30s who was wounded in the Iraq war, was working at the post office, looking online for ways to practice his military skills, according to the court documents, when the Wolverine Watchmen’s Facebook page popped up. Members were adherents of the so-called boogaloo movement who seek to speed a societal collapse.

Alarmed by their discussions about targeting law enforcement officers, Dan reported them to local police and eventually agreed to become an F.B.I. informant, he said in state court. He was paid about $54,000 over the course of the roughly six-month investigation.

He was not alone. The F.B.I. deployed at least 12 informants, as well as several undercover agents, according to defense filings. On the nighttime surveillance operation of the governor’s cottage, for example, the defense described “Big Dan” as the main organizer. Stephen Robeson, with a long history of both past crimes and work as an informant, was there too. The “explosives expert” who could topple the bridge was actually an undercover F.B.I. agent, as was a man in another vehicle.

The defense lawyers using that same trove of evidence material have built an entirely different scenario of what happened. They depict the accused as reluctant puppets entrapped by the F.B.I. agents and informants whom they say came up with the kidnapping plot.

Within weeks of joining, Dan took over the training exercises, introducing a much higher level of military tactics, defense lawyers said. They describe him as consulting closely with his main handler, Agent Jayson Chambers, on matters like who should participate in two surveillance trips to Ms. Whitmer’s cottage.

The suspects discussing violence on the recordings or in encrypted chats was just inflammatory rhetoric, the defense says. Prosecutors say Adam Fox, 38, the group’s ringleader, was living in the basement of a friend’s vacuum cleaner shop where he worked, talking about assaulting the Michigan statehouse just as “Big Dan” was getting involved.

Sting operations using informants are a thorny tactic in terror cases. In those developed after the 9/11 attacks, F.B.I. agents often got involved when someone expressed interest in joining Al Qaeda or in fomenting some kind of terrorist act. If the suspects had trouble agreeing on a plot or acquiring weapons, the informants or undercover agents would sometimes help them as a way of gauging criminal intent.

Critics of such F.B.I. methods like Michael German, a former undercover F.B.I. agent, accuse the agency of acting like Cecil B. DeMille, manufacturing complicated, theatrical scenarios rather than pursuing the more complex task of unearthing actual extremist plots.

Mr. German, who is now a fellow at the Liberty & National Security Program of the Brennan Center for Justice, said, “Rather than focus on those crimes and investigating them, there appears to be more interest in this method of manufacturing plots for the FBI to solve.”

Roll Call, Reports on Newman, Lamborn detail ethics allegations, Chris Marquette, Jan. 25, 2022 (print ed.). Unclear how House Ethics Committee will proceed. The House Ethics Committee on Monday released details of Office of Congressional Ethics reports on two members, Reps. Marie Newman, D-Ill., and Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., and said that the committee would continue to review the referrals.

Newman’s situation concerns whether she offered a job to someone in exchange for that person forgoing a primary run against her.

marie newman oAccording to the OCE report, Newman, right, was aware of Iymen Chehade’s intent to run in the 2020 Democratic primary for the congressional seat she holds when she entered into an employment contract offering him a job in her office if he didn’t run against her and she won, the Office of Congressional Ethics found.

“In summary, the evidence collected by the OCE supports a finding that Rep. Newman had knowledge of Mr. Chehade’s intent to run for the 2020 congressional seat when she knowingly entered into an employment contract with Mr. Chehade promising him future employment in her official office if he did not submit or announce his candidacy for the same congressional seat,” according to the OCE report.

The OCE found “there is substantial documentary evidence demonstrating that Rep. Newman at the very least had knowledge of Mr. Chehade’s intent to run in the 2020 Democratic primary.”

The issue stems from a lawsuit filed by Chehade in which he sued Newman for allegedly violating the contract, which would have given him a senior job making up to $140,000 in her congressional office, a suit that was settled for an undisclosed amount.

“In an effort to induce Chehade not to run against her in the primary, Newman offered Chehade employment as Foreign Policy Advisor and Legislative or District Director,” Chehade's suit alleged.

Newman told the OCE that she didn’t have any discussions with Chehade on his interest in running for the the seat in Illinois’ 3rd Congressional District in 2020 prior to receiving a proposal on Oct. 27, 2018. Newman provided the OCE an email dated Oct. 27, 2018 to Newman from Chehade that summarized an earlier meeting they had on employment negotiations. Attached to that email was a proposal from Chehade for the employment contract detailing the terms and conditions, which included the following language: “Overview: Chehade agrees not to announce or submit his candidacy for election to Congressional Representative of the 3rd District of Illinois. In exchange, Newman will hire Chehade as her Chief Foreign Policy Advisor.”

“When the OCE asked Rep. Newman about the October 27, 2018 proposal email, Rep. Newman asserted that upon receiving the email, she was ‘... outraged and incensed.’ She stated that she sternly communicated her negative reaction to Mr. Chehade’s language in the proposal over a telephone conversation,” the OCE report said. It added that Newman’s assertion of “outrage,” and a follow-up phone call on Chehade’s potential candidacy, is “not supported by the documentary evidence.”

In a Nov. 2, 2018 email, Newman replied to Chehade’s proposal email with no outrage, saying “most of it looks good” and that Newman’s concerns were about “phraseology.”

The two entered into “a detailed employment contract where Rep. Newman agreed to employ Mr. Chehade should she be elected to Congress,” according to the OCE report.

Newman’s office responded to the OCE report by downplaying the findings.

“Recently, a right-wing organization filed a politically-motivated complaint with the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) regarding a dismissed lawsuit. The materials produced during the committee’s review overwhelmingly demonstrate that the ethics complaint is completely meritless,” Pat Mullane, a Newman spokesperson, said.

Chehade was not interviewed by OCE because he declined to cooperate, citing concerns of violating a nondisclosure agreement signed as part of the lawsuit’s settlement.

Federal law states a candidate who “directly or indirectly promises or pledges the appointment, or the use of his influence or support for the appointment of any person to any public or private position or employment, for the purpose of procuring support in his candidacy shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both; and if the violation was willful, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.”

The OCE report on Newman was released by the House Ethics Committee, which is still examining the matter and, unlike the OCE, has the authority to discipline members.

Lamborn report

The House panel also released an OCE report on Lamborn, right. The OCE report found Lamborn’s office performed personal and campaign-related doug lamborn otasks for the Colorado Republican, his wife and son during official work hours and using official resources.

“While several relevant witnesses refused to interview, and Rep. Lamborn refused to provide relevant documents requested as a part of this review, the OCE uncovered evidence showing a pattern and practice in Rep. Lamborn’s office of official staff conducting personal and campaign-related tasks for Rep. Lamborn, his wife, and other family members during official work hours, and using official resources,” the OCE report said.

Lamborn is being sued in federal court in Colorado by a former employee, Brandon Pope, who alleges he was retaliated against by the lawmaker for trying to protect employees from unsafe working conditions he said Lamborn fostered during the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in Pope’s firing. The litigation is currently in discovery.

The OCE found that Lamborn’s wife, Jeanie, played a role in the office that exceeded what is permissible for spouses. Testimony obtained from staffers in the office showed Jeanie was “deeply involved in all personnel aspects” of the Colorado Republican’s office, including hiring, firing and promotions in the office.

Staffers recalled to the OCE that Jeanie received all D.C. and district staffer daily reports, which were described as summaries of what each district and D.C. staffer worked on in a given day, and to track the work of each specific staffer.

At least one current congressional staffer reported running errands for Jeanie as an “unofficial errand” in the daily reports during a lunch break.

Jeanie regularly made requests of staff on campaign-related matters , like picking up mail, and personal errands or services. She made these requests by contacting staff through calls, texts or email during work hours, which Lamborn confirmed in his interview with the OCE.

“Mrs. Lamborn’s significant involvement in Rep. Lamborn’s office led former staffers to feel that they were required to comply with her requests,” according to the report.

At least five current and former staffers said they performed personal tasks for the Lamborns, with three current staffers saying they did so voluntarily.

“The Board notes that regardless of whether these activities were voluntary or not, none of the witnesses indicated that the official time used to conduct these tasks was made up, or that any policies or procedures existed that would allow for such an arrangement in the congressional office,” the report said.

One witness said district staff would regularly leave the office to perform tasks for Jeanie and that she asked for personal favors, including picking up campaign-related mail, personal mail and other similar tasks.

A third witness recalled specific days in which Jeanie asked him — during official work hours — to help her move furniture or schedule personal virtual meetings. A Lamborn spokesperson cast aspersions on the staffers and said she expects her boss to be cleared.

 

U.S. Politics, Governance, Economy

melania trump hat french

washington post logoWashington Post, Melania Trump auctioned off her hat, and became the latest victim of the cryptocurrency crash, Jada Yuan, Jan. 25, 2022. The former first lady’s chapeau (shown above) appears to have fetched $90,000 below her asking price.

Melania Trump began 2022 by announcing she’d be auctioning off a hat, along with two other items, for the low, low starting bid of $250,000.

Her website, MelaniaTrump.com, allowed the bids only to be made in cryptocurrency. Remember this. This will be important.

She called the auction the “Head of State” collection. It included the custom-made, wide-brimmed white hat she’d worn to meet French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife, Brigitte, during the Trumps’ first state visit at the White House in April 2018 — autographed — plus a watercolor of Trump in the hat, and a non-fungible token, or NFT, depicting the image.

One year after leaving the White House, Melania Trump is remaking herself as an entrepreneur. In a vast departure from previous first ladies — but in keeping with her business trajectory before her husband became president, when she licensed her name to jewelry and skin care lines — she is reviving her personal brand for monetary gain.

That plan, though, has an unexpected gum in the works: the massive cryptocurrency crash.

“A portion of the proceeds derived from this auction will provide foster care children with access to computer science and technology education,” read a small disclosure on the auction’s website. The rest, presumably, will go to Trump herself. Trump’s office did not respond to questions about how much of the proceeds will be donated, and to which charity.

When The Washington Post checked the hat auction exactly two days before its indeterminate ending time (advertised as Tuesday at 11:59 p.m. PST, although a countdown clock on the website ran 24 hours faster than that), the starting bid had dropped to $155,916, and continued to fluctuate around that level. At an earlier point in the 14-day auction, the bids had reached more than $275,000.

But the auction was only accepting bids in cryptocurrency, which has taken a nosedive in the last week, with bitcoin falling 20 percent and Ethereum 30 percent.

Melania Trump’s hat auction may have become unlikely collateral damage in the crisis, a prime example of what happens when risk-taking intersects with terrible timing. The only cryptocurrency accepted on Trump’s website is Solana (SOL), which has been one of the hardest-hit, falling more than 40 percent over the previous week. The Solana blockchain (a distributed database that stores a secure and decentralized record of digital transactions) also had an outage on Friday and Saturday, further adding to its free fall. Had this auction taken place in December 2021, Trump would have been accepting bids in Solana during a surge in which its value had increased 11,150 percent since the beginning of the year.

Instead, Trump’s auction closed early Tuesday morning (again, a day earlier than advertised on the website), with the hat and its lot appearing to go for around $90,000 below the asking price. Bidding was at $160,218 and still open well past midnight on Jan. 25, but when The Post checked in on the auction at 3:30 a.m. PST — 19.5 hours before the advertised end time — the site read, “Auction Ended.” No final price is listed.

Bitcoin price falls sharply amid Wall Street sell-off, with value cut in half since November

This is all happening at a time when the Trump family’s business practices are under intense scrutiny, including by New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) who has filed evidence in a civil investigation against former president Trump and his three eldest children focusing on the ways he allegedly misrepresented his assets to secure favorable loans and insurance policies.

washington post logoWashington Post, Crypto collapse erases more than $1 trillion in wealth, forcing a reckoning for everyday investors, Tory Newmyer, Jeff Stein and Nitasha Tiku, Jan. 25, 2022. Some are rethinking their plans; others say they are invested for the long term.

By the end of last year, the value of Hasten Carter’s cryptocurrency holdings had climbed to about $250,000. He moved to a nicer apartment, bought a new truck, and started thinking about pursuing his dream of a full-time career in game development.

But over the past two months, the value of cryptocurrencies has plummeted, taking with it much of Carter’s digital nest egg, a mix of Ethereum, the second-most popular cryptocurrency, and a number of more obscure coins.

“It’s gotten out of hand to the point where I’m not sure I’m comfortable I can keep my money,” said Carter, 30, who has kept his day job at a Nashville sign-making business. Of his hopes for a new career, he said: “I’m not sure if it’s as wise of a decision.”

Thousands of Americans who jumped into crypto investing over the past two years in hopes of a rocket ride to instant wealth now face a similar reckoning: Prices for cryptocurrencies — from relative stalwarts such as bitcoin and Ethereum to more exotic tokens — have cratered since reaching all-time highs in early November, wiping out an astonishing $1.35 trillion in value globally, nearly half of the total market, according to CoinMarketCap.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Pro-lifers, RIP. The pro-death movement is born, Dana Milbank, Jan. 25, 2022 (print ed.). The weekend began dana milbank newestwith the March for Life. It ended with a march for death.

Anti-vaccine activists decided to piggyback on Friday’s annual antiabortion march in the capital by having a “Defeat the Mandates” rally on Sunday. Combined, the two groups of (mostly) conservative activists engaged in a demonstration of mass inconsistency.

Friday’s crowd invoked the mantra of the pro-life movement: “A child, not a choice.” Sunday’s proclaimed the mantra of the abortion rights movement to oppose vaccines: “My body, my choice.”

Friday’s crowd endorsed the most obtrusive of big-government mandates, laws telling women they can’t make their own reproductive decisions. Sunday’s argued that health decisions must be made by patient and doctor, not government.

Friday’s crowd pleaded for the lives of the most vulnerable. Sunday’s demanded the right to infect the most vulnerable by eschewing vaccines and masks in shared spaces.

It was enough to make one wonder: Does taking ivermectin cause people to lose their sense of irony?

The crowds weren’t the same but, collectively, the two rallies captured the hypocrisy of the right at this moment: Protect the unborn, but feel free to infect — and perhaps kill — innocent people already born, including, er, pregnant women. And yet both movements claim to be operating under the authority of “God’s mandate” and “God’s law,” as the anti-vaccine speakers repeatedly put it. God works in mysterious ways, indeed.

In a rare moment of self-awareness at the anti-vaccine rally, JP Sears, the event’s emcee, quipped that because of his belief in natural immunity to the coronavirus, “I kind of feel like a flat-Earther.”

In a sense, the dual events showed the changing nature of the political right. The March for Life, in its 49th year, is where the right has been; the march for death shows where it is going. The former, held potentially on the cusp of the long-sought overturning of Roe v. Wade by the Supreme Court, was a joyful assembly; the latter was paranoid and rage-filled.

The well-curated March for Life program avoided harsh language about “baby killers” in favor of calls for compassion. “Every life is worthy of our prayer and our protection, whether in the womb or in the world,” the Greek Orthodox Archbishop Elpidophoros said before his opening prayer. “We can and we must make the case for life both born and unborn, by our example of unconditional love. … We march with compassion, we march with empathy, with love, with our arms extended to embrace all.”

Unconditional love? Embrace all? The angry speakers at the march for death didn’t sign up for that. They railed against medical boards, peer-reviewed journals, vaccine and antiviral manufacturers, expertise of any kind. They declaimed enemies seen and unseen trying to deny them their freedom.

“There are powerful forces against us,” Richard Urso, an ophthalmologist, warned the crowd. “Does anybody trust the news media?”

washington post logoWashington Post, Rep. Jim Cooper won’t seek reelection, accuses GOP of ‘dismembering’ his Nashville district, Felicia Sonmez, Jan. 25, 2022. Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) said Tuesday that he will not run for reelection, accusing his state’s General Assembly of “dismembering Nashville” in the once-a-decade redistricting process.

democratic donkey logoCooper, 67, is the 29th House Democrat to announce retirement ahead of November’s midterm elections. The Nashville area congressman will have served 32 years in Congress when he retires next January. He first represented Tennessee’s 4th District from 1983 to 1995, then represented the 5th District beginning in 2002. He also pursued an unsuccessful Senate bid in 1994.

Cooper’s announcement comes after Tennessee’s Republican-controlled General Assembly approved a redistricting plan that will split Davidson County, which includes Nashville, into three congressional districts. Currently, the entire county is within the 5th District.

U.S. House logo“Despite my strength at the polls, I could not stop the General Assembly from dismembering Nashville,” Cooper said in a statement Tuesday. “No one tried harder to keep our city whole. I explored every possible way, including lawsuits, to stop the gerrymandering and to win one of the three new congressional districts that now divide Nashville. There’s no way, at least for me in this election cycle, but there may be a path for other worthy candidates.”

Cooper said he was announcing his decision “promptly so that others have more time to campaign,” and he pledged to return the individual donations his campaign had received.

Community organizer Odessa Kelly had announced a Democratic primary challenge against Cooper last year. In recent days, she has sharply criticized state Republicans’ redistricting plan, accusing GOP lawmakers of “once again trying to take away the votes of Black people in our state.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Critics say Ron Klain is too beholden to Biden’s left flank, Jacqueline Alemany, Theodoric Meyer and Tobi Raji, Jan. 25, 2022. Interviews with more than 60 White House and administration officials, Cabinet secretaries, members of Congress and Klain associates found a turbulent year for the White House chief of staff.

But through interviews with more than 60 White House and administration officials, Cabinet secretaries, members of Congress and Klain associates, Sean and Tyler found far bigger problems unsolved than Tab's discontinuation.

During his first year on the job, there have been disputes over legislative strategy and policy; bubbling tensions with the administration's top official in charge of the coronavirus response; complaints about Klain's presence on Twitter; and criticisms that Klain forged too close an alliance with the party's left flank “that has undercut Biden's effectiveness and hurt his political image,” Sean and Tyler report.

Congress: “Many complaints center on negotiations with Capitol Hill over Biden’s agenda last fall, with many Democrats charging that White House acceded too often to the demands of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. At a critical juncture, the talks left House Democratic leaders, including Pelosi, feeling upset with Klain, according to a person with knowledge of the situation."

Klain ultimately pissed off Pelosi: “The sore point was Biden’s decision not to press House Democrats to vote immediately for his bipartisan infrastructure bill, as [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi and her allies wanted. Liberal Democrats, in contrast, preferred to wait until they could ensure a companion social spending and climate plan also had enough support to pass. Biden’s senior staff was united behind his decision to hold off, according to a White House official.”

‘A monster’: “One frustrated Democratic member of Congress, speaking on the condition of anonymity to talk more freely, accused Klain of creating ‘a monster’ by empowering [CPC Chair Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.)] using an expletive to underscore the point,” Sean and Tyler report.

Don't forget about Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.): “Manchin has complained publicly about the White House staff, and people close to him say those frustrations largely center on Klain. Manchin has told allies he believes Klain has pushed Biden to embrace a more liberal policy agenda, adding that Klain must repair the relationship with him if the chief of staff is be involved in future negotiations.”

Even some of Klain's allies suggest he's been too focused on process: “I think that by and large he’s making the trains run on time — even though some of the boxcars may seem to be empty some of the time,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).

And too obsessed with Twitter: “Some Democrats complain that his presence on Twitter, regularly retweeting pro-Biden messages or occasionally taking aim at critics, reflects a focus on superficial Washington chatter,” Sean and Tyler write.

“I find being on Twitter useful as an early warning system of things that, to be honest, reporters are talking about,” Klain responded. “So, a little way to kind of get a sense of what’s out there. What our activists are talking about. What our critics are talking about. What Republicans are talking about.”

Klain's take on it all: “I think the challenge here is not that we’ve tried to do too much — it’s that we still have work left to do,” he told Sean and Tyler over a Zoom.

Ouch: “Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.), a centrist who is retiring from Congress, ridiculed that assertion, saying, ‘Has he read a poll lately?’ She added, ‘Hopefully we‘re moving away from progressive aspirations and towards pragmatic results.’”

In Klain's defense: “Few chiefs of staff have entered the job facing such daunting challenges, and if nothing else, Klain is credited by many with quickly restoring order to a government that had been engulfed in chaos and recrimination. Given the wreckage left by the Trump presidency, his supporters say, simply reestablishing traditional practices was itself an accomplishment.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Glenn Youngkin just showed us why he’s already going full Trumpist on schools, Greg Sargent, right, Jan. 25, 2022. Almost greg sargentimmediately after Glenn Youngkin unexpectedly won the Virginia gubernatorial race, some observers spied a tantalizing possibility: Youngkin might show that in today’s Trumpified GOP, there’s still a place for a center-right politics that rebuffs Donald Trump’s worst impulses and charts a new route to a right-leaning majority.

But Youngkin is already going full Trumpist on at least one issue: Banning school districts from requiring masks. In the face of widespread resistance to his efforts, he’s hitting back in a way that’s positively Trumpy in its toxic bad faith and utter contempt for judicious governing.

In an interview with influential right wing radio host John Fredericks on Monday night, Youngkin demonstrated why he has brought on this controversy. The episode, reported by The Post, captures something essential about the pathologies that Trump has unleashed in our politics, and the tendency of so many GOP politicians to eagerly go along with them.

Youngkin laced into “left liberals” and school board “bureaucrats,” blaming them for the turmoil that has erupted in response to his new policy. Youngkin recently signed an executive order allowing parents to opt out of mask requirements without offering any reason, but dozens of school districts are keeping the mandates in place, arguing that state law requires them to do so.

“I’m not surprised at all to hear these reactions from school boards that have consistently prioritized bureaucrats and politicians over the rights of parents,” Youngkin insisted. He said school districts keeping mask requirements “aren’t recognizing the rights of parents today.”

First, let’s talk about what utter garbage this is. The pragmatic center-right businessman-turned-politician and “cheerful suburban dad” candidate is already blaming others for his horrible botching of this issue, which is fueling chaos as parents and schools try to figure out what they’re supposed to be doing.

It should have been obvious this would happen, because the law arguably requires school districts to keep mask requirements in place. State law directs school boards to implement covid-19 mitigation strategies advised by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to the “maximum extent practicable.” The CDC advises universal masking.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: We’re already seeing what a mistake Virginia’s voters made, Eugene Robinson, right, Jan. 25, 2022 (print ed.). Virginians are eugene robinson headshot Customdiscovering — a bit late, unfortunately — that there’s no such thing as Trumpism Lite.

When voters elected Republican Glenn Youngkin as governor, Winsome Earle-Sears as lieutenant governor and Jason S. Miyares as attorney general, many doubtless thought they were following a pattern that had served the state well: The year after one of our major parties wins the White House, they almost always put the other party in power in Richmond.

Arguably, that worked to produce balance and moderation — until Donald Trump transformed the GOP from a political party into a cult.

This week, we learned that Miyares has fired the University of Virginia’s counsel, Timothy Heaphy, supposedly because Heaphy does not share the new attorney general’s “philosophy and legal approach.” My strong suspicion is that Heaphy’s firing has more to do with the fact that he is presently on leave from his university position, serving as chief investigative counsel for the House select committee probing the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection.

To the Trump cult, Jan. 6, 2021 was no more than what former vice president Mike Pence has called “one day in January.” To the rest of us, and to future historians, it was an unprecedented violent assault on the citadel of our democracy and an attempt to prevent the peaceful transfer of power.

Surely, Virginia’s chief law enforcement officer should praise a staff member — counsels for the state’s public colleges and universities are technically assistant attorneys general — who uses his time and expertise to learn the full truth of the events of Jan. 6. Republicans who previously held Miyares’s post might have done so. But that was before the GOP lost its mind.

Youngkin, who squeaked into office with a two-point margin of victory, campaigned as an unthreatening, fleece-wearing suburbanite who was the soul of moderation. Political analysts saw his refusal to break with Trump or forthrightly deny the former president’s “big lie” about the “stolen” election as a mere tactic — not an indication of how he would behave as governor.

But Youngkin’s first week in office showed him to be a Trumpian culture-warrior. He immediately issued an executive order banning the teaching of critical race theory or any “inherently divisive concepts” in Virginia schools. Because critical race theory is not actually being taught at K-12 public schools in the commonwealth, the order could only be an attempt to ban the accurate teaching of African American history, which necessarily covers slavery, Jim Crow repression, lynchings, “massive resistance” to school desegregation, systematic discrimination and persistent disparities.

If you teach Black history without bringing up any “divisive concepts,” you’re not teaching it at all.

Youngkin also issued an order banning mask mandates in Virginia’s public schools — although, during the campaign, he said whether to require masks in schools would be left to “localities” to decide. On Monday, seven school boards filed suit in an attempt to block Youngkin’s order, saying that the governor is trying to usurp local control of the schools; parents in Chesapeake have also sued to block the order. According to The Post, at least 58 of the roughly 130 school districts in the state say they will continue requiring that students wear face coverings

 

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, Supreme Court to Hear Challenge to Affirmative Action at Harvard and U.N.C., Adam Liptak, Jan. 25, 2022 (print ed.). The court will decide whether race-conscious admissions programs at the schools are lawful, putting the fate of affirmative action in higher education at risk.

The Supreme Court agreed on Monday to decide whether race-conscious admissions programs at Harvard and the University of North Carolina are lawful, putting the fate of affirmative action in higher education at risk.

The court has repeatedly upheld similar programs, most recently in 2016. But recent changes in the court’s membership have made it more conservative, and the challenged programs are almost certain to meet skepticism.

harvard logoThe case against Harvard accused it of discriminating against Asian American students by using a subjective standard to gauge traits like likability, courage and kindness and by effectively creating a ceiling for them in admissions.

Lawyers for Harvard said that the challengers had relied on a flawed statistical analysis and denied that the university discriminated against Asian American applicants. More generally, they said that race-conscious admissions policies are lawful.

“Under established precedent, to achieve the educational benefits that flow from student-body diversity,” they wrote in a brief urging the justices to deny review, “universities may consider race as one factor among many in a full, individualized evaluation of each applicant’s background, experiences and potential contributions to campus life.”

In the North Carolina case, the plaintiffs made more familiar arguments, saying the university discriminated against white and Asian applicants by giving preference to Black, Hispanic and Native American ones. The university responded that its admissions policies fostered educational diversity and were lawful under longstanding Supreme Court precedents.

Both cases were brought by Students for Fair Admissions, a group founded by Edward Blum, a legal entrepreneur who has organized many lawsuits challenging race-conscious admissions policies and voting rights laws, several of which have reached the Supreme Court.

In the recent suits, the universities both won in federal trial courts, and the decision in Harvard’s favor was affirmed by a federal appeals court.

The Supreme Court’s decision to hear both cases may have been influenced by the differing legal regimes that apply to the two schools. Harvard, a private entity, must comply with a federal statute that bans race discrimination as a condition of receiving federal money; the University of North Carolina, which is public, must also satisfy the Constitution’s equal protection clause.

washington post logoWashington Post, 7 Virginia school boards sue to stop Youngkin’s order banning mask mandates, Hannah Natanson, Jan. 25, 2022 (print ed.). Amid a deepening culture clash over masks, the lawsuit says Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s (R) order violates a provision of the state constitution, which places oversight of schools under the direction of school boards.

glenn youngkin headshotSeven school boards — including one overseeing the largest and most prominent district in the state — are suing to stop a mask-optional order by Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R), right, on the day it is supposed to take effect, arguing that the order violates the Virginia Constitution.

The school boards, led by Fairfax County Public Schools, whose 180,000 students make it Virginia’s biggest system, filed suit Monday morning in Arlington Circuit Court. The suit asks for an immediate injunction barring enforcement of Youngkin’s order, which sought to leave masking decisions to parents, contravening federal health guidance and the masking mandates that the vast majority of Virginia school districts have maintained throughout the pandemic.

republican elephant logoIn the school boards’ complaint, their lawyers write that Youngkin’s executive order goes against Article 8, Section 7 of Virginia’s constitution, which asserts that “the supervision of schools in each school division shall be vested in a school board.” The lawyers also say Youngkin’s order contradicts a state law passed over the summer that requires Virginia school districts to follow federal health guidelines to the “maximum extent practicable.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends masking inside K-12 schools for everyone over age 2, regardless of vaccination status.

washington post logoWashington Post, Va. lieutenant governor makes her mark in Richmond during tumultuous first week, Antonio Olivo and Laura Vozzella, Jan. 23, 2022 (print ed.). Winsome Earle-Sears sparked anger during her first week by suggesting that school districts will lose state funding if they don't comply with the governor's directive to loosen mask requirements.

Virginia Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears, the first woman of color to hold statewide office in the commonwealth, continued to make history — and some waves — in her first week on the job.

A conservative Republican, Jamaican immigrant and former Marine, Earle-Sears only had to gavel the Senate into session for the first time to draw the approval of nearly 34,000 people on Twitter.

“Badass,” one person tweeted approvingly. “True patriot,” wrote another. “Semper Fidelis @WinsomeSears,” Sebastian Gorka, a former adviser to President Donald Trump, tweeted to his 1.1 million followers — along with a campaign photo of Earle-Sears with an assault rifle strapped over her dress.

The conservative Republican won praise from her party and condemnation from Democrats for saying that Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) could withhold funding from school districts that defy his Inauguration Day order to make mask-wearing optional in K-12 classrooms — stating flatly what the famously cagey governor had avoided spelling out.

  Recent U.S. Politics-Governance Headlines:

 

World News, Human Rights, Disasters

washington post logoWashington Post, Prince Andrew’s legal peril puts focus on how he’ll pay, including sale of ski chalet, Greg Miller, Jan. 25, 2022. Prince Andrew has been stripped of his military titles, royal honorifics and any illusion that his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, will stand by him in a sexual abuse lawsuit now moving forward in U.S. federal court.

Assets including a chalet in Switzerland could soon be gone as well, sold off to raise cash for legal fees and the prospect of a multimillion-dollar judgment or settlement in a case alleging that he had sex with a teenager without her consent two decades ago.

prince andrew august 2014Andrew quietly cleared the way to sell his seven-bedroom Swiss lodge with an indoor swimming pool late last year, paying millions he owed the previous owner to remove a court claim that would have impeded putting the property on the market.

The Duke of York had for years failed to pay the final $8 million installment of the $29 million purchase, citing a lack of funds, said Isabelle de Rouvre, a French national who sold the property to Andrew and his ex-wife, Sarah Ferguson, in 2014.
They finally came forward with the money two months ago, de Rouvre said, “only because they want to sell.” Noting Andrew’s mounting legal troubles, she said in an interview with The Washington Post, “you can see where [any proceeds] are going to go.”

A spokesperson for Prince Andrew declined to comment for this article “on what are private financial matters.”

The Swiss property is one of the few obvious sources of revenue available for a prince long accused of living beyond his means and associating with problematic elites, including Jeffrey Epstein, the American financier and convicted sex offender accused of arranging sexual encounters for Andrew.

ny times logoNew York Times, Live Updates: Holding Hundreds of Boys Hostage, ISIS Comes Roaring Back, Staff Reports, Jan. 25, 2022. Evidence of an ISIS resurgence is mounting, three years after the militants lost their last territorial foothold in the so-called caliphate.

The battle over a prison in northeastern Syria has highlighted the plight of thousands of foreign children brought to the Islamic State caliphate in Syria by their parents and who have been detained for three years in camps and prisons in the region, abandoned by their own countries.

The inmates in the embattled Sinaa prison in the city of Hasaka include boys as young as 12, some of them Syrians, Iraqis and about 150 non-Arab foreigners. Some had been transferred to the prison after they were deemed too old to remain in detention camps that held families of suspected Islamic State fighters.

The Syria director for Save the Children, Sonia Khush, said those detaining the children were responsible for their safety. But she also blamed the foreign governments for not repatriating their imprisoned citizens and their children.

“Responsibility for anything that happens to these children also lies at the door of foreign governments who have thought that they can simply abandon their child nationals in Syria,” Ms. Khush said. “Risk of death or injury is directly linked to these governments’ refusal to take them home.”

At its peak, the Islamic State held territory the size of Britain. Get updates here.

  • Battles over Syrian prison spill into surrounding neighborhoods.
  • ISIS is holding hundreds of boys hostage. Who are they?
  • Prison at center of Syria fighting holds 3,500 ISIS militants.
  • U.S. troops are providing airstrikes and ‘limited ground support’ in fight over prison.

washington post logoWashington Post, Mutinous soldiers announce overthrow of Burkina Faso president, Danielle Paquette, Jan. 25, 2022 (print ed.). This marks the eighth coup d’etat in Burkina Faso since it asserted independence from France in 1960 — the most of any African nation.

Military officers have ousted the president of Burkina Faso, a group of soldiers announced Monday on state television, after steering a 36-hour uprising that toppled the third West African head of state in eight months.

“A decision made with the sole purpose of allowing our country to get back on the right track,” said Capt. Sidsoré Kader Ouedraogo, flanked by 13 men in camouflage gear.

They have suspended the constitution, dissolved the government and closed the borders, Ouedraogo said, without spilling any blood. They are holding President Roch Marc Kaboré and other politicians in a safe place, he added, that “respects their dignity.”

The words of Burkina Faso’s apparent new rulers contradicted Kaboré's party, which had asserted an hour earlier that the leader had survived an assassination attempt.

Confusion abounded about the fate of Kaboré, who took office in 2015 and faced Islamist insurgencies that only grew during his tenure, leading to thousands of deaths and leaving more than a million people homeless. As regional leaders called for his release, Kaboré — or someone running his official Twitter account — wrote a plea to his captors: “I invite those who have taken up arms to lay them down in the higher interests of the nation.”

Kaboré's private residence lay in ruin, the People’s Movement for Progress said in a statement, and soldiers had taken over the national television station. “Our democracy is in peril,” the party said without clarifying Kaboré's whereabouts or condition.

washington post logoWashington Post, WikiLeaks’ Assange can appeal decision to extradite him to U.S., Britain’s Supreme Court says, William Booth, Jan. 25, 2022 (print ed.). The WikiLeaks founder will have another day in court in his long legal battle against his forced removal to the United States.

A British court Monday gave Julian Assange permission to appeal to the U.K. Supreme Court its decision to extradite him to the United States, giving the WikiLeaks founder another day to fight his long legal battle against his forced removal to America.

Federal prosecutors are seeking to extradite Assange to the United States to face charges of violating the Espionage Act — the first time U.S. federal prosecutors have targeted not just the source but the publisher of classified information.

The 50-year-old Australian publisher will remain in London’s Belmarsh Prison, where he has been held since April 2019 after the Ecuadoran Embassy revoked his political asylum.

Assange’s way forward is narrow. A British High Court certified Monday that Assange has a point of law that is potentially of “general public importance.”

That means he may appeal to the Supreme Court on that point of law. The Supreme Court has not yet decided whether it will accept the case. That decision will come in the next days or weeks.

The point of law is over whether assurances by the U.S. government that it will not send Assange to a supermax prison or long solitary confinement — assurances given to the High Court and not a lower Magistrate’s Court — came at the right time in the proceedings.

“The ruling means that Assange has cleared a procedural hurdle,” said Nick Vamos, former head of extraditions for the Crown Prosecution Service and now a partner at Peters & Peters law firm in London.

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More On U.S. Crime, Courts

ny times logoNew York Times, Political Consultant Admits Hiring 2 Men to Kill Longtime Associate, Ed Shanahan and Tracey Tully, Jan. 25, 2022. Sean Caddle, whose clients have included prominent New Jersey Democrats, pleaded guilty in a scheme that led to a fatal stabbing.

A New Jersey political consultant admitted on Tuesday that he hired two men to kill a longtime associate who had worked for him on campaigns, and was found fatally stabbed in his burning apartment eight years ago, federal officials said.

Over the years, the consultant, Sean Caddle, has counted several prominent North Jersey Democrats among his clients, including Senator Robert Menendez, according to interviews and federal election records.

Mr. Caddle, 44, of Hamburg, N.J., pleaded guilty via videoconference in Federal District Court in Newark to conspiracy to commit murder for hire. A judge allowed him to remain free, confined to his home, on a $1 million bond. He faces up to life in prison. A sentencing date has not been set.

Neither a court filing nor federal officials identified the victim, but their description matched the details of the killing of Michael Galdieri, 52, a longtime Hudson County, N.J., political operative, as reported by The Jersey Journal of Jersey City.

“This was a callous and violent crime, and this defendant is as responsible as the two men who wielded the knife,” Philip R. Sellinger, the U.S. attorney for New Jersey, said in a statement.

ny times logoNew York Times, He Was in Witness Protection in Maine. But His Harlem Life Kept Calling, Ali Watkins, Jan. 25, 2022. In Lewiston, Maine, a man who called himself Abraham helped his neighbors and rode dirt bikes. His old life in New York City got him killed.

Alberto (Alpo) Martinez, one of New York City’s most notorious cocaine dealers of the 1980s, was shot and killed through the window of a lifted pickup that he drove into the city from Maine.

The end was as dramatic as the rest of Mr. Martinez’s life. As a young man in Harlem, Mr. Martinez rocketed to infamy as one of the flashiest, most successful cocaine dealers during the height of the drug’s popularity. His fall, though, was swift: He murdered one of his best friends, expanded his business to Washington, D.C., and by 1991 was arrested and charged in a sweeping drug trafficking case. He would later inform on scores of associates as a federal witness.

ny times logoNew York Times, 2nd N.Y.P.D. Officer Dies of Wounds From Harlem Shooting, Ali Watkins, Jan. 25, 2022. Wilbert Mora, 27, and his partner, Jason Rivera, were killed by a man who opened fire during a domestic call, the police said.

A second New York City police officer has died from injuries sustained on Friday when a gunman opened fire during a domestic disturbance call in Harlem, the police commissioner announced on Tuesday.

The officer, Wilbert Mora, who joined the Police Department in 2018, was mortally wounded along with his partner, Jason Rivera, 22, who was pronounced dead on Friday. Officer Mora, 27, was rushed into surgery at Harlem Hospital.

In the days that followed, police officials and Mayor Eric Adams described Mr. Mora as fighting for his life at the hospital.

But Officer Mora’s injuries were too severe, and two days after being transferred to NYU Langone Medical Center, he was pronounced dead. Commissioner Keechant Sewell said on Tuesday that Officer Mora was a “hero” for both his service on the force — and for becoming an organ donor in his death.

stormy daniels 60 minutes cbs

ny times logoNew York Times, Michael Avenatti Will Represent Himself During Remainder of His Trial, Colin Moynihan, Jan. 25, 2022. Mr. Avenatti is accused of impersonating and defrauding Stormy Daniels, shown above, when he served as her lawyer. The decision means he will likely cross-examine her during his trial.

Michael Avenatti, the brash lawyer who became one of former President Donald J. Trump’s most outspoken foils before being felled by accusations of fraud, will represent himself for the remainder of his criminal trial in Manhattan, a judge ruled on Tuesday.

michael avenatti twitterMr. Avenatti made the request just after a lunch break but before jurors had returned to a courtroom in Federal District Court in Manhattan, where testimony in his trial on wire fraud and aggravated identity theft began on Monday.

He is accused of impersonating his client — the pornographic film actress Stormy Daniels — and convincing her literary agent to send him nearly $300,000 in publisher’s payments meant for her.

On Tuesday morning the third witness in the trial, Judy Regnier, a former office manager for Mr. Avenatti’s firm in 2018, testified that the firm had been short on money at the time.

But before her cross-examination began, Mr. Avenatti told Judge Jesse M. Furman that he and his lawyers disagreed on how they would question Ms. Regnier.

“I’m making a formal application to represent myself,” he said, adding that there had been a “breakdown” between him and his existing defense lawyers.

After questioning Mr. Avenatti about his decision and explaining its risks, Judge Furman agreed to allow him to serve as his own lawyer.

The judge noted that Mr. Avenatti had little experience with criminal cases, and cautioned him to “make your choice with your eyes wide open.”

The decision makes it likely that Mr. Avenatti will cross-examine Ms. Daniels, who is widely expected to be called as a witness during the trial.

ny times logoNew York Times, Cardi B Awarded $1.25 Million in Libel Lawsuit Against Gossip Blogger, Alyssa Lukpat, Jan. 25, 2022. The rapper sued the YouTuber Tasha K in 2019 after she posted a series of videos claiming that Cardi B was a prostitute.

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Jan. 24

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Attacks On U.S. Democracy

 

Pro-Trump Coup Attempt, Election Rights, Probes

 

Virus Victims, Responses

 

U.S. Education

 

Investigations

 

World News, Human Rights, Disasters

 

U.S. Law, History, Crime, Race

 

 U.S. Elections, Governance, Economy

 

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ny times logoNew York Times, Biden Weighs Deploying Thousands of Troops to Eastern Europe and Baltics, Helene Cooper and Eric Schmitt, Jan. 24, 2022 (print ed.). President Biden is also considering deploying warships and aircraft to NATO allies, in what would be a major shift from his restrained stance on Ukraine.

Mr. Biden is expected to make a decision as early as this week. He is weighing the buildup as Russia has escalated its menacing posture against Ukraine.

washington post logoWashington Post, U.S. puts 8,500 troops on heightened alert as Russia masses troops on Ukraine border, Robyn Dixon, David L. Stern, Missy Ryan and Karoun Demirjian, Jan. 24, 2022. The tense conflict over Ukraine shifted further into full crisis mode Monday, with NATO saying it was moving more military equipment into Eastern Europe and Russia continuing to build up massed forces along the border with Ukraine, amid fears that it will invade its neighbor.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia was watching NATO’s moves and President Vladimir Putin was “taking measures to ensure that our security and our interests are properly protected.”

The Belarusian Defense Ministry said Monday that Russia troops continued to arrive in the country, which borders Ukraine, ahead of a major training exercise next month. Further video surfaced on social media Monday showing Russian military convoys and trains with military equipment moving across southern Russia and Belarus.

NATO said Monday that member nations would send additional ships and fighter jets to reinforce the alliance’s eastern reaches, just as the Biden administration put 8,500 troops on heightened alert for a potential parallel deployment.

“NATO will continue to take all necessary measures to protect and defend all Allies, including by reinforcing the eastern part of the Alliance,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said of new NATO deployments.

The American forces put on standby include U.S.-based intelligence and reconnaissance troops, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said.

“This is really about reassuring the eastern flank of Europe,” Kirby told reporters. “It’s proving how seriously the United States takes our Article V commitment,” he added, referring to NATO’s mutual defense clause.

The preparations for a possible reinforcement of NATO allies bordering Russia came as President Biden held a secure video call with European leaders to discuss the increasing tensions over Ukraine and U.S. officials threatened to impose new export controls aimed at damaging strategic Russian industries.

Western nations also began taking the kind of dramatic steps reserved for the eve of anticipated armed action.

washington post logoWashington Post, NATO sends more ships, fighter jets to Eastern Europe as Russia masses troops on Ukraine border, Robyn Dixon and David L. Stern, Jan. 24, 2022. NATO said Monday it would send additional ships and fighter jets to Eastern Europe as Britain ordered some diplomats and their families to leave Ukraine, amid growing alarm that Russia may invade as it masses tens of thousands of troops near the border.

The moves came after the United States on Sunday ordered families of diplomats to leave Kyiv and authorized nonessential diplomatic staff to leave. The State Department also cautioned American citizens to consider leaving Ukraine, with U.S. officials warning that an attack could happen “at any time.”

NATO said Monday its members are “putting forces on standby and sending additional ships and fighter jets to NATO deployments in eastern Europe, reinforcing Allied deterrence and defence as Russia continues its military build-up in and around Ukraine.”

 

Attacks On U.S. Democracy

 

 https://www.salon.com/2022/01/24/insurrection-by-other-means-the-far-right-is-using-anti-vaxx-sentiment-to-radicalize/

Demonstrators protesting mask and Covid-19 vaccination mandates participated in a "Defeat the Mandates" march on Sunday, Jan. 23 in Washington, DC (Photo by Stefani Reynolds via AFP and Getty Images).

Salon, Commentary: Insurrection by other means: The far right is using anti-vaxx sentiment to radicalize Republicans, Amanda Marcotte, Jan. 24, 2022.
The weekend's anti-vaccine rally in D.C. was heavy on violence-inspiring rhetoric and fascist recruitment.

The "Defeat the Mandates" rally on Sunday in Washington D.C. was not exactly the blockbuster event, size-wise, organizers had hoped to turn out. The event's planners had predicted 20,000 people, but more reasonable estimates suggested it was fewer than half that who actually showed. But despite the paltry turnout, the event was deeply troubling to experts who monitor the far-right.

rfk jr twitterThe tone and tenor of the occasion were so hyperbolic and self-aggrandizing, creating exactly the sort of conditions that will further radicalize ordinary Republicans and stoke more right-wing violence.

Disgustingly, one of the main speakers was Robert F. Kennedy Jr., right, the son of the Democratic scion who was assassinated in 1968. Kennedy has spent the past few years becoming an increasingly unhinged anti-vaccine activist — but his presence on Sunday was even more alarming considering the role that the Kennedy family plays in the imaginations of the QAnon cult.

Many QAnoners believe that JFK and JFK Jr. — Kennedy's deceased uncle and first cousin, respectively — are still alive and secretly supporting Donald Trump. Simply by showing up, Kennedy validated these kinds of fringe beliefs. The situation got much worse when he actually spoke and told the crowd that anti-vaxxers have it worse than Jews did during the Holocaust.

"Even in Hitler Germany (sic), you could, you could cross the Alps into Switzerland. You could hide in an attic, like Anne Frank did," Kennedy said. "I visited, in 1962, East Germany with my father and met people who had climbed the wall and escaped, so it was possible. Many died, true, but it was possible."

Kennedy's analogy is incoherent for obvious reasons — does he think East Germany was a Nazi state or not know that Frank died at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp? — and was widely criticized for being offensive. The Auschwitz Memorial responded with a tweet describing Kennedy's speech as "a sad symptom of moral & intellectual decay."

But the speech wasn't just offensive — it's also dangerous.

It doesn't matter that Kennedy didn't come right out and call on people to commit violence. It's inciting to tell anti-vaxxers they are victims of oppression worse than what the Jews faced under the Nazis. It justifies violence as a form of self-defense. This is why experts on far-right organizing and violence were alarmed. Ben Collins, an NBC reporter who has been covering the rise of American fascism, was especially concerned.

Kennedy was just one of many who made the comparison Sunday, both onstage and in the crowd. There was also a lot of comparing the plight of anti-vaxxers to that of Black Americans living under segregation. Meanwhile, rally organizers pretended theirs was a message of diversity and tolerance.

In reality, however, as Will Carless of USA Today wrote, hate groups and far-right activists are using the anti-vaccine movement to recruit, both online and off. Brian Hughes of the Polarization and Extremism Research and Innovation Lab at American University explained to Carless that the far-right sees "anti-vaccine sentiment and COVID denialism as a market that they can exploit for views, for clicks and for merchandise sales." Indeed, these kinds of groups were heavily represented in the crowd at the rally.

As Salon alum and current Daily Beast reporter Zachary Petrizzo noted, "Far-right fanatics were out in full force, from the extremist members of the hate group Proud Boy to rank-and-file supporters who consume everything that conspiracy theorist Alex Jones utters."

But it was also true that more ordinary Republicans also showed up. There were even people claiming to be disillusioned Democrats, although this is a common enough lie on the right and should always be taken with a grain of salt. Either way, what is crucial to understand is that the far-right and hate groups are plugging into the anti-vaccine discourse to lure conservatives into becoming even more fascistic and more supportive of the violent rejection of democracy.

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself."

Wayne Madsen Report, Investigative Commentary: United States is a "flawed democracy" heading for "hybrid regime" status, Wayne Madsen, left, Jan. 24, wayne madsen may 29 2015 cropped Small2022. Yet another major right-of-center watchdog of telltale signs of global authoritarianism has reduced the “democracy” ranking of the United States.

The latest is the annual Democracy Index ranking by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), which cited new flaws in United States civic wayne madesen report logolife. The EIU is part of the Economist Group publishing house that puts out "The Economist" magazine. The EIU also has an extremely cozy relationship with Britain's Secret Intelligence Service (MI-6) and is well-integrated with City of London banking interests, and so cannot be considered as some kind of leftist fringe organization.

In 2016, the EIU for the first time reduced the United States index description from a "full democracy" to a "flawed democracy" with the election of Donald Trump as president. This year it further downgraded the United States due to a worsening situation with regard to suppression of the electoral franchise.

State laws being enacted by Republican state governors and legislatures that will further restrict voting rights are sure to move the United States into the hybrid regime category, where it will join such kleptocratic and fascist-oriented regimes as Turkey, Haiti, Guatemala, Pakistan, Morocco, Moldova, Nigeria, and Uganda. Currently, the United States shares flawed democracy status with Tunisia, Israel, the Philippines, Indonesia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, and Serbia.

 

Associate Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas (Pool photo by Erin Schaff via Getty Images).

Associate Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas (Pool photo by Erin Schaff via Getty Images).

The New Republic, Opinion: The Case for Impeaching Clarence Thomas, Michael Tomasky (editor of The New Republic), Jan. 24, 2022. The Supreme Court justice refuses to recuse himself from cases in which his right-wing activist wife, Ginni, has a clear interest. The Democrats should punish him for it.

In a sane world, Jane Mayer’s excellent piece on Ginni Thomas in The New Yorker (Is Ginni Thomas a Threat to the Supreme Court?), would set off a series of events that would lead to her husband Clarence Thomas’s impeachment and removal from the Supreme Court. Ginni is involved with numerous far-right organizations and schemes that take very public positions on court decisions across a range of social and political issues, such as last week’s 8–1 holding that Donald Trump could not block the release of documents related to the January 6, 2021, insurrection.

ginni thomas gage skidmore CustomThomas was the lone dissenter in that case. His wife (shown at right in a Gage Skidmore photo)sat on the advisory board of a group that sent busloads of insurrectionists to Washington on January 6. In addition, she cheered the insurrection on Facebook. It’s just the most recent example where she has been involved in activities that directly or indirectly place her activism before the court, and her husband does not care how corrupt it looks.

They’ve been doing this for years. This first occasion was back in 2000, in a case Mayer doesn’t even go into, when it was revealed after that election that as a Heritage Foundation staffer, Ginni was screening résumés for the incoming Bush administration while the nation awaited a ruling from the court on the Florida recount. There was pressure then on Thomas to recuse himself.

A decade later, when the first major Obamacare case came before the court, it was widely noted that Ginni’s group, Liberty Central, called the law a “disaster” and urged repeal. Again, there were calls for Thomas to recuse.

He didn’t do so in either case. And in the first one, he was part of the 5–4 majority in Bush v. Gore, one of the most self-discrediting decisions in the court’s history.

So for 20 years, Ginni Thomas has been operating in the white-hot center of far-right activist circles, involved in everything from Obamacare to abortion rights to same-sex marriage to you name it—all issues that have come before her husband. A more honorable man would recuse himself from all such cases or indeed quietly ask his spouse to find another, less incendiary line of work that has no impact on the appearance of her husband’s ethical standards.

And what have the Democrats done about it? Here, again, we see the difference between the two parties and their broader solar systems. If there were a liberal justice on the court with a spouse who was involved in every major ideological battle of our time, you can be sure the following process would have played out:

  • 1. Some back-bench members of Congress would have started raising the issue.
  • 2. Fox News and other right-wing media would have picked it up and turned the spouse into a symbol of liberal corruption.
  • 3. Once in the majority, House Republicans would have held hearings and issued reports.
  • 4. They probably would have impeached the justice, knowing that it would fail in the Senate but would tarnish said justice and any precedent of which he or she was a part.

The Democrats likely don’t have the gumption to do this. But they could do it. The House Judiciary Committee could hold hearings into Ginni’s organization and associations. The select committee on January 6 could ask her to testify and, once she refuses, subpoena her, which would require her husband to recuse himself on all January 6–related matters.

That would be hugely controversial, so they probably won’t do it. But why not? Here’s a question for you. If the Republicans retake the House this November, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee is going to be Jim Jordan. He’s probably going to lead an impeachment of Joe Biden. Think he’ll be cowed because it’s hugely controversial?

The Democrats and their allies aren’t powerless on this matter, and here are some moves they should make:

First, activist lawyers on the liberal side should file recusal demands of Thomas on every single case in which Ginni Thomas or any organization she’s affiliated with has any kind of involvement (where she or the affiliated group has taken a public position, for example). This will at least keep the issue in the news and the spotlight on them.

Second, Democrats in Congress should push harder for the Supreme Court to adopt a judicial code that justices have to follow. Right now, the nine justices of the Supreme Court are the only federal judges in the land not bound by the Code of Conduct for U.S. judges. They police themselves. There are a number of proposals and recommendations, some laid out in this Brennan Center report, that would impose various ethics and disclosure rules on the court. This is not just a right-wing problem, by the way. Liberal justices also have taken lavish junkets paid for by ideological organizations. These are made public on financial disclosure forms, but typically with very little detail.

Third, something needs to be done to rein in the proliferation of amicus briefs. Corporate interests in recent years have flooded the court with amicus briefs that create the appearance of huge groundswells of support for a certain position, but often they’re all backed by the same dark-money outfits. This amounts to lobbying, by people like Ginni Thomas’s friends and allies and fellow board members and prize recipients. It’s perfectly legal but rancidly corrupt.

Finally, there are giant loopholes in the financial disclosure rules for justices, such that a spouse can take in money from a source that has an amicus brief before the court, and no one knows it. Ginni Thomas got more than $200,000 from one person who had a brief in front of the court, and only the Thomases knew about it.

Public approval of the Supreme Court is down to 40 percent, a new low. A poll last year on individual justices’ approval ratings is even more interesting. The three liberal justices were all above water by six to 10 points. The conservatives were all in negative territory, except Samuel Alito, who was +1. They think they’re saving the republic from godless heathens like you and me. They somehow can’t see that in saving it, they are destroying it, and none of them more so than Clarence Thomas and his nonexistent ethics. Democrats, it’s long past time to make an issue of him and his wife.

 

Pro-Trump Coup Attempt, Election Rights, Probes

Palmer Report, Opinion: Donald Trump’s world is a ticking time bomb and it’s about to go off, Bill Palmer, right, Jan. 24, 2022. Over the past year we’ve grown bill palmeraccustomed to the political news being a bit less hectic than it had been during the previous four years when a psychotic traitor was occupying the office of President of the United States. Now we’re in cleanup mode, which tends to move far more incrementally, due to the nature of the legal system. But lately things have suddenly begun heating up in remarkable fashion. Here’s what all has transpired in the past week:

bill palmer report logo headerThe courts finally ruled that the majority of Rudy Giuliani’s seized communications were not protected by attorney-client privilege and turned them over to the DOJ, which is now free to indict Rudy as soon as it wants.

– The DOJ gave Matt Gaetz’s ex-girlfriend immunity in exchange for testifying against him to a grand jury, which will ostensibly indict him any day now. Gaetz’s former associate Joel Greenberg has also finally decided that he’s ready to be sentenced, meaning he expects Gaetz to get indicted soon, which will allow him to get credit for the results of his cooperation.

– The New York Attorney General announced in a court filing that she has evidence that Donald Trump and multiple members of his family committed financial fraud. Although she made the filing in her civil probe into the Trump Organization, she’s also jointly running a criminal probe into Trump with the Manhattan District Attorney, so her announcement seems to signal near-certain criminal indictments against the Trump family.

– The Fulton County Georgia District Attorney decided to empanel a special grand jury in her criminal probe into Donald Trump’s election fraud, a fairly clear signal that she intends to indict Trump, and that she wants to do so as soon as the constraints of the legal system will allow. She also previously met with Trump’s criminal defense attorneys, prompting Trump to go ballistic in a press release a short time later, another clear signal that she intends to indict him.

– The Supreme Court ruled that Donald Trump has no executive privilege argument in relation to January 6th, prompting the National Archives to deliver a ton of incriminating evidence to the January 6th Committee. This also wiped out the legal argument that the likes of Mark Meadows have been trying to use while attempting to avoid getting indicted for contempt of Congress.

Again, these developments have all happened within the past week. These are the kinds of developments that the “good guys” have spent the past year diligently working toward, and now that hard work is finally paying off. Donald Trump himself is on a clear track to be criminally indicted in multiple jurisdictions, and it’s a matter of who gets to him first. Numerous close Trump allies are weeks at most away from federal indictment, which will force them to consider flipping on Trump.

Oh and by the way, it was just eleven days ago that the DOJ arrested the entire Oath Keepers leadership in order to pressure them to flip on the Trump world people who are on the next rung up the ladder from them. At this point Trump world is taking so many devastating blows, it’s almost difficult to keep track of them all. And because Trump is just a Florida Man at this point without the office of the presidency to shield him, there’s nothing he can to do stop his world from being torn apart around him. Tick tock.

 

Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes and his estranged wife, Tasha Adams, who has said that he is a

Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes and his estranged wife, Tasha Adams, who has said that he is a "complete sociopath" and that she felt Rhodes was personally dangerous to her and her family,and also to the country.

Politico, Judge mulls release for militia leader facing sedition charges in Jan. 6 attack, Josh Gerstein and Kyle Cheney, Jan. 24, 2022. A yearlong delay in charging Oath Keepers founder may have hurt the case for keeping him in jail.

A federal magistrate judge sounded open Monday to releasing the citizen militia leader prosecutors say masterminded a conspiracy to take over the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, with the intention of keeping then-President Donald Trump in power.

politico CustomDuring a bail hearing here for Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes (shown above left with his estranged wife, who has said he is a danger to the public), Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathryn Rakoczy said the seditious conspiracy Rhodes is accused of threatened the U.S. political system by seeking to block the peaceful transfer of presidential power.

“It is difficult to imagine a graver risk to the society that we live in,” Rakoczy said as Rhodes looked on in a black-and-gray striped jail jumpsuit with his hands cuffed in front of him.

“Mr. Rhodes coordinated, offered to fund and facilitated the attack on the Capitol,” she said.

The conspiracy alleged against Rhodes and ten other Oath Keepers is the most complex and momentous case yet against the more than 725 people charged so far in connection with the Jan. 6 insurrection. Prosecutors have also arrested more than two dozen members of the right-wing extremist Proud Boys, alleging they conspired to obstruct the transfer of power. Several leaders of both groups have been held in jail pending trial.

However, defense attorneys argued that by waiting a year to charge and arrest Rhodes, prosecutors and investigators undercut their claims that the public would face “immense” danger if he remained free pending trial.

“Saying he’s a danger now is disingenuous...Why did they wait?” defense lawyer Phillip Linder asked during the hour-and-45-minute hearing. “To me, that speaks volumes.”

U.S. Magistrate Judge Kimberly Priest Johnson issued no immediate ruling, but engaged in an extended discussion with defense attorneys about potential custodians who could supervise Rhodes if he is released. She also said she didn’t see much to prosecutors’ argument that he poses a risk of not appearing for trial.

“In the last year, there doesn’t seem to be any evidence—at least that was presented here today—to support that he’s a continued danger of a flight risk,” Johnson said.

Defense attorneys told reporters after the court hearing that it was almost comical to think that Rhodes, who wears an eye patch on his left eye due to a gun accident three decades ago, could slip away.

“You’ve seen what the guy looks like?” lawyer James Lee Bright said.

Whatever Johnson decides regarding Rhodes’ pretrial detention is almost certain not to be the final word on the issue. Both sides have said they will appeal if she loses.

Linder said during his presentation that Rhodes’ Jan. 13 arrest at a friend’s home in Little Elm, Texas, scuttled plans for the Oath Keepers leader to testify to the House committee probing the Capitol riot and President Donald Trump’s efforts to cling to power.

“He was actively cooperating,” Linder said. “They thwarted that. There are people in D.C. who are not very happy with this indictment.”

Rakoczy also asked Johnson to grant a stay of any release order she might issue. Such a stay, which the magistrate said she would grant, would keep Rhodes behind bars while prosecutors to appeal to the Washington-based judge assigned to his case, U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta.

During the court session Monday, lawyers for each side presented starkly different views of Rhodes.

Rakoczy said he amassed a large stockpile of weapons for the “civil war” he repeatedly discussed in encrypted chats with other Oath Keepers’ leaders and members. She said he oversaw the staging of those weapons in Virginia prior to the Jan. 6 events and was in tactical command of many of those people that day as they rushed into the Capitol in two lines or “stacks.”

However, Linder said the Oath Keepers had a legitimate purpose: to provide security for speakers at conservative political rallies including a Stop the Steal event and a Latinos for Trump rally scheduled for that day. Rhodes’ lawyers described him as law-abiding and stressed that he’d been open and responsive with law enforcement before and after Jan. 6.

The defense was less clear about the purpose of Rhodes organizing stashes of weapons in Virginia on the day the Capitol was breached. Rhodes lawyers’ stressed, though, that keeping the weapons outside D.C. indicated the Oath Keepers’ commitment to abide by the law including D.C.’s strict gun laws.

Linder also noted that Rhodes never gave any order to bring any of the weapons into D.C., despite at least one Oath Keeper repeatedly seeking such permission.

One of the FBI agents involved in the mammoth Jan. 6 investigation, Michael Palian, took the witness stand for the prosecution to describe the encrypted chats Rhodes engaged in before and on Jan. 6, some of which seemed to urge or predict guerilla warfare on American streets after the 2020 election.

Some of the chats were displayed on large screens in the courtroom, as were photos of Oath Keepers entering the Capitol and a photo Palian said depicted Rhodes meeting with Oath Keepers outside the building. The agent said that on Jan. 6 Rhodes used the encrypted messages to direct his fellow militia members.

Politico, Kerik told Jan. 6 panel that former Army colonel came up with idea to seize voting machines, Betsy Woodruff Swan, Jan. 24, 2022. Previously, Phil Waldron was best known for circulating a 38-page PowerPoint presentation that urged Trump to declare a state of emergency in the wake of the election.

politico CustomA former member of President Donald Trump’s legal team told the Jan. 6 committee that former Army colonel Phil Waldron first came up with the idea of Trump issuing an executive order to seize voting machines, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Earlier this month, Bernie Kerik — who worked with Rudy Giuliani on Trump’s legal efforts to find evidence of voter fraud — told the select bernard kerikcommittee that Phil Waldron originated the scheme, which would almost certainly have been illegal. A person familiar with Kerik’s testimony, who was not authorized to discuss it publicly, described it in detail to Politico.

Last week, the select committee obtained a copy of a draft executive order written for Trump. The order, which Trump did not issue, would have directed the Defense secretary to seize voting machines. It also would have given the secretary 60 days to write an assessment of the 2020 election — a timeline that would have expired a month after Biden’s inauguration day. POLITICO published the text of the draft order last week.

Waldron is best known for circulating a 38-page PowerPoint presentation that urged Trump to declare a state of emergency in the wake of the election, as The Washington Post has detailed. That presentation found its way into the inbox of Mark Meadows while he was White House chief of staff. Meadows passed the presentation to the select committee last year, and his lawyer has said Meadows did nothing with it. Waldron has said he briefed members of Congress on the findings detailed in the presentation, including claims about voter fraud.

Kerik and Waldron both worked with Giuliani on Trump’s post-election outside legal team. Politico could not independently confirm Kerik’s claim to the committee about Waldron and the voting machines, but Waldron is a key focus of the committee. On Dec. 16, the committee subpoenaed him for documents and testimony, citing the PowerPoint presentation. Kerik’s testimony to the committee came after investigators issued the subpoena.

In his voluntary interview with the committee, Kerik also called the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol “counterproductive,” according to the source. Kerik indicated that the riot eliminated any hope he and his team had of getting government authorities to take their fraud allegations seriously.

Additionally, Kerik discussed friction regarding Trump attorney Sidney Powell, as well as financial frustrations. He noted that he struggled even to get reimbursement for his stays at the Willard hotel, and that he was paying for his lawyer out of his own pocket.

washington post logoWashington Post, Marshals Service employees have alleged racism for decades. Their case may finally be heard, Hannah Knowles, Jan. 24, 2022. A sprawling class-action discrimination case dating back 27 years is before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Thousands could have a stake.

By the time a jury awarded him $4 million, Matthew Fogg had spent about 13 years fighting to prove that racism derailed his career at the United States Marshals Service. Hearing the verdict in 1998, he wept.

Justice Department log circularWeeks of testimony from more than 30 people had convinced jurors that Fogg was up against something pervasive: a “hostile” environment for Black employees, as a judge later summarized. Yet decades later, a class action bearing Fogg’s name — and in which more than 10,000 people may have a stake — continues to inch forward.

The end is in sight, lawyers say. An administrative judge for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal agency that investigates claims of workplace discrimination, could soon hear the evidence after years of procedural delay. But employees past and present awaiting the outcome say that any vindication will be tempered by disillusionment over the journey to this moment. Many class members have left the agency. Some are ailing and unable to testify, attorneys said. Others have died.

“It’s a never-ending battle,” said Fogg, now 70. That it’s taken so long is unsurprising, he said, because “the culture of racism is so embedded in America — is so deep.”

In interviews with The Washington Post, 15 current and former Black employees of the Marshals Service detailed allegations of racial bias that undercut career advancement. They say one of the country’s oldest federal law enforcement agencies — tasked with protecting courthouses, transporting prisoners, shielding witnesses and tracking down fugitives — has failed to confront decades of discrimination.

They recounted stories of debilitating stress; needlessly contentious hiring interviews that could end after a single question; job openings suddenly closed after Black people rose to the top of the selection process; and indignation at training White newcomers who quickly became their supervisors. Some estimate they lost out on hundreds of thousands of dollars in income. Many remembered White colleagues telling racist jokes or using the n-word to demean fellow employees and prisoners of color, without apparent repercussions.

The Marshals Service declined to answer questions about the class action or its members’ underlying complaints of institutional racism. A spokesman, James P. Stossel, deputy chief of public affairs, said agency policy does not allow officials to speak with the news media about ongoing litigation.

Class members are seeking individual compensation and “systemic relief” — which lawyer Saba Bireda said should start with the Marshals Service vowing to change. “We’re really looking for a new system,” she said.

Responding to a federal discrimination lawsuit that overlapped with Fogg’s case, Justice Department officials in 2012 denied that the Marshals Service has a “long history of continuing discrimination” or that a “good old boy network” is biased against African Americans, court papers from that case show. Officials also argued then that the Marshals Service “took reasonable care to prevent and promptly correct race-based harassment.” The lawsuit was dismissed after lawyers for the plaintiffs said the pending EEOC case covered their claims, and some complainants reached individual settlements with the government, according to court documents.

Critics of the agency’s record on racial equity see an opening for change with the Biden administration’s appointment of a new agency director, Ronald Davis, who as the former executive director of President Barack Obama’s policing task force has denounced deep-rooted racism in law enforcement. Davis is Black, as was his predecessor.

Two current Black employees of the Marshals Service, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of a fear of retaliation, said they believe discrimination remains a problem at the agency, echoing others who have retired in the past few years.

 washington post logoWashington Post, How Trump’s flirtation with an anti-insurrection law inspired Jan. 6 attack, Devlin Barrett and Spencer S. Hsu, Jan. 24, 2022 (print ed.). Within days of President Donald Trump’s election defeat, Stewart Rhodes began talking about the Insurrection Act as critical to the country’s future.

The bombastic founder of the extremist group Oath Keepers told followers that the obscure, rarely used law would allow Trump to declare a national emergency so dire that the military, militias or both would be called out to keep him in the White House.

Appearing Nov. 9, 2020, as a guest on the Infowars program of conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, Rhodes urged Trump to invoke the act “to suppress the deep state” and claimed Oath Keepers already had men “stationed outside D.C. as a nuclear option.”

Invoking the Insurrection Act was an idea sparked in conservative circles that spring as a means of subduing social justice protests and related rioting, a goal Trump seemed to embrace when he called for state leaders to “dominate” their streets. By the end of the year, it had become a rallying cry to cancel the results of a presidential election. Now, private and public discussions of the law stand as key evidence in the cases against the Oath Keepers.

Earlier this month, Rhodes was charged with seditious conspiracy, accused along with 10 members of his group of conspiring to use violence to try to stop Joe Biden’s certification as president. Rhodes has denied wrongdoing, saying he never wanted or told his group to enter the U.S. Capitol.

A court hearing in Plano, Tex., on Monday will determine whether he must stay in jail while awaiting trial. Court filings and public statements leading up to Jan. 6, 2021, show how important the idea of the Insurrection Act became to Rhodes and other extremists, including followers of the ever-changing QAnon extremist ideology, and to Trump and people close to him.

“It is hard to put into words how mind-boggling this idea was, to use a statute designed to protect the country from insurrection to support an actual insurrection,” said Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University at San Bernardino.

washington post logoWashington Post, Jan. 6 committee has spoken with former Trump attorney general Barr, chairman says, Amy B Wang and Tom Hamburger, Jan. 24, 2022 (print ed.). Former attorney general William P. Barr has spoken with the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection, the committee chairman said Sunday, a further indication that several former Trump administration officials are cooperating with the panel even as others are fighting efforts to compel their testimony.

“We’ve had conversations with the former attorney general already. We have talked to Department of Defense individuals,” Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.), the chairman of the committee, said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

The bipartisan House panel is investigating the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol by a pro-Trump mob trying to stop the confirmation of Joe Biden’s electoral college win, an attack that resulted in the deaths of one police officer and four others and injured about 140 members of law enforcement.

It is unclear what has been discussed between the committee and Barr, who stepped down as attorney general in the weeks before Jan. 6, 2021. Barr had been closely allied with Trump through most of his tenure at the Department of Justice but resigned in December 2020 after publicly disputing claims of widespread election fraud.

Thompson was asked Sunday if he intended to ask Barr about a draft of a Trump executive order, first reported by Politico last week, that would have directed the defense secretary to seize voting machines in battleground states. Thompson said he did, though he acknowledged the plan was only in draft form and never became operational.

“We are concerned that our military was part of this big lie on promoting that the election was false,” Thompson told CBS News. “So, if you are using the military to potentially seize voting machines, even though it’s a discussion, the public needs to know. We’ve never had that before.”

The draft executive order is believed to be one of the documents former president Donald Trump went to court to try to block from release. The document was among hundreds of pages provided to the committee by the National Archives last week, after the Supreme Court rejected Trump’s arguments. Trump has baselessly claimed for more than a year that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him. (There has been no evidence of widespread voter fraud affecting the election’s outcome.)

Politico, Investigation: Capitol Police examines backgrounds, social media feeds of some who meet with lawmakers, Betsy Woodruff Swan and Daniel Lippman, Jan. 24, 2022. The little-known new practice by the department’s intelligence analysts, instituted since the Jan. 6 attack, is highly controversial given the civil liberties concerns it raises.

politico CustomAfter the Jan. 6 insurrection, the Capitol Police’s intelligence unit quietly started scrutinizing the backgrounds of people who meet with lawmakers, according to three people familiar with the matter.

Politico also viewed written communications describing the new approach, part of a host of changes that the department implemented after the Capitol attack. Examining the social media feeds of people who aren’t suspected of crimes, however, is a controversial move for law enforcement and intelligence officials given the civil liberties concerns it raises.

cdc logo CustomAmong those who have been subject to new Capitol Police scrutiny are Hill staffers, the three people said. All spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.

Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-N.D.) said in an interview that he is unaware of any members who know about the “very, very bad” practice.

“Whatever they think that sounds like for security, it sounds dangerously close — if not already over the line — to spying on members of Congress, their staff, their constituents and their supporters,” said Armstrong, a former criminal defense attorney.

“Anybody involved with implementing this without making it known to the actual members of Congress should resign or be fired immediately,” he added. “And I’m not big on calling for resignations.”

Several Capitol Police intelligence analysts have already raised concerns about the practice to the department’s inspector general, according to one of the people who spoke for this story.

The Capitol Police, in a statement, defended the practice of searching for public information about people meeting with lawmakers and said the department coordinates the work with members’ offices.

“The more public information we have, the better we can understand what kind and how much security is necessary,” the statement said.

Major changes in the Capitol Police intelligence unit started in fall of 2020, when the department brought on former Department of Homeland Security official Julie Farnam to help run its intelligence unit, which is housed in its Intelligence and Interagency Coordination Division. In the weeks before the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, Farnam made a host of changes to internal intelligence protocols that “caused internal confusion” and “scrambled the priorities” of the unit’s analysts, according to CNN.

Then, in the months after the riot, Farnam changed another key process in a way that hasn’t been previously reported.

For years, analysts in the department’s intelligence division have put together documents called Congressional Event Assessments. That process entails the House and Senate Sergeants at Arms, Congress’ chambers’ internal logistical and security leaders, sharing information with Capitol Police on lawmakers’ plans for meetings and events away from the Capitol.

Intelligence division analysts then use that information to assess physical safety risks to those events — things such as large, planned protests, parades, concerts or other events that would draw crowds. Analysts regularly filled out a standard template with that assessment.

But after the Capitol attack, Farnam changed the template. According to a copy that Politico reviewed, she directed analysts to look closely at the people meeting privately and publicly with members. A Capitol Police spokesperson said the template Politico reviewed was not the most recent version.

In addition to basic information about the event, the revised template reviewed by Politico asked analysts to describe “the backgrounds of the participants (other than [Members of Congress]) and attendees, if known.”

The template also told intelligence analysts to look at social media feeds related to event attendees: “In searching social media outlets, is there anything that may impact the event itself or any of the participants (both [Members of Congress] and other known attendees)?”

And it told Capitol Police analysts to search for information about lawmakers’ opponents and their opponents’ supporters: “List and search all political opponents to see if they or their followers intend to attend or disrupt the event.”

Palmer Report, Opinion: It’s over for Rudy Giuliani, Bill Palmer, Jan. 23, 2022. To give you an idea of just how slowly the federal court bill palmersystem can move, eight months after the Feds raided Rudy Giuliani’s home and seized his communications, the court appointed official overseeing those communications finally finished determining which of them were covered by attorney-client privilege just a few days ago.

Now the DOJ has its hands on the incriminating evidence it tried to take eight months ago – including about fifty communications that Rudy specifically tried and failed to get suppressed, which he would only have done because they incriminated him.

bill palmer report logo headerThis means the DOJ, once it finishes processing and evaluating these incriminating communications, can indict and arrest Rudy Giuliani any time it wants. The kicker is that doing so immediately may not be the best move. The point of busting Rudy, above left, is not simply to put him in prison. The real goal is to amass such a crushing criminal case against Rudy, even he realizes he has zero chance of winning at trial, thus prompting him to cut a deal against Trump world now instead of dragging out a trial date for a year.

But now that the court system has finally allowed the DOJ to have the evidence it wanted against Rudy Giuliani all along, it’s over for Rudy. He’s now a lock for indictment and prison. His only slim hope would have been if the court appointee had gone rogue and ruled that all of Rudy’s communications were privileged – which didn’t happen.

Of course because this process has taken so long, multiple additional Trump-era criminal scandals have surfaced that appear to incriminate Rudy Giuliani. So we’ll see if the DOJ decides to indict Rudy soon on the seized evidence it just received, or if it waits a bit to build a broader case against Trump lawyers Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani hawking their false claims that they could prove election fraud caused Democratic nominee Joe Biden's presidential victory in 2020.him which includes some of the things that have put Rudy’s name in the headlines more recently.

Either way, it’s over for Rudy. He can flip on Donald Trump and everyone else, or he can spend the rest of his life in prison. Once he realizes he’s going down, we suspect he’ll flip. The only question is at what point Rudy will figure out he’s going down. Rudy also has to consider that his former ally Sidney Powell, right, now claims she’s begun cooperating with the DOJ. There’s usually only one lenient plea deal to go around.

 washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Giving up on voting rights now would be unconscionable, E.J. Dionne Jr., right, Jan. 24, 2022 (print ed.). If civil rights leaders ej dionne w open neckhad given up at the first signs of resistance to equality in the 1950s, our nation would never have won the next decade’s great victories over racial subjugation.

The same determination is required after last week’s defeat of voting rights legislation. It was depressing. It was enraging. But it cannot be the final act.
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In the short run, this means fighting voter suppression and election subversion with whatever tools are at hand. Over the long term, building political power is the only way to win federal guarantees for ballot access. Walking away out of frustration or disillusionment is self-defeating.

To avoid a demobilization that could lead to an anti-democratic retreat akin to the disgraceful reaction to Reconstruction, political leaders must prove through concrete action that they are still in this fight.

Recent Headlines:

 

Virus Victims, Responses

washington post logoWashington Post, Antibodies that block omicron found to persist 4 months after Pfizer booster, Carolyn Y. Johnson, Jan. 24, 2022. A major question about boosters has been how quickly protection will fade. The study suggests a second booster may not yet be necessary.

Virus-fighting antibodies capable of blocking the omicron variant persist four months after a third shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine, according to a new study.

pfizer logoThe study, which was published on a preprint server Saturday, gives a first hint about the durability of coronavirus vaccine protection, with a key line of immune defense remaining intact. The study has not yet been peer-reviewed and will need to be replicated and extended to a longer period.

The laboratory study suggests a fourth shot may not be needed right away — a question that has caused anxiety for people wondering if and when they would need to get another booster.

“This is very, very new for the field,” said Pei-Yong Shi, a microbiologist at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, whose team tested antibodies in the blood of vaccinated people against an omicron-like virus in collaboration with Pfizer scientists. “That really shows that at least up to four months, post-dose three, there is still substantial neutralizing activity against omicron.”

washington post logoWashington Post, FDA expected to sharply restrict use of 2 monoclonal antibodies, Laurie McGinley, Jan. 24, 2022. Data show the therapies by Regeneron and Eli Lilly are not effective against the omicron variant, officials say.

The Food and Drug Administration on Monday took two monoclonal antibody therapies off the list of covid-19 treatments for now, saying the medications should not be used anywhere in the United States because they are ineffective against the dominant omicron variant.
FAQ: What to know about the omicron variant of the coronavirus

As a result, the Biden administration said it will pause distribution of the therapies, manufactured by Regeneron Pharmaceuticals and Eli Lilly, to the states.

Patrizia Cavazzoni, director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said in a statement that data show the two antibody treatments “are highly unlikely to be active against the omicron variant, which is circulating at a very high frequency throughout the United States.” Omicron is responsible for more than 99 percent of cases in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

TheHill.com, Auschwitz Memorial says RFK Jr. speech at anti-vaccine rally exploits Holocaust tragedy, Olafimihan Oshin, Jan. 24, 2022. The Auschwitz Memorial denounced comments made by Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s at an anti-vaccine rally in Washington DC on Sunday as "exploiting the tragedy" of the Holocaust.

During a speech at the rally, Kennedy, a conspiracy theorist and prominent anti-vaxxer, warned of a massive surveillance network being created with satellites in space and 5G mobile networks collecting data.

"Even in Hitler's Germany, you could hide in the attic like Anne Frank did,” Kennedy said, illustrating his point that surveillance today is all-encompassing.

Anne Frank, who died in a Nazi concentration camp, achieved posthumous fame for a diary in which she documented her family's two years in hiding.

In a response to a video of the speech on Twitter, the Auschwitz Memorial said Kennedy's remarks were “a sad symptom of moral & intellectual decay.”

“Exploiting of the tragedy of people who suffered, were humiliated, tortured & murdered by the totalitarian regime of Nazi Germany — including children like Anne Frank — in a debate about vaccines & limitations during global pandemic is a sad symptom of moral & intellectual decay,” the organization wrote in a statement.

The speech came as thousands of demonstrators marched in Washington on Sunday to protest vaccine mandates.

In a statement to the Hill, Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) said no arrests or police reports have been made from the gathering at the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument.

An Associated Press investigation found that Kennedy's anti-vaccine charity, called Children’s Health Defense, saw its revenue double in 2020 to $6.8 million as the coronavirus pandemic took hold.

He was among a number of prominent anti-vax speakers at the rally, including Dr. Robert Malone, who prompted calls for Spotify to control COVID misinformation after appearing on Joe Rogan's podcast, and Lara Logan, a former CBS News correspondent. In November, Logan, who is now a host on Fox News Media's streaming service, compared Anthony Fauci, the nation's leading infectious disease expert, to the infamous Nazi doctor Josef Mengele, who worked at Auschwitz during the Holocaust.

washington post logoWashington Post, Hospitals are asking workers with covid to return — even if they may be infectious, Brittany Shammas and Hannah Knowles, Jan. 24, 2022 (print ed.). Hospitals are increasingly asking staff who have the coronavirus to work while potentially infectious, underscoring how the hyper-transmissible omicron variant has sidelined employees, overwhelmed resources and upended nearly two years of strict protocols. Though vaccine requirements are common at hospitals, many health care workers are coming down with the virus, exacerbating staffing issues.

washington post logoWashington Post, Anti-vaccine activists march in D.C. — a city that mandates covid vaccines, Staff Report, Jan. 24, 2022 (print ed.). Thousands of protesters from across the country — including some of the biggest names in the anti-vaccination movement — descended on the nation’s capital Sunday for a rally against vaccine mandates.

Almost two years into a coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 860,000 Americans, the gathering on the National Mall was a jarring spectacle: A crowd of demonstrators, many unmasked, decrying vaccine mandates in the middle of a city that has adopted mask and vaccine mandates to reduce sickness and death from the surge of the virus’s omicron variant, which has battered D.C. for weeks.

covad 19 photo.jpg Custom 2Organizers had estimated that 20,000 people would attend the rally, marching from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial, according to a permit issued by the National Park Service. A smaller crowd of several thousand had arrived on the Mall by early Sunday afternoon.

The march was billed as a protest of mandates rather than the medicines themselves. But similar rhetoric — emphasizing individual autonomy rather than untenable scientific ideas — has long characterized the broader anti-vaccine movement, and the march’s speakers included movement veterans such as Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Del Bigtree, founder of the anti-vaccine group Informed Consent Action Network.

As speakers took to the stage — including a group of doctors in white coats — the crowd roared its approval at lines comparing vaccine mandates to the actions of authoritarian regimes such as Nazi Germany and the former Soviet Union and railing against the news media for its reporting on the scientific evidence supporting the coronavirus vaccines. (The Washington Post, like many other large employers, requires its workers to be vaccinated against the virus.)

By the time Kennedy addressed the crowd, many participants were drifting away. The group had dwindled to a few hundred by midafternoon, when one speaker recited long-debunked claims about a link between a common childhood vaccine and autism.

Worldometer, World & U.S. Coronavirus Case Totals (updated Jan. 24, 2022), with some governments reporting lower numbers than the totals here and some experts saying the numbers are far higher:

World Cases: 352,506,437, Deaths: 5,616,225
U.S. Cases:     71,925,931, Deaths:    889,197
Indian Cases:   39,543,328, Deaths:    489,896
Brazil Cases:   24,044,437, Deaths:    623,145

Related Recent Headlines:

 

U.S. Education

 

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, Supreme Court to Hear Challenge to Affirmative Action at Harvard and U.N.C., Adam Liptak, Jan. 24, 2022. The court will decide whether race-conscious admissions programs at the schools are lawful, putting the fate of affirmative action in higher education at risk.

The Supreme Court agreed on Monday to decide whether race-conscious admissions programs at Harvard and the University of North Carolina are lawful, putting the fate of affirmative action in higher education at risk.

The court has repeatedly upheld similar programs, most recently in 2016. But recent changes in the court’s membership have made it more conservative, and the challenged programs are almost certain to meet skepticism.

harvard logoThe case against Harvard accused it of discriminating against Asian American students by using a subjective standard to gauge traits like likability, courage and kindness and by effectively creating a ceiling for them in admissions.

Lawyers for Harvard said that the challengers had relied on a flawed statistical analysis and denied that the university discriminated against Asian American applicants. More generally, they said that race-conscious admissions policies are lawful.

“Under established precedent, to achieve the educational benefits that flow from student-body diversity,” they wrote in a brief urging the justices to deny review, “universities may consider race as one factor among many in a full, individualized evaluation of each applicant’s background, experiences and potential contributions to campus life.”

In the North Carolina case, the plaintiffs made more familiar arguments, saying the university discriminated against white and Asian applicants by giving preference to Black, Hispanic and Native American ones. The university responded that its admissions policies fostered educational diversity and were lawful under longstanding Supreme Court precedents.

Both cases were brought by Students for Fair Admissions, a group founded by Edward Blum, a legal entrepreneur who has organized many lawsuits challenging race-conscious admissions policies and voting rights laws, several of which have reached the Supreme Court.

In the recent suits, the universities both won in federal trial courts, and the decision in Harvard’s favor was affirmed by a federal appeals court.

The Supreme Court’s decision to hear both cases may have been influenced by the differing legal regimes that apply to the two schools. Harvard, a private entity, must comply with a federal statute that bans race discrimination as a condition of receiving federal money; the University of North Carolina, which is public, must also satisfy the Constitution’s equal protection clause.

washington post logoWashington Post, 7 Virginia school boards sue to stop Youngkin’s order banning mask mandates, Hannah Natanson, Jan. 24, 2022. Amid a deepening culture clash over masks, the lawsuit says Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s (R) order violates a provision of the state constitution, which places oversight of schools under the direction of school boards.

glenn youngkin headshotSeven school boards — including one overseeing the largest and most prominent district in the state — are suing to stop a mask-optional order by Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R), right, on the day it is supposed to take effect, arguing that the order violates the Virginia Constitution.

The school boards, led by Fairfax County Public Schools, whose 180,000 students make it Virginia’s biggest system, filed suit Monday morning in Arlington Circuit Court. The suit asks for an immediate injunction barring enforcement of Youngkin’s order, which sought to leave masking decisions to parents, contravening federal health guidance and the masking mandates that the vast majority of Virginia school districts have maintained throughout the pandemic.

republican elephant logoIn the school boards’ complaint, their lawyers write that Youngkin’s executive order goes against Article 8, Section 7 of Virginia’s constitution, which asserts that “the supervision of schools in each school division shall be vested in a school board.” The lawyers also say Youngkin’s order contradicts a state law passed over the summer that requires Virginia school districts to follow federal health guidelines to the “maximum extent practicable.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends masking inside K-12 schools for everyone over age 2, regardless of vaccination status.

  • Washington Post, Youngkin’s mask-optional order divides Virginia schools and parents, threatening chaos

washington post logoWashington Post, Va.’s new attorney general fires U-Va. counsel who was on leave working as investigator for Jan. 6 panel, Justin Jouvenal and Lauren Lumpkin, Jan. 24, 2022 (print ed.). Virginia’s new Republican attorney general has fired the University of Virginia’s counsel, who was on leave from the job to work as the top investigator for the U.S. House panel investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the Capitol, the attorney and university said.

Tim Heaphy, who had worked at the state’s flagship university for about three years, was among roughly 30 staffers who were let go by Attorney General Jason S. Miyares shortly before he took office a little over a week ago. Democrats have questioned the firings and how they were carried out.

Victoria LaCivita, a Miyares spokeswoman, said the attorney general’s office had also fired the counsel for George Mason University, Brian Walther, saying it is common for an incoming attorney general to appoint counsel that shares its “philosophy and legal approach.”

Both Heaphy and Walther are Democrats.

LaCivita declined to say whether any other counsels at Virginia’s more than three dozen public colleges and universities had been let go.

LaCivita said in a statement that Heaphy was a “controversial” hire and that Miyares’s Democratic predecessor, Mark R. Herring, had “excluded many qualified internal candidates when he brought in this particular university counsel.”

“Our decision was made after reviewing the legal decisions made over the last couple of years,” LaCivita said. “The Attorney General wants the university counsel to return to giving legal advice based on law, and not the philosophy of a university. We plan to look internally first for the next lead counsel.”

LaCivita declined to say what legal decisions she was referencing. LaCivita said Heaphy’s firing had nothing to do with his work on the Jan. 6 panel.

 

Investigations

ny times logoNew York Times, Roles of F.B.I. and Informants Muddle the Michigan Governor Kidnapping Case, Neil MacFarquhar, Jan. 24, 2022. Before five men stand trial for plotting to abduct Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, lawyers are examining more than 1,000 hours of secretly recorded conversations.

gretchen whitmer o smile CustomOn a rainy night in northern Michigan in September 2020, a group of armed men divided among three cars surveyed the landscape around the vacation cottage of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, right, considering how to kidnap her as payback for her Covid-19 lockdown measures.

Two men descended from the lead car to inspect a bridge on Route 31 in nearby Elk Rapids, assessing what was needed to blow it up to delay any police response to the house on nearby Birch Lake.

FBI logoLater, after team members returned to the rural camp where they had already conducted military-style training exercises, a man identified as “Big Dan” in government documents asked the assembled group, “Everybody down with what’s going on?” Another man responded, “If you are not down with the thought of kidnapping, don’t sit here.”

Of the dozen men on that nighttime surveillance mission, four of them, including “Big Dan” were either government informants or undercover F.B.I. agents, according to court documents.

The events of that night will be a key element when, on March 8, five men charged with plotting to abduct the Democratic governor from her vacation cottage will go on trial in U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids, Mich.

The trial is being closely watched as one of the most significant recent domestic terrorism cases, a test of Washington’s commitment in the wake of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol to pursue far-right groups who seek to kindle a violent, anti-government insurgency or even a new civil war.

michigan mapThe effort to prosecute the kidnapping plot is sprawling. Both the prosecution and the defense are relying heavily on more than 1,000 hours of conversations and other events secretly recorded by informants or undercover agents. The defense lawyers want the case thrown out on entrapment grounds, accusing investigators of “egregious overreaching” by manipulating the accused men to drive the plot forward. Prosecutors will attempt to prove that the suspects were inclined toward the violence from the start.

In another challenge for the case, prosecutors have made an unusual decision not to call to the witness stand three F.B.I. agents with high-profile roles in the investigation. One agent was fired last summer after being charged with domestic violence. Another agent, while supervising “Big Dan,” tried to build a private security consulting firm based in part on some of his work for the F.B.I.

All 14 suspects arrested in October 2020 were members of the Wolverine Watchmen or other armed, paramilitary groups. One of the six facing a federal kidnapping conspiracy charge pleaded guilty and is expected to testify against the rest. The other eight, who participated in some military-style training, were accused in two separate, ongoing state cases on a lesser charge of providing material support for terrorism.

In recent weeks, the already complicated case has become more entangled, with the two sides arguing over what evidence can be presented in federal court.

The informant known as “Big Dan” or “Confidential Human Source-2” in government papers will be the star witness for the prosecution. Descriptions of Dan’s interactions with the suspects are rife throughout the court documents, and he already testified extensively in one state case last year.

Around March 2020, Dan, a veteran in his mid-30s who was wounded in the Iraq war, was working at the post office, looking online for ways to practice his military skills, according to the court documents, when the Wolverine Watchmen’s Facebook page popped up. Members were adherents of the so-called boogaloo movement who seek to speed a societal collapse.

Alarmed by their discussions about targeting law enforcement officers, Dan reported them to local police and eventually agreed to become an F.B.I. informant, he said in state court. He was paid about $54,000 over the course of the roughly six-month investigation.

He was not alone. The F.B.I. deployed at least 12 informants, as well as several undercover agents, according to defense filings. On the nighttime surveillance operation of the governor’s cottage, for example, the defense described “Big Dan” as the main organizer. Stephen Robeson, with a long history of both past crimes and work as an informant, was there too. The “explosives expert” who could topple the bridge was actually an undercover F.B.I. agent, as was a man in another vehicle.

The defense lawyers using that same trove of evidence material have built an entirely different scenario of what happened. They depict the accused as reluctant puppets entrapped by the F.B.I. agents and informants whom they say came up with the kidnapping plot.

Within weeks of joining, Dan took over the training exercises, introducing a much higher level of military tactics, defense lawyers said. They describe him as consulting closely with his main handler, Agent Jayson Chambers, on matters like who should participate in two surveillance trips to Ms. Whitmer’s cottage.

The suspects discussing violence on the recordings or in encrypted chats was just inflammatory rhetoric, the defense says. Prosecutors say Adam Fox, 38, the group’s ringleader, was living in the basement of a friend’s vacuum cleaner shop where he worked, talking about assaulting the Michigan statehouse just as “Big Dan” was getting involved.

Sting operations using informants are a thorny tactic in terror cases. In those developed after the 9/11 attacks, F.B.I. agents often got involved when someone expressed interest in joining Al Qaeda or in fomenting some kind of terrorist act. If the suspects had trouble agreeing on a plot or acquiring weapons, the informants or undercover agents would sometimes help them as a way of gauging criminal intent.

Critics of such F.B.I. methods like Michael German, a former undercover F.B.I. agent, accuse the agency of acting like Cecil B. DeMille, manufacturing complicated, theatrical scenarios rather than pursuing the more complex task of unearthing actual extremist plots.

Mr. German, who is now a fellow at the Liberty & National Security Program of the Brennan Center for Justice, said, “Rather than focus on those crimes and investigating them, there appears to be more interest in this method of manufacturing plots for the FBI to solve.”

 

World News, Human Rights, Disasters

washington post logoWashington Post, U.S. threatens use of novel export control against Russia, Ellen Nakashima and Jeanne Whalen, Jan. 24, 2022 (print ed.). If Moscow invades Ukraine, the United States may impose export restrictions on any product containing semiconductors made with American tools or designed with American software, Biden administration officials say.

  • Washington Post, A divided Europe confronts Russia with conflicting goals on Ukraine
  • Washington Post, Who are the Ukrainians that Britain alleges are working to ‘subvert’ the country?

washington post logoWashington Post, U.S. orders diplomats’ families to leave embassy in Ukraine amid ‘threat of Russian military action,’ John Hudson and Paul Sonne, Jan. 24, 2022 (print ed.). The State Department ordered the departure of all family members of U.S. Embassy personnel serving in Kyiv on Sunday, citing the “threat of Russian military action.”

ukraine flagThe department also told nonessential staff they can leave the country — a decision that underscores the growing fears in Washington of an imminent military invasion of Ukraine by Moscow as it amasses tens of thousands of Russian troops around Ukraine’s borders.

The volatile atmosphere is the latest indication that efforts to de-escalate the crisis have faltered following talks between Secretary of russian flag wavingState Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva on Friday.

“The security conditions, particularly along Ukraine’s borders, in Russia-occupied Crimea, and in Russia-controlled eastern Ukraine, are unpredictable and can deteriorate with little notice,” the department said in a statement. “U.S. citizens in Ukraine should consider departing now using commercial or other privately available transportation options.”

San Diego Union, Second journalist in a week killed in Tijuana, Wendy Fry, Jan. 23, 2022. Baja state officials confirmed journalist Lourdes Maldonado was shot Sunday night.

Another Mexican journalist was shot to death Sunday night in Tijuana, becoming the second journalist to be killed in the city in less than a week, according to the Baja California state government.

A statement from the Baja California state Attorney General’s office said the journalist, Lourdes Maldonado López, was shot dead in her car in front of her home in the Santa Fe area of Tijuana.

Maldonado, who had decades of experience as a reporter, spoke at a vigil Friday evening honoring the life of photojournalist Margarito Martínez Esquivel, who was shot to death on Monday outside his home in Tijuana.

Maldonado was discovered dead in her car around 7 p.m. Sunday, according to a news release by the state Attorney General’s office.

The news of Maldonado’s death came as another blow to Tijuana’s press guild. Maldonado was the third journalist killed in 2022 in Mexico. Reporter José Luis Gamboa was found stabbed to death in Veracruz earlier in January.

Like Martínez, Maldonado had made it known that she was fearful for her life after receiving threats and had sought government protection. In 2019, she even described receiving death threats to Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador at a live news conference.

From 2000 to 2021, human rights group Article 19 has documented 145 murders of journalists in Mexico, with seven deaths last year. The human rights group condemned Maldonado’s death on Sunday night.

Baja California governor Marina del Pilar Ávila tweeted her condolences to Maldonado’s family.

“I want to express my pain with the family of Lourdes and with Baja California journalists. This attack was not only against Lourdes, but against our entire society,” Ávila tweeted.

washington post logoWashington Post, Mutinous soldiers announce overthrow of Burkina Faso president, Danielle Paquette, Jan. 24, 2022. This marks the eighth coup d’etat in Burkina Faso since it asserted independence from France in 1960 — the most of any African nation.

Military officers have ousted the president of Burkina Faso, a group of soldiers announced Monday on state television, after steering a 36-hour uprising that toppled the third West African head of state in eight months.

“A decision made with the sole purpose of allowing our country to get back on the right track,” said Capt. Sidsoré Kader Ouedraogo, flanked by 13 men in camouflage gear.

They have suspended the constitution, dissolved the government and closed the borders, Ouedraogo said, without spilling any blood. They are holding President Roch Marc Kaboré and other politicians in a safe place, he added, that “respects their dignity.”

The words of Burkina Faso’s apparent new rulers contradicted Kaboré's party, which had asserted an hour earlier that the leader had survived an assassination attempt.

Confusion abounded about the fate of Kaboré, who took office in 2015 and faced Islamist insurgencies that only grew during his tenure, leading to thousands of deaths and leaving more than a million people homeless. As regional leaders called for his release, Kaboré — or someone running his official Twitter account — wrote a plea to his captors: “I invite those who have taken up arms to lay them down in the higher interests of the nation.”

Kaboré's private residence lay in ruin, the People’s Movement for Progress said in a statement, and soldiers had taken over the national television station. “Our democracy is in peril,” the party said without clarifying Kaboré's whereabouts or condition.

washington post logoWashington Post, Israeli soldiers blindfolded, gagged Palestinian American later found dead, according to leaked report, Steve Hendrix, Jan. 24, 2022 (print ed.). Details of an army investigation obtained by Israeli media indicate troops didn’t seek aid for the unresponsive detainee, but none are likely to be prosecuted.

A leaked summary of an Israeli investigation into the death of a Palestinian American in the West Bank after Israeli troops detained him this month suggested that no soldiers were likely to be prosecuted despite investigators confirming that the man was dragged from his car, blindfolded and handcuffed and then fell silent while being held at a construction site.

Israel FlagThe leaks, reported Sunday by Ynet, the online service of the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, included findings that the soldiers never sought medical aid for the man, 78-year-old Omar Assad, even though a military medic was at hand. Five soldiers, including a company commander and a platoon commander, told investigators that they thought Assad had simply fallen asleep and that he had demonstrated no signs of being ill. The investigation is being conducted by the Israel Defense Forces.

“We did not identify any signs of distress on him: a cry for help or, for example, the gripping of his hand to his chest,” the soldiers said, according to the report. They also confirmed that Assad was gagged and had his hands tied at the time, the report said.

But two witnesses who were detained at the same time have told The Washington Post that Assad was unconscious and not breathing when the soldiers left them in the courtyard of an under-construction house.

One of the detainees, Mraweh Abdulrahman, said he saw one soldier seem to squat on Assad and check his condition before consulting with other troops. One of the soldiers then cut loose one of the plastic ties on Assad’s wrists before all the troops departed.

Assad, a former Milwaukee grocery store owner, suffered from a coronary condition. He died of an apparent heart attack, according to Islam Abu Zaher, a physician who tried to resuscitate him at the scene almost immediately after the soldiers left. Assad’s face was blue when Zaher arrived, the doctor said, suggesting that he had been without oxygen for 15 to 20 minutes.

washington post logoWashington Post, WikiLeaks’ Assange can appeal decision to extradite him to U.S., Britain’s Supreme Court says, William Booth, Jan. 24, 2022. The WikiLeaks founder will have another day in court in his long legal battle against his forced removal to the United States.

A British court Monday gave Julian Assange permission to appeal to the U.K. Supreme Court its decision to extradite him to the United States, giving the WikiLeaks founder another day to fight his long legal battle against his forced removal to America.

Federal prosecutors are seeking to extradite Assange to the United States to face charges of violating the Espionage Act — the first time U.S. federal prosecutors have targeted not just the source but the publisher of classified information.

The 50-year-old Australian publisher will remain in London’s Belmarsh Prison, where he has been held since April 2019 after the Ecuadoran Embassy revoked his political asylum.

Assange’s way forward is narrow. A British High Court certified Monday that Assange has a point of law that is potentially of “general public importance.”

That means he may appeal to the Supreme Court on that point of law. The Supreme Court has not yet decided whether it will accept the case. That decision will come in the next days or weeks.

The point of law is over whether assurances by the U.S. government that it will not send Assange to a supermax prison or long solitary confinement — assurances given to the High Court and not a lower Magistrate’s Court — came at the right time in the proceedings.

“The ruling means that Assange has cleared a procedural hurdle,” said Nick Vamos, former head of extraditions for the Crown Prosecution Service and now a partner at Peters & Peters law firm in London.

washington post logoWashington Post, U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces battles to regain control of prison for Islamic State suspects, Louisa Loveluck, Jan. 24, 2022 (print ed.). A U.S.-backed force in Syria said Sunday it was still fighting to regain full control of the country’s largest prison for Islamic State suspects, as the extent of the losses in a three-day standoff became clearer.

Farhad Shami, a spokesman for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), said at least 160 suspected militants and 27 members of the U.S.-backed force had been killed in the attack in the northeastern Syrian city of Hasakah. The attack began with two car bombs that sparked a prison break amid fierce fighting.

The numbers killed could not be independently verified.

The attack was among the most serious by Islamic State fighters since the U.S.-led coalition and the SDF declared them defeated almost three years ago. But it also bore echoes of the past: Before they seized territory and declared their own caliphate, many members of what became the Islamic State group were freed from prison through jailbreaks.

U.S.-led coalition forces launched airstrikes as their Syrian allies battled to regain control of the area on the ground, the coalition said in a statement. Coalition forces used Hellfire missiles and larger munitions and strafing runs by Apache helicopters, a coalition official said.

On Thursday night, the two car bombs rocked Hasakah and scores of militants swarmed the prison complex.

Prisoners responded by beating their way out into the corridors, officials said, overpowering their guards and killing several, before pouring out into the freezing prison yard.

Kurdish-led forces repel Islamic State prison assault; dozens of casualties

“Many Daesh detainees seized arms from prison guards whom they murdered and subsequently engaged SDF quick reaction forces,” said Maj. Gen. John W. Brennan, Jr., the coalition’s commander, using an Arabic name for the Islamic State.

Other Recent World Headlines

 

U.S. Crime, Courts

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Handling of the Texas abortion case is an embarrassment for the federal judiciary, Ruth Marcus, right, Jan. 24, 2022 (print ed.). ruth marcus twitter CustomIn the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education, Southern states launched a campaign of massive resistance to school desegregation. Today, a version of massive resistance is again playing out, this time to the court’s ruling in the Texas abortion case — and this time, the resistance is coming from within the judiciary itself.

Worse yet: In the years after Brown, the court made clear that it would not tolerate any disobedience of its desegregation ruling. By contrast, in the weeks since the court allowed a limited challenge to the Texas abortion law to proceed, the conservative justices have shown themselves unwilling to enforce even that weak edict.

Since Sept. 1 — for almost five months — women in Texas have been denied the ability to exercise what, for now, remains their constitutional right to abortion.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: The officers who didn’t stop Chauvin are on trial. Their prosecution may matter even more than his did, Christy E. Lopez, Jan. 24, 2022 (print ed.). The federal criminal trial of the three police officers who stood by as fellow officer Derek Chauvin slowly killed George Floyd begins Monday in St. Paul, Minn. This trial may be even more important than Chauvin’s was.

Former Minneapolis officers J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas K. Lane and Tou Thao are charged with failing to render medical aid after Chauvin pinned Floyd’s neck to the ground for more than nine minutes on May 25, 2020. Additionally, Kueng and Thao are charged with failure to intervene to stop Chauvin. Legally, the trial is unprecedented.

Chauvin, who was convicted in April on state murder and manslaughter charges and later pleaded guilty to a federal charge of violating Floyd’s constitutional rights, was the senior officer on the scene that day (Lane and Kueng had only been on the streets for a few days). While a “duty to intervene” to prevent another officer from using unreasonable force has existed for 50 years, it has led to few federal prosecutions. In fact, I can find no federal prosecutions of lower-ranking officers for failing to intervene to prevent a higher-ranking officer — or even a peer officer — from using unreasonable force.

Thus, this trial could set federal precedent for holding officers criminally culpable not just for committing civil rights violations themselves, but also for failing to prevent another officer — even a peer or superior officer — from committing them. And that precedent could add momentum to a badly needed sea change in policing — toward a shared expectation that every officer will take all feasible steps to prevent another officer from violating constitutional rights, regardless of rank.

washington post logoWashington Post, Georgia prosecutor granted special grand jury in probe of Trump’s efforts to overturn state’s vote results, Amy B Wang and John Wagner, Jan. 24, 2022. The Fulton County district attorney was authorized to seat a grand jury beginning on May 2 for a period not to exceed 12 months.

The Atlanta area prosecutor weighing whether former president Donald Trump and others committed crimes by trying to pressure Georgia election officials has been granted a special purpose grand jury to aid in her investigation.

Fulton County Superior Court judges on Monday approved the request made last week by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis and said she will be allowed to seat a special grand jury on May 2, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

The special grand jury can continue for a period “not to exceed 12 months,” Christopher Brasher, chief judge of Fulton County Superior Court, wrote in an order.

“The special purpose grand jury shall be authorized to investigate any and all facts and circumstances relating directly or indirectly to alleged violations of the laws of the State of Georgia, as set forth in the request of the District Attorney referenced hereinabove,” he added. “The special purpose grand jury … may make recommendations concerning criminal prosecution as it shall see fit.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Supreme Court declines to hear McCarthy’s challenge to House proxy voting during pandemic, Mariana Alfaro, Jan. 24, 2022.  House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had proposed the system in May 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic, and Republicans have used it despite their lawsuit against it.

The Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s challenge to House proxy voting rules, which were proposed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in 2020 in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

kevin mccarthyThe rules allow absentee voting procedures, meaning House members can cast votes remotely because of the ongoing pandemic.

The Supreme Court, as is typical, did not comment on why it declined to hear McCarthy’s case.

McCarthy (R-Calif.), right, has long opposed the rules, asking the Supreme Court in September to overturn them, despite nearly 100 Republicans making use of them. The minority leader has blasted proxy voting as a “power grab” and a “raw abuse of power” by Pelosi and other Democrats. The rules were adopted in May 2020 on a 217-to-189 vote along party lines.

washington post logoWashington Post, Supreme Court takes EPA case that could narrow Clean Water Act, Robert Barnes, Jan. 24, 2022. When it exploded into public view, the ordeal over the Trump campaign’s payments to Daniels led to the unraveling of Cohen’s fierce loyalty to Trump, his longtime employer. Now, Cohen aligns himself with other Trump defectors and critics, including Daniels.

The Supreme Court will take up a challenge to the Clean Water Act that could narrow the law’s reach in ways long sought by businesses and home builders.

The justices said Monday that they will consider, likely in the term beginning in October, a long-running dispute involving an Idaho couple who already won once at the Supreme Court in an effort to build a home near Priest Lake. The Environmental Protection Agency says there are wetlands on the couple’s roughly half-acre lot, which brings it under the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act, and thus requires a permit.

Supreme Court allows Idaho couple to challenge EPA on wetlands ruling

The case raises the question of the test that courts should use to determine what constitutes “waters of the United States,” which the Clean Water Act was passed to protect in 1972.

In a 2006 case called Rapanos v. U.S., the court could not muster a majority opinion. Four justices, led by Justice Antonin Scalia, said the provision means water on the property in question must have a connection to a river, lake or other waterway.

“I speak to [Daniels] on a regular basis,” Cohen told reporters at the courthouse Monday. “We’ve actually become friends.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Trial begins for Michael Avenatti, accused of defrauding adult-film star Stormy Daniels, Shayna Jacobs, Jan. 24, 2022. Trial begins for Michael Avenatti, accused of defrauding adult-film star Stormy Daniels

Michael Avenatti, who rose to prominence representing an adult-film actress who claimed an affair with former president Donald Trump, stole $300,000 from his famous client to bankroll personal expenses as his business was collapsing, federal prosecutors said at the start of Avenatti’s trial on Monday.

In his opening statement, Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Rohrbach said Avenatti, an attorney, allegedly rerouted to himself installments of the $800,000 advance Stormy Daniels was owed for her book “Full Disclosure,” which detailed her life’s story, her dealings with Trump and pressure she allegedly faced to stay quiet about her ties to him.

Avenatti defended Daniels for years in her battles against Trump — on Twitter, on television and to reporters. But in his business dealings with her, Rohrbach told jurors, “He lied to everyone involved over and over and over again.”

Trump's flirtation with an anti-insurrection law helped inspire an insurrection

The federal trial is Avenatti’s third in the past two years. He was convicted of defrauding a youth basketball coach and sports apparel giant Nike, and given a 30-month sentence. An embezzlement trial in California was interrupted by a mistrial.

The Daniels trial is expected to be closely watched because it will examine Avenatti’s connection to the scandal that made him famous as an outspoken critic of Trump’s alleged behavior.

Daniels, whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford, is expected to testify as early as Wednesday. Among those in the courtroom on Monday was Michael Cohen, the former Trump attorney who pleaded guilty to violating campaign finance laws by paying Daniels to keep quiet about the alleged affair during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Trump has always denied the affair with Daniels and has distanced himself from the hush money payment.

Read The Washington Post's 2018 profile of Michael Avenatti

Avenatti’s profile skyrocketed with his representation of Daniels, who went public after the election about the alleged sexual encounter with Trump in 2006 and the hush money Cohen gave her. Yet as Avenatti gained notoriety with daily television appearances and his filing of a lawsuit against the president, his money problems were mounting, prosecutors said.

“You’ll learn [Avenatti] was desperate for money,” Rohrbach argued to the jury. “His law firm was in debt. He had trouble making payroll and paying for his office space, and the defendant had personal financial problems, too.”

Avenatti is charged with wire fraud and with aggravated identity theft for allegedly reproducing Daniels’s signature on a letter that said she wished to have her funds sent to a new bank account. Prosecutors have said Daniels endorsed no such request. Avenatti’s attorney, Andrew John Dalack, told jurors in his opening statement that the case amounts to no more than a contract dispute.

“What we have in this case, members of the jury, is a disagreement, a fee dispute between an attorney and his disgruntled former client who wanted all the benefits of zealous, fierce and loyal representation without having to pay for it,” Dalack said in U.S. District Court in Manhattan.

Daniels herself was in financial trouble, according to Dalack, which drove her to claim that Avenatti had stolen from her. Having lost her 2018 lawsuit against Trump, in which she tried to undo a nondisclosure agreement she was paid to sign, she owed $300,000 in attorney fees and concocted a story “to get [Avenatti] back and avoid paying.” She also allegedly blamed Avenatti for having lost the lawsuit against Trump.

“It made her mad,” Dalack said. “The evidence will show she didn’t want to pay it.”

When it exploded into public view, the ordeal over the Trump campaign’s payments to Daniels led to the unraveling of Cohen’s fierce loyalty to Trump, his longtime employer. Now, Cohen aligns himself with other Trump defectors and critics, including Daniels.

“I speak to [Daniels] on a regular basis,” Cohen told reporters at the courthouse Monday. “We’ve actually become friends.”

Atlanta Black Star, 'Didn'tt Know How to Respond’: GBI Agents Describe Gregory and Travis McMichael Being ‘Shocked’ and ‘Surprised’ As They Were Being Arrested for Killing Ahmaud Arbery, Nicole Duncan-Smith, Jan. 24, 2022. Georgia Bureau of Investigation officers, who were tapped to detain two of the men sentenced to life in prison for the killing Ahmaud Arbery, say that they were both surprised about being arrested. The detectives also noted that despite having footage of the murder, getting a conviction would not be easy, but they were proud to secure justice for the family.

Atlanta TV news station WSB conducted interviews with several of the 20 GBI detectives who worked to bring justice to the family of the 25-year-old Black jogger shot dead by white men on the streets of a subdivision just outside the city limits of Brunswick, Georgia.

Each remembered the events leading up to the arrest of Travis and Gregory McMichael and how shocked the father and son were once they were told there were warrants out for their arrests.

Weeks after Arbery was killed, the GBI was brought in to investigate the slaying on May 5, 2020, after the video of Arbery’s slaying leaked to a local TV station, and the father and son were arrested at their home in the coastal Georgia community on May 7.

Richard Dial, the supervisor in the GBI’s Kingsland office, said, “When we pulled up on the McMichael residence, we encountered Greg. He was out front.” Other officers supported him in the detainment.

Jason Seacrist from the GBI’s Douglas office referred to the elder McMichael’s reaction as “surprised.” The officer said, “I really think that he thought he was going to get through this without any consequences.”

Dial’s recollection confirmed what his fellow detective remembered, by describing his response to the arrest as being “shocked” and “surprised.”

“To see Cyrus’ large truck pull up and four agents initially jump out in tact-gear and to be told he was under arrest … to be handcuffed …” Seacrist detailed. “I think he was shocked and didn’t know how to respond.”

Dial continued, “We quickly took him into custody. Found out from him that Travis McMichael, who we also had a warrant for, was in the backyard of the residence.”

“He was in the back on the fishing dock,” Officer Cyrus Purdimon, a sole Black detective at the arrest, said. “We made contact with him as well in front of his mom.”

Dial recalled going to get the son, “Myself and Cyrus proceeded to the back. He was also surprised. He was very cooperative but very surprised.”

Travis McMichael, Gregory McMichael, and Roddie Bryan — the neighbor who helped corner Arbery and recorded the fatal encounter on his cellphone — were all sentenced on the state level to life in prison for murder in Arbery’s slaying. However, the three men are still named as defendants in a federal trial about the killing. The GBI continues to work with law enforcement to bring justice to the memory of the young Black man.

ny times logoNew York Times, Cruise Has Surprise Ending After Judge Orders Ship Seized Over Debts, Jesus Jiménez, Jan. 23, 2022.  The Crystal Symphony was set to arrive in Miami on Saturday, but it was diverted to the Bahamas after a U.S. judge ordered the ship seized over $4.6 million in unpaid fuel bills.

The ship was scheduled to arrive in Miami on Saturday, but mid-trip, a United States federal judge ordered the cruise ship seized over a lawsuit regarding unpaid fuel bills. The ship changed course for Bimini, in the Bahamas, according to a cruise tracker, rather than sail into the clutches of federal authorities.

About 300 people were transferred to Port Everglades, a spokesman for the cruise line said. It was unclear how many people had been onboard, but the ship can hold up to 848 guests, with one staff member for every 1.7 guests, according to the cruise line.

Recent U.S. Courts Headlines

 

U.S. Politics, Governance, Economy

washington post logoWashington Post, Va. lieutenant governor makes her mark in Richmond during tumultuous first week, Antonio Olivo and Laura Vozzella, Jan. 23, 2022 (print ed.). Winsome Earle-Sears sparked anger during her first week by suggesting that school districts will lose state funding if they don't comply with the governor's directive to loosen mask requirements.

Virginia Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears, the first woman of color to hold statewide office in the commonwealth, continued to make history — and some waves — in her first week on the job.

A conservative Republican, Jamaican immigrant and former Marine, Earle-Sears only had to gavel the Senate into session for the first time to draw the approval of nearly 34,000 people on Twitter.

“Badass,” one person tweeted approvingly. “True patriot,” wrote another. “Semper Fidelis @WinsomeSears,” Sebastian Gorka, a former adviser to President Donald Trump, tweeted to his 1.1 million followers — along with a campaign photo of Earle-Sears with an assault rifle strapped over her dress.

The conservative Republican won praise from her party and condemnation from Democrats for saying that Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) could withhold funding from school districts that defy his Inauguration Day order to make mask-wearing optional in K-12 classrooms — stating flatly what the famously cagey governor had avoided spelling out.

  Recent U.S. Politics-Governance Headlines:

 

Media, Sports, Education News

washington post logomargaret sullivan 2015 photoWashington Post, Opinion: If local journalism survives, give Evan Smith some credit for it, Margaret Sullivan, right, Jan. 24, 2022 (print ed.). The Texas Tribune founder has been a “true pioneer” in finding ways to cover local communities as a non-profit.

Politico, “Stupid son of a …”: Biden makes plain his opinion of Fox reporter’s question, Myah Ward, Jan. 24, 2022. The president didn’t appear to be speaking directly to Peter Doocy but was bluntly sarcastic after being asked about the political implications of inflation.

politico CustomPresident Joe Biden on Monday called a reporter a “stupid son of a bitch” after he was asked whether inflation was a “political liability in the midterms.”

joe biden resized oIt wasn’t just any reporter. It was Fox News’ Peter Doocy, the network’s rising star who is known for needling the president and for his clashes with White House press secretary Jen Psaki during daily briefings. Doocy has covered Biden from the start of his presidential campaign and was named a White House correspondent in early 2021.

It didn’t seem as if Biden was speaking directly to Doocy, though it’s unclear whether the moment was a hot-mic mistake or meant for the room to hear. The exchange happened during Biden’s meeting with the White House Competition Council, where he discussed his work to lower rising prices.

Following Biden’s remarks, journalists began shouting questions at the president as they were ushered out of the room.

fox news logo Small“Do you think inflation is a political liability ahead of the midterms?” Doocy asked, according to the official White House transcript, which included the full exchange.

The president, who is known for having a short temper and not the cleanest of vocabularies during heated moments, spoke right above his microphone. “No, it’s a great asset — more inflation,” Biden said, shaking his head. “What a stupid son of a bitch.”

Last week, Biden took questions from reporters for 111 minutes at the White House, answering on everything from Covid missteps and his Build Back Better agenda to Russia and Ukraine. When it was Doocy’s turn, Biden joked that the reporter always asked him the “nicest questions.”

“I got a whole binder full,” Doocy said.

“I know you do,” Biden said. “None of them make a lot of sense to me.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Sarah Palin’s defamation trial against New York Times delayed by positive coronavirus test, Sarah Ellison, Jan. 24, 2022. The long-awaited trial, which could test key First Amendement protections for media, is rescheduled for Feb. 3. 

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Jan. 23

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Pro-Trump Coup Attempt, Election Rights, Probes

 

Virus Victims, Responses


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Flags Planted On National Mall To Honor American Covid Deaths in September 2021, when the death total was 650,000 (photo credit: Kent Nishimura)

Flags Planted On National Mall To Honor American Covid Deaths in September 2021, when the death total was 650,000 (photo credit: Kent Nishimura).
As we stumble forward in the pandemic, now in its third year, our nation is a tangle of conflicting emotions.

Steady, A Tragedy Without Collective Grief, Dan Rather (right, author, columnist and longtime CBS News anchor and managing editor) and Elliot Kirschner, Jan. 23, 2022. We are weary, boastful, angry, unrepentant, depressed, dan rather 2011frightened, and “over it.” One thing is certain. We are bitterly divided.

We are divided by what we view as the truth.

We are divided by the measures we are willing to take to protect ourselves and others. We are divided by what role we feel the government should play.

We are divided by the responsibilities the private sector should have in protecting public health.

We are divided by how we view those we deem to be on the “other side” of the divisions listed above.

What we have is a global tragedy that has been particularly devastating in terms of death and suffering to the United States. Officially the death count from COVID in this country is well over 850.000, and rising, with thousands more dying every day. We will never know the real count. It is likely higher. Maybe significantly so.

When this all started, the idea that it would leave so much death in its wake was inconceivable. In previous eras of tragedy, suffering has made this nation more unified. Tragedies of significant magnitude have a tendency to do that by pulling at the inherent bonds of our common humanity. But not this time.

There has been no shortage of grief on the individual level, as this virus has torn through families and communities. But any collective grief on a national level long ago became another casualty of COVID. We can’t even agree that this is a tragedy. And that leaves me with a deep and profound sadness.

There are of course many reasons for this. From the beginning, this virus was politicized by a president and his willing and eager enablers. A political party already increasingly hostile to science, expertise, and responsibility, was eager to use even a deadly virus as a means to attack its opposition.

Its propaganda machinery whipped into gear and suddenly masking and other methods of controlling spread, and then inconceivably life saving vaccines, were turned into litmus tests of ideological purity.

The uncertainty of a rapidly changing and elusive viral enemy was weaponized by actors of bad faith.

Scientists were demonized. And the uncertainty of a rapidly changing and elusive viral enemy was weaponized by actors of bad faith to undermine the communal actions that are necessary to save lives in the midst of such contagion.

To be sure, the virus has reminded us that science is not a single set of facts. It is a body of ever-evolving knowledge, often reliant on incomplete and inconclusive data. Scientists, doctors, and public health officials often disagreed to some extent on the best policy -- over such things as closing schools, when to administer booster shots, and how restrictive our preventive measures should be. Looking back, much of our actions could and maybe should have been reconsidered. Although it is frustrating, that is the way science works. But that has only sharpened our divide.

Now that we have remarkably effective vaccines, there is a tendency among those who have been vaccinated to be very frustrated with those who have not. And this has extended, at times, to many expressing a lack of empathy for those who are suffering from severe cases of a deadly disease whose severity is now almost completely preventable. The truth is that almost everyone who is dying today is unvaccinated. And that means that most of these deaths should not have happened.

We may wonder how people can be so foolish, so reckless, so gullible, so selfish as to not get vaccinated.

This anger among the vaccinated is understandable. The unvaccinated do not only harm themselves, they make the spread of this virus easier and put those for whom the vaccines don’t provide sufficient protection, such as the immunocompromised, at extra risk. We may wonder how people can be so foolish, so reckless, so gullible, so selfish as to not get vaccinated. It is indeed infuriating. And that is only exacerbated by the fact that many of these unvaccinated people are proud of their status and use it to attack and belittle their political enemies.

Sadly propaganda can have a powerful control over the human mind. Our anger should be especially directed at those who know better -- the talk show hosts and politicians, many of whom are vaccinated, who have infected their followers with nonsense. Vaccines have joined such things as the “stolen election” in the toxic stew of lies, bad faith, false equivalence, hubris, and divisiveness peddled by those who wield their power by making the United States less united.

Nevertheless, I am left today primarily thinking of all who have died, as well as those suffering from long covid, and those who may suffer in the years ahead in ways we cannot predict. This could have been a moment when we decided to step outside of our divided camps and come together. That the blame for this not happening is so asymmetric along the political divide does make me very angry, but it doesn’t make me any less sad.

People are dead. Seats at dinner tables will forever be empty. Children will never get another hug from a parent or grandparent. The measures to protect ourselves - the separation, the events foregone, the life moments missed - carry their own pain. So many had to die alone. Medical professionals, in the time before the vaccine especially, rushed into help with little personal protection. Many died as a result of their service. We can and should grieve for all of this.

Ultimately, I also grieve for my country that we are so unable to grieve together. I understand the frustration as the pandemic continues its waves. I understand why people are desperate to move on. I feel it personally. I am at a point in my life when each day is a blessing. I would have rather spent the last few years very differently from how it has been. But the virus doesn’t give a damn about what we feel. It exploits our divisions. And that is another reason to grieve.

Perhaps, when the virus finally subsides, when we can look back with a distance from the passions that animate us now, we can find some common ground. I fear that the divides over vaccines and the preventability of death will make that difficult. But I hope that ultimately our humanity will prevail.

We will see that the tragedy was both the virus and the divisions it hardened, which only increased its potency. And for that we will be able to grieve, together.

washington post logoWashington Post, U.S. threatens use of novel export control against Russia, Ellen Nakashima and Jeanne Whalen, Jan. 23, 2022. If Moscow invades Ukraine, the United States may impose export restrictions on any product containing semiconductors made with American tools or designed with American software, Biden administration officials say.

  • Washington Post, A divided Europe confronts Russia with conflicting goals on Ukraine
  • Washington Post, Who are the Ukrainians that Britain alleges are working to ‘subvert’ the country?

washington post logoWashington Post, U.S. orders diplomats’ families to leave embassy in Ukraine amid ‘threat of Russian military action,’ John Hudson and Paul Sonne, Jan. 23, 2022. The State Department ordered the departure of all family members of U.S. Embassy personnel serving in Kyiv on Sunday, citing the “threat of Russian military action.”

The department also told nonessential staff they can leave the country — a decision that underscores the growing fears in Washington of an imminent military invasion of Ukraine by Moscow as it amasses tens of thousands of Russian troops around Ukraine’s borders.

The volatile atmosphere is the latest indication that efforts to de-escalate the crisis have faltered following talks between Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva on Friday.

“The security conditions, particularly along Ukraine’s borders, in Russia-occupied Crimea, and in Russia-controlled eastern Ukraine, are unpredictable and can deteriorate with little notice,” the department said in a statement. “U.S. citizens in Ukraine should consider departing now using commercial or other privately available transportation options.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Britain Says Moscow Is Plotting to Install a Pro-Russian Leader in Ukraine, Michael Schwirtz, David E. Sanger and Mark Landler, Jan. 23, 2022 (print ed.). The British government said Saturday that the Kremlin was developing plans to install a pro-Russian leader in Ukraine — and had already chosen a potential candidate — as President Vladimir V. Putin, right, weighs whether to order the Russian forces amassed on Ukraine’s border to Vladimir Putinattack.

The highly unusual public communiqué by the United Kingdom’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office, issued late at night in London, comes at a moment of high-stakes diplomacy between the Kremlin and the West. Russia has deployed more than 100,000 Russian troops on Ukraine’s borders that could, according to American officials, attack at any moment.

ukraine flag“The information being released today shines a light on the extent of Russian activity designed to subvert Ukraine, and is an insight into Kremlin thinking,” Liz Truss, Britain’s foreign secretary, said in a statement. “Russia must de-escalate, end its campaigns of aggression and disinformation, and pursue a path of diplomacy.”

russian flag wavingThe communiqué provided few details about how Russia might go about imposing a new government on Ukraine, and did not say whether such plans were contingent on an invasion by Russian troops. British officials familiar with the situation, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the intent was both to head off the activation of such plans as well as to put Mr. Putin on notice that this plot had been exposed.

In a highly unusual public statement, backed by U.S. officials, London named the putative head of a potential puppet government but few other details.

washington post logoWashington Post, Israeli soldiers blindfolded, gagged Palestinian American later found dead, according to leaked report, Steve Hendrix, Jan. 23, 2022.  Details of an army investigation obtained by Israeli media indicate troops didn’t seek aid for the unresponsive detainee, but none are likely to be prosecuted.

A leaked summary of an Israeli investigation into the death of a Palestinian American in the West Bank after Israeli troops detained him this month suggested that no soldiers were likely to be prosecuted despite investigators confirming that the man was dragged from his car, blindfolded and handcuffed and then fell silent while being held at a construction site.

The leaks, reported Sunday by Ynet, the online service of the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, included findings that the soldiers never sought medical aid for the man, 78-year-old Omar Assad, even though a military medic was at hand. Five soldiers, including a company commander and a platoon commander, told investigators that they thought Assad had simply fallen asleep and that he had demonstrated no signs of being ill. The investigation is being conducted by the Israel Defense Forces.

“We did not identify any signs of distress on him: a cry for help or, for example, the gripping of his hand to his chest,” the soldiers said, according to the report. They also confirmed that Assad was gagged and had his hands tied at the time, the report said.

But two witnesses who were detained at the same time have told The Washington Post that Assad was unconscious and not breathing when the soldiers left them in the courtyard of an under-construction house.

One of the detainees, Mraweh Abdulrahman, said he saw one soldier seem to squat on Assad and check his condition before consulting with other troops. One of the soldiers then cut loose one of the plastic ties on Assad’s wrists before all the troops departed.

Assad, a former Milwaukee grocery store owner, suffered from a coronary condition. He died of an apparent heart attack, according to Islam Abu Zaher, a physician who tried to resuscitate him at the scene almost immediately after the soldiers left. Assad’s face was blue when Zaher arrived, the doctor said, suggesting that he had been without oxygen for 15 to 20 minutes.

 

Pro-Trump Coup Attempt, Election Rights, Probes

washington post logoWashington Post, How Trump’s flirtation with an anti-insurrection law inspired Jan. 6 attack, Devlin Barrett and Spencer S. Hsu, Jan. 23, 2022. Within days of President Donald Trump’s election defeat, Stewart Rhodes began talking about the Insurrection Act as critical to the country’s future.

The bombastic founder of the extremist group Oath Keepers told followers that the obscure, rarely used law would allow Trump to declare a national emergency so dire that the military, militias or both would be called out to keep him in the White House.

Appearing Nov. 9, 2020, as a guest on the Infowars program of conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, Rhodes urged Trump to invoke the act “to suppress the deep state” and claimed Oath Keepers already had men “stationed outside D.C. as a nuclear option.”

Invoking the Insurrection Act was an idea sparked in conservative circles that spring as a means of subduing social justice protests and related rioting, a goal Trump seemed to embrace when he called for state leaders to “dominate” their streets. By the end of the year, it had become a rallying cry to cancel the results of a presidential election. Now, private and public discussions of the law stand as key evidence in the cases against the Oath Keepers.

Earlier this month, Rhodes was charged with seditious conspiracy, accused along with 10 members of his group of conspiring to use violence to try to stop Joe Biden’s certification as president. Rhodes has denied wrongdoing, saying he never wanted or told his group to enter the U.S. Capitol.

A court hearing in Plano, Tex., on Monday will determine whether he must stay in jail while awaiting trial. Court filings and public statements leading up to Jan. 6, 2021, show how important the idea of the Insurrection Act became to Rhodes and other extremists, including followers of the ever-changing QAnon extremist ideology, and to Trump and people close to him.

“It is hard to put into words how mind-boggling this idea was, to use a statute designed to protect the country from insurrection to support an actual insurrection,” said Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University at San Bernardino.

washington post logoWashington Post, Jan. 6 committee has spoken with former Trump attorney general Barr, chairman says, Amy B Wang and Tom Hamburger, Jan. 23, 2022. Former attorney general William P. Barr has spoken with the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection, the committee chairman said Sunday, a further indication that several former Trump administration officials are cooperating with the panel even as others are fighting efforts to compel their testimony.

“We’ve had conversations with the former attorney general already. We have talked to Department of Defense individuals,” Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.), the chairman of the committee, said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

The bipartisan House panel is investigating the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol by a pro-Trump mob trying to stop the confirmation of Joe Biden’s electoral college win, an attack that resulted in the deaths of one police officer and four others and injured about 140 members of law enforcement.

It is unclear what has been discussed between the committee and Barr, who stepped down as attorney general in the weeks before Jan. 6, 2021. Barr had been closely allied with Trump through most of his tenure at the Department of Justice but resigned in December 2020 after publicly disputing claims of widespread election fraud.

Thompson was asked Sunday if he intended to ask Barr about a draft of a Trump executive order, first reported by Politico last week, that would have directed the defense secretary to seize voting machines in battleground states. Thompson said he did, though he acknowledged the plan was only in draft form and never became operational.

“We are concerned that our military was part of this big lie on promoting that the election was false,” Thompson told CBS News. “So, if you are using the military to potentially seize voting machines, even though it’s a discussion, the public needs to know. We’ve never had that before.”

The draft executive order is believed to be one of the documents former president Donald Trump went to court to try to block from release. The document was among hundreds of pages provided to the committee by the National Archives last week, after the Supreme Court rejected Trump’s arguments. Trump has baselessly claimed for more than a year that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him. (There has been no evidence of widespread voter fraud affecting the election’s outcome.)

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Giving up on voting rights now would be unconscionable, E.J. Dionne Jr., Jan. 23, 2022. If civil rights leaders had given up at the first signs of resistance to equality in the 1950s, our nation would never have won the next decade’s great victories over racial subjugation.

The same determination is required after last week’s defeat of voting rights legislation. It was depressing. It was enraging. But it cannot be the final act.
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In the short run, this means fighting voter suppression and election subversion with whatever tools are at hand. Over the long term, building political power is the only way to win federal guarantees for ballot access. Walking away out of frustration or disillusionment is self-defeating.

To avoid a demobilization that could lead to an anti-democratic retreat akin to the disgraceful reaction to Reconstruction, political leaders must prove through concrete action that they are still in this fight.

 

Virus Victims, Responses

washington post logoWashington Post, Hospitals are asking workers with covid to return — even if they may be infectious, Brittany Shammas and Hannah Knowles, Jan. 23, 2022. Hospitals are increasingly asking staff who have the coronavirus to work while potentially infectious, underscoring how the hyper-transmissible omicron variant has sidelined employees, overwhelmed resources and upended nearly two years of strict protocols. Though vaccine requirements are common at hospitals, many health care workers are coming down with the virus, exacerbating staffing issues.

washington post logoWashington Post, Anti-vaccine activists march in D.C. — a city that mandates covid vaccines, Staff Report, Jan. 23, 2022. Thousands of protesters from across the country — including some of the biggest names in the anti-vaccination movement — descended on the nation’s capital Sunday for a rally against vaccine mandates.

Almost two years into a coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 860,000 Americans, the gathering on the National Mall was a jarring spectacle: A crowd of demonstrators, many unmasked, decrying vaccine mandates in the middle of a city that has adopted mask and vaccine mandates to reduce sickness and death from the surge of the virus’s omicron variant, which has battered D.C. for weeks.

covad 19 photo.jpg Custom 2Organizers had estimated that 20,000 people would attend the rally, marching from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial, according to a permit issued by the National Park Service. A smaller crowd of several thousand had arrived on the Mall by early Sunday afternoon.

The march was billed as a protest of mandates rather than the medicines themselves. But similar rhetoric — emphasizing individual autonomy rather than untenable scientific ideas — has long characterized the broader anti-vaccine movement, and the march’s speakers included movement veterans such as Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Del Bigtree, founder of the anti-vaccine group Informed Consent Action Network.

As speakers took to the stage — including a group of doctors in white coats — the crowd roared its approval at lines comparing vaccine mandates to the actions of authoritarian regimes such as Nazi Germany and the former Soviet Union and railing against the news media for its reporting on the scientific evidence supporting the coronavirus vaccines. (The Washington Post, like many other large employers, requires its workers to be vaccinated against the virus.)

By the time Kennedy addressed the crowd, many participants were drifting away. The group had dwindled to a few hundred by midafternoon, when one speaker recited long-debunked claims about a link between a common childhood vaccine and autism.

washington post logoWashington Post, FDA authorizes antiviral drug remdesivir as an outpatient therapy for people with covid-19, Laurie McGinley, Jan. 23, 2022 (print ed.). The move gives doctors and high-risk patients an additional option for treating mild-to-moderate illness caused by the coronavirus.

The Food and Drug Administration said the intravenous treatment, which had been limited to patients in the hospital, could be administered to outpatients with mild-to-moderate illness.

fda logoRemdesivir, manufactured by Gilead Sciences, was among the first coronavirus treatments authorized in 2020. The drug received full agency approval later that year for people 12 and older. Treatment of younger children is permitted under an emergency use authorization, but Friday’s expansion to outpatients includes both age groups.

The FDA action was welcomed by physicians scrambling to keep covid patients out of the hospital as waves of infections crowd medical facilities. Among the hurdles for doctors: Two of the three authorized monoclonal antibody treatments are ineffective against omicron; there are shortages of the one antibody drug that still works; and demand for recently cleared antiviral pills sharply exceeds supply.

washington post logoWashington Post, Anti-vaccine activists, basking in pandemic successes, set to rally in D.C., Peter Jamison and Ellie Silverman, Jan. 23, 2022 (print ed.). The scientific case for the range of vaccines recommended by public health officials in the U.S. remains as solid as ever. But anti-vaccine propaganda has found its way into many reaches of American life.

As anti-vaccine activists from across the country prepare to gather on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Sunday, they are hoping their rally will mark a once-fringe movement’s arrival as a lasting force in American society.

That hope, some public health experts fear, is justified.

Almost two years into the coronavirus pandemic, the movement to challenge vaccines’ safety — and reject vaccine mandates — has never been stronger. An ideology whose most notable adherents were once religious fundamentalists and minor celebrities is now firmly entrenched among tens of millions of Americans.

Baseless fears of vaccines have been a driving force among the approximately 20 percent of U.S. adults who have refused some of the most effective medicines in human history: the mRNA vaccines developed against the coronavirus by Pfizer, with German partner BioNTech, and Moderna. The nation that produced Jonas Salk has exported anti-vaccine propaganda around the globe, wreaking havoc on public-health campaigns from Germany to Kenya.

jacinda ardern march 16 press conference

washington post logoWashington Post, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern cancels her wedding amid omicron outbreak, Rachel Pannett, Jan. 23, 2022 (print ed.). Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand, above, has canceled her wedding celebrations as the Pacific nation grapples with an emerging outbreak of the highly transmissible omicron coronavirus variant.

Ardern — who made global headlines in 2018 when she had a baby in office (and then brought her 3-month-old daughter to the United Nations General Assembly) — had planned to marry her longtime partner, Clarke Gayford, during the Southern Hemisphere’s summer. The nuptials were reportedly set to include a performance by the New Zealand singer-songwriter Lorde.

She announced the cancellation during a news conference on Sunday in which she unveiled new public health measures and restrictions on public gatherings to limit the virus’s spread.

“My wedding won’t be going ahead, but I just join many other New Zealanders who have had an experience like that as a result of the pandemic,” the 41-year-old prime minister told reporters. “Such is life.”

New Zealand had mostly kept the omicron variant at bay until now; the island nation’s borders remain closed to international visitors, and officials recently suspended new bookings into the country’s mandatory quarantine system for returning citizens, worried the virus would leak out into the community from those government-run facilities.

Worldometer, World & U.S. Coronavirus Case Totals (updated Jan. 23, 2022), with some governments reporting lower numbers than the totals here and some experts saying the numbers are far higher:

World Cases: 350,208,196, Deaths: 5,611,386
U.S. Cases:     71,728,557, Deaths:    888,623
Indian Cases:   39,237,264, Deaths:    489,422
Brazil Cases:   23,960,207, Deaths:    622,979

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Probes Of Trump, Jan. 6 Insurrection

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Courts hand Donald Trump loss after loss after loss, George T. Conway III, right, Jan. 23, 2022 (print ed.). Donald Trump is often his own george conway postworst enemy. But sometimes, he gets competition from his lawyers.

Perhaps no better example of that can be found than in Wednesday’s order from the Supreme Court, which summarily rejected the former president’s “emergency” request to block, on grounds of executive privilege, the release of documents to the select House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.

The court’s decision was a brutal, and personally stinging, loss for Trump. And the arguments his own lawyers advanced may have made the defeat worse.

Trump lost the case in virtually record time. He sued the committee and the National Archives on Oct. 18, lost in the district court on Nov. 9, lost in the court of appeals on Dec. 9 and lost in the Supreme Court on Jan. 19. And so, today, the Jan. 6 committee has hundreds of documents Trump desperately wanted kept under wraps.

It’s hard to lose in so many courts so quickly — unless, I suppose, you’re Donald Trump contesting election results. So much losing, you almost have to feel sorry for the former guy.

But it wasn’t just the speed with which he lost that was so merciless; equally harsh, if not more so, was the substance of the rulings against him. The decision of the court of appeals for the D.C. Circuit was bad enough: A masterful and unanimous opinion by Judge Patricia A. Millett ripped to shreds every argument Trump made.

In its perfunctory order, the Supreme Court actually made the situation worse for Trump. The court of appeals had relied, in part, on the fact that Trump was a former president — and that the sitting president had carefully reviewed and rejected Trump’s executive privilege claims.

Ordinarily, that would be a pretty strong argument to make to judicial conservatives, many of whom believe that all executive power is vested in a unitary executive — the current president.

But it was too much for the Supreme Court. So the justices actually cut back on the court of appeals’ decision. Adding insult to injury, Trump’s own lawyers’ arguments may have helped bring the Supreme Court to that result.

  djt rudy giuliani headshots Custom

Palmer Report, Opinion: It’s over for Rudy Giuliani, Bill Palmer, Jan. 23, 2022. To give you an idea of just how slowly the federal court bill palmersystem can move, eight months after the Feds raided Rudy Giuliani’s home and seized his communications, the court appointed official overseeing those communications finally finished determining which of them were covered by attorney-client privilege just a few days ago.

Now the DOJ has its hands on the incriminating evidence it tried to take eight months ago – including about fifty communications that Rudy specifically tried and failed to get suppressed, which he would only have done because they incriminated him.

bill palmer report logo headerThis means the DOJ, once it finishes processing and evaluating these incriminating communications, can indict and arrest Rudy Giuliani any time it wants. The kicker is that doing so immediately may not be the best move. The point of busting Rudy, above left, is not simply to put him in prison. The real goal is to amass such a crushing criminal case against Rudy, even he realizes he has zero chance of winning at trial, thus prompting him to cut a deal against Trump world now instead of dragging out a trial date for a year.

But now that the court system has finally allowed the DOJ to have the evidence it wanted against Rudy Giuliani all along, it’s over for Rudy. He’s now a lock for indictment and prison. His only slim hope would have been if the court appointee had gone rogue and ruled that all of Rudy’s communications were privileged – which didn’t happen.

Of course because this process has taken so long, multiple additional Trump-era criminal scandals have surfaced that appear to incriminate Rudy Giuliani. So we’ll see if the DOJ decides to indict Rudy soon on the seized evidence it just received, or if it waits a bit to build a broader case against Trump lawyers Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani hawking their false claims that they could prove election fraud caused Democratic nominee Joe Biden's presidential victory in 2020.him which includes some of the things that have put Rudy’s name in the headlines more recently.

Either way, it’s over for Rudy. He can flip on Donald Trump and everyone else, or he can spend the rest of his life in prison. Once he realizes he’s going down, we suspect he’ll flip. The only question is at what point Rudy will figure out he’s going down. Rudy also has to consider that his former ally Sidney Powell, right, now claims she’s begun cooperating with the DOJ. There’s usually only one lenient plea deal to go around.

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World News, Human Rights, Disasters

ny times logoNew York Times, How Xi Jinping Is Staging the Olympics on His Terms, Steven Lee Myers, Keith Bradsher and Tariq Panja, Jan. 23, 2022 (print ed.).  From Beijing’s unexpected bid to the coronavirus pandemic, China has managed to fulfill its promises and cow its critics.

olympics 2022 beijing winter logoWhen the International Olympic Committee met seven years ago to choose a host for the 2022 Winter Games, China’s leader, Xi Jinping, sent a short video message that helped tip the scale in a close, controversial vote.

China had limited experience with winter sports. Little snow falls in the distant hills where outdoor events would take place. Pollution was so dense at times that it was known as the “Airpocalypse.”

China FlagMr. Xi pledged to resolve all of this, putting his personal prestige on what seemed then like an audacious bid. “We will deliver every promise we made,” he told the Olympic delegates meeting in Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpur.

With the Games only days away, China has delivered. It has plowed through the obstacles that once made Beijing’s bid seem a long shot, and faced down new ones, including an unending pandemic and mounting international concern over its authoritarian behavior.

washington post logoWashington Post, Tennis Australia defends banning ‘Where is Peng Shuai?’ messages at Australian Open, Cindy Boren, Jan. 23, 2022. Tennis fans at the Australian Open were asked by tournament security to remove T-shirts bearing the words “Where is Peng Shuai?” in reference to uncertainty surrounding the women’s player.

Tennis Australia, the Grand Slam tournament’s organizer, expressed support for Peng, who accused a former senior Chinese official of sexual assault last fall, but said the material violated rules aimed at keeping political and commercial statements away from Melbourne Park, site of the tournament.

Drew Pavlou, a Queensland-based, Australian Senate candidate, had tweeted video of actor Max Mok and another spectator being confronted by Tennis Australia and Victoria police Saturday. They were asking them to remove T-shirts that featured a photo of Peng and the word “Wanted” on the front and “Where is Peng Shuai?” on the back.

washington post logoWashington Post, U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces battles to regain control of prison for Islamic State suspects, Louisa Loveluck, Jan. 23, 2022. A U.S.-backed force in Syria said Sunday it was still fighting to regain full control of the country’s largest prison for Islamic State suspects, as the extent of the losses in a three-day standoff became clearer.

Farhad Shami, a spokesman for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), said at least 160 suspected militants and 27 members of the U.S.-backed force had been killed in the attack in the northeastern Syrian city of Hasakah. The attack began with two car bombs that sparked a prison break amid fierce fighting.

The numbers killed could not be independently verified.

The attack was among the most serious by Islamic State fighters since the U.S.-led coalition and the SDF declared them defeated almost three years ago. But it also bore echoes of the past: Before they seized territory and declared their own caliphate, many members of what became the Islamic State group were freed from prison through jailbreaks.

U.S.-led coalition forces launched airstrikes as their Syrian allies battled to regain control of the area on the ground, the coalition said in a statement. Coalition forces used Hellfire missiles and larger munitions and strafing runs by Apache helicopters, a coalition official said.

On Thursday night, the two car bombs rocked Hasakah and scores of militants swarmed the prison complex.

Prisoners responded by beating their way out into the corridors, officials said, overpowering their guards and killing several, before pouring out into the freezing prison yard.

Kurdish-led forces repel Islamic State prison assault; dozens of casualties

“Many Daesh detainees seized arms from prison guards whom they murdered and subsequently engaged SDF quick reaction forces,” said Maj. Gen. John W. Brennan, Jr., the coalition’s commander, using an Arabic name for the Islamic State.

ny times logoNew York Times, As a Conflict Brews, Ukrainian Troops Defend a Hot Zone: Chernobyl, Andrew E. Kramer, Photographs by Tyler Hicks, Jan. 23, 2022 (print ed.). Ukrainian soldiers, Kalashnikov rifles slung over their shoulders, patrolled through a silent, snowy forest, passing homes so long abandoned that vines twirl through the broken windows.

The fields are fallow, the cities deserted and the entire Chernobyl zone in northern Ukraine is still so radioactive it would seem the last place on Earth anybody would want to conquer.

But while most of the attention around a potential invasion by Russia is focused on troop buildups and daily hostilities in the east, the shortest route from Russia to Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, is from the north. And it passes through the isolated zone around the Chernobyl power plant, where the meltdown of a reactor in 1986 caused the worst nuclear disaster in history.

In one of the incongruities of war, that makes Chernobyl an area that Ukraine thinks it needs to defend, forcing its military to deploy security forces into the eerie and still radioactive forest, where they carry both weapons and equipment to detect radiation exposure.

With Russian forces near the border, Ukraine has created a defensive strategy for the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, one of the most radioactive places on Earth.

washington post logodavid ignatiusWashington Post, Opinion: As invasion looms, Ukrainians are calmly defiant, David Ignatius, Jan. 23, 2022 (print ed.). If Putin believes Ukrainians share his conviction that Russia and Ukraine are a single nation, he is wildly mistaken.

Other Recent World Headlines

 

U.S. Crime, Courts

washington post logoWashington Post, Va.’s new attorney general fires U-Va. counsel who was on leave working as investigator for Jan. 6 panel, Justin Jouvenal and Lauren Lumpkin, Jan. 23, 2022. Virginia’s new Republican attorney general has fired the University of Virginia’s counsel, who was on leave from the job to work as the top investigator for the U.S. House panel investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the Capitol, the attorney and university said.

Tim Heaphy, who had worked at the state’s flagship university for about three years, was among roughly 30 staffers who were let go by Attorney General Jason S. Miyares shortly before he took office a little over a week ago. Democrats have questioned the firings and how they were carried out.

Victoria LaCivita, a Miyares spokeswoman, said the attorney general’s office had also fired the counsel for George Mason University, Brian Walther, saying it is common for an incoming attorney general to appoint counsel that shares its “philosophy and legal approach.”

Both Heaphy and Walther are Democrats.

LaCivita declined to say whether any other counsels at Virginia’s more than three dozen public colleges and universities had been let go.

LaCivita said in a statement that Heaphy was a “controversial” hire and that Miyares’s Democratic predecessor, Mark R. Herring, had “excluded many qualified internal candidates when he brought in this particular university counsel.”

“Our decision was made after reviewing the legal decisions made over the last couple of years,” LaCivita said. “The Attorney General wants the university counsel to return to giving legal advice based on law, and not the philosophy of a university. We plan to look internally first for the next lead counsel.”

LaCivita declined to say what legal decisions she was referencing. LaCivita said Heaphy’s firing had nothing to do with his work on the Jan. 6 panel.

washington post logoWashington Post, Federal prosecutors have been investigating D.C.’s pension board, responsible for $10 billion fund, Julie Zauzmer Weil, Jan. 23, 2022. Federal prosecutors have been investigating the financial transactions of the D.C. Retirement Board, which manages the city’s $10 billion pension fund for retired teachers, police officers and firefighters.

The fully funded municipal employee pension plan has long been the jewel in D.C.’s financial crown, the envy of other cities and a signal of the trustworthiness of the District’s finances to the credit rating agencies that issue municipal bond ratings.

From 2013: D.C.’s pensions are looking pretty, ‘perhaps the most enviable municipal finances in the nation’

Channing D. Phillips, who was at the time the acting U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, issued a subpoena in August, The Washington Post has confirmed. The subpoena asked the retirement board, which is responsible for maintaining the multibillion-dollar trust fund used to disburse pensions to more than 25,000 retirees who have worked for the District’s public schools and its police and fire departments, to turn over records sought in a criminal investigation.

washington post logoWashington Post, A 12-year-old wrote his governor to oppose a gun law. A stray bullet killed him on Christmas, Lateshia Beachum, Jan. 23, 2022. Before winter break, 12-year-old Artemis Rayford wrote a letter to tell Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee that he opposed a new law reducing restrictions on guns. Before the end of that break, the sixth-grader would be shot and killed by one.

In his letter, Artemis told Lee (R) that his school’s anti-violence initiative with the Memphis Police Department had been discussing a law that went into effect in July, allowing people 21 and older, and military service members 18 and up, to carry a weapon without any training or permit.

He introduced himself as a student at Sherwood Middle School before writing his thoughts about the legislation.

“It is my opinion that this new law will be bad and people will be murdered,” Artemis’s letter said.

Shelby County Schools did not respond to a request for comment Saturday, and it was not clear whether the letter had been sent to Lee. The governor’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Saturday afternoon.

Artemis wouldn’t be around to find out what Lee thought of his letter.

Early Christmas morning, he was shot and killed by a stray bullet that came from outside the Memphis home he shared with his mother and 6-year-old sister.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Some personal testimony in the matter of NPR v. the Supreme Court, David Von Drehle, right, Jan. 23, 2022 (print ed.). Friends david von drehle twitterof Supreme Court Justice Neil M. Gorsuch spent recent days in high dudgeon (is there another kind of dudgeon?) over the wording of an NPR report concerning the jurist’s masklessness.

I found this highly amusing — self-righteous Washington hypocrisy can be funny — due to my personal experience on the receiving end of Gorsuch’s own journalism. As I will explain, he is not a man who believes in correcting mistakes.

But first, the backstory.

On Jan. 7, my colleague at The Post, the distinguished Supreme Court observer Ruth Marcus, noted that Justice Sonia Sotomayor had been absent from the bench during oral arguments. Marcus asked if that might have had something to do with the fact that Gorsuch, who sits next to Sotomayor, was the only member of the court not wearing a mask, despite the relentlessness of the omicron variant, which has been pushing the covid-19 death rate to more than 1,000 Americans per day.

Sotomayor has Type 1 diabetes and is over 65 years old, which places her at elevated risk of serious, even fatal, complications should she be infected by the coronavirus. On the day she would have spent hours seated next to Gorsuch, she instead participated in court proceedings remotely.

Enter Nina Totenberg, veteran court reporter for NPR.

washington post logoWashington Post, Va.’s new AG signals he will take a harder line on abortion, Justin Jouvenal, Jessica Contrera and Laura Vozzella, Jan. 23, 2022 (print ed.). Virginia’s new Republican attorney general announced Friday night that the state was withdrawing from a legal brief defending a woman’s access to abortion, arguing that the landmark Roe v. Wade decision should be overturned.

Jason S. Miyares said Virginia would no longer be part of a friend-of-the-court brief before the Supreme Court against Mississippi’s ban on abortion after 15 weeks.

The move marks a major change on abortion policy in Virginia, at a time when antiabortion advocates say they have more momentum than ever for the Supreme Court to overturn the Roe decision.

Virginia’s previous attorney general, Democrat Mark R. Herring, was a vocal supporter of abortion rights and signed onto the brief opposing Mississippi’s law with 23 other attorneys general last year. He signed similar briefs against abortion bans in Texas and South Carolina.

 

U.S. Politics, Governance, Economy

washington post logoWashington Post, Inflation is wiping out pay increases for most Americans, Abha Bhattarai, Jan. 23, 2022 (print ed.). Despite the economic recovery, many have less spending power than they had a year ago. After years of barely budging, wage growth is finally at its highest level in decades. A global pandemic, combined with swift government stimulus and unexpected labor shortages have put workers in the driver’s seat, giving them the kind of negotiating power they had never imagined.

But in an unexpected twist, the same strong economic recovery that is emboldening workers is also driving up inflation, leaving most Americans with less spending power than they had a year ago.

Although average hourly wages rose 4.7 percent last year, overall wages fell 2.4 percent on average for all workers, when adjusted for inflation, according to the Labor Department.

The only sector where pay increases outpaced inflation last year was in the leisure and hospitality industry, where workers generally make the lowest hourly wages of any sector. Workers there saw a 14 percent average raise from about $17 an hour to more than $19.50, according to an analysis of Labor Department data.

washington post logoWashington Post, Low-wage workers prop up the nursing home industry. They’re quitting in droves, Rebecca Tan, Jan. 23, 2022 (print ed.). Those still on the job face a “crisis on steroids” as omicron inflames staff shortages

In the eight years she has worked at nursing homes, LaToya Francis, 34, has been yelled at, kicked at and had feces thrown at her for little more than the minimum wage. She endured it because she loved being a certified nursing assistant, she said.

But she’s not sure she can hold out much longer.

As the omicron variant of the coronavirus drives record staff shortages at nursing homes nationwide, Francis has increasingly found herself alone on her 12-hour overnight shifts at Bridgepoint Healthcare’s skilled nursing facility in Southwest Washington, fighting off panic attacks as she tries to feed, clean and rotate more bed-bound residents than she can handle. Some nights, she retreats to a corner of the facility, where she calls her partner and sobs. Other nights, all she can feel is anger.

“I’ve never, ever felt this disrespected,” Francis said.

Frustration is surging among the low-wage workers who make up the backbone of the nursing home industry, as tens of thousands of their colleagues call out sick with covid-19, inflaming shortages that already were at crisis levels. Hailed as “heroes” during the early months of the pandemic, these workers, most of whom are women and people of color, say they’re facing untenable levels of pressure.

Government support has failed to end the crisis, advocates say, allowing care for the elderly and the infirm to worsen, forcing facilities to limit admission or close entirely and clogging up hospital beds. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the nursing home industry has lost more than 420,000 jobs since the start of the pandemic, reducing its workforce to the size it was 15 years ago.

washington post logoWashington Post, Dramatic sell-off in bitcoin, other cryptocurrencies outpaces stocks’ decrease, Tory Newmyer and Rachel Siegel, Jan. 23, 2022 (print ed.). Investors are fleeing riskier assets from tech stocks to cryptocurrencies as the Federal Reserve weighs whether to launch a U.S. digital currency.

A dramatic sell-off in Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies has outpaced a marked retreat in the U.S. stock market, as the Federal Reserve’s pivot from emergency support spooks investors who piled into highflying but risky assets during the pandemic.

The price of Bitcoin has fallen from its November highs of nearly $70,000 to now around $35,000. On Saturday, Bitcoin, the world’s largest cryptocurrency by market value, had fallen around 9 percent in just 24 hours. Since the start of the year, it has fallen around 23 percent. Meanwhile Ethereum, the second largest cryptocurrency, fared even worse, dropping around 15 percent over 24 hours and roughly 35 percent since the new year.

The sell-off accelerated a two-month slide in the global cryptocurrency market that has vaporized $1.4 trillion in value: After reaching a high of roughly $3 trillion in early November, the total value of digital assets sat just above $1.6 trillion early Saturday afternoon, according to CoinMarketcap.

washington post logoWashington Post, Va. lieutenant governor makes her mark in Richmond during tumultuous first week, Antonio Olivo and Laura Vozzella, Jan. 23, 2022 (print ed.). Winsome Earle-Sears sparked anger during her first week by suggesting that school districts will lose state funding if they don't comply with the governor's directive to loosen mask requirements.

Virginia Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears, the first woman of color to hold statewide office in the commonwealth, continued to make history — and some waves — in her first week on the job.

A conservative Republican, Jamaican immigrant and former Marine, Earle-Sears only had to gavel the Senate into session for the first time to draw the approval of nearly 34,000 people on Twitter.

“Badass,” one person tweeted approvingly. “True patriot,” wrote another. “Semper Fidelis @WinsomeSears,” Sebastian Gorka, a former adviser to President Donald Trump, tweeted to his 1.1 million followers — along with a campaign photo of Earle-Sears with an assault rifle strapped over her dress.

The conservative Republican won praise from her party and condemnation from Democrats for saying that Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) could withhold funding from school districts that defy his Inauguration Day order to make mask-wearing optional in K-12 classrooms — stating flatly what the famously cagey governor had avoided spelling out.

  Recent U.S. Politics-Governance Headlines:

Media, Sports, Education News

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: How Fox News and Republican officials devised one Biden smear, Dana Milbank, right, Jan. 23, 2022 (print ed.). For three months, dana milbank newestRepublican officeholders and Fox News personalities have been shouting it from the rooftops.

“The attorney general announced the FBI would investigate moms who dared to complain at school board meetings as potential terrorists,” Fox’s leading prime-time host, Tucker Carlson, announced last week.

“Biden and his cronies are calling the parents domestic terrorists,” contributed Florida’s lieutenant governor, Jeanette Nuñez, on Fox News last Sunday.

There’s just one wee problem with the whole Biden-says-parents-are-terrorists claim, reported dozens of times on Fox News airwaves and echoed at each link down the Republican media food chain: It’s horse excrement. Biden never said it. Attorney General Merrick Garland never said it. No senior (nor even junior) official in the Biden administration has ever been shown to have said it. Yet Fox News presents it as unchallenged fact, week after week. (In response to my request, a Fox News spokeswoman provided me no instance of a Biden official calling parents domestic terrorists.)

It would be easy to overlook this one drizzle of disinformation in the torrent of falsehood the GOP-Fox axis produces. The network, which “informs” the majority of Republican voters, has painstakingly constructed a parallel universe in which vaccines kill you, Biden stole the election, Biden is senile, grade schoolers are being force-fed critical race theory, the FBI orchestrated the Jan. 6 insurrection, and the country is in an apocalyptic spiral of open borders, rampant crime and runaway inflation.

“Parents don’t like being told that they’re domestic terrorists,” Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) tells Fox.

Indeed not. But thanks to Republicans and Fox News, millions of Americans can now add this to their long menu of lies digested.

washington post logoWashington Post, Pro-Trump influencers flocked to alternative social networks. Their follower counts stalled soon after, Jeremy B. Merrill, Jan. 23, 2022 (print ed.). After a short surge following the Jan. 6 riot last year, the number of people following noted right-wing personalities on services such as Telegram has barely grown over the past year, a Washington Post analysis found.

Pro-Trump commentators’ hopes of developing major followings on right-leaning websites after they left Facebook and Twitter have run up against a harsh reality: Their audiences on those sites have stagnated.

A Washington Post analysis of audience data for 47 prominent right-wing influencers who flocked last year to alternative social networks Gab and Gettr, the video-streaming site Rumble and the chat service Telegram found that their followings surged immediately after President Donald Trump was banned on the mainstream sites.

But those audiences have barely grown in the year since. In some cases, they even declined.

The influencers previously had seen steady growth on Twitter and other big platforms that distributed their messages to a broad audience. But after their jump to the niche sites, the analysis indicates, they largely failed to continue attracting new followers who weren’t already engaged fans.

Their biggest moments for gaining followers came when they voiced outrage at other high-profile conservatives getting kicked off mainstream sites, such as earlier this month, when Twitter booted Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) for repeatedly tweeting false information about coronavirus vaccines.

How we tracked right-wing influencers’ audience numbers

“Twitter is an enemy to America and can’t handle the truth,” she said on Telegram and Gettr, where her audience quickly grew to exceed the following for her suspended personal Twitter account.

Since Jan. 6, the pro-Trump Internet has descended into infighting over money and followers

The data helps strengthen the case for supporters of “deplatforming,” who argue that banning the accounts of people known for distributing lies can have a powerful impact on their ability to win mainstream attention or political influence.

It also calls into question whether this new and polarized online ecosystem — possibly to be joined soon by Trump’s long-promised social network, Truth Social — can build a sustainable business solely by catering to a radicalized right.

washington post logomargaret sullivan 2015 photoWashington Post, Opinion: If local journalism survives, give Evan Smith some credit for it, Margaret Sullivan, right, Jan. 23, 2022. The Texas Tribune founder has been a “true pioneer” in finding ways to cover local communities as a non-profit.

 Other Recent Headlines:

Jan. 22

Top Headlines

 

Virus Victims, Responses

 

Probes Of Trump, Jan. 6 Insurrection

 

U.S. Elections, Governance, Economy

 

World News, Human Rights, Disasters

 

U.S. Law, History, Crime

 

U.S. Media, Sports, Education News

 

Top Stories

 

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washington post logoWashington Post, Supreme Court, investigators force Trump and his children on the defensive on multiple fronts, Felicia Sonmez, Josh Dawsey and Jonathan O'Connell, Jan. 22, 2022 (print ed.). Probes in Georgia, New York and Washington target the former president, potentially jeopardizing his future — or perhaps yet again allowing him to escape unscathed.

A flurry of decisions by the Supreme Court and federal and state investigators has forced Donald Trump and his adult children to defend their conduct on multiple fronts, potentially jeopardizing their futures — or perhaps yet again allowing the former president to escape unscathed.

On Tuesday, New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) submitted a 157-page filing detailing much of the evidence her investigators have gathered so far on the business practices of Trump and his children, focused on a possible pattern of fraud. The civil investigation is separate from a criminal probe James is running in tandem with new Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg (D).

Then, on Wednesday, the Supreme Court rejected Trump’s request to block the release of some of his White House records to the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol by a pro-Trump mob.

Thursday brought a double whammy: The House committee sent a letter to Ivanka Trump requesting her voluntary testimony. In the letter, the panel said witnesses have told investigators that the former White House adviser might have direct knowledge of her father’s actions before, during and after the mob of his supporters tried to stop Congress from certifying Joe Biden as president.

fani willis resizedAnd in Atlanta, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis (D), right, requested a special-purpose grand jury to aid in her investigation into whether Trump and others committed crimes by trying to pressure Georgia election officials to overturn his loss in the 2020 election.

Taken together, the events seem to spell bad news for Trump. But some who have observed him for decades are urging caution. After all, Trump survived two House impeachments — avoiding conviction by the Senate — as well as the investigation led by Robert S. Mueller III into Russian involvement in the 2016 election and several congressional probes of his administration.

 

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washington post logoWashington Post, Cascade of issues undercuts Biden’s foreign policy goals, Karen DeYoung, Jan. 22, 2022 (print ed.). The administration’s first year was not without successes abroad, but Biden’s record was damaged by the withdrawal from Afghanistan and stumbles with allies.

The Biden administration’s top national security officials — nearly all of them with extensive foreign policy experience under previous Democratic european union logo rectanglepresidents — knew when they took office that the world had changed since they had last served.

In addition to repairing the United States’ Trump-damaged international reputation and relationships, there were unprecedented global crises, from the coronavirus pandemic to climate change and migration. There was a rising China to contend with, an increasingly belligerent Russia, nuclear-advancing Iran and North Korea, and the failure of the 20-year U.S. enterprise in Afghanistan.

They understood it all in the abstract, a senior administration official reflected. “But until you’re sitting in the seat, it’s hard to fully comprehend” the effect of so many issues simultaneously “blasting at full volume.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Britain Says Moscow Is Plotting to Install a Pro-Russian Leader in Ukraine, Michael Schwirtz, David E. Sanger and Mark Landler, Jan. 22, 2022. The British government said Saturday that the Kremlin was developing plans to install a pro-Russian leader in Ukraine — and had already chosen a potential candidate — as President Vladimir V. Putin weighs whether to order the Russian forces amassed on Ukraine’s border to attack.

The highly unusual public communiqué by the United Kingdom’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office, issued late at night in London, comes at a moment of high-stakes diplomacy between the Kremlin and the West. Russia has deployed more than 100,000 Russian troops on Ukraine’s borders that could, according to American officials, attack at any moment.

ukraine flag“The information being released today shines a light on the extent of Russian activity designed to subvert Ukraine, and is an insight into Kremlin thinking,” Liz Truss, Britain’s foreign secretary, said in a statement. “Russia must de-escalate, end its campaigns of aggression and disinformation, and pursue a path of diplomacy.”

The communiqué provided few details about how Russia might go about imposing a new government on Ukraine, and did not say whether such plans were contingent on an invasion by Russian troops. British officials familiar with the situation, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the intent was both to head off the activation of such plans as well as to put Mr. Putin on notice that this plot had been exposed.

In a highly unusual public statement, backed by U.S. officials, London named the putative head of a potential puppet government but few other details.

washington post logoWashington Post, Putin has many Ukraine options short of multi-front invasion, Paul Sonne and Robyn Dixon, Jan. 22, 2022 (print ed.). Troops, tanks, missiles and warships are on the move. Russian forces, slowly but surely, are surrounding Ukraine on three sides. The picture on the ground Vladimir Putinsuggests that Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, is about to launch a massive, multi-front offensive into a neighboring nation that for eight years has been slipping from his grasp into the hands of the West.

But the former KGB lieutenant colonel — who has spent his career refining tactics to keep his adversaries off balance and exploit their differences — retains a plethora of options short of starting a full-blown, mass-casualty war that would put his own economy and soldiers at risk.

President Biden alluded to those possibilities during a news conference Wednesday. Biden made, and later corrected, a gaffe suggesting that a “minor incursion” would be more permissible, but he revealed an uncomfortable truth at the same time: The United States and its NATO allies have agreed to inflict a devastating economic blow on Russia if Moscow invades Ukraine, but actions short of war — such as cyberattacks or sabotage — could divide allies over how aggressively to respond.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, right, tried to walk back that admission Friday after a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei antony blinken o newLavrov in Geneva, underscoring that actions apart from a military invasion, including cyberattacks or paramilitary activity, “will also be met with a decisive, calibrated, and again, united response.” Blinken noted that Russia is hatching plans for russian flag wavingsubversive activity that may not look like a traditional invasion.

“We’ve seen plans to undertake a variety of destabilizing actions, some of them short of the overt use of force, to destabilize Ukraine, to topple the government — a variety of things,” Blinken said.

ny times logoNew York Times, How Xi Jinping Is Staging the Olympics on His Terms, Steven Lee Myers, Keith Bradsher and Tariq Panja, Jan. 22, 2022. From Beijing’s unexpected bid to the coronavirus pandemic, China has managed to fulfill its promises and cow its critics.

olympics 2022 beijing winter logoWhen the International Olympic Committee met seven years ago to choose a host for the 2022 Winter Games, China’s leader, Xi Jinping, sent a short video message that helped tip the scale in a close, controversial vote.

China had limited experience with winter sports. Little snow falls in the distant hills where outdoor events would take place. Pollution was so dense at times that it was known as the “Airpocalypse.”

Mr. Xi pledged to resolve all of this, putting his personal prestige on what seemed then like an audacious bid. “We will deliver every promise we made,” he told the Olympic delegates meeting in Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpur.

With the Games only days away, China has delivered. It has plowed through the obstacles that once made Beijing’s bid seem a long shot, and faced down new ones, including an unending pandemic and mounting international concern over its authoritarian behavior.

 

Virus Victims, Responses

washington post logoWashington Post, FDA authorizes antiviral drug remdesivir as an outpatient therapy for people with covid-19, Laurie McGinley, Jan. 22, 2022. The move gives doctors and high-risk patients an additional option for treating mild-to-moderate illness caused by the coronavirus.

The Food and Drug Administration said the intravenous treatment, which had been limited to patients in the hospital, could be administered to outpatients with mild-to-moderate illness.

Remdesivir, manufactured by Gilead Sciences, was among the first coronavirus treatments authorized in 2020. The drug received full agency approval later that year for people 12 and older. Treatment of younger children is permitted under an emergency use authorization, but Friday’s expansion to outpatients includes both age groups.

The FDA action was welcomed by physicians scrambling to keep covid patients out of the hospital as waves of infections crowd medical facilities. Among the hurdles for doctors: Two of the three authorized monoclonal antibody treatments are ineffective against omicron; there are shortages of the one antibody drug that still works; and demand for recently cleared antiviral pills sharply exceeds supply.

washington post logoWashington Post, Unvaccinated seniors nearly 50 times more likely to be hospitalized than boosted peers, Andrew Jeong and Ellen Francis, Jan. 22, 2022 (print ed.). Unvaccinated adults age 65 or older who contracted the coronavirus were 49 times more likely to require hospitalization than seniors who had received booster vaccine doses, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Unimmunized adults in that age group were also 17 times more likely to be admitted to a hospital than those who had received either two shots of an mRNA vaccine or one Johnson & Johnson dose. Meanwhile, unvaccinated people between 50 and 64 years old were 44 times more likely to need hospitalization compared with their boosted counterparts.

cdc logo CustomThe CDC figures on boosters, drawn from between October and December 2021, provide a real-world snapshot of the efficacy of commonly used vaccines in the United States. The European drug regulator also said Friday it was becoming “increasingly clear that a booster dose is needed to extend vaccine protection,” particularly against the omicron variant.

Here’s what to know

  • Free rapid tests are about to roll out in the United States. In other countries, they’re already part of daily life.
  • The omicron surge has forced non-covid patients to forgo surgeries and has left them in pain.
  • Getting vaccinated has no impact on fertility, according to a new peer-reviewed study, which also found that contracting the coronavirus may led to a temporary decrease in male fertility.
  • Omicron was ‘likely’ in U.S. before first case was identified, wastewater data suggests

WhoWhatWhy, Analysis: Vaccine Skeptics to March on Washington — With a Dangerous & Confusing Message, Russ Baker, right, Jan. 21-22, 2022. On russ baker cropped david welkerJanuary 23, vaccine skeptics and mask resisters, influenced in part by podcaster Joe Rogan, will gather in Washington, DC, not far from where hordes attacked the Capitol a year ago.

whowhatwhy logoThe protest comes as a new CDC study finds that vaccines provide significantly more protection from severe, hospitalization-requiring COVID-19 than that provided solely by prior infection, or “natural immunity.” With the tremendous strain on the medical system, disproportionately generated by those opposed to vaccination, the efforts to stoke a movement around “liberty” deserves attention and discussion.

So far, the upcoming rally and march seem to be under the radar of most news organizations and have not been widely reported. This may be due to the difficulty in anticipating whether such events will be successful — and success in such matters is typically measured by the amount of coverage they receive.

The rally itself, ostensibly a push for freedom and liberty, pushes into the background the actual underlying theme promoted by several of its leading figures: doubts about whether vaccines are safe and whether people even need to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

A website for the rally declares, “We will not surrender our freedom out of fear.” It asserts that, based on principles of individual liberty, the government should not in any way mandate restrictions on people based on whether they are vaccinated.

The underlying premise is that, on balance, allowing the government to dictate public health measures necessarily represents a slippery slope to authoritarianism.

The site fails to mention that governments have long established health rules for the common good — and it is entirely possible that those involved are not themselves aware of history in this regard.

Nor is it mentioned that many who oppose vaccination requirements or mask mandates are also supporters of laws preventing abortions; here, they argue that there is a greater good than women’s personal liberties.

Coming in the midst of a crisis, at a time when Americans are more divided than ever, these attempts to portray public health measures as being about personal choice and individual rights will undoubtedly exacerbate divisions.

It’s uncertain whether Rogan’s reach will translate into a massive happening. If it does, it may add fuel to an already volatile situation, where elements of the American public feel increasingly alienated. Perhaps in anticipation of that risk, the sponsors have emphasized that they do not want trouble, with the slogan “United We Stand. In Peace We March” on their website.

washington post logoWashington Post, Anti-vaccine activists, basking in pandemic successes, set to rally in D.C., Peter Jamison and Ellie Silverman, Jan. 22, 2022. The scientific case for the range of vaccines recommended by public health officials in the U.S. remains as solid as ever. But anti-vaccine propaganda has found its way into many reaches of American life.

As anti-vaccine activists from across the country prepare to gather on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Sunday, they are hoping their rally will mark a once-fringe movement’s arrival as a lasting force in American society.

That hope, some public health experts fear, is justified.

Almost two years into the coronavirus pandemic, the movement to challenge vaccines’ safety — and reject vaccine mandates — has never been stronger. An ideology whose most notable adherents were once religious fundamentalists and minor celebrities is now firmly entrenched among tens of millions of Americans.

Baseless fears of vaccines have been a driving force among the approximately 20 percent of U.S. adults who have refused some of the most effective medicines in human history: the mRNA vaccines developed against the coronavirus by Pfizer, with German partner BioNTech, and Moderna. The nation that produced Jonas Salk has exported anti-vaccine propaganda around the globe, wreaking havoc on public-health campaigns from Germany to Kenya.

washington post logoWashington Post, Airlines in Europe say they are flying near-empty planes as omicron derails travel. They say E.U. rules mean they can’t stop, Perry Stein, Jan. 22, 2022. One airline says it may need to fly 18,000 "poorly booked" flights this winter to secure its slots at airports.— a figure the European Union disputes.

washington post logoWashington Post, Low-wage workers prop up the nursing home industry. They’re quitting in droves, Rebecca Tan, Jan. 22, 2022. Those still on the job face a “crisis on steroids” as omicron inflames staff shortages

In the eight years she has worked at nursing homes, LaToya Francis, 34, has been yelled at, kicked at and had feces thrown at her for little more than the minimum wage. She endured it because she loved being a certified nursing assistant, she said.

But she’s not sure she can hold out much longer.

As the omicron variant of the coronavirus drives record staff shortages at nursing homes nationwide, Francis has increasingly found herself alone on her 12-hour overnight shifts at Bridgepoint Healthcare’s skilled nursing facility in Southwest Washington, fighting off panic attacks as she tries to feed, clean and rotate more bed-bound residents than she can handle. Some nights, she retreats to a corner of the facility, where she calls her partner and sobs. Other nights, all she can feel is anger.

“I’ve never, ever felt this disrespected,” Francis said.

Frustration is surging among the low-wage workers who make up the backbone of the nursing home industry, as tens of thousands of their colleagues call out sick with covid-19, inflaming shortages that already were at crisis levels. Hailed as “heroes” during the early months of the pandemic, these workers, most of whom are women and people of color, say they’re facing untenable levels of pressure.

Government support has failed to end the crisis, advocates say, allowing care for the elderly and the infirm to worsen, forcing facilities to limit admission or close entirely and clogging up hospital beds. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the nursing home industry has lost more than 420,000 jobs since the start of the pandemic, reducing its workforce to the size it was 15 years ago.

ny times logoNew York Times, With people locked down in stores and offices after possible exposure, China’s “zero-Covid” policy is upending lives, Amy Qin and Amy Chang Chien, Jan. 22, 2022 (print ed.). More people are being caught up in the country’s virus-control dragnet. Some think the no-tolerance policy is unsustainable.

In a glitzy Shanghai shopping district, about 40 people who happened to be at a Uniqlo store were informed that they would be spending the night there. A suspected Covid case had been traced to the shop.

Elsewhere in the same city, Anna Rudashko was told to return to an office building she had visited for a meeting the day before. She spent 58 hours there with more than 200 strangers, waiting for test results.

Across China, in Shaanxi Province, Zhao Xiaoqing was on a second date, visiting a man at his parents’ home, when the local authorities locked down the neighborhood. She quarantined with them for nearly 30 days. (Fortunately, she said, “I got along well with his family.”)

China, which has largely kept the coronavirus at bay since 2020, is going to ever more extreme lengths to quell outbreaks that have proliferated around the country in recent weeks, and a growing number of people are finding their lives suddenly upended as a result.

At least 20 million people in three cities were under full lockdown as recently as last week, and many more cities across the country have been subjected to partial lockdowns and mass testing. During the past month, at least 30 major Chinese cities have reported locally transmitted Covid cases.

The case numbers themselves are minuscule by global standards, and no Covid deaths have been reported in China’s current wave. On Friday, the health authorities reported a total of 23 new locally transmitted cases in five cities.

But many cases have involved the highly transmissible Omicron variant, and with each passing day, the government’s dogged pursuit of “zero Covid” is looking harder to achieve. Many wonder how long it can be maintained without causing widespread, lasting disruptions to China’s economy and society.

“At this point, it’s really almost like a last-ditch, or certainly very stubborn and persistent, effort to stave off the virus,” said Dali Yang, a professor of political science at the University of Chicago. “They are really stuck.”

So far, the leadership has only doubled down on its strategy — which relies on mass testing, stringent border controls, extensive contact tracing and snap lockdowns — to extinguish nascent outbreaks.

ny times logo

New York Times, U.S. Covid Hospitalizations Plateau in Some Regions, and Surge in Others, Lauren Leatherby and Albert Sun, Jan. 22, 2022 (print ed.). Places hit first with Omicron are seeing a decline in hospitalizations, but numbers are still rising fast in much of the country.

Fewer people in the United States are being admitted to hospitals with the coronavirus than a week ago, suggesting that the record-breaking surge in hospitalizations driven by the Omicron variant could soon decline, following recent case trends. But the country remains far from the end of the Omicron wave, and in many areas it could be weeks before the strain on hospitals subsides.

ny times logoNew York Times, Booster Shots Are Instrumental in Fighting Omicron, C.D.C. Data Show, Staff Reports, Jan. 22, 2022 (print ed.). Extra doses of vaccines by Pfizer or Moderna were 90 percent effective at preventing Americans infected with Omicron from being hospitalized, new data suggests. covad 19 photo.jpg Custom 2The shots were most effective against infection and death among those aged 50 and older, the C.D.C. said.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Omicron extends its reach to some of the planet’s most remote islands.
  • U.S. Covid hospitalizations are beginning to level off, though many areas are still strained.
  • A W.H.O. panel recommends extending the Pfizer vaccine to children 5 to 11.
  • A Minnesota man is on a ventilator in Texas after a court battle over his treatment.
  • Booster shots are keeping older Americans out of the hospital, new C.D.C. data suggest.
  • As China holds the line on ‘zero Covid,’ some wonder if that’s sustainable.
  • ustria takes a big step toward a Covid vaccine mandate for adults.

Worldometer, World & U.S. Coronavirus Case Totals (updated Jan. 22, 2022), with some governments reporting lower numbers than the totals here and some experts saying the numbers are far higher:

World Cases: 347,509,793, Deaths: 5,605,320
U.S. Cases:     71,394,579, Deaths:   887,643
Indian Cases:   38,903,731, Deaths:   488,911
Brazil Cases:   23,757,741, Deaths:   622,647

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Probes Of Trump, Jan. 6 Insurrection

ali alexander djt

ali akbar mugshot

"Stop the Steal" organizer Ali Alexander is shown in collages of photo spanning his career as an organizer for the radical right. At top is a file photo showing him organizing efforts against then President-elect Joe Biden's election certification. Immediately above, via Crooks and Liars is an illustration of its 2012 column The National Bloggers Club And Their Super PAC Friends by Matt Osborne, co-authored with Alex Brant-Zawadzki and Bill Schmalfeldt, which reported:. "Ali Akbar (later Ali Alexander), now President of the National Bloggers Club, is one of the conservative blogosphere's most infamous characters. He began his campaign of notoriety with a crime spree in 2006, blazing a six-year trail of fraud. That's him up there, in the mug shots."

CNN, Investigation: Videos show 'Stop the Steal' rally organizer saying he would work with extremist groups, Andrew Kaczynski and Em Steck, Jan. 22, 2022. Videos show what 'Stop the Steal' leader was thinking leading up to Jan. 6.

An organizer of the "Stop the Steal" rallies that preceded the attack on the US Capitol a year ago said he would work with two extremist groups, who later had members charged in the attack, about providing security and housing for the January 6, 2021, rally in Washington.

CNNIn previously unreported videos from the social media platform Periscope reviewed by CNN's KFile, Ali Alexander, a leader of the "Stop the Steal" rally and a central figure in the House select committee's investigation of January 6, said he would reach out to the right-wing Proud Boys and Oath Keepers on providing security for the event. Both groups later had members charged in the attack on the Capitol, including conspiracy. Last week, the Justice Department charged the Oath Keepers leader and 10 others with seditious conspiracy related to the attack.

Alexander has not been charged or implicated in any unlawful act. He has denied working with anyone, including lawmakers or extremist groups, to attack the Capitol.

In other videos removed from Periscope -- it's unknown who removed the videos, when and why -- Alexander claimed to describe further details of his communications and coordination with several Congressional Republicans pushing to overturn the election result. The lawmakers have denied planning rallies or coordinating with Alexander in any way.

An attorney for Alexander denied that his client worked with the Proud Boys but acknowledged that Alexander did try to help them with housing; the attorney also said the Oath Keepers did provide security for several events.

While some of Alexander's Periscope videos have been previously reported by CNN, these additional videos provide new details of his claims about his contacts with extremist groups and lawmakers in the lead-up to the rally. They also show the heated rhetoric used by Alexander to describe his efforts, including speculating that a civil war could occur if the "Stop the Steal" movement's efforts were successful and that he'd rather see the White House be struck by lightning and "burn down" than have then President-elect Joe Biden enter it.

Claims about working with Proud Boys and Oath Keepers

In one livestream video on December 23, 2020, entitled "JAN6," Alexander said to his followers that he planned to reach out to the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers about providing security for the January 6 rally.

"Don't worry, I'm gonna make sure so many people are so safe. It's gonna make your head spin. I'm gonna try to make sure that every 15 minutes -- so that you just know in your head, you don't have to know in a map -- that Metro stops are being patrolled," he said. "I'm gonna try to go that deep into it. I'm gonna talk to the Proud Boys. I'm gonna talk to the Oath Keepers and I'm gonna try to get patrols going, okay, of men that go for hours."

In another video from December 29, 2020, Alexander said he spoke to the Proud Boys to make sure they had lodging covered for the event after a hotel frequented by the group said it would close in early January temporarily.

"I'll find you a room," Alexander said in a livestream addressing the camera. "My team will find you a room. I talked tonight to the Proud Boys to make sure that they were all covered."

Dozens of members of the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers have been charged in the attack on the US Capitol. Prosecutors have said members of both groups conspired ahead of time to disrupt the Electoral College proceeding. Both groups have been the subject of subpoenas by the January 6 committee.

Baron Coleman, Alexander's attorney, told CNN his client "did not work with the Proud Boys," saying his "colorful remarks or exaggerations during playful livestreams contextualize his intentions." But he said his client did offer to help them find new housing and the Oath Keepers did provide security for several events.

Alexander has not been charged or implicated in any unlawful act and he has denied working with anyone, including lawmakers, to attack the Capitol. In his December testimony, he claimed that the evidence he handed over to the committee exonerated himself and members of Congress.

"Anyone who suggests I had anything to do with the unlawful activities on January 6 is wrong. They're either mistaken or lying," Alexander said in his opening statement to the committee on December 9.

Coleman, Alexander's attorney, also argued to CNN in an email that the clips provided seemed out of context, arguing Alexander was joking or exaggerating in clips. He said all of Alexander's rallies were peaceful.

"Using tiny clips from the thousands of hours of extemporaneous speaking that Ali produced during the 2020 election cycle seems out of context and without regard to the truth," Coleman said. "All of Ali's rallies, to this date, remain peaceful and without incident. All of the dozens of rallies he did, all peaceful, without incident. The other ones under his care post-Election Day; all peaceful and without incident."

After at least two rallies in Washington, DC, however, clashes between protesters and counterprotesters turned violent. At a November 14 rally, violence erupted between the groups after dark and at least 20 people were arrested. And after the December 12 rally, at least four people were stabbed after an evening of faceoffs with counterprotesters; at least 33 people were arrested, including six people for assaulting police officers.

Alexander previously worked as a Republican political operative under the name of Ali Akbar on John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign and a handful of political action committees before rebranding himself as an outspoken supporter of Trump. Alexander gained notoriety after he began posting videos of himself espousing pro-Trump and far-right views in 2019 on social media and for his work with MAGA conspiracy theorists Jacob Wohl and Laura Loomer.

Claims about working with members of Congress

The extent of Alexander's work with members of Congress, the Trump campaign and the Trump White House has been a subject of interest for the House committee investigating January 6. Alexander sat in early December for a deposition and claimed in a court filing he told lawmakers of his interactions with Republican representatives.

He has also handed over thousands of text messages and communication records that include his interactions with members of Congress and former President Donald Trump's inner circle leading up to the riot at the Capitol.

The purpose of the Stop the Steal movement's work, Alexander said in a previously reported video first highlighted by the nonpartisan watchdog organization Project On Government Oversight in January 2021, was to build public pressure to intimidate members of Congress.

"I'm the guy who came up with the idea of January 6th when I was talking with Congressman [Paul] Gosar, Congressman Andy Biggs, and Congressman Mo Brooks," he said on December 28, 2020. "So, we're the four guys who came up with a January 6th event, hashtag 'do not certify.' And it was to build momentum and pressure, and then on the day change hearts and minds of Congresspeoples [sic] who weren't yet decided or saw everyone outside and said, 'I can't be on the other side of that mob.'"

New videos unearthed by CNN's KFile offer new details of these communications.

In one Periscope video from January 2, 2021 -- four days before the session to certify the Electoral College results -- Alexander claimed Arizona's Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona worked with him to pressure senators to object to certifying the results of the 2020 election. In the same recording, Alexander, speaking straight to the camera, said he worked with Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks and Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar to gather Republican votes protesting the election results.

"Who worked with Congressman Mo Brooks to whip up votes in the House," Alexander said in the livestream. "[Who worked with] Congressman Paul Gosar to whip up votes in the House, Congressman Andy Biggs, to not only whip up votes in the House, but also let me know who the soft senators were because he briefed them in the Steering committee? Boom, we've been doing the work."

Alexander had also mentioned speaking with Brooks in an earlier video from December 17, 2020.

"I will tell you, I have talked with Mo Brooks," Alexander said of the lawmaker. "We are talking personally. I've talked with the staff and I've talked with him."

None of the lawmakers contacted by CNN returned repeated requests for comment. Spokespeople for Biggs and Brooks have previously denied planning rallies or coordinating with Alexander in any way.

After the attack on the Capitol last January, Biggs' spokesperson told CNN, "Congressman Biggs is not aware of hearing of or meeting Mr. Alexander at any point -- let alone working with him to organize some part of a planned protest."

The spokesperson added that Biggs "did not have any contact with protestors or rioters, nor did he ever encourage or foster the rally or protests. He was focused on his research and arguments to work within the confines of the law and established precedent to restore integrity to our elections, and to ensure that all Americans -- regardless of party affiliation -- can again have complete trust in our elections systems."

A spokesperson for Brooks last month denied that the congressman was in contact with Alexander beyond one "benign" text message sent in mid-December 2020 from Alexander, in which Alexander identified himself as the founder of the "Stop the Steal" movement and claimed the two met in 2010. The spokesperson said Brooks did not recognize the number and had "no personal knowledge" about who the sender was.

Also in that December 17 video, Alexander called Marjorie Taylor Greene, who at that point had been elected but not sworn in as a Georgia representative, "a friend of mine" who would help their efforts to object to the election results.

A spokesperson for Greene's office previously told Rolling Stone that she and her office "had nothing to do with planning of any protest."

In another previously unreported video, Alexander claimed that Gosar came up with the idea for a march in Washington, DC on to protest the results of the election, though he did not specify which march. Alexander's attorney told CNN that his client was referring to the first rally in Washington DC in November.

"I got a call from Congressman Gosar," Alexander said in a speech at a rally on December 3, 2020. "He's the spirit animal of Stop the Steal. He's actually the originator of the DC march. He called me and said, 'Y'all need to march on DC.' I said, 'We'll see what we can do.'"

In one video from December 21, 2020, Alexander said he shared a dinner with Gosar a day earlier.

Gosar's chief of staff previously told the New York Times that Alexander was "a solid organizer," but that Gosar's office, while it promoted the events, was not involved in planning them.

Heated rhetoric

The videos unearthed by CNN's KFile also show the heated rhetoric that Alexander used leading up to the January 6, 2021, rally.
In one video from early January 2021, Alexander speculated that being successful on January 6 might lead to a civil war. In the same video, he said he'd rather see the White House "burn down," than have Biden enter it.

Alexander's attorney said his comments about the White House were "in jest."

"There's no circumstance that I think is legitimate that Joe Biden should enter the White House," he said on January 1, 2021. "I think the White House should burn down and I'm not saying that -- I'm not telling anyone to, but I'm just saying -- I literally believe that a bolt of lightning should hit the White House and light it on fire before it's handed over."

Jared Holt, a resident fellow at The Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab who studies US domestic extremist movements and had extensively researched January 6, said Alexander's rhetoric had the potential to influence bad behavior among the far-right.

"His role in the pro-Trump political space, connecting politicians, influencers, and activists, means that his words matter a great deal," Holt told CNN. "What Alexander says, whether in jest or in earnest, has the potential to ripple across far-right communities and offer permission for bad behavior."

Palmer Report, Opinion: Courts hand DOJ major victory in criminal case against Rudy Giuliani, Bill Palmer, right, Jan. 22, 2022. Eight months ago the Feds bill palmerraided Rudy Giuliani’s home and seized his electronic devices. Since that time we’ve heard relatively little about the criminal case against Giuliani, and some skeptics have begun bashing the DOJ for not being more “aggressive” and such. But in reality, the federal court system had been holding up the case – until now.

bill palmer report logo headerBecause many of Giuliani’s seized communications were with his “client” Donald Trump, he argued that they were covered under attorney-client privilege. This kind of privilege goes out the window when it’s clear that the attorney and client were communicating for the purpose of committing a crime together. But the courts have to suss out which communications are allowable as evidence and which aren’t.

To that end, the court appointed special master finished the sorting process earlier this week and turned over the majority of the seized Giuliani communications to the DOJ, per court filings. So now, as of a few days ago, the DOJ finally has its hands on the incriminating evidence that it seized from Giuliani’s home eight months ago.

This means that once the DOJ works its way through this evidence, follows up on any new leads, and puts the case in front of a grand jury, it can indict and arrest Rudy Giuliani. It’s taken far too long, but that’s not the DOJ’s fault – Merrick Garland and the DOJ do not control what court appointed special masters decide to do. But the bottom line is that Rudy is now out of time.

ny times logoNew York Times, Jan. 6 Panel and State Officials Seek Answers on Fake Trump Electors, Luke Broadwater and Alan Feuer, Jan. 22, 2022 (print ed.). Pressure is mounting on the Justice Department to investigate bogus electors who claimed that Donald Trump won in their states in 2020.

Law enforcement officials, members of Congress and the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol are digging deeper into the role that fake slates of electors played in efforts by former President Donald J. Trump to cling to power after he lost the 2020 election.

In recent days, the state attorneys general in Michigan and New Mexico have asked the Justice Department to investigate fake slates of electors that falsely claimed that Mr. Trump, not Joseph R. Biden Jr., had won their states. Representative Mark Pocan, Democrat of Wisconsin, wrote to Attorney General Merrick B. Garland on Friday demanding an investigation into the same issue in his state.

And this week, members of the House committee scrutinizing the Jan. 6 riot said that they, too, were examining the part that the bogus electoral slates played in Mr. Trump’s scheme to overturn the election.

“We want to look at the fraudulent activity that was contained in the preparation of these fake Electoral College certificates, and then we want to look to see to what extent this was part of a comprehensive plan to overthrow the 2020 election,” Representative Jamie Raskin, Democrat of Maryland and a member of the committee, told reporters on Capitol Hill.

“There’s no doubt that those people were engaged in a constitutional fraud on the public and on the democracy,” he added in a separate interview, referring to the bogus electors.

The false slates, put forth in seven contested swing states, appear to have been part of a strategy by Mr. Trump’s allies to disrupt the normal workings of the Electoral College. After election officials in those states sent official lists of electors who had voted for Mr. Biden to the Electoral College, the fake slates claimed that Mr. Trump had won.

“I’ve had people in my district ask me what’s being done with these folks,” said Mr. Pocan, who forwarded the names of the 10 fake pro-Trump electors from his state to Mr. Garland in his letter demanding an investigation. “Enough people kept bringing it up. If people think they can get away with some scam, they’ll try another and another.”

Attorney General Dana Nessel of Michigan said this week that she believed there was enough evidence to charge 16 Republicans in her state for submitting false certificates claiming Mr. Trump won her state’s electoral votes in 2020. She said she had handed over to federal prosecutors the results of a yearlong investigation into Republicans who signed documents in December 2020 falsely identifying themselves as Michigan’s electors. New Mexico’s attorney general, Hector Balderas Jr., referred similar allegations to federal law enforcement. And a local prosecutor in Wisconsin also recommended that state or federal prosecutors investigate fake electors in that state.

Representative Bennie Thompson, Democrat of Mississippi and the chairman of the committee, called the fake electors a “concern.” They could also play a role as the committee considers making criminal referrals to the Justice Department.

washington post logoWashington Post, Texas man charged with threatening election, government officials in Georgia, Matt Zapotosky, Jan. 22, 2022 (print ed.). A Texas man was arrested Friday and charged with threatening election and other government officials in Georgia, in the first case brought by a Justice Department task force formed to combat such threats, authorities said.

In an indictment, federal prosecutors alleged that Chad Christopher Stark, 54, posted a message on Craigslist on Jan. 5, 2021, saying it was “time to kill” an official, whose name is not included in the court documents.

“Georgia Patriots it’s time for us to take back our state from these Lawless treasonous traitors. It’s time to invoke our Second Amendment right it’s time to put a bullet in the treasonous Chinese [Official A]. Then we work our way down to [Official B] the local and federal corrupt judges,” Stark wrote, according to the indictment.

Georgia officials, in particular, were targeted by hostile messages after they refused to back President Donald Trump’s bogus claims of election fraud. Trump called Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) the “enemy of the people” after the election went against him, and he urged Raffensperger in a phone call to “find” enough votes to overturn his defeat.

On that call, Trump took aim at Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) and a low-level election worker who herself was subjected to a wave of threats. Trump called that worker “a vote scammer, a professional vote scammer and hustler.”

Georgia, though, was hardly an anomaly. Election officials across the country have warned about an ongoing barrage of criticism and personal attacks — many of them fueled by Trump repeatedly raising doubts about the 2020 election. Some elections workers and officials have left their posts in fear. A study by the Brennan Center released in June found that 1 in 3 election officials feel unsafe because of their jobs.

Kenneth Polite Jr., head of the Justice Department’s criminal division, said the election threats task force has received more than 850 referrals of potentially harassing and offensive statements, resulting in dozens of open investigations or efforts to mitigate danger. “During the 2020 election cycle, and the events that followed, these unsung heroes came under unprecedented verbal attack for doing nothing more than their jobs,” Polite said.

Some election workers and observers have worried the Justice Department was not moving aggressively enough to prosecute those making the threats, noting that — until Friday — the task force that was launched on June 25 had not brought a single case.

“There is an impression that bad actors are not being held accountable, and they can use threats to try to intimidate election officials,” Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold (D) said in an interview before Stark’s arrest.

“I do appreciate them launching the task force, but I do think there’s a lot of work to do,” she said.

Other Recent Headlines:

 

World News, Human Rights, Disasters

ny times logoNew York Times, As a Conflict Brews, Ukrainian Troops Defend a Hot Zone: Chernobyl, Andrew E. Kramer, Photographs by Tyler Hicks, Jan. 22, 2022. Ukrainian soldiers, Kalashnikov rifles slung over their shoulders, patrolled through a silent, snowy forest, passing homes so long abandoned that vines twirl through the broken windows.

The fields are fallow, the cities deserted and the entire Chernobyl zone in northern Ukraine is still so radioactive it would seem the last place on Earth anybody would want to conquer.

But while most of the attention around a potential invasion by Russia is focused on troop buildups and daily hostilities in the east, the shortest route from Russia to Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, is from the north. And it passes through the isolated zone around the Chernobyl power plant, where the meltdown of a reactor in 1986 caused the worst nuclear disaster in history.

In one of the incongruities of war, that makes Chernobyl an area that Ukraine thinks it needs to defend, forcing its military to deploy security forces into the eerie and still radioactive forest, where they carry both weapons and equipment to detect radiation exposure.

With Russian forces near the border, Ukraine has created a defensive strategy for the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, one of the most radioactive places on Earth.

ny times logoNew York Times, Saudi-Led Airstrikes Kill 70 in Yemen as Conflict Worsens, Vivian Yee, Jan. 22, 2022 (print ed.). The strikes also knocked out the country’s internet and came after rebels attacked the U.A.E., Saudi Arabia’s key partner in the conflict.

The seven-year-old war in Yemen intensified again on Friday when airstrikes by the Saudi-led military coalition on northern Yemen killed at least 70 people and knocked out the entire country’s internet, according to international aid groups and the rebels who control the area.

Capping a week in which rebel drones struck as far away as Abu Dhabi and Saudi bombs rained down across rebel-held northern Yemen, the hostilities were fresh proof of the conflict’s obstinacy a year after President Biden took office vowing to bring the war — and one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters — to an end.

After months of territorial gains by the Houthis, the Iran-backed rebels who control northern Yemen, forces backed by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have managed to claw back some territory and shift the momentum of the war. Those offensives have snarled international efforts to push the two sides toward peace.

Friday’s strikes, which hit targets across Houthi-controlled territory including a prison and damaged the country’s internet infrastructure, raised the risk of heating things up even further.

Wayne Madsen Report, Investigative Analysis: Biden and a Russian invasion of Ukraine? Biden employed a rarely used intelligence ploy, Wayne Madsen, wayne madsen may 29 2015 cropped Smallleft, author of 21 books and former Navy intelligence officer and NSA analyst, Jan. 21-22, 2022. During his marathon two-hour press conference on January 19, President Joe Biden employed an intelligence tactic rarely used by American presidents.

wayne madesen report logoIn addressing a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine, Biden said of that nation's president, Vladimir Putin, "My guess is he will move in."

However, if Biden was following past Oval Office precedent, he was not basing his prognostication on a guess or hunch. Instead, the president was signalling Moscow that solid intelligence captured from communications intercepts by the National Security Agency (NSA) and its signals intelligence partners of high-level Russian communications yielded evidence that Russia was planning a military move on Ukraine by its 100,000 troops gathered along its border with the former Soviet republic.

washington post logoWashington Post, At least 60 reportedly killed in airstrikes in Yemen, aid agency says, Siobhán O'Grady, Jan. 21, 2022. Humanitarian organization Save the Children said at least three children are among the dozens killed.

To determine the audience growth of influencers on right-wing social media platforms, The Washington Post analyzed previously published counts of followers or subscribers for 47 right-wing, QAnon and anti-vaccine influencers across the alt-tech platforms Telegram, Rumble, Gettr and Gab.

Many of those influencers have been banned from mainstream platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube; some have voluntarily stopped posting on mainstream platforms, and some still post there.

washington post logoWashington Post, Kurdish-led forces repel Islamic State prison assault; dozens of casualties, Sarah Dadouch and Louisa Loveluck, Jan. 21, 2022. Despite their defeat in 2019, Islamic State fighters still carry out attacks in Syria and Iraq.

The extremist Islamic State group staged a brazen assault on a prison in northeastern Syria, provoking intense clashes with the U.S.-backed Kurdish-led forces and causing dozens of casualties on Friday.

The attack on Ghwaryan prison in the Kurdish-controlled area of Hasakah province started Thursday night with a revolt by inmates and the detonation of a car bomb near the jail by Islamic State fighters. Fighting then spread into the town.

“Our forces killed around 20 terrorists that tried to attack the prison,” said Mervan Qamishlo, a spokesman for the Syrian Democratic Forces. “Now there are clashes taking place in the neighborhoods near the prison, and Daesh is hiding behind civilians and using them as human shields.” Daesh is the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State.

He said at least three civilians were killed in the clashes and confirmed a statement by the area’s internal security forces that one of its members had been killed and seven wounded. Seven inmates were also killed, the SDF reported.

washington post logoWashington Post, Peru appeals for international help to clean up major oil spill linked to the Tonga volcano eruption, Claire Parker, Jan. 22, 2022. A peru flagSpanish oil company said waves caused by the volcanic eruption near Tonga last week were responsible for the spill of 6,000 barrels of oil off the coast of Peru.

 Other Recent World Headlines

 

U.S. Politics, Governance, Economy

washington post logoWashington Post, Inflation is wiping out pay increases for most Americans, Abha Bhattarai, Jan. 22, 2022.  Despite the economic recovery, many have less spending power than they had a year ago. After years of barely budging, wage growth is finally at its highest level in decades. A global pandemic, combined with swift government stimulus and unexpected labor shortages have put workers in the driver’s seat, giving them the kind of negotiating power they had never imagined.

But in an unexpected twist, the same strong economic recovery that is emboldening workers is also driving up inflation, leaving most Americans with less spending power than they had a year ago.

Although average hourly wages rose 4.7 percent last year, overall wages fell 2.4 percent on average for all workers, when adjusted for inflation, according to the Labor Department.

The only sector where pay increases outpaced inflation last year was in the leisure and hospitality industry, where workers generally make the lowest hourly wages of any sector. Workers there saw a 14 percent average raise from about $17 an hour to more than $19.50, according to an analysis of Labor Department data.

washington post logoWashington Post, Dramatic sell-off in bitcoin, other cryptocurrencies outpaces stocks’ decrease, Tory Newmyer and Rachel Siegel, Jan. 22, 2022. Investors are fleeing riskier assets from tech stocks to cryptocurrencies as the Federal Reserve weighs whether to launch a U.S. digital currency.

A dramatic sell-off in Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies has outpaced a marked retreat in the U.S. stock market, as the Federal Reserve’s pivot from emergency support spooks investors who piled into highflying but risky assets during the pandemic.

The price of Bitcoin has fallen from its November highs of nearly $70,000 to now around $35,000. On Saturday, Bitcoin, the world’s largest cryptocurrency by market value, had fallen around 9 percent in just 24 hours. Since the start of the year, it has fallen around 23 percent. Meanwhile Ethereum, the second largest cryptocurrency, fared even worse, dropping around 15 percent over 24 hours and roughly 35 percent since the new year.

The sell-off accelerated a two-month slide in the global cryptocurrency market that has vaporized $1.4 trillion in value: After reaching a high of roughly $3 trillion in early November, the total value of digital assets sat just above $1.6 trillion early Saturday afternoon, according to CoinMarketcap.

washington post logoWashington Post, House panel broadens probe into climate disinformation and Big Oil, Maxine Joselow, Jan. 22, 2022. The House Committee on Oversight and Reform has invited members of fossil fuel companies’ boards of directors to testify at a hearing next month on their commitment to addressing climate change

 washington post logoWashington Post, Arizona Democratic Party votes to censure Sinema, citing filibuster vote, Griff Witte, Jan. 22, 2022. The decision reflected the growing estrangement between the first-term senator and her party.

The central committee of Arizona’s Democratic Party voted on Saturday to censure Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, a symbolic rebuke that follows her decision to buck her party’s leadership on an effort to scrap the filibuster.

While the reprimand has no practical consequences, it reflects the growing estrangement between the first-term senator and her fellow Democrats, who have been angered by her willingness to help stymie the party’s agenda on issues such as the minimum wage and voting rights.

State party chair Raquel Terán said Saturday’s censure vote, which was taken behind closed doors, was a direct consequence of Sinema’s unwillingness to endorse Senate rule changes to pass voting rights legislation. The senator’s move, she said, crossed a red line at a time when voting rights are under attack.

“While we take no pleasure in this announcement, the ADP Executive Board has decided to formally censure Sen. Sinema as a result of her failure to do whatever it takes to ensure the health of our democracy,” Terán said in a statement.

Sinema had said on Wednesday that although she backed the Democrats’ voting rights bills, she feared that eliminating the Senate’s 60-vote requirement for major legislation would add to the country’s divisions. With Sinema and Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) joining Republicans in opposition to filibuster changes, Democrats’ immediate hopes of passing voting rights legislation were dashed.

Sinema, who in 2018 became the first Democrat to win an Arizona senate seat in a generation, has emerged as a major force in Washington by leveraging her status as a swing vote in a 50-50 Senate. She has repeatedly described her stance as an independent one that she has said reflects the political mood in her closely divided state.

“During three terms in the U.S. House, and now in the Senate, Kyrsten has always promised Arizonans she would be an independent voice for the state — not for either political party. She’s delivered for Arizonans and has always been honest about where she stands,” Sinema spokesperson Hannah Hurley said in a statement after Saturday’s Democratic Party vote.

But what Sinema has touted as independence has been decried as unprincipled opportunism by a growing chorus of left-leaning groups and individuals.

Abortion rights groups Emily’s List and NARAL both pulled their support from Sinema over the filibuster vote.

Saturday’s censure comes a year after the Arizona Republican Party censured Gov. Doug Ducey, former senator Jeff Flake and Cindy McCain, the late senator John McCain’s widow, for showing insufficient loyalty to former president Donald Trump.

Other Republicans in Congress — including Sens. Richard Burr (N.C.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Bill Cassidy (La.) and Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.) — have also been punished by their state parties for defying Trump. Cheney voted to impeach Trump on a charge of inciting an insurrection after the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6; the three GOP senators joined Democrats in voting to convict him after the Senate trial last February.

The Senate acquitted Trump, falling short of the two-thirds necessary for a conviction.

ny times logoNew York Times, Guest Essay: Will Madison Cawthorn Be Brought Down by ‘Insurrection’? Harry Litman (a former U.S. attorney and deputy assistant attorney general), Jan. 21, 2022. Representative Madison Cawthorn has breezily dismissed a candidacy challenge filed by voters in his home state, North Carolina, seeking to bar him from re-election to the House of Representatives based on his role in the events of Jan. 6.

The plaintiffs, a spokesman from the pro-Trump Republican’s office said, are “comically misinterpreting and twisting the 14th Amendment for political gain.”

madison cawthornMr. Cawthorn is being too quick to scoff. The 14th Amendment provision in question, while little known and not employed since 1919, is a close fit for his conduct around Jan. 6 — as well as that of at least a half-dozen Republican colleagues who the organization spearheading the challenge, Free Speech For People, suggests will be next.

Passed in the wake of the Civil War to prevent former rebels from serving in Congress, Section 3 of the 14th Amendment states: “No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress … who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress … to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof.”

The critical point to understand is that Section 3 added a qualification to hold office, one of the very few in the Constitution. The others are that members of the House must be at least 25, a U.S. citizen for seven years and live in the state the individual represents. It is no different in this respect from the qualification that the president be at least 35 and a natural-born citizen.

So, if the voter challenge succeeds in establishing that Mr. Cawthorn engaged in “insurrection or rebellion,” he would be as ineligible to serve in Congress as if it were revealed that he is 24 years old. Under North Carolina law, once challengers advance enough evidence to show reasonable suspicion that a candidate is not qualified, the burden shifts to the would-be candidate to demonstrate the contrary.

The North Carolina State Board of Elections will create a five-member panel composed of people from counties in the new district in which Mr. Cawthorn intends to run (which is more Republican leaning than his current one). The panel’s decision could be appealed to the entire State Board of Elections, and after that to the state’s court system. The board’s decision will be delayed until after a state court rules on a separate redistricting challenge in North Carolina. But the issue will have to be resolved in time for the state’s primary election, currently set for May, so the normal Trump playbook of stalling until the issue becomes moot is not an option.

The key question in the challenge will be whether Mr. Cawthorn’s acts of support for the Jan. 6 uprising rise to the level of engaging in an insurrection against the government.

Here is what the first-term congressman did, based on public reports and allegations in the challenge: In advance of the riot at the Capitol, he met with planners of the demonstrations and tweeted that “the future of this Republic hinges on the actions of a solitary few … It’s time to fight.” He spoke at the pre-attack rally at the Ellipse, near the White House, where he helped work the crowd into frenzy, saying the crowd had “some fight in it” and that the Democrats were trying to silence them. And in the aftermath of the mob violence, he extolled the rioters as “political hostages” and “political prisoners,” and suggested that if he knew where they were incarcerated, he would like to “bust them out.”

The constitutional term “insurrection” is less cut-and-dried than, say, whether a candidate is 25 years old. In other contexts, courts have defined it as a usually violent uprising by a group or movement acting for the purpose of overthrowing the legitimately constituted government and seizing its powers. That accurately describes the collective pro-Trump effort to undermine the certification of the November 2020 election.

But while it may be rare, the North Carolina voter challenge is no joke. The challengers have a strong case, and Mr. Cawthorn would be foolish to take it lightly.

Harry Litman (@harrylitman), a former U.S. attorney and deputy assistant attorney general, teaches constitutional law and national security law at the University of California at Los Angeles School of Law and the University of California at San Diego Department of Political Science. He is also host of the podcast "Talking Feds."

washington post logoWashington Post, House GOP plots policy agenda for 2022 elections with help from Newt Gingrich, Jeff Stein and Laura Meckler, Jan. 21, 2022 (print ed.). As Senior Republicans put together a list of pledges to run on, they are consulting with the architect of the “Contract with America” linked to the GOP takeover of Congress in 1994.

Senior House Republicans are putting together a list of policy pledges to run on in the 2022 elections, and they are consulting with the architect of one of their biggest historical midterm victories.

Newt Gingrich, whose “Contract with America” in 1994 is linked with the GOP takeover of Congress in that midterm cycle, said he has been advising House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) on a set of policy items for Republicans to take to voters ahead of the November elections. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (La.) and other members of House Republican leadership are also involved in the project, which is not expected to launch until the spring or summer.

Washington Post, The GOP agenda for 2022? There isn't one yet.

Republicans are expected to focus their new platform on education policies aimed at tapping into parental discontent; countering the rise of China with new economic measures; and “oversight” of the Biden administration. They are also looking at invoking other traditional GOP goals such as cutting taxes, restricting immigration, criticizing Silicon Valley and repealing environmental rules.

ny times logoNew York Times, Biden’s Spending Bill Hit a Wall, but Climate Action Could Move Forward, Coral Davenport and Lisa Friedman, Jan. 21, 2022 (print ed.). Some Democrats want to advance a stand-alone climate bill, saying the urgency of a warming planet demands action and that they could muster enough support. But that could mean abandoning key parts of President Biden’s agenda, such as child-care, health care and tax-reform provisions.

A small but growing number of Democrats in Congress want to move ahead with the climate portion of President Biden’s stalled spending bill, saying the urgency of a warming planet demands action and they believe they can muster enough votes to muscle it past Republican opposition.

Faced with the possibility that Democrats could lose control of Congress in November’s midterm elections, the party is now looking to salvage what it can from the $2.2 trillion Build Back Better Act. The sweeping climate-change and social-policy bill passed the House but came to a halt last month when Joe Manchin III, the West Virginia Democrat and swing vote in the Senate, said he opposed it.

However, Mr. Manchin has suggested that he might back various climate provisions in the legislation, leading some Democrats to say the party should regroup around a climate bill.

“The bottom line is that we are running out of time and the only thing that can pass is a package that has the votes,” said Senator Edward Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts and a leading proponent of climate action in Congress.

 Recent Politics-Governance Headlines:

 

U.S. Crime, Courts

ny times logoNew York Times, Gunman Kills 22-Year-Old N.Y.P.D. Officer and Wounds Another in Harlem, Ed Shanahan, Updated Jan. 22, 2022. The officers were shot while responding to a domestic call, and a third officer shot the gunman, officials said. Mayor Eric Adams called it “an attack on the City of New York.”

One New York City police officer was killed and another was critically wounded when a gunman opened fire on them inside a Harlem apartment on Friday, the police said. They were the third and fourth officers to be shot in the line of duty this week, according to the police.

The police initially reported that both officers had been killed, but later said one was in critical condition at Harlem Hospital. The police said the officer who was killed was Jason Rivera, 22, who joined the department in November 2020. The critically injured officer was identified as Wilbert Mora, 27; he joined the department in 2018.

The gunman, identified by the police as Lashawn McNeil, 47, was shot in the arm and head by a third officer who was at the scene of the confrontation, an apartment on West 135th Street near Lenox Avenue, officials said. He survived but was in critical condition, the police said.

 

Media, Sports, Education News

 

oan logo

Media Matters, OAN airs testimonial from its owner confirming it was dropped by AT&T and begging viewers to reach out to other cable providers, John media matters logoWhitehouse, Jan. 21, 2022. Earlier this week, my colleague Bobby Lewis looked at One America News Network's future after the deranged conspiracy theory channel was dropped by AT&T / DirecTV. He pointed out that OAN has been asking viewers to reach out to cable providers like Spectrum. Now, OAN owner Robert Herring, Sr., has taken it a step further, recording a testimonial that begs viewers to reach out to Charter and Dish. He also complains that AT&T dropped him.

Herring's remarks about AT&T and its Chairman William Kennard, right,william kennard come after on-air remarks from an OAN host asking viewers to dig up dirt on Kennard. (The same host is now asking viewers to call AT&T and DirecTV and threaten to drop them if OAN is removed.)

robert herring srHello, my name is Robert Herring, left, and I'm owner and CEO of One America News Network. I'm sure by now a lot of you have heard the news that AT&T and DirecTV have decided to take us off their service. It was a major surprise to me when I read it in the news last Friday night, as I'm sure it was to you.

I have worked with AT&T in one capacity or another starting when I was 20 years old. I started out as a chauffeur, driving their executives around town; and later in life, this little news network that I built with my family and a small group of the hardest working individuals I know found its way into the AT&T channel lineup. Our dedicated group of investigative journalists, writers, producers and directors, and everyone att logoelse that helps this place run, spent the last several years bringing you, the American people, straight-shooting hard-hitting news that you just don't find anywhere else. And you, the viewers, have been great. Our viewership has grown so much year after year, and we read every single one of your viewer emails. We take the time to talk to you when you approach us on the streets. We listen to you, and that's why we know that you keep watching our network because we tell it like it is.

In the past, we have worked with a man named John Stankey at AT&T, and we always appreciate the great working relationship we had with him. But just recently, the new head of the board of AT&T, by the name of William Kennard, let us know that he and the rest of the board simply do not want to carry us anymore. It was a complete surprise to us, given how great our viewership has been.

Now we don't know exactly what we are going to do yet. But don't worry, we have a lot of options. We have always been and are still more than happy to talk to the cable providers throughout the country. We would also like to ask you, our viewers, to please reach out to the cable provider in your area -- whether it's Spectrum, Dish, or any of the other great providers -- and let them know that you would like for them to carry One America News. We only charge 10 cents per household per month. That is a great deal by any standard, giving all of the amazing content our team puts out.

Press Run, Biden's getting doomsday press — just like Obama did, Eric Boehlert, right, Jan. 21, 2022. Here we go again.  It wouldn’t be surprising if President eric.boehlertJoe Biden felt a strong sense of déjà vu as he marked his first year in office and the D.C. press eagerly writes him off as a failure buried by a mountain of crises, while at the same time erasing his accomplishments. (Record job gains, ending the Forever War.)

Reading from GOP talking points, journalists remain in hyperventilation mode, obsessively detailing Biden’s soft polling numbers while loudly — and falsely —claiming he can’t get his key legislative initiatives passed into law.

Biden’s lurking sense of been-here-before would be driven by the fact that as Barack Obama’s vice president, he watched the same media story play out under a different Democratic administration. Hounded by a D.C. press corps that was often obsessed with tagging Obama as a failure, depicting him as overwhelmed and outsmarted by Republicans, and occasionally just losing its mind over relatively minor unfolding stories (remember Ebola and the glitchy Obamacare website?), the press misjudged one of the most successful and popular presidents of the last half century.

Today, the Beltway media remains in groupthink mode (CNN headline: “Is Biden's Presidency Doomed?”), with everyone eagerly hitting the same points regardless of the facts. "For now, virtually none of the groups that fueled Biden’s 2020 victory are happy,” the Associated Press recently reported, despite the fact that polling shows 80-plus percent of Democratic voters approve of Biden’s performance in office.

The Washington Post published a long obituary on Biden’s presidency this week, casting his first year in office as a failure. (“Disarray,” “tensions,” “worry,” “stumbled.”) Left unmentioned in the article’s 43 paragraphs was the fact that a record 6.4 million new jobs have been created since Biden took office, and that the U.S. now enjoys full employment with workers earning all-time high wages.

The Post article indicated that Biden’s polling numbers (“stuck in the low 40s”) were a key part of his presidency. Yet after one year in office, Trump’s approval rating was in the 30s and the press rarely obsessed over it. His historically unpopular standing simply became the new norm, as journalists instead marveled as Trump’s loyal base.

huffington post logoHuffPost, Personal Essay: My Gentle, Intelligent Brother Is Now A Conspiracy Theorist And His Beliefs Are Shocking, Sue Muncaster, Jan. 21, 2022. My brother is a modern conspiracy theorist.

He calls himself an “Evolutionary Linguist-Spiritual Warrior Fighting for Human Free Will on Earth” on his TikTok account, which has 12,500 followers. He uses hashtags like #zombe #apocolypse #weare #freedom and #1111. The latter, as far as I can tell from doing a little Googling, is a symbol that often represents interconnectedness and synchronicity, and that inspires individuals to attempt to manifest their intentions and take action to turn their visions into reality. On the surface, this sounds sedate, even inspiring — especially as we come out of COVID isolation. None of us seem to want to “go back to normal” because normal didn’t serve us.

Last April, my sister-in-law texted me to warn me that my brother was heading, unannounced, to my doorstep in Idaho, where I care for our elderly father. I knew he believed “everyone on the planet who received the vaccine will be dead in a few years,” but I had no idea of the depth of his fantastical beliefs.

Our evening together started with him mansplaining why cryptocurrencies are our only hope and how he had the idea for Amazon before Jeff Bezos did and how he would be the richest man in the world if not for some bad breaks along the way. Although he wasn’t physically at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., he referred to the Jan. 6 rioters as “we.”

Later that night, my brother announced, “The real reason I’m here is I’ve come to warn you that over the next two weeks, a lot of shit is going to come out about what’s been going on for the past 50 years, 100 years, 4,000 years. It is going to shock you to your core. All the conspiracy theories ― everyone you ever heard from politics to Big Oil to wars in Afghanistan to Biden not being president ― this pulls it all together.”

At this point, I excused myself to go to the restroom, turned on the Voice Memos app on my iPhone, and tucked it in my back pocket in case he divulged any plans for violence, which, thankfully, he did not. The following is a transcribed summary of the main points he “knows with certainty” that “the media won’t tell us about.”

Sue Muncaster is a freelance writer living in Teton Valley, Idaho. Through her platform Teton Strong, she explores the intentional mental, physical, social and spiritual practices and rich experiences that bring us alive and are characteristic of a values-driven outdoor lifestyle. Just last week she dipped her toes into local politics when she joined the Victor city council as a councilmember. You can find her on Facebook and Medium.

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washington post logoWashington Post, Supreme Court, investigators force Trump and his children on the defensive on multiple fronts, Felicia Sonmez, Josh Dawsey and Jonathan O'Connell, Jan. 21, 2022. Probes in Georgia, New York and Washington target the former president, potentially jeopardizing his future — or perhaps yet again allowing him to escape unscathed.

A flurry of decisions by the Supreme Court and federal and state investigators has forced Donald Trump and his adult children to defend their conduct on multiple fronts, potentially jeopardizing their futures — or perhaps yet again allowing the former president to escape unscathed.

On Tuesday, New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) submitted a 157-page filing detailing much of the evidence her investigators have gathered so far on the business practices of Trump and his children, focused on a possible pattern of fraud. The civil investigation is separate from a criminal probe James is running in tandem with new Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg (D).

Then, on Wednesday, the Supreme Court rejected Trump’s request to block the release of some of his White House records to the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol by a pro-Trump mob.

Thursday brought a double whammy: The House committee sent a letter to Ivanka Trump requesting her voluntary testimony. In the letter, the panel said witnesses have told investigators that the former White House adviser might have direct knowledge of her father’s actions before, during and after the mob of his supporters tried to stop Congress from certifying Joe Biden as president.

fani willis resizedAnd in Atlanta, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis (D), right, requested a special-purpose grand jury to aid in her investigation into whether Trump and others committed crimes by trying to pressure Georgia election officials to overturn his loss in the 2020 election.

Taken together, the events seem to spell bad news for Trump. But some who have observed him for decades are urging caution. After all, Trump survived two House impeachments — avoiding conviction by the Senate — as well as the investigation led by Robert S. Mueller III into Russian involvement in the 2016 election and several congressional probes of his administration.

ny times logoNew York Times, Jan. 6 Panel and State Officials Seek Answers on Fake Trump Electors, Luke Broadwater and Alan Feuer, Jan. 21, 2022. Pressure is mounting on the Justice Department to investigate bogus electors who claimed that Donald Trump won in their states in 2020.

Law enforcement officials, members of Congress and the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol are digging deeper into the role that fake slates of electors played in efforts by former President Donald J. Trump to cling to power after he lost the 2020 election.

In recent days, the state attorneys general in Michigan and New Mexico have asked the Justice Department to investigate fake slates of electors that falsely claimed that Mr. Trump, not Joseph R. Biden Jr., had won their states. Representative Mark Pocan, Democrat of Wisconsin, wrote to Attorney General Merrick B. Garland on Friday demanding an investigation into the same issue in his state.

And this week, members of the House committee scrutinizing the Jan. 6 riot said that they, too, were examining the part that the bogus electoral slates played in Mr. Trump’s scheme to overturn the election.

“We want to look at the fraudulent activity that was contained in the preparation of these fake Electoral College certificates, and then we want to look to see to what extent this was part of a comprehensive plan to overthrow the 2020 election,” Representative Jamie Raskin, Democrat of Maryland and a member of the committee, told reporters on Capitol Hill.

“There’s no doubt that those people were engaged in a constitutional fraud on the public and on the democracy,” he added in a separate interview, referring to the bogus electors.

The false slates, put forth in seven contested swing states, appear to have been part of a strategy by Mr. Trump’s allies to disrupt the normal workings of the Electoral College. After election officials in those states sent official lists of electors who had voted for Mr. Biden to the Electoral College, the fake slates claimed that Mr. Trump had won.

“I’ve had people in my district ask me what’s being done with these folks,” said Mr. Pocan, who forwarded the names of the 10 fake pro-Trump electors from his state to Mr. Garland in his letter demanding an investigation. “Enough people kept bringing it up. If people think they can get away with some scam, they’ll try another and another.”

Attorney General Dana Nessel of Michigan said this week that she believed there was enough evidence to charge 16 Republicans in her state for submitting false certificates claiming Mr. Trump won her state’s electoral votes in 2020. She said she had handed over to federal prosecutors the results of a yearlong investigation into Republicans who signed documents in December 2020 falsely identifying themselves as Michigan’s electors. New Mexico’s attorney general, Hector Balderas Jr., referred similar allegations to federal law enforcement. And a local prosecutor in Wisconsin also recommended that state or federal prosecutors investigate fake electors in that state.

Representative Bennie Thompson, Democrat of Mississippi and the chairman of the committee, called the fake electors a “concern.” They could also play a role as the committee considers making criminal referrals to the Justice Department.

 

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washington post logoWashington Post, Cascade of issues undercuts Biden’s foreign policy goals, Karen DeYoung, Jan. 21, 2022. The administration’s first year was not without successes abroad, but Biden’s record was damaged by the withdrawal from Afghanistan and stumbles with allies.

The Biden administration’s top national security officials — nearly all of them with extensive foreign policy experience under previous Democratic european union logo rectanglepresidents — knew when they took office that the world had changed since they had last served.

In addition to repairing the United States’ Trump-damaged international reputation and relationships, there were unprecedented global crises, from the coronavirus pandemic to climate change and migration. There was a rising China to contend with, an increasingly belligerent Russia, nuclear-advancing Iran and North Korea, and the failure of the 20-year U.S. enterprise in Afghanistan.

They understood it all in the abstract, a senior administration official reflected. “But until you’re sitting in the seat, it’s hard to fully comprehend” the effect of so many issues simultaneously “blasting at full volume.”

washington post logoWashington Post, In crisis talks, U.S., and Russian top diplomats trade demands on Ukraine, Missy Ryan, Jan. 21, 2022. The top American and Russian diplomats traded demands over Ukraine during a high-stakes meeting on Friday, as the standoff between Western nations and Moscow intensifies.

antony blinken o newSecretary of State Antony Blinken’s hastily arranged meeting with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, which capped a series of crisis talks this week with Ukrainian and NATO leaders, signaled the Biden administration’s urgency in attempting to avert what U.S. officials say could be an imminent Russian invasion of Ukraine.

ukraine flagLavrov, speaking as the two men sat down for discussions in a Geneva hotel, said he was awaiting a formal U.S. response to proposals that Russia has put forward that would limit NATO’s expansion and activities in Eastern Europe.

Moscow has accused Ukraine of threatening Russian security by procuring foreign weaponry and aspiring to join the Western NATO alliance. The United States and its allies say it is Russia that threatens Ukraine by massing troops along its borders and preparing for a possible assault, like the one Moscow launched on Ukraine’s Crimea in 2014.

Despite differences, Biden administration stresses transatlantic unity on Ukraine

“What we expect is concrete answers to our concrete proposals,” Lavrov said through an interpreter, making reference to tenets of European security.

“I refer in particular to the principle of the indivisibility of security, as well as the obligation of countries not to strengthen their own security at the expense of security of others,” he said. “We would very much be interested to hear how the U.S. interprets these obligations and these principles.”

 

clarence virginia thomas bought by billionaires

Ultra-right lobbyist Virginia Thomas, her husband Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas and a collage showing two right-wing billionaires who have served as friends and patrons of the couple through the decades. Real estate mogul Harlan Crow, second from the left, contributed $500,000 to her and considerable funds have also been funneled to her via Charles Koch, shown above at right, and his late brother David Koch. Forbes Magazine listed Charles Koch as the 22nd most wealthy American in January 2022, with assets of more than $60 billion.

The New Yorker, Investigative Commentary: Is Ginni Thomas a Threat to the Supreme Court? Jane Mayer, right, Jan. 21, 2022. Behind closed doors, Justice jane mayer cspanClarence Thomas’s wife is working with many groups directly involved in controversial cases before the Court. Thomas has new yorker logodeclared that America is in existential danger because of the “deep state” and the “fascist left,” which includes “transsexual fascists.”

In December, Chief Justice John Roberts, below left, released his year-end report on the federal judiciary. According to a recent Gallup poll, the Supreme Court has its lowest public-approval rating in history—in part because it is viewed as being overly politicized. President Joe Biden recently established a bipartisan commission to consider reforms to the Court, and members of Congress have introduced legislation that would require Justices to adhere to the same types of ethics standards as other judges. Roberts’s report, however, defiantly warned everyone to back off. “The Judiciary’s power to manage its internal affairs insulates courts from inappropriate political influence,” he wrote. His statement followed a series of defensive speeches from members of the Court’s john roberts oconservative wing, which now holds a super-majority of 6–3.

Last fall, Justice Clarence Thomas, in an address at Notre Dame, accused the media of spreading the false notion that the Justices are merely politicians in robes. Such criticism, he said, “makes it sound as though you are just always going right to your personal preference,” adding, “They think you become like a politician!”

The claim that the Justices’ opinions are politically neutral is becoming increasingly hard to accept, especially from Thomas, whose wife, Virginia (Ginni) Thomas, is a vocal right-wing activist. She has declared that America is in existential danger because of the “deep state” and the “fascist left,” which includes “transsexual fascists.” Thomas, a lawyer who runs a small political-lobbying firm, Liberty Consulting, has become a prominent member of various hard-line groups. Her political activism has caused controversy for years. For the most part, it has been dismissed as the harmless action of an independent spouse. But now the Court appears likely to secure victories for her allies in a number of highly polarizing cases—on abortion, affirmative action, and gun rights.

Many Americans first became aware of Ginni Thomas’s activism on January 6, 2021. That morning, before the Stop the Steal rally in Washington, D.C., turned into an assault on the Capitol resulting in the deaths of at least five people, she cheered on the supporters of President Donald Trump who had gathered to overturn Biden’s election. In a Facebook post that went viral, she linked to a news item about the protest, writing, “LOVE MAGA people!!!!” Shortly afterward, she posted about Ronald Reagan’s famous “A Time for Choosing” speech. Her next status update said, “GOD BLESS EACH OF YOU STANDING UP or PRAYING.” Two days after the insurrection, she added a disclaimer to her feed, noting that she’d written the posts “before violence in US Capitol.” (The posts are no longer public.)

Later that January, the Washington Post revealed that she had also been agitating about Trump’s loss on a private Listserv, Thomas Clerk World, which includes former law clerks of Justice Thomas’s. The online discussion had been contentious. John Eastman, a former Thomas clerk and a key instigator of the lie that Trump actually won in 2020, was on the same side as Ginni Thomas, and he drew rebukes.

Thomas Swearing InJustice Byron White and the Thomases are shown at left in 1991 at a White House mock swearing-in ceremony staged by the Bush administration to quell criticism of Thomas after his controversial confirmation, making his elevation seem irrevocable in advance of what was regarded as the real swearing in by the chief justice. As a technical matter, the ruse upon the public was not necessary since Thomas had already been confirmed but White House and Supreme Court personnel sought to undercut public protests.

Stephen Gillers, a law professor at N.Y.U. and a prominent judicial ethicist, told me, “I think Ginni Thomas is behaving horribly, and she’s hurt the Supreme Court and the administration of justice. It’s reprehensible. If you could take a secret poll of the other eight Justices, I have no doubt that they are appalled by Virginia Thomas’s behavior. But what can they do?” Gillers thinks that the Supreme Court should be bound by a code of conduct, just as all lower-court judges in the federal system are. That code requires a judge to recuse himself from hearing any case in which personal entanglements could lead a fair-minded member of the public to question his impartiality. Gillers stressed that “it’s an appearance test,” adding, “It doesn’t require an actual conflict. The reason we use an appearance test is because we say the appearance of justice is as important as the fact of justice itself.”

The Justice Department has so far charged more than seven hundred people in connection with the insurrection, and Attorney General Merrick Garland has said that the federal government will prosecute people “at any level” who may have instigated the riots—perhaps even Trump. On January 19th, the Supreme Court rejected the former President’s request that it intervene to stop the congressional committee from accessing his records. Justice Thomas was the lone Justice to dissent. (Meadows had filed an amicus brief in support of Trump.)

Ginni Thomas, meanwhile, has denounced the very legitimacy of the congressional committee. On December 15th, she and sixty-two other prominent conservatives signed an open letter to Kevin McCarthy, the House Minority Leader, demanding that the House Republican Conference excommunicate Representatives Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger for their “egregious” willingness to serve on the committee. The statement was issued by an advocacy group called the Conservative Action Project, of which Ginni Thomas has described herself as an “active” member. The group’s statement excoriated the congressional investigation as a “partisan political persecution” of “private citizens who have done nothing wrong,” and accused the committee of serving “improperly issued subpoenas.”

A current member of the Conservative Action Project told me that Ginni Thomas is part of the group not because of her qualifications but “because she’s married to Clarence.” The member asked to have his name withheld because, he said, Ginni is “volatile” and becomes “edgy” when challenged. He added, “The best word to describe her is ‘tribal.’ You’re either part of her group or you’re the enemy.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Saudi-Led Airstrikes Kill 70 in Yemen as Conflict Worsens, Vivian Yee, Jan. 21, 2022. The strikes also knocked out the country’s internet and came after rebels attacked the U.A.E., Saudi Arabia’s key partner in the conflict.

The seven-year-old war in Yemen intensified again on Friday when airstrikes by the Saudi-led military coalition on northern Yemen killed at least 70 people and knocked out the entire country’s internet, according to international aid groups and the rebels who control the area.

Capping a week in which rebel drones struck as far away as Abu Dhabi and Saudi bombs rained down across rebel-held northern Yemen, the hostilities were fresh proof of the conflict’s obstinacy a year after President Biden took office vowing to bring the war — and one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters — to an end.

After months of territorial gains by the Houthis, the Iran-backed rebels who control northern Yemen, forces backed by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have managed to claw back some territory and shift the momentum of the war. Those offensives have snarled international efforts to push the two sides toward peace.

Friday’s strikes, which hit targets across Houthi-controlled territory including a prison and damaged the country’s internet infrastructure, raised the risk of heating things up even further.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: For the sake of a visa, I was forced into marriage in Arizona — at age 15, Sasha K. Taylor (a forced child marriage survivor and former FBI analyst based in D.C.), Jan. 21, 2022. When I was 15 years old and living in Arizona, I was forced by my family to become a visa bride.

I am a U.S. citizen, ethnically Pashtun, born in Karachi, Pakistan, and raised in Arizona. In the early 1990s, I was a girl like any other — one who loved writing in her diary, Stephen King novels and the New Kids on the Block (especially Joey).

Then one day, I got off the school bus and everything changed. My grandmother told me to dress for a dinner party at my uncle’s home. After dinner, a chair was placed in the center of the family room, and I was asked to sit. A woman walked up to me, put a gold chain around my neck and asked if the marriage proposal was okay. I didn’t understand. My grandmother and mother flashed me stern looks. I gazed down and didn’t speak.

Soon everyone started hugging and saying “mubarak” — congratulations. My heart sank. I realized I had just been forced into a marriage proposal, or “rishta” — a prelude to a “nikah,” or Muslim wedding — to a man who needed to stay in the United States when his visa expired. He was seven years older than me. I’d never met him.

The nikah, a religious contract, is not legally recognized under U.S. marriage law. But Arizona’s marriage law and loopholes in U.S. immigration law meant my family still had avenues by which they could exploit and force me — a U.S. citizen and a minor — into marriage.

Marriage before age 18 is legal in 44 of 50 states, according to Unchained at Last, an organization working to end child marriage in the United States. In states with no age minimum, children as young as 10 have been forced into marriage. At the time of my engagement, the legal age of consent to marry in Arizona was 15. (Now it’s 16 with parental permission or legal emancipation.)

But let’s be clear: “Consent” simply cannot apply in this context. When minors are pressured by their families and have zero legal authority, it’s impossible for them to consent.

Within months of my forced engagement, I was married in an Arizona courthouse. Because I was a minor, my husband became my legal guardian and was able to fill out his own visa application, naming me as his sponsor.

The United States tolerates the forced marriage of minors in other contexts as well. Had Arizona refused to marry me, I still could have been forced into a nikah abroad, then had that marriage legally recognized by the United States — where the law says marriages are valid for immigration purposes if they’re valid under the law of the jurisdiction in which they’re performed.

In my family, there have been three generations of forced marriages. My grandmother was married off while in a refugee camp in Karachi. My mother was forced into marriage, also at 15, in Karachi. Many of the girls arriving from Afghanistan in recent months may be free from the brutality of the Taliban, but they are not free from families who believe in a culture of forced marriage.

I spent my high school years living with my family but legally married. Once I’d moved into my husband’s family home, I couldn’t leave unless he was with me. I stopped seeing my family, though they lived 15 minutes away. His family would go out so he could be “alone” with me. Let there be no doubt about this: Girls forced into marriage are raped.

Victims of forced marriage face severe lifelong consequences including physical, sexual and economic abuse; medical and mental health problems; denial of education; and a loss of freedom to make their own futures. The United States must act to protect children from this fate.

Congress should reform immigration law by raising the minimum visa sponsorship age to 18; bills under review in the House and Senate would do just that. It should also close the loophole that allows families to isolate and exploit their children who are U.S. citizens by sending them abroad — first to marry, then to be used as visa sponsors.

To ensure against coercion, any visa application should require an in-person interview with a U.S. visa official for a minor about to be married, with no family member allowed to be present. And Congress should protect children across the country by passing legislation raising the minimum age of marriage to 18, with no exceptions.

I escaped my forced marriage in 1996. Recently, I started a media company to tell stories of perseverance among South Asian women in the United States who have survived the worst of the worst. First up is a project on the women in my family — survivors all.

smedley butler quotation

washington post logoWashington Post, Book Review: Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler: A Marine hero who saw himself as a ‘racketeer for capitalism,’ Eric Rauchway (Eric Rauchway, a professor of history at the University of California at Davis, has written eight books, including “Why the New Deal Matters”), Jan. 21, 2022. Butler earned fame and respect fighting America's imperialist wars -- and came to regret his role, Jonathan M. Katz writes.

Marine Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler, twice winner of the Medal of Honor, became a celebrity during his career. When Butler was 45, he could see a fictional version of himself in the hit movie “Tell It to the Marines,” where he was played by Lon Chaney. A congressman’s son and a Quaker, Butler joined the Marines as a teenager, during the 1898 war with Spain. He served in Cuba, the Philippines, China, Puerto Rico, Panama, Haiti, Mexico and Nicaragua, among other war zones; his résumé gives an outline of U.S. colonialism on the march.

And then, in 1931, the secretary of the Navy ordered Butler court-martialed for saying publicly that Benito Mussolini’s Italy was a “mad dog nation” and illustrating the point with a story about the fascist’s driver running over a child in the road. As the vehicle drove on, Mussolini advised a fellow passenger, “Never look back in life.” The administration of Herbert Hoover wanted to punish Butler for causing a diplomatic incident, but as Jonathan M. Katz writes, officials had a problem: It turned out Butler’s story was “substantially true.” The general retired and began saying more frequently what he thought of U.S. foreign policy. In three decades as a Marine, Butler wrote, “I spent most of my time being a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer for capitalism.”

Toward the end of Gangsters of Capitalism: Smedley Butler, the Marines, and the Making and Breaking of America’s Empire, Katz visits Butler’s grave and meets an Air Force master sergeant taking a rubbing of the headstone. The serviceman asks Katz if he is writing a biography of Butler; Katz replies, “Close enough.”

And indeed the book is far more extraordinary than even the life of Smedley Butler: Between episodes of the Marine’s story, Katz recounts his own visits to the places where Butler fought. Katz talks to Chinese martial artists about the Boxer Uprising; he visits workers in a Haitian industrial park; he plays a U.S. prisoner of war in a Filipino film about the guerrilla war against the Americans. The book thus affords a compelling and insightful meditation on the trauma people still feel as a result of Butler’s career and the American ambitions it represented.

War is a racket, Butler wrote, and a racket “is not what it seems.” At the turn of the 20th century, imperialism’s advocates made it seem like a great deal of fun. On his way to one of his first battles, Butler said, “I am the happiest man alive.” For him, empire was a constructive purpose — literally; once the shooting stopped, the Marines paved roads, built ports or dug canals. He proudly quoted an engineer saying, “If there ever is anything dangerous going on anywhere you will always find one of Butler’s men right in the middle.” He became famous for shouldering his own share, working right alongside his men.

But eventually Butler realized he was not serving so grand a purpose as he thought. Posted in Nicaragua to defend U.S. mining interests, he wrote, “This is a d----d fool expedition . . . inspired and financed by Americans who have wild cat investments down here and want to make them good by putting in a Government which will declare a monopoly in their favor.”

Following Butler into World War I, Katz visits a modern museum exhibit on the 1918 Battle of Belleau Wood. He hears recorded machine gun fire and writes, “A familiar sensation of nameless terror came creeping in from behind my eyes.” He thinks about his own experience of violence, as a journalist, and intuits how in the “cauldron of traumas” that was World War I, Butler must have realized the terrible costs of imperial competition. However decorated and praised, Butler “never felt less worthy.” He was on the way to his near court-martial.

Katz sketches an insightful comparison between Butler and his almost-exact contemporary Franklin Roosevelt. Both grew up under the spell of Franklin’s imperialist cousin Theodore; both grew out of it. The devastation of the interwar decades brought them both to appreciate imperiled democracy.

This realization led to one of the strangest episodes of Butler’s strange career. In 1934, a man representing wealthy American businessmen tried to recruit Butler to lead a revolt against Roosevelt. Inspired by a right-wing group of veterans that unsuccessfully stormed the French legislature, the man proposed that Butler could lead a similar, but successful, group in the United States; maybe half a million veterans would join.

The businessmen would pay for this plan to halt the New Deal. Butler replied, “If you get these five hundred thousand soldiers advocating anything smelling of fascism, I am going to get five hundred thousand more and lick the hell out of you.” A congressional committee confirmed Butler’s testimony but did not pursue the matter, leaving Butler to wage his battle against the misdeeds of American businessmen without their help. He died in 1940, before he could see the Marines fight fascism in the field.

 

Virus Victims, Responses

washington post logoWashington Post, Unvaccinated seniors nearly 50 times more likely to be hospitalized than boosted peers, Andrew Jeong and Ellen Francis, Jan. 21, 2022. Unvaccinated adults age 65 or older who contracted the coronavirus were 49 times more likely to require hospitalization than seniors who had received booster vaccine doses, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Unimmunized adults in that age group were also 17 times more likely to be admitted to a hospital than those who had received either two shots of an mRNA vaccine or one Johnson & Johnson dose. Meanwhile, unvaccinated people between 50 and 64 years old were 44 times more likely to need hospitalization compared with their boosted counterparts.

cdc logo CustomThe CDC figures on boosters, drawn from between October and December 2021, provide a real-world snapshot of the efficacy of commonly used vaccines in the United States. The European drug regulator also said Friday it was becoming “increasingly clear that a booster dose is needed to extend vaccine protection,” particularly against the omicron variant.

Here’s what to know

  • Free rapid tests are about to roll out in the United States. In other countries, they’re already part of daily life.
  • The omicron surge has forced non-covid patients to forgo surgeries and has left them in pain.
  • Getting vaccinated has no impact on fertility, according to a new peer-reviewed study, which also found that contracting the coronavirus may led to a temporary decrease in male fertility.
  • Omicron was ‘likely’ in U.S. before first case was identified, wastewater data suggests

ny times logoNew York Times, U.S. Covid Hospitalizations Plateau in Some Regions, and Surge in Others, Lauren Leatherby and Albert Sun, Jan. 21, 2022. Places hit first with Omicron are seeing a decline in hospitalizations, but numbers are still rising fast in much of the country.

Fewer people in the United States are being admitted to hospitals with the coronavirus than a week ago, suggesting that the record-breaking surge in hospitalizations driven by the Omicron variant could soon decline, following recent case trends. But the country remains far from the end of the Omicron wave, and in many areas it could be weeks before the strain on hospitals subsides.

ny times logoNew York Times, Live Updates: Booster Shots Are Instrumental in Fighting Omicron, C.D.C. Data Show, Staff Reports, Jan. 21, 2022. Extra doses of vaccines by Pfizer or Moderna were 90 percent effective at preventing Americans infected with Omicron from being hospitalized, new data suggests. covad 19 photo.jpg Custom 2The shots were most effective against infection and death among those aged 50 and older, the C.D.C. said.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Omicron extends its reach to some of the planet’s most remote islands.
  • U.S. Covid hospitalizations are beginning to level off, though many areas are still strained.
  • A W.H.O. panel recommends extending the Pfizer vaccine to children 5 to 11.
  • A Minnesota man is on a ventilator in Texas after a court battle over his treatment.
  • Booster shots are keeping older Americans out of the hospital, new C.D.C. data suggest.
  • As China holds the line on ‘zero Covid,’ some wonder if that’s sustainable.
  • Austria takes a big step toward a Covid vaccine mandate for adults.

 ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: Biden Versus the Friends of Covid, Paul Krugman, right, Jan. 21, 2022 (print ed.). What makes all of this especially demoralizing is that paul krugman2021 began with the hope that miraculous vaccines would end the pandemic. Despite the effectiveness of the vaccines in preventing serious illness, that didn’t happen even in highly vaccinated countries. But America is doing especially badly because it isn’t a highly vaccinated country: After a strong start, its vaccination drive fell far behind other wealthy nations.

And while there are various reasons individuals fail to get vaccinated, at a national level our shortfall is all about politics. Vaccination rates in blue states are similar to those in other advanced countries, while the rates in red states are far behind; at the county level there’s a stunning negative correlation between Donald Trump’s share of the 2020 vote and the vaccination rate.

Why do many Republicans refuse the vaccines? Because they’re getting a steady stream of misinformation from right-wing media, while right-wing politicians have gradually shifted from claiming to be against vaccine mandates to being straight-out anti-vax. For example, recently the medical director for Orange County, Fla., was placed on leave simply for encouraging — not requiring — the staff to get vaccinated.

But why are right-wing elites so hostile to vaccines? Have they carefully considered the evidence? Don’t be silly.

Their real motive is the desire to prevent Democrats from achieving any kind of policy success. And is it really implausible to suggest that some leading figures on the right actively want to make things worse, in the belief that the public will blame Biden?

But while the public does indeed tend to blame presidents for anything bad that happens on their watch, they can fight back. In 1948 Harry Truman successfully campaigned against “do-nothing” Republicans who were blocking his economic and housing agenda. Biden could, with even more justification, campaign against Republicans whose anti-vaccine posturing is putting both the national economy and thousands of American lives at risk.

Would this work? Nobody knows. What we do know is that a year of trying to be conciliatory and unifying hasn’t worked. It’s time for Biden to come out swinging.

Unz Review, Opinion: Covid Deaths and Vaxxing Deaths, Ron Unz (Unz review publisher), Jan. 21, 2022. Introduction to popularity of Unz Review columns the past week: Ranking first by a very wide margin this last week, with nearly as much readership as the next two items combined, was my own article analyzing both the Covid and vaxxing death rates.

Flu Hoaxers have regularly claimed that the number of Covid deaths has been grossly exaggerated by the media, while the overlapping body of anti-vaxxers similarly claim that enormous numbers have died from the fatal strokes and heart attacks brought about by the vaccinations. However, once I examined the actual mortality statistics for 2020 and 2021, both these arguments completely disintegrated. The Covid epidemic has probably killed well over a million Americans while deaths due to vaccinations appear to be so low they are almost invisible in the fatality totals. These positions quickly provoked well over 800 comments totaling over 100,000 words, overwhelmingly hostile in character.

This Week's Most Popular Features: Covid Deaths and Vaxxing Deaths, Ron Unz, Jan. 17, 2022 (2,800 Words, 864 Comments). As many readers already know, I haven't taken much interest in either the details of the Covid illness or the vaccines deployed against it.

Over the last two years, fierce debates have raged over lockdowns, masking, and social distancing, as well as disputed medical treatments, but I've only slightly participated and paid little attention. Partly as a consequence, my views on most of these matters are vaguely conventional, probably not too far from what might be promoted in the pages...

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New York Daily News, ‘If I die, I die,’ said Meat Loaf, who bashed COVID rules and died after reportedly being ‘ill with COVID,’ Muri Assunção, Jan. 21, 2022. Rock star Meat Loaf was reportedly sick with COVID-19 during the week before his death on Thursday.

While the official cause of death for the Grammy-winning musician, whose real name was Marvin Lee Aday, has not yet been revealed, TMZ reported Friday that the “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad” singer had to cancel a business dinner earlier this week after becoming “seriously ill with COVID.”

Last year, the 74-year-old entertainer said that even though he was “scared to death” of getting sick, he still hugged “people in the middle of COVID” and was okay with potentially dying of the disease.

It was clear in an interview with The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in August that the star had his fill of COVID-19 regulations.

“I understood stopping life for a little while, but they cannot continue to stop life because of politics. And right now they’re stopping because of politics,” he said.

The father of two also said that he’d known for six months “the masks we’re all wearing are useless.”</