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. 31

Top Headlines

 

Pro-Trump Coup Attempt, Election Rights, Probes

 

Virus Victims, Responses


More On U.S. Supreme Court

 

U.S. Elections, Governance, Economy

 

U.S. Media, Education, Entertainment News

 

World News, Human Rights, Disasters

 

More On Ukraine

 

More On U.S. Crime, Courts

 

Top Stories

 

mike pence djt side by side

washington post logoWashington Post, Trump suggests Pence should have ‘overturned’ the election on Jan. 6, John Wagner, Jan. 31, 2022. Former president Donald Trump suggested in a statement Sunday night that then-Vice President Mike Pence (shown above at left) should have “overturned” the election on Jan. 6, 2021, as he presided over the counting of electoral college votes by Congress.

Trump has expressed frustration before that Pence did not use his role to try to reject the votes of several states that Joe Biden won. But the language in Sunday’s statement was among Trump’s most explicit in publicly stating his desire.

The statement came in response to ongoing efforts by Congress to make changes to the Electoral Count Act, a law that governs what Congress should do in the case of any disputes about which candidate won in a state. Among the changes under consideration is making it more explicit that the role of the vice president is merely ceremonial.

“If the Vice President (Mike Pence) had ‘absolutely no right’ to change the Presidential Election results in the Senate, despite fraud and many other irregularities, how come the Democrats and RINO Republicans, like Wacky Susan Collins, are desperately trying to pass legislation that will not allow the Vice President to change the results of the election?” Trump said in his statement. “Actually, what they are saying, is that Mike Pence did have the right to change the outcome, and they now want to take that right away. Unfortunately, he didn’t exercise that power, he could have overturned the Election!”

There has been no evidence of widespread fraud in any states in which Biden prevailed, despite repeated claims by Trump to the contrary.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) is among the lawmakers involved in bipartisan talks about changes to the Electoral Count Act, an effort that has gained momentum in the wake of the failure of Democrats to pass sweeping voting rights legislation.

Among the other changes under consideration is raising the total number of senators and House members required to challenge a state’s count.

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), an outspoken Trump critic who voted to impeach him on a charge of inciting an insurrection, said in a tweet that the former president would try to do it again.

washington post logoWashington Post, Analysis: Trump toys with the mob, again, encouraging people to hold protests over his legal jeopardy, Aaron Blake, Jan. 31, 2022 (print ed.). What’s the worst that could happen?

Former president Donald Trump on Saturday night sent his strongest signal to date that he will fight his legal problems outside of a court of law. He djt texas 1 29 2022encouraged people to engage in massive demonstrations in jurisdictions pursuing criminal investigations against him over Jan. 6 and tax-related issues. Then, minutes later, he said that if he’s reinstalled as president, he would consider pardoning some of the Jan. 6 Capitol rioters.

Both Trump comments were, as with many earlier ones about ongoing legal matters, carefully tailored. (Trump seemed to be reading them off a teleprompter rather than speaking extemporaneously.) The combination of the two comments, though, can’t help but conjure a repeat — or at least the suggestive prospect of a repeat — of the kind of lawlessness we saw just over a year ago.

“If these radical, vicious, racist prosecutors do anything wrong or illegal, I hope we are going to have in this country the biggest protests we have ever had in Washington, D.C., in New York, in Atlanta and elsewhere,” Trump said, “because our country and our elections are corrupt.”

Shortly afterward, he floated pardons for people who had acted on a previous call to action and taken it to its extreme.

“If I run and I win, we will treat those people from January 6 fairly — we will treat them fairly,” Trump said in a speech in Texas. “And if it requires pardons, then we will give them pardons because they are being treated so unfairly.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Live Updates: Boris Johnson Faces Outcry After Damning U.K. Report on Lockdown Parties, Staff Reports, Jan. 31, 2022. A report found leadership failures and “excessive” drinking in Mr. Johnson’s government. His response was defiant. Here’s the latest.

A highly anticipated report describes heavy workplace drinking at parties that breached pandemic lockdown rules. Lawmakers, including fellow Conservatives, demanded answers from Mr. Johnson in Parliament.

boris johnson tiePrime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain, right, speaks after receiving a report into claims of parties at Downing Street that violated England’s Covid rules in 2020. Mr. Johnson has been accused of lying about what he knew about the parties.CreditCredit...Pool photo by Carl Recine

United Kingdom flagA report into parties during Covid lockdowns describes a drinking culture at Downing Street.

Downing Street suffers from a culture of “excessive” workplace drinking that led to social gatherings during pandemic lockdowns, according to a highly anticipated report from a British government investigation released on Monday.

The document described leadership failures in the office of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, though it did not directly implicate Mr. Johnson in wrongdoing, leaving that judgment to a separate police investigation. That may give him some political breathing room, but it is unlikely to dispel the cloud of what has become a career-threatening scandal.

It has come to this: Boris Johnson denied that he drinks too much at Downing Street gatherings.

washington post logoWashington Post, Russia responds in writing to U.S. proposal on de-escalation, John Hudson and Ashley Parker, Jan 31, 2022. The response comes as the Biden administration seeks to keep Russia at the diplomatic table without conceding to any of its core demands.

The Russian government has delivered a written response to a U.S. proposal aimed at de-escalating the Ukraine crisis, said a U.S. official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive diplomatic talks.

The delivery of the response comes as the Biden administration continues a delicate dance that seeks to keep Russia at the diplomatic table without conceding to any of its core demands. The Kremlin has moved about 100,000 troops and heavy weaponry near the Ukrainian border and ignored calls by the United States to return its forces to their barracks.

“We can confirm we received a written follow-up from Russia,” the official said Monday. “It would be unproductive to negotiate in public, so we’ll leave it up to Russia if they want to discuss their response.”

The official declined to provide details about the proposal, delivered ahead of a phone call between Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday.

 

Pro-Trump Coup Attempt, Election Rights, Probes

Palmer Report, Opinion: Donald Trump just screwed himself royally, Bill Palmer, right, Jan. 31, 2022. During his weekend rally, Donald Trump announced that bill palmerhe’s going to win the 2024 presidential election and then pardon all January 6th Capitol attackers. Then Trump put out a statement flat out admitting that he wanted Mike Pence to “overturn the election.” This naturally prompted the media to insist that this all means Trump will in fact somehow magically win the 2024 election, even as Twitter pundits used it as an excuse to insist that we’re all doomed.

bill palmer report logo headerMeanwhile back in the real world, these two moments added up to Christmas morning for anyone who wants to see Donald Trump behind bars. While Trump obviously won’t be anywhere near the 2024 election, his promise of pardons to those who refuse to cooperate with the DOJ was nonetheless an act of felony obstruction of justice on his part. And Trump’s subsequent confession will make it fairly easy for any prosecutor to convict Trump on election crimes who wants to take a shot at him.

Fulton County already has a special grand jury going against Trump for election crimes, and pretty clearly intends to indict him. Her job just got easier. Now she can point to Trump’s confession as proof that he intended to overturn the election when he called Georgia officials and told them he needed more votes. If Trump had any reasonable doubt defense by arguing that he was merely speaking wishfully or metaphorically during these conversations, that just got erased. Trump’s odds of conviction in Georgia just went way up.

We’ve been seeing a trail of breadcrumbs for the past few weeks which suggests (but doesn’t prove) that the DOJ is in fact building a criminal case against Donald Trump. Whatever the odds are of the DOJ indicting Trump, they just went way up. Trump’s direct public confession just made it very easy for the DOJ to indict him, and for that matter just made it a lot harder for the DOJ not to indict him.

Of course back in fantasyland, the pundits are insisting that Donald Trump’s latest actions mean he’s somehow got us right where he wants us, and that he’s somehow going to become President again no matter what. But that’s all just doomsday hysteria for the sake of boosting ratings, and for the sake of pandering to the defeatists who are so broken they want to believe they’re going to lose.

Even Trump pretty obviously knows he’s never again going to get within a mile of the White House (he confessed to that when he sold off the lease on his hotel down the street from it). There’s a reason Trump’s handlers rarely allow him to speak to the public anymore. Each time he does, he ends up making it all the more certain that he’ll end up in prison. Trump knows his life is over, but he still seems to very much enjoy making empty threats that cause the gullible types on our side to hide under their couch in fear of him. It’s probably the only enjoyment he has left. But it comes at the cost of cementing his fate: he’s going to prison.

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New York Times, Georgia Prosecutor Investigating Trump Seeks Safety Assistance From the F.B.I., Richard Fausset, Jan. 31, 2022. The Fulton County district attorney expressed concern about the former president’s comments at a rally in Texas.

The district attorney in Fulton County, Ga., who is conducting a criminal investigation of former President Donald J. Trump has asked for an F.B.I. risk assessment of the county courthouse in downtown Atlanta, citing “alarming” rhetoric used by Mr. Trump at a rally in Texas over the weekend.

fani willisThe Fulton County prosecutor, Fani T. Willis, right, is planning to impanel a special grand jury in May to look into accusations that Mr. Trump and his allies tried to improperly influence the outcome of the 2020 presidential election in Georgia. Among other things, the investigation is looking into a call that Mr. Trump made to Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s secretary of state, to FBI logopressure him to “find 11,780 votes” — the margin by which Mr. Trump lost the state.

Ms. Willis, a Democrat, made her request for a security assessment in a letter on Sunday to J.C. Hacker, the special agent in charge of the F.B.I.’s Atlanta field office. Ms. Willis said that she and her staff had “already made adjustments to accommodate security concerns during the course of the investigation, considering the communications we have received from persons unhappy with our commitment to fulfill our duties.”

But she also noted that Mr. Trump, at his rally in Conroe, Texas, on Saturday, made “multiple references to investigations that are known to concern his activities.” Ms. Willis’s request to the F.B.I. was reported earlier by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Wayne Madsen Report (WMR), Investigative Commentary: ANTIFA Week: Day One -- The fascist expropriation of historical symbols, Wayne Madsen, left, author of 21 books and former Navy intelligence officer, Jan. 31, 2022. This week wayne madsen may 29 2015 cropped SmallWMR is presenting a series of Anti-Fascism reports. The United States and the world is currently facing the most dire threat from fascism since World War II. On January 30, in Texas, fascist leader Donald Trump vowed to lead an insurrection against the United States, with overtones calling for a racial civil war, should he be indicted on federal or state criminal charges by the federal government or the states of New York and Georgia.

wayne madesen report logoTo illustratete the fascist threat, WMR will report on the expropriation of historical symbols by fascists in the United States and abroad; whitewashing and revising the historical record of slavery in the Americas, the European Holocaust, the genocide of Native Americans, and anti-Asian and anti-Hispanic policies of the U.S. government; the banning of books by fascist school boards and administrators; the adoption by the Republican Party of a fascist-oriented denunciation of science -- including climate and environmental science -- public health and medicine; the abolition of universal suffrage in the United States; and the transformation of the United States into a Christo-fascist theocracy.

 

virginia thomas donald trump jr amazon 2018

Ultra-right activist Virginia Thomas, a longtime lobbyist for extreme causes who has made vast amounts of money in key positions and wife of Associated Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, poses four years ago in the Trump International Hotel with Donald Trump Jr. Within the Trump Town House on Insurrection Eve, the epicenter of the epicenter was a blue-walled conference room with a flag at one end echoing Ali Alexander’s (and other insurrectionists’) favored refrain on Insurrection Eve: “1776!” Alexander’s favored use of the date has long been the phrase, “1776 [violence] is always an option!”

Proof, Investigative Commentary: The Coming Collapse of Donald Trump’s January 6 Conspiracy, Part 5: Ginni Thomas, Seth Abramson, left, Jan. 30-31, 2022. seth abramson graphicThis shocking new PROOF series details mounting evidence that Trump's seditious January 6 conspiracy is at the point of collapse because of the cowardice, fear, and perfidy of his co-conspirators.

seth abramson proof logoIntroduction: On Insurrection Eve—January 5, 2021—the epicenter of Trumpist coup plotting in the United States, the White House excepted, wasn’t the now-infamous Willard Hotel in Washington, but rather Trump’s so-called “private residence” in the nation’s capital: the Trump Town House at Trump International Hotel.

Presiding over the war room in the Town House was none other than Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son. Just as crucial to the plotting under way that fateful night was Trump Jr.’s then–secret fiancée Kimberly Guilfoyle, a leading presidential adviser who spent part of the hours-long war-room session speaking by phone with domestic terrorist Ali Alexander, co-leader of the Stop the Steal “movement” with Trump friend and adviser Roger Stone.

Proof must debunk the most widely spread myth about Ginni Thomas’s participation in Trump’s insurrection: that she helped organize the busloads of insurrectionists who arrived in Washington on Insurrection Eve, doing so to aid the aforementioned Alexander and Turning Point USA chief Charlie Kirk. While it’s true that Alexander has now confirmed he and Kirk orchestrated such busing in advance of the storming of the Capitol, and while it’s clear that some of those so aided by Kirk and Alexander later committed federal crimes on January 6—there is no evidence that Ginni Thomas was part of that effort, so this Proof report does not address it at all.

The reason many Americans believed Thomas was involved in the logistics of January 6 at such a granular level is partly owing to her reputation—an unfair extrapolation—and partly owing to her own public statements about January 6, for which, of course, she is directly responsible. As Slate has correctly reported via journalist Mark Joseph Stern, Ginni Thomas’s declarations on Insurrection Day gave many Americans pause.

On the morning of Jan. 6, Ginni Thomas—wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas—endorsed the protest demanding that Congress overturn the election, then sent her “LOVE” to the demonstrators, who violently overtook the Capitol several hours later. She has not posted since....

In short, as the House January 6 Committee seeks to connect three spheres of coup plotting—grassroots activists and political insiders, Congress, and the White House—there is no map of the key players within these spheres in January 2021 that does not have both Ginni Thomas and Barbara Ledeen at or near the center of it.

The House January 6 Committee would be wise to subpoena these two women immediately in order to find out what they know as soon as possible. Proof is confident that if such a subpoena is issued, one or both women will take the same tack that their associates already have, either by asserting the Fifth Amendment (like Eastman and Clark), defying their subpoenas (like Meadows and Bannon), fighting document production vociferously (like Flynn and Trump), issuing statements filled with half-truths (like Foy and Navarro), or testifying under circumstances that suggest perjury (Alexander).

If House members do not determine what Ginni Thomas knew between now and the presumed Republican takeover of Congress in January 2023, it will be impossible for the case to be made that Clarence Thomas cannot sit on any Supreme Court case that involves Trump or the January 6 insurrection now or in the future. That is how urgent the immediate issuance of federal subpoenas to Barbara Ledeen and Ginni Thomas is.

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

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

washington post logoWashington Post, Some Trump records sent to the Jan. 6 committee were torn up and taped back together, Jacqueline Alemany, Josh Dawsey and Amy Gardner, Jan 31, 2022. The National Archives confirmed the former president’s unusual habit of ripping up documents, which forced aides to attempt to piece them back together in order to comply with the Presidential Records Act.

When the National Archives and Records Administration handed over a trove of documents to the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection, some of the Trump White House records had been ripped up and then taped back together, according to three people familiar with the records.

Former president Donald Trump was known inside the White House for his unusual and potentially unlawful habit of tearing presidential records into shreds and tossing them on the floor — creating a headache for records management analysts who meticulously used Scotch tape to piece together fragments of paper that were sometimes as small as confetti, as Politico reported in 2018.

But despite the Presidential Records Act — which requires the preservation of memos, letters, notes, emails, faxes and other written communications related to a president’s official duties — the former president’s infrangible shredding practices apparently continued well into the latter stages of his presidency.

Recent Headlines:

 

Virus Victims, Responses

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ny times logoNew York Times, Live Updates: Moderna Vaccine Is Granted Full Approval by F.D.A., Staff Reports, Jan. 31, 2022. The vaccine has been in use for more than a year under an emergency-use authorization. Get the latest pandemic news.

The Food and Drug Administration granted full approval on Monday to Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine, the second-most widely used in the United States and the second to receive full regulatory approval.

moderna logoThe vaccine, which can be administered to adults and has been shown to be highly effective at preventing virus infections and severe cases of Covid-19, has been in use for more than a year under an emergency-use authorization. That rigorous standard lets federal regulators allow use of the shot in a public health emergency before they complete a longer and more detailed review. The vaccine received emergency-use authorization in December 2020.

The full approval of Moderna’s vaccine, which was widely expected, came roughly five months after the company said it had finalized its application for regulators, and after Pfizer and its partner BioNTech, the makers of a similar vaccine, won federal approval in August for use in people 16 and older. That approval set off a cascade of vaccination mandates from institutions that had eagerly awaited the more exhaustive review.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is cleared for use in people 5 and older, and could be authorized for even younger children in the next few months.

More than 204 million doses of the Moderna vaccine have been administered in the United States so far, and nearly 75 million people across the nation have been fully vaccinated with it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“While hundreds of millions of doses of Moderna Covid-19 vaccine have been administered to individuals under emergency use authorization, we understand that for some individuals, F.D.A. approval of this vaccine may instill additional confidence in making the decision to get vaccinated,” Dr. Janet Woodcock, the acting F.D.A. commissioner, said in a statement on Monday.

More than 38 million extra shots of the vaccine have also been administered, according to the C.D.C. Fully vaccinated adults became eligible for Moderna booster shots in the fall. The C.D.C. now considers three doses of the vaccine, with a third dose given five months after the second, to be an “up to date” regimen for most adults. Some people with weakened immune systems recently became eligible for fourth doses.

The new approval also allows Moderna to market its vaccine under the name Spikevax, and gives more latitude to physicians to prescribe use of the shot. Controls on how the vaccine is administered were tighter under emergency use authorization.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • ‘We have to learn how to live with this’: Some U.S. governors say its time for an endemic approach to Covid.
  • Women under financial stress are more likely to be abused during the pandemic, researchers find.
  • A Hong Kong official resigns after attending a crowded birthday party amid an Omicron surge.
  • An Omicron surge across Asia restricts travel during the Lunar New Year weekend.
  • Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada tests positive for the coronavirus.
  • Austria ends a lockdown for the unvaccinated as cases soar.
  • England extends vaccines to vulnerable children ages 5 to 11.

BBC News, Fact Check on Joe Rogan: Four claims from his Spotify podcast fact-checked, Reality Check team, Jan. 31, 2022. The Joe bbc news logo2Rogan Experience is Spotify's most popular podcast.

Joe Rogan has been criticised for helping spread misinformation on his podcast. Spotify reportedly paid $100m (£75m) in 2020 for rights to The Joe Rogan Experience, which is the streaming service's top podcast. It is reportedly downloaded almost 200 million times a month.

joe rogan logoOn the show, the US broadcaster hosts a wide variety of guests who discuss their views on a range of topics - but some episodes have featured false and misleading claims.

Here are four of them fact-checked.

Claim: A vaccine can alter your genes

Mr Rogan said: "This is not a vaccine, this is essentially a gene therapy." But this is not true. None of the Covid vaccines change your genetic material or DNA - essentially the recipe book containing the instructions of how to build your body.

Claim: Ivermectin can cure Covid

This claim was made on an episode last year featuring Bret Weinstein, an American author and professor of biology, who said: "Ivermectin alone is capable of driving this pathogen to extinction."

spotify logoBBC Reality Check looked at a series of research papers claiming to show the effectiveness of this drug in treating Covid. Many were very low quality, and in some cases the data had been clearly manipulated. If you look only at rigorously carried out studies, there is no evidence of the drug's effectiveness.

Campaigners often cherry-pick positive examples and ignore the fact that many countries which relied heavily on ivermectin, like Brazil and Peru, had some of the worst death tolls from the virus.

The world-leading experts on reviewing medical evidence, Cochrane, concluded based on just these reliable trials that there was "insufficient evidence" to recommend the drug.

Claim: If you get vaccinated after having had Covid, you're at greater risk of harmful side effects

One of Mr Rogan's most controversial guests has been the virologist Robert Malone. Mr Malone was banned from Twitter in December last year for violating its Covid misinformation policies. He appeared on Mr Rogan's podcast shortly afterwards.

Among the misleading claims made in this podcast episode was one suggesting people who are vaccinated after having Covid-19 are at greater risk of adverse side effects. Following his appearance, more than 270 doctors and healthcare professionals signed a letter to Spotify, calling for Covid misinformation to be addressed.

Robust studies so far have shown that a very small number of conditions -- blood clots, heart inflammation -- are slightly more likely after certain vaccines, although are still very rare. In one UK study, researchers found that vaccine after effects were more common in those who already had Covid.

However, this study only looked at mild after effects, such as fatigue, chills and headaches.

Claim: For young people, the health risks from the vaccine are greater than from Covid

Mr Rogan said: "I don't think it's true there's an increased risk of myocarditis from people catching Covid-19 that are young, versus the risk from the vaccine."

Myocarditis is an inflammation of the heart muscle that has been raised as a rare side effect of vaccination.

However, research has shown that this condition, which can lead to shortness of breath, chest pain and in very rare cases to heart failure, is considerably more common after a Covid infection than after vaccination -- as is also the case with blood clots.

It also appears that cases of myocarditis post-vaccination are generally milder and shorter-lasting.

Mr Rogan later corrected himself, but has made several other comments suggesting young people shouldn't be vaccinated as they are at low risk from Covid-19.

It's certainly the case that younger people are at much lower risk of serious illness from Covid, but they are not at zero risk of developing complications. Covid itself has been found to be a bigger risk than the vaccines in every age group for which they have been approved. The vaccines, particularly after a booster, can also reduce your chances of catching the virus and therefore passing it on to others.

washington post logoWashington Post, White House frustrations grow over health chief’s handling of pandemic, Dan Diamond, Yasmeen Abutaleb and Tyler Pager, Jan. 31, 2022. Critics blame him for health officials’ conflicting messages; defenders say administration gave him an unclear role.

xavier becerra twitterWhite House officials have grown so frustrated with top health official Xavier Becerra, right, as the pandemic rages on that they have openly mused about who might be better in the job, although political considerations have stopped them from taking steps to replace him, officials involved in the discussions said.

Top White House officials have had an uneasy relationship with Becerra, the health and human services secretary, since early in President Biden’s term. But their dissatisfaction has escalated in recent months as the HHS logoomicron variant has sickened millions of Americans in a fifth pandemic wave amid confusing and sometimes conflicting messages from top health officials that brought scrutiny to Biden’s strategy, according to three senior administration officials and two outside advisers with direct knowledge of the conversations.

The frustration with Becerra comes as top White House and health officials face growing criticism for health messaging missteps, as well as controversial policies about coronavirus testing and isolation. The administration has also struggled in the face of a tsunami of cases that have overwhelmed hospitals and shuttered some schools and businesses because so many workers became infected.

washington post logoWashington Post, Live Updates: Spotify to add content advisories to podcasts after pandemic misinformation complaints, Rachel Pannett and Jennifer Hassan, Jan. 31, 2022. Social Security expands pandemic-related services, but field offices to remain closed until spring; New York City offering free at-home delivery of covid-19 treatment pills; Public education is facing a crisis of epic proportions.

spotify logoSpotify will start adding content advisories to podcast episodes about covid-19, the streaming service announced Sunday, after Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and other artists demanded the platform remove their music, saying it allows misinformation to spread about the pandemic and vaccines.

Their objections put the spotlight on provocative podcaster Joe Rogan, who has suggested that healthy, young people shouldn’t get vaccinated and praised unproven treatments for the coronavirus, such as the anti-parasite drug ivermectin. An open letter signed by medical and scientific professionals recently called on Spotify to “immediately establish a clear and public policy to moderate misinformation on its platform.”

Other platforms, including social media giants Facebook and Twitter, have employed disclaimers similar to the one Spotify has promised, as they have struggled to find and take down anti-vaccine propaganda. But false claims continue to proliferate.

In a video posted after Spotify’s announcement, Rogan praised the platform’s decision to add the disclaimer, which according to Spotify will direct users to a hub of “data-driven facts.” At the same time, he questioned the use of the term “misinformation” and defended his decision to invite guests who “have an opinion that’s different from the mainstream narrative.”

Here’s what to know

  • Two New York nurses were arrested last week after authorities said they made more than $1.5 million selling fake coronavirus vaccination cards.
  • Protests in Germany are growing, along with anti-vaccine movements across Europe, as winter surges in infections have brought new restrictions and mandates.
  • The Beijing Olympics start Friday, with few in-person spectators and strict rules for participants to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

washington post logoWashington Post, Spotify responds after Joni Mitchell and others join Neil Young and demand the platform remove their content, Travis M. Andrews, Jan. 31, 2022 (print ed.). Spotify broke its silence on Sunday and announced slight changes to its policies around content concerning covid-19, after facing a week of criticism for allowing its creators — particularly podcaster Joe Rogan — to spread misinformation about the pandemic.

“You’ve had a lot of questions over the last few days about our platform policies and the lines we have drawn between what is acceptable and what is spotify logonot,” Spotify CEO Daniel Ek wrote in a news release. “We have had rules in place for many years but admittedly, we haven’t been transparent around the policies that guide our content more broadly.”

The new changes include publicly publishing the company’s internal rules for what is allowed on the platform, “testing ways to highlight” those rules to its creators and “working to add a content advisory to any podcast episode that includes a discussion joe rogan logoabout COVID-19.”

“We know we have a critical role to play in supporting creator expression while balancing it with the safety of our users,” Ek wrote. “In that role, it is important to me that we don’t take on the position of being content censor while also making sure that there are rules in place and consequences for those who violate them.”

The controversy began last week, when rocker Neil Young posted a letter on his website demanding that his music be removed from Spotify in response to “fake information about vaccines” on the platform. He singled out Rogan, who hosts “The Joe Rogan Experience” podcast, as part of his issue with Spotify, writing: “They can have Rogan or Young. Not both.”

Two days later, Spotify began the process of pulling Young’s music, saying in a statement that they “regret” Young’s decision “but hope to welcome him back soon.”

Days later, others began joining Young. Others, including Howard Stern and “The View” host Joy Behar, have argued that while they don’t agree with Rogan, they don’t think the platform should remove his podcast, equating such a move to censorship.

The resulting fallout, according to Variety, found Spotify’s market share falling more than $2 billion last week.

Spotify’s newly published platform rules shed light on why Rogan — who has suggested healthy, young people shouldn’t get vaccinated; praised ivermectin, a medicine used to kill parasites in animals and humans that has no proven anti-covid benefits; and invited prominent conspiracy theorists onto his show — has not been heavily penalized.

The rules include disallowing “content that promotes dangerous false or dangerous deceptive medical information that may cause offline harm or poses a direct threat to public health,” such as asserting that covid-19 is a hoax or “promoting or suggesting that vaccines approved by local health authorities are designed to cause death.”

Rogan doesn’t quite do any of that. He often argues that he’s merely asking questions and has insisted that he’s “not anti-vax.” And he’s particularly skilled at insulating himself from criticism by arguing that he knows nothing, so he can’t tell anyone anything. “I’m not a respected source of information, even for me,” he said.

washington post logoWashington Post, Patient declines coronavirus vaccine at the expense of a lifesaving transplant: ‘I was born free, I’ll die free,’ Julian Mark, Jan. 31, 2022. For more than four years, Chad Carswell, 38, has suffered from severe kidney disease. In July 2020, he started on dialysis — but now his kidneys are functioning at just 4 percent.

chris carswellIn an interview with The Washington Post, Carswell, right, said he recently applied for a kidney transplant but was turned down because he has not received a coronavirus vaccine. And, despite his hospital’s requirements that organ recipients be vaccinated against the virus, he’s refusing the shots.

Carswell, of Hickory, N.C., acknowledged his condition is a “ticking time bomb,” and said he’s living every day as though it’s his last. Still, he will not take a coronavirus vaccine — even if that means losing out on a potentially lifesaving transplant.

“There is not a situation in this world that I’ll get a vaccine,” he told The Post. “If I’m laying on my deathbed, and they tell me, ‘You have a kidney waiting on you if you get this shot,’ I’ll tell them, ‘I’ll see you on the other side.’”

david fergusonCarswell is not the only unvaccinated person on a transplant wait list to be denied an organ. Last week, the family of David J. Ferguson (shown at left in a Facebook photo with his wife) said a Massachusetts hospital denied him a heart transplant because he refused to take a coronavirus vaccine, the Associated Press reported. In October, a Colorado hospital said it would deny a kidney transplant to a woman unless she got vaccinated against the coronavirus.

In both cases, the hospitals cited policies that require all transplant recipients to get vaccinated because of research that shows such patients are at a higher risk of dying from covid-19. Studies estimate the mortality rate of transplant patients who contract covid at about 20 to 30 percent, The Post reported.

ny times logoNew York Times, Living by the Code: In China, Covid-Era Controls May Outlast the Virus, Chris Buckley, Vivian Wang and Keith Bradsher, Jan. 31, 2022 (print ed.). Apps for tracking the spread of illness gave Xi Jinping a way for the Communist Party to reach into the lives of citizens. This sharpened surveillance may last beyond the pandemic, as officials use potent techno-authoritarian tools against corruption and dissent.

The police had warned Xie Yang, a human rights lawyer, not to go to Shanghai to visit the mother of a dissident. He went to the airport anyway.

His phone’s health code app — a digital pass indicating possible exposure to the coronavirus — was green, which meant he could travel. His home city, Changsha, had no Covid-19 cases, and he had not left in weeks.

China FlagThen his app turned red, flagging him as high risk. Airport security tried to put him in quarantine, but he resisted. Mr. Xie accused the authorities of meddling with his health code to bar him from traveling.

“The Chinese Communist Party has found the best model for controlling people,” he said in a telephone interview in December. This month, the police detained Mr. Xie, a government critic, accusing him of inciting subversion and provoking trouble.

The pandemic has given Xi Jinping, China’s top leader, a powerful case for deepening the Communist Party’s reach into the lives of 1.4 billion citizens, filling out his vision of the country as a model of secure order, in contrast to the “chaos of the West.” In the two years since officials isolated the city of Wuhan in the first lockdown of the pandemic, the Chinese government has honed its powers to track and corral people, backed by upgraded technology, armies of neighborhood workers and broad public support.

ny times logoNew York Times, Young students are bearing the weight of pandemic anxiety, with some taking on adult responsibilities, Jacey Fortin and Giulia Heyward, Jan. 31, 2022 (print ed.). The pandemic has changed children. Some can’t shake that feeling of instability. Others are taking on adult responsibilities. And anxiety is all around.

After months of remote learning, a year of in-person-but-not-quite-stable hybrid school and a fall semester that was just beginning to feel kind of normal, Kyla Chester-Hopkins, a high school junior in Milwaukee, learned that she had Covid-19.

covad 19 photo.jpg Custom 2Kyla, 16, was deeply anxious about spreading it to her family members. She worried that she had infected her best friend. So in early January, she stopped going to school and returned to learning online — stuck, once again, in the bedroom where she had already spent so much of 2020.

Back then, she was home with her father and four siblings, all but one of whom — her baby brother — relied on the same Wi-Fi connection to work and learn. Missing art class most of all, she pulled out her acrylic paints to make murals that sprawled across her bedroom walls and ceiling. She returned to school in the fall of 2020, but it was hybrid at the time, and most of her classmates were not there.

Her junior year has been better. Kyla recovered from her bout of Covid this month and is now back in class. But she feels that the instability of her freshman and sophomore years is not over yet, and she is always cautious.

“There are students who don’t wear their masks, or complain about wearing a mask, and I nag them,” she said. “People say I’m like another staff member at our school.

Worldometer, World & U.S. Coronavirus Case Totals (updated Jan. 31, 2022), with some governments reporting lower numbers than the totals here and some experts saying the numbers are far higher:

World Cases: 375,847,454, Deaths: 5,683,403
U.S. Cases:     75,578,076, Deaths:    907,190
Indian Cases:    41,302,440, Deaths:   495,050
Brazil Cases:    25,351,489, Deaths:   626,923

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More On U.S. Supreme Court

supreme court building

washington post logoWashington Post, Critics say Ginni Thomas’s activism is a Supreme Court conflict. Under court rules, only her husband can decide if that’s true, Michael Kranish, Jan. 31, 2022. Ginni Thomas’s name stood out among the signatories of a December letter from conservative leaders, which blasted the work of the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection as “overtly partisan political persecution.”

One month later, her husband, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas took part in a case crucial to the same committee’s work: former president Donald Trump’s request to block the committee from getting White House records that were ordered released by President Biden and two lower courts.

virginia thomas amazonThomas was the only justice to say he would grant Trump’s request. His wife is shown at right in a file photo.

That vote has reignited fury among Justice Thomas’s critics, who say it illustrates a gaping hole in the court’s rules: Justices essentially decide for themselves whether they have a conflict of interest, and Thomas has rarely made such a choice in his three decades on the court.

“I absolutely do believe that Clarence Thomas should have recused from the Jan. 6 case,” said Gabe Roth, executive director of Fix the Court, a nonpartisan advocacy group, who called the Supreme Court “the most powerful, least accountable, institution in Washington.”

While the Supreme Court is supposed to operate under regulations guiding all federal judges, including a requirement that a justice “shall disqualify himself in any proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned,” there’s no procedure to enforce that rule. Each justice can decide whether to recuse, and there is no way to appeal a Supreme Court member’s failure to do so.

Unlike in lower courts, there is no other judge that can step in, and thus a recusal by one justice would mean considering the case with only eight justices, increasing the chance it could not be resolved.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: The 11 likeliest people to get Biden’s Supreme Court nomination, The Ranking Committee, Jan. 31, 2022. At last, President Biden has a chance to atone for his mistreatment of Anita Hill. Three decades after Justice Clarence Thomas’s confirmation hearings, the president could put the first African American woman on the Supreme Court. He vowed Thursday to keep his campaign promise to nominate a Black woman after Justice Stephen G. Breyer, 83, announced plans to retire when the court’s term ends this summer.

Biden, 79, is an old man in a young country. Of the 115 justices to serve on the Supreme Court, 16 have been confirmed since Biden was elected to the Senate half a century ago. Assuming Democrats can confirm his nominee through a 50-50 Senate, Biden is poised to select just the third African American and sixth woman ever to serve.

The president hopes to announce his choice by the end of February. Sadly, relatively few Black women serve as federal appellate judges, which has been the traditional pipeline for justices. (Biden has nominated eight Black women to circuit courts since taking office, and five have been confirmed.) “But he does not believe that is a prerequisite,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday.

Because this nominee will not tip the balance of power on a court that conservatives dominate 6-to-3, the confirmation fight might not be as scorched-earth as we’ve come to expect. But this is an election year, and control of the Senate is on the line in the midterms. Biden wants to galvanize his base, but he does not want to pick someone who won’t get the backing of moderate senators in his own party from West Virginia and Arizona.

With all that in mind, we asked some of our pundits to rank who they think Biden is most likely to select. The favorites:

  1. D.C. Circuit Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson
  2. California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger
  3. U.S. District Judge J. Michelle Childs
  4. 7th Circuit Judge Candace Rae Jackson-Akiwumi
  5. Delaware Supreme Court Justice Tamika Montgomery-Reeves
  6. NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund President Sherrilyn Ifill
  7. Two more faves of the Senate
  8. Three wild cards

cbs news logoCBS News, Analysis: Biden weighing more than a dozen candidates for Supreme Court vacancy, Melissa Quinn, Jan. 31, 2022. President Biden is considering more than a dozen candidates to succeed retiring Justice Stephen Breyer on the Supreme Court, a source familiar with the process told CBS News, with a pool of prospective nominees that ranges from the federal bench to academia.

The White House confirmed last week that U.S. District Judge Michelle Childs is among the women Mr. Biden is weighing as his nominee to the high court. Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, who sits on the federal appeals court in the District of Columbia, and California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger are also among the names floated to fill the forthcoming vacancy.

While the list is not exhaustive, the source said the three are joined as possible candidates by:

  • Judge Holly Thomas of the 9th Circuit
  • Judge Tiffany Cunningham of the Federal Circuit
  • Judge Candace Jackson-Akiwumi of the 7th Circuit
  • Judge Eunice Lee of the 2nd Circuit
  • Judge Wilhelmina Wright of the federal district court in Minnesota
  • Nancy Abudu, Mr. Biden's nominee to the 11th Circuit
  • Arianna Freeman, Mr. Biden's nominee to the 3rd Circuit
  • North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Anita Earls
  • Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund
  • Melissa Murray, New York University law professor

Mr. Biden will meet with Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin of Illinois and its top Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa at the White House on Tuesday "to consult with them and hear their advice about this vacancy," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Monday.

ny times logoNew York Times, For Ketanji Brown Jackson, View of Criminal Justice Was Shaped by Family, Patricia Mazzei and Charlie Savage, Jan. 31, 2022 (print ed.). The story of an uncle’s cocaine conviction formed only part of Judge Jackson’s understanding of the system’s complexities. She is now seen as a contender to be President Biden’s Supreme Court pick.

ketanji brown jackson robeKetanji Brown Jackson, right, does not much talk about it, but when she was a college freshman, an uncle was sentenced to life in prison — a Black man, like so many others, handed a severe punishment during the war-on-drugs era.

The story of Thomas Brown’s cocaine conviction in the rough-and-tumble Miami of the 1980s formed only part of her early understanding of the criminal justice system’s complexities. Another uncle was Miami’s police chief. A third, a sex crimes detective. Her younger brother worked for the Baltimore police in undercover drug stings.

And then there is Judge Jackson, 51, whose peripatetic legal career, guided by the needs of marriage and motherhood, led her to big law firms, a federal public defender’s office, the United States Sentencing Commission and the federal bench, where she is widely seen as a contender to fulfill President Biden’s pledge to nominate the first Black woman to the Supreme Court.

The man she would succeed, Justice Stephen G. Breyer, who announced his retirement last week, once hired her as a clerk and alluded during her 2013 swearing-in ceremony to how her background strengthened her legal foundation.

“She sees things from different points of view, and she sees somebody else’s point of view and understands it,” he said.

Judge Jackson has not yet written a body of appeals court opinions expressing a legal philosophy, having joined the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia only last summer.

Her earlier rulings as a district judge in Washington, however, comported with those of a liberal-leaning judge, blocking the Trump administration’s attempts to fast-track deportations, cut short grants for teen pregnancy prevention and shield a former White House counsel from testifying before Congress about President Donald J. Trump’s efforts to obstruct the Russia investigation.

As a judge, she is known more for being detailed and thorough, sometimes to a fault, than for crisp and succinct rulings. Her high-profile opinion in 2018 invalidating Mr. Trump’s executive orders that sought to undermine labor protections for public employees sprawled over 119 pages and peaked with an 84-word sentence.

She tends to assert lively command during arguments and hearings, displaying the skills of a national oratory champion in high school. And on a bench that would have more women than ever, Judge Jackson would bring particular knowledge of criminal law and sentencing legal policy.

That she just underwent a Senate confirmation is seen as another mark in her favor. The Senate confirmed her to the appeals court in June by a 53-to-44 vote. All 50 Democratic caucus members voted for her, as did three Republicans: Susan Collins of Maine, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

But it is her rulings over more than eight years on the Federal District Court that have attracted the most attention.

In 2017, she sentenced a man to four years in prison after he had fired a military-style rifle inside a Washington pizzeria. He had been deluded by a false internet conspiracy theory, known as Pizzagate, that Hillary Clinton was operating a pedophile ring there.

After she invalidated Mr. Trump’s executive orders that undercut public labor union protections, an appeals court unanimously reversed her ruling on the grounds that the courts lacked jurisdiction to consider whether the orders were lawful.

In perhaps her most famous decision, Judge Jackson ruled in 2019 that Donald F. McGahn II, the former White House counsel, had to obey a congressional subpoena seeking his testimony about Mr. Trump’s actions during the Russia investigation.

“Presidents are not kings,” she wrote, adding that current and former White House officials owe their allegiance to the Constitution. “They do not have subjects, bound by loyalty or blood, whose destiny they are entitled to control.”

ap logoAssociated Press, White House: No ‘gaming the system’ on Supreme Court pick, Colleen Long and Mary Clar Jalonick, Jan. 31, 2022.  President Joe Biden will meet with Senate Judiciary Committee leaders on Tuesday to discuss the upcoming U.S. Supreme Court vacancy and the president’s promise to nominate a Black woman to the high court. Aides said Biden’s list of potential candidates is longer than three.

The White House also pushed back Monday on the idea that the president would be open to “gaming the system” by choosing a nominee solely based on her likelihood of garnering bipartisan support.

Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and ranking minority member Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, will meet with Biden at the White House to go over potential nominees to replace Justice Stephen Breyer, who announced his retirement last week. Biden himself served as head of the Judiciary Committee when he was a senator and presided over the confirmations of six high court picks, including Breyer.

“He’s steeped in this process,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Monday, “and looks forward to advice from members of both parties on the Hill as well as top legal experts and scholars across the country. I think you will see those consultations start this week.”

Biden has said since his campaign that he would nominate a Black woman to the nation’s highest court and he personally interviewed a few of the nominees when they were under consideration for appointment to the federal bench. Some Republicans have already voiced support for U.S. District Court Judge J. Michelle Childs, who is a favorite of key Democratic ally South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn. But the White House pushed back on the idea of choosing a candidate just to get bipartisan support, saying Biden would chose the best woman for the job, period.

“The president is going to select a woman, a Black woman, who is qualified, who is prepared, who has impeccable experience to serve on the court. He’s going to do that based on her credentials, of course having a discussion with her and not through gaming out the system,” Psaki said.

The White House has yet to designate a official to shepherd the process. But White House officials expect top lawyers in the White House Counsel’s office plus White House chief of staff Ron Klain, who has decades of experience working on nominees, to help in the selection process. Biden has pledged a pick by the end of February.

On Monday, Durbin said he wanted a speedy confirmation but did not want to arbitrarily rush the process. He said he does not want to put his “thumb on the scale” in talks with Biden, but having a nominee who is a sitting judge “makes the argument more credible” as he is reaching out to Republicans.

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More On Ukraine

 

United Nations

washington post logoWashington Post, U.S., Russia to face off over Ukraine at U.N. Security Council meeting, Robyn Dixon, William Booth, Karen DeYoung and Rachel Pannett, Jan. 31, 2022. Ukraine leader’s message is don’t panic. That’s making the West antsy.

The United States and its allies Monday beat back a Russian effort to avoid a public confrontation over Ukraine, with the majority of the United Nations Security Council voting to go forward with its first meeting to discuss the crisis.

"This is not about antics, it is not about rhetoric, it’s not about the United States and Russia,” U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said before the vote. “It’s about the peace and security of one of our members.”

China joined Russia in voting against the public meeting. “This is the right time for quiet diplomacy … instead of microphone diplomacy,” Chinese Ambassador Zhang Jun told reporters before the session began. China, he said, was trying to avoid a “public confrontation.”

The United States called the meeting to give Russia a chance to “explain themselves” on an international stage, Thomas-Greenfield said on ABC’s This Week Sunday.

World leaders are applying diplomatic pressure on Russia across several fronts in an effort to head off a possible invasion of neighboring Ukraine by Russian troops massed near that nation’s border.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to speak with Russian President Vladimir Putin later Monday and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will speak again this week, a senior State Department official said, after earlier efforts by the top diplomats to reach a resolution were unsuccessful.

washington post logoWashington Post, Russia relocates naval exercise near Ireland after Irish fishermen said they would disrupt it, Claire Parker, Jan. 31, 2022.  Western powers’ diplomatic overtures to Russia, aimed at de-escalating tensions over Ukraine, have made little headway in recent weeks.

Russian FlagIrish fishermen have seen more success.

Russia said it would relocate naval exercises scheduled to take place off Ireland’s southern coast beginning Feb. 3 following an outcry from local fishermen, who had pledged to protest the exercises and launched a diplomatic campaign to convince Russia to change course.

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U.S. Elections, Governance, Economy

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: The question for the GOP: Trump or democracy? Jennifer Rubin (shown at right and right and author of the recent book Resistance), Jan. 31, 2022. In Texas, Trump encouraged people to jennifer rubin new headshothold protests over his legal jeopardy and suggested he would pardon Jan. 6 rioters who took such a message to its extreme

Republicans have resorted to a variety of excuses and lies to avoid breaking with the defeated former president: He didn’t mean to incite the violent insurgents on Jan. 6, 2021. He eventually asked for them to go home. It wasn’t that violent.
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Like the “big lie” that the 2020 election was stolen, none of these hold up to the least bit of scrutiny. (The defeated president refused to say anything to the insurgents for 187 minutes, then expressed love for them. The violent images refute the lie that it was a nonviolent protest.) Moreover, the former president insists on hugging the violent insurgents — and insists the Republican Party hug him.

jennifer rubin book resistanceAt yet another unhinged rally appearance on Saturday, he declared, “If I run and I win, we will treat those people from January 6 fairly. We will treat them fairly, and if it requires pardons, we will give them pardons because they are being treated so unfairly.” Even more incoherently, he insisted, “What that ‘unselect’ committee is doing and what the people are doing that are running those prisons, it’s a disgrace.”

This reaffirms a disturbing and incontrovertible fact that Republicans refuse to address: They stand by and may well nominate someone who sided and still sides with violent seditionists bent on overthrowing the duly elected government of the United States.

In vernacular, former president Donald Trump is a traitor, someone who betrayed our Constitution. And still the GOP cannot bring itself to part with him. Even so-called moderate Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) cannot rule out supporting him in 2024. djt maga hat(Recall she was convinced he had learned his lesson in deciding to vote to acquit him in the first impeachment trial.)

All of this underscores the moral and intellectual depravity that has gripped the Republican Party. When a Republican governor such as Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas has the temerity to suggest, “I do not believe Trump is the one to lead our party and our country again, as president,” this is taken as a sign of moral courage. And when Gov. Chris Sununu of New Hampshire tells CNN’s Dana Bash that “Oh my goodness, no” we shouldn’t pardon the Jan. 6 insurrectionists, we are reminded that the vast majority of elected Republicans still play down the uprising, objected to a bipartisan commission to investigate and would not dream of suggesting Trump be prosecuted.

washington post logoWashington Post, Trump’s Texas trip shows his upsides, downsides for GOP in the midterms, Tyler Pager, Jan. 31, 2022 (print ed.). The former president encouraged voting in the midterms but also made comments on Jan. 6 and hints of support for violence, which GOP candidates were forced to confront.

Former president Donald Trump on Saturday night delivered the exact message some Republicans have been eager to hear: President Biden and the Democratic Party are incompetent, and Republicans need to turn out to vote in the midterm elections to take back majorities in Congress.

But that was only a slice of Trump’s pitch during his campaign rally 40 miles north of Houston.

The former president also dangled pardons for Jan. 6 rioters and urged his throngs of supporters to descend on New York, Washington or Atlanta for street protests if he is convicted of crimes in ongoing investigations, intimations of support for violence that within hours prompted questions to other Republicans about where they stood. As he spoke approvingly of the violent effort to overthrow the 2020 election, Trump also spent most of his speech complaining, falsely, that the election was stolen from him, a line of argument that Republicans have publicly urged him to drop.

Trump may be out of office, and not yet an official candidate for president in 2024, but he still represents a conundrum for his party. The former president retains an unchallenged grip over the base of the party. In most states, separation from Trump’s desires and policies is a sure path to defeat in a Republican primary and risks lower GOP turnout in a general election.

washington post logoWashington Post, Tim Ryan’s plea to Ohio’s White working class: Trust Democrats again, Michael Scherer, Jan. 31, 2022. The congressman from Ohio, who is running for an open U.S. Senate seat, is trying to reverse huge Republican gains in what used to be a Democratic state.

Congressman Tim Ryan has been traveling the foothills of western Appalachia with a joke about marriage he hopes will make him Ohio’s next U.S. Senator.

democratic donkey logoThe voters he needs to turn his way — the forgotten, the struggling, in communities with hollow factories, Trump flags and fentanyl epidemics — don’t agree with everything he stands for as a Democrat. But then, he asks his small crowds, who does?

“If my wife and I have 10 conversations in one day and we agree on six or seven of them, we crack a bottle of wine and celebrate how great our marriage is,” he said at a recent stop here along the Ohio River, just a few blocks from an empty brownfield where furnaces once burned. “So why would you think you are going to agree with someone 100 percent of the time?”

washington post logoWashington Post, Rents are up 30 percent in some cities, forcing millions to move, Abha Bhattarai, Jan. 31, 2022 (print ed.). Rising rents are also expected to be a driving force in inflation this year and have been an ongoing policy challenge for the Biden administration.

Kiara Age moved in less than a year ago and now it’s time to move again: Rent on her two-bedroom apartment in Henderson, Nev., is rising 23 percent to nearly $1,600 a month, making it impossibly out of reach for the single mother.

Age makes $15 an hour working from home as a medical biller while also caring for her 1-year-old son, because she can’t afford child care. By the time she pays rent — which takes up more than half of her salary — and buys groceries, there’s little left over.

“I am trying to figure out what I can do,” said Age, 32, who also has an 8-year-old daughter. “Rent is so high that I can’t afford anything.”

Rental prices across the country have been rising for months, but lately the increases have been sharper and more widespread, forcing millions of Americans to reassess their living situations.

Average rents rose 14 percent last year, to $1,877 a month, with cities like Austin, New York and Miami notching increases of as much as 40 percent, according to real estate firm Redfin. And Americans expect rents will continue to rise — by about 10 percent this year — according to a report released this month by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. At the same time, many local rent freezes and eviction moratoriums have already expired.

Higher rent prices are also expected to be a key driver of inflation in coming months. Housing costs make up a third of the U.S. consumer price index, which is calculated based on the going rate of home rentals. But economists say there is a lag of 9 to 12 months before rising rents show up in inflation measures. As a result, even if inflation were to subside for all other components of the consumer price index, rising rents alone could keep inflation levels elevated through the year, said Frank Nothaft, chief economist at real estate data firm CoreLogic.

The pandemic has exacerbated inequalities in many parts of life, and housing is no different. Homeowners benefited from rock-bottom interest rates and surging home prices, while renters have faced surging costs with little reprieve. And unlike markups in other categories — such as food or gas, where prices can waver in both directions — economists say annual leases and long-term mortgages make it unlikely that housing costs will come back down quickly once they rise.

Eleven million households, or 1 in 4 renters, spend more than half of their monthly income on rent, according to an analysis of 2018 census data by Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, though experts say that figure is likely even higher now.

washington post logoWashington Post, Public education faces crisis of epic proportions amid pandemic, culture wars, Laura Meckler, Jan. 31, 2022 (print ed.). From enrollment to staffing shortages to violence, America's public schools have not faced a challenge this great since "Brown v. Board of Education." How politics and the pandemic put schools in the line of fire

Test scores are down, and violence is up. Parents are screaming at school boards, and children are crying on the couches of social workers. Anger is rising. Patience is falling.

For public schools, the numbers are all going in the wrong direction. Enrollment is down. Absenteeism is up. There aren’t enough teachers, substitutes or bus drivers. Each phase of the pandemic brings new logistics to manage, and Republicans are planning political campaigns this year aimed squarely at failings of public schools.

Public education is facing a crisis unlike anything in decades, and it reaches into almost everything that educators do: from teaching math, to counseling anxious children, to managing the building.

Political battles are now a central feature of education, leaving school boards, educators and students in the crosshairs of culture warriors. Schools are on the defensive about their pandemic decision-making, their curriculums, their policies regarding race and racial equity and even the contents of their libraries. Republicans — who see education as a winning political issue — are pressing their case for more “parental control,” or the right to second-guess educators’ choices. Meanwhile, an energized school choice movement has capitalized on the pandemic to promote alternatives to traditional public schools.

washington post logoWashington Post, GOP-led states rush to pass antiabortion bills, Caroline Kitchener, Jan. 31, 2022 (print ed.). Lawmakers in at least 29 states, anticipating that the Supreme Court may upend or weaken Roe v. Wade, have filed measures to restrict the procedure.

Nebraska lawmakers kicked off the new year by introducing a bill to ban all abortions if the Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision is overturned. The next day, Florida legislators announced their plan to narrow the window for abortion access from 24 weeks of pregnancy to 15. And later that week in Phoenix, state legislators unveiled the Arizona Heartbeat Act, designed to mimic a Texas law passed last year.

republican elephant logoWith the U.S. Supreme Court expected to decide in the coming months whether to upend its nearly 50-year precedent that established a constitutional right to abortion nationwide, lawmakers in Republican-led states across the country have moved aggressively in recent weeks to lay the groundwork for a new era of abortion restrictions.

While it’s possible that the high court either will overturn Roe or leave the precedent fully intact, many legal scholars and advocates on both sides anticipate the justices will land somewhere in the middle, instantly changing the standard for abortion legislation. Antiabortion lawmakers are trying to predict what the Supreme Court might do as they craft laws designed to take effect soon after a ruling, whatever the justices decide.

“We don’t know exactly what that decision is going to be yet,” said Arkansas state senator Jason Rapert (R), who has been jockeying to pass a bill modeled after the Texas law, which banned abortion after six weeks. “Until that decision is released, we need to pick up every tool to save babies’ lives — and do all we can, whenever we can.”

The push for new laws reflects the pent-up energy among antiabortion lawmakers who have been constricted for decades by parameters established in Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which declared laws unconstitutional if they impose an “undue burden” on someone seeking an abortion before their fetus is viable outside of the womb. The court’s much-anticipated ruling this year in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization relates to a law passed in 2018 in Mississippi, which poses a direct threat to Roe because it bans abortion at 15 weeks of pregnancy except in cases of medical emergencies or fetal abnormalities. Fifteen weeks is significantly before viability.

So far, lawmakers in at least 29 states have filed antiabortion legislation in their 2022 legislative session. Those efforts have helped inspire a push in the other direction in some states where Democrats hold power, with pro-abortion rights legislators in at least 17 states filing bills that aim to protect abortion access, according to Planned Parenthood.

Recent U.S. Politics-Governance Headlines:

 

Media, Education, Entertainment News

ny times logoNew York Times, Book Ban Efforts Spread Across the U.S., Elizabeth A. Harris and Alexandra Alter, Jan. 31, 2022 (print ed.). Challenges to books about sexual and racial identity are nothing new in American schools, but the tactics and politicization are.

In Wyoming, a county prosecutor’s office considered charges against library employees for stocking books like “Sex Is a Funny Word” and “This Book Is Gay.”

In Oklahoma, a bill was introduced in the State Senate that would prohibit public school libraries from keeping books on hand that focus on sexual activity, sexual identity or gender identity.

In Tennessee, the McMinn County Board of Education voted to remove the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel “Maus” from an eighth-grade module on the Holocaust because of nudity and curse words.

Parents, activists, school board officials and lawmakers around the country are challenging books at a pace not seen in decades. The American Library Association said in a preliminary report that it received an “unprecedented” 330 reports of book challenges, each of which can include multiple books, last fall.

“It’s a pretty startling phenomenon here in the United States to see book bans back in style, to see efforts to press criminal charges against school librarians,” said Suzanne Nossel, the chief executive of the free-speech organization PEN America, even if efforts to press charges have so far failed.

Such challenges have long been a staple of school board meetings, but it isn’t just their frequency that has changed, according to educators, librarians and free-speech advocates — it is also the tactics behind them and the venues where they play out. Conservative groups in particular, fueled by social media, are now pushing the challenges into statehouses, law enforcement and political races.

“The politicalization of the topic is what's different than what I’ve seen in the past,” said Britten Follett, the chief executive of content at Follett School Solutions, one of the country’s largest providers of books to K-12 schools. “It’s being driven by legislation, it’s being driven by politicians aligning with one side or the other. And in the end, the librarian, teacher or educator is getting caught in the middle.”

Among the most frequent targets are books about race, gender and sexuality, like George M. Johnson’s “All Boys Aren’t Blue,” Jonathan Evison’s “Lawn Boy,” Maia Kobabe’s “Gender Queer” and Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye.”

National Catholic Reporter, 2 Catholic school teachers fired over student journalist's pro-choice essay, Brian Fraga, Jan 31, 2022. The Dec. 16, 2021, issue of the student magazine Elevate had just published when Maria Lynch, a faculty journalism adviser at Regis Jesuit High School received an email from Principal Jimmy Tricco.

"Provocative piece for sure, which makes for good conversation," Tricco wrote in reference to "The Battle for [Our] Bodies," an opinion essay that a female student at the Catholic school in Aurora, Colorado, had written in favor of abortion rights.

In that email, a copy of which Lynch provided to NCR, Tricco twice thanked her and Nicole Arduini, the other faculty journalism adviser, for their work in publishing the latest issue of Elevate. Tricco also said he appreciated the student sharing her thoughts and added that he would reach out to her after the winter break to get her take on the Catholic approach to life issues and the school's mission.

Less than a week later, Tricco and the school's human resources director notified Lynch in an email that she was being fired for "poor judgment" and "personal misconduct" that they said had brought scandal to the school and "seriously damaged" its reputation. They also accused her of "not supporting the Mission and faith dimensions of Regis Jesuit High School."

"It's surprising," Lynch told NCR about the termination notice she received six days after Tricco's original email. Arduini was also fired amid complaints lodged with the school and the Archdiocese of Denver. Regis' administration "retracted in full" Elevate's Dec. 16 issue and is overhauling the school's journalism program.

"I think appropriate corrective action would have been to work with us to edit the editorial policies rather than to fire two teachers who had just started in the position this year," Lynch said.

The editorial policies — which have since been removed from Regis Jesuit's website — stated that faculty advisers could not censor student-written stories and editorials with the exception of content relating to crimes and legal matters, obituaries and termination of school employees. Lynch provided NCR a copy of those policies.

Lynch, who told NCR that she is pro-life and that she "frequently and fearlessly" shared those beliefs with her students and colleagues, said she followed the school's editorial policies.

ny times logoNew York Times, Analysis: Spotify’s Joe Rogan Problem Isn’t Going Away, Kevin Roose, Jan. 31, 2022. The controversy is different, in many ways, from the other conflicts between online stars and the companies that give them a platform.

If this scenario sounds familiar, it’s because a version of it has occurred on every major internet media platform over the last half decade. Facebook and Alex Jones, Twitter and Donald Trump, YouTube and PewDiePie, Netflix and Dave Chappelle: Every major platform has found itself trapped, at spotify logosome point, between this particular rock and a hard place.

Now, it’s Spotify’s turn. The audio giant has faced calls for weeks to take action against Joe Rogan, the mega-popular podcast host, after Mr. Rogan was accused of promoting Covid-19 misinformation on his show, including hosting a guest who had been barred by Twitter for spreading false information about Covid-19 vaccines. This month, a group of hundreds of medical experts urged Spotify to crack down on Covid-19 misinformation, saying that Mr. Rogan had a “concerning history” of promoting falsehoods about the virus.

So far, the backlash cycle is hitting most of the usual notes. Critics have compared snippets of Mr. Rogan’s interviews with Spotify’s stated rules, joe rogan logowhich prohibit material “that promotes dangerous false or dangerous deceptive content about Covid-19.”

Daniel Ek, Spotify’s chief executive, published the requisite blog post on Sunday, defending the company’s commitment to free expression and saying that “it is important to me that we don’t take on the position of being content censor.” And while Spotify declined to take action against Mr. Rogan, it committed to putting advisory warnings on podcast episodes about Covid-19, and directing listeners to a hub filled with authoritative health information.

Despite its surface similarities, Mr. Rogan’s Spotify standoff is different from most other clashes between creators and tech platforms in a few key ways.

For one, Spotify isn’t merely one of many apps that distribute Mr. Rogan’s podcast. The streaming service paid more than $100 million for exclusive rights to “The Joe Rogan Experience” in 2020, making him the headline act for its growing podcast division. Critics say that deal, along with the aggressive way Spotify has promoted Mr. Rogan’s show inside its app, gives the company more responsibility for his show than others it carries.

Another difference is who wields the leverage in this conflict. YouTube, Twitter and Facebook are ad-supported businesses; if advertisers disagree with moderation decisions, they can threaten to inflict financial damage by pulling their campaigns.

Spotify, by contrast, makes most of its money from subscriptions, so it’s unlikely to suffer financially from its handling of Mr. Rogan unless there’s a wave of account cancellations. And given how few Netflix subscribers appear to have canceled their subscriptions during last year’s dust-up with Mr. Chappelle, Spotify can probably breathe easy on this front for now.

washington post logoWashington Post, Nadal wins Australian Open, sets men’s record for Grand Slam singles title, Liz Clarke, Jan. 31, 2022 (print ed.). By the fifth set of Sunday’s Australian Open final, having battled back after falling two sets in arrears, Rafael Nadal had no energy for the pirate-like leaps of his youth or even a shout of “Vamos!”

To save what energy remained, he celebrated service breaks and big points against Daniil Medvedev with a simple clenched fist.

In the end, after a five-hour, 24-minute battle of attrition, Nadal’s champion’s heart, resolute belief and extraordinary stamina delivered the mostsignificant victory of his career — and a men’s record 21st Grand Slam title, 2-6, 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-4, 7-5.

Nadal’s triumph, at 35, breaks the three-way tie atop men’s tennis history that he had shared with Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, whose bid to compete in this year’s Australian Open as an unvaccinated played was denied by the country’s immigration minister, who deemed his presence a threat to public health and order.

washington post logoWashington Post, Perspective: Trump declared war on the media. Now proxy battles are being waged in American courts, Margaret Sullivan, right, margaret sullivan 2015 photoJan. 31, 2022 (print ed.). But none of these landmark cases are as potentially consequential as Sarah Palin’s suit against the New York Times.

From the start of his presidential bid, Donald Trump took full advantage of the public’s growing mistrust of the mainstream press. The journalists tirelessly chronicling the near-daily scandals erupting from his White House were “scum,” he taunted. They were dishonest, he insisted. They were “the enemy of the people.”

HIs adviser Stephen K. Bannon memorably called the media “the opposition party.” Plenty of Americans agreed: These days, even local TV reporters are likely to be blasted as “fake news” as they try to cover school board meetings.

Now, more than a year after Trump’s presidential term ended, three volatile lawsuits forged in the culture-war fire he stoked are making their way through the legal system.

All are defamation suits, and the mere names involved suggest just how hot those flames may get: Sarah Palin, the right-wing lightning rod who gleefully slammed the “lamestream media”; Project Veritas, the hidden-camera “sting” outfit that targets journalists and liberals; Fox News, the conservative cable network that morphed into the Trump White House’s propaganda office; and the New York Times, the pillar of elite journalism that became the object of some of Trump’s most scalding attacks — and is now the defendant in two of the cases.

New York Post, Woman who jumped from NYC high-rise identified as Miss USA 2019 Cheslie Kryst, Larry Celona, Tina Moore and Jorge Fitz-Gibbon, Jan. 31, 2022 (print ed.). The woman who leaped to her death from a Midtown high-rise Sunday was former Miss USA Cheslie Kryst, law-enforcement sources told The Post.

Shortly before she jumped, Kryst posted on her Instagram page, “May this day bring you rest and peace.”

The 2019 pageant winner and 30-year-old lawyer jumped from her luxury 60-story Orion building at 350 W. 42nd St. around 7:15 a.m. and was found dead in the street below, sources said. “In devastation and great sorrow, we share the passing of our beloved Cheslie,” the former beauty queen’s family said in a statement Sunday.

“Her great light was one that inspired others around the world with her beauty and strength. She cared, she loved, she laughed and she shined.

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washington post logoWashington Post, Police launch criminal investigations into ‘illegal’ acts at Ottawa anti-vaccine-mandate trucker protests, Jennifer Hassan, Police in Canada said “several criminal investigations are underway” into “threatening” and “illegal” behavior that occurred over the weekend during huge protests in the capital, Ottawa, where truckers and thousands of supporters gathered to denounce coronavirus vaccine mandates and other public health measures.

While many protested peacefully, Ottawa police said they would investigate after monuments were defaced and some demonstrators displayed “threatening/illegal/intimidating behaviour to police/city workers and other individuals.”

“Illegal behaviour will not be tolerated and will be fully investigated,” police said.

A self-described ‘Freedom Convoy’ of Canadian truckers opposed to vaccine mandate arrives in Ottawa

There were reports of urination on the National War Memorial and desecration of other monuments, including the statue of Terry Fox, a Canadian athlete and cancer research activist, who died in 1981 after dedicating his life to raising funds to cure the disease.

Brad West, mayor of Port Coquitlam, the city in British Columbia where Fox was raised, tweeted that “you don’t touch his statue. Ever.”

Some demonstrators held signs featuring swastikas. Others angrily called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to quit, chanting in unison on Parliament Hill.

Canada’s minister of defense, Anita Anand, called some of the scenes from Parliament Hill and the National War Memorial “beyond reprehensible,” as footage emerged of protesters dancing on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and screaming “freedom.”

Canada’s chief of the defense staff, Wayne Eyre, said he was “sickened” by scenes of people disrespecting key monuments. “Generations of Canadians have fought and died for our rights, including free speech, but not this,” Eyre tweeted Saturday. “Those involved should hang their heads in shame.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Qatar’s emir visits White House, as Biden may need help with natural gas for Europe, Karen DeYoung, Jan. 31, 2022. Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani is the first Persian Gulf leader to meet with Biden since his election, in a sign of shifting U.S. relations with the region.

Qatar’s emir, Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, will meet with President Biden at the White House on Monday, as the administration seeks help in shoring up natural gas supplies to Europe in the event the crisis over Ukraine escalates to war and Russia cuts its flow to the continent.

One of the world’s largest gas producers, Qatar has warned that its ability to increase supplies to Europe is limited by long-term contracts, largely with countries in Asia.

“Discussions between the Qataris, the Europeans and Americans are ongoing to help with the crisis,” said a person with knowledge of the matter who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive diplomacy. “For a short-term solution to be reached, some of the long-term Qatari LNG [liquefied natural gas] buyers will need to be willing to divert shipments to Europe.” The government in Doha would prefer that any diversion request come directly from the United States to buyers.

ny times logoNew York Times, Cyprus Overturns Conviction of Woman Who Accused Israelis of Rape, Jenny Gross, Jan. 31, 2022. More than two years after a British woman was convicted of fabricating claims, Cyprus’s top court reversed the decision and said that she had not received a fair trial.

The Supreme Court of Cyprus on Monday overturned the conviction of a British woman accused of fabricating claims that a group of Israeli tourists raped her in a hotel room in Cyprus.

In 2019, less than two weeks after the woman told the Cypriot police that as many as a dozen Israeli tourists had raped her, she was arrested on charges of making a false accusation. Her case drew widespread attention in the British and Israeli news media, and she was convicted and given a four-month suspended sentence.

Lewis Powell, the woman’s lawyer, said in an interview on Monday that the decision was a watershed moment for victims of sexual assault and that his client had received the justice she deserved. The Supreme Court had ruled that faults in the woman’s trial were sufficient reason to overturn her conviction, he said.

He said the woman, who was 18 when she first went to the police, and her family were “absolutely delighted” and relieved by the decision.

ny times logoNew York Times, Australian Megachurch Leader Steps Down After Charge Over Father’s Sexual Abuse, Yan Zhuang, Updated Jan. 31, 2022. Brian Houston, who was the leader of Hillsong, is accused of concealing past abuse by his father, who later died and was never charged.

The leader of Hillsong, the Australian megachurch that has attracted throngs of young people and celebrities worldwide, has stepped down as he prepares to fight a criminal charge of concealing historical child sexual abuse by his father.

The church’s leader, Brian Houston, said in a statement published on Hillsong’s website on Sunday that he had agreed to give up “all ministry responsibilities” until the end of 2022 to focus on his legal battle following the advice of Hillsong’s legal advisers.

The Australian police charged Mr. Houston in August 2021 with one count of concealing a serious indictable offense by his father, Frank Houston. The police alleged that the younger Mr. Houston, now 67, “knew information relating to the sexual abuse of a young male in the 1970s and failed to bring that information to the attention of police.”

Mr. Houston has vigorously denied the accusation and reiterated in his statement on Sunday that “these allegations came as a shock to me, and it is my intention to vigorously defend them.”

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Edgar Cahn and former University of the District of Columbia Law School dean Shelley Broderick (Broderick photo).

Legal reformer and longtime law professor Edgar S. Cahn and former University of the District of Columbia Law School dean Shelley Broderick (Broderick photo). 

District of Columbia Bar Association, D.C. Bar Community Pays Tribute to Edgar S. Cahn, Visionary Behind Federal Civil Legal Aid Program, Staff Report, Jan. 31, 2022. The D.C. Bar joins the legal community in mourning the loss of Edgar S. Cahn, a lifelong advocate for access to justice who was instrumental in the founding of what is now the largest federally funded civil legal aid program for low-income Americans. Cahn, a member of the Bar since 1968, passed away at age 86 on January 23.

Cahn and his first wife, Jean Camper, also an attorney, cofounded Antioch School of Law, predecessor of the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law and the first law school in the United States to educate students primarily through clinical training in public interest law.

The Cahns met as undergraduate students at Swarthmore College and became a formidable duo in advocating for the disadvantaged. In 1964 the couple published “The War on Poverty: A Civilian Perspective” in the Yale Law Journal, in which they argued that the government should fund neighborhood law offices as part of its anti-poverty efforts.

The landmark article served as the blueprint for the establishment in 1965 of the Legal Services Program, the first federally funded program of its kind under the Johnson administration’s Office of Economic Opportunity, where both Cahns served. The program lasted until 1974, when it was replaced by the Legal Services Corporation (LSC).

“Edgar and Jean Cahn advocated, nearly 60 years ago, that people living in poverty should be assisted by empowering them with legal assistance to assert their rights in court,” says LSC President Ronald Flagg. “They further proposed the ‘neighborhood law firm’ as the vehicle for advancing this client-centric vision.”

The Cahns, who were married for 33 years, faced discrimination as an interracial couple. Jean Camper Cahn passed away in 1991 after a years-long battle with cancer. Edgar Cahn remarried in 2000.

James Sandman, president of LSC from 2011 to 2020, says the Cahns had a profound influence on American law. “Their idea became part of President Johnson’s War on Poverty and continues to this day through the 132 legal aid programs funded by the Legal Services Corporation,” Sandman says. Today LSC has more than 850 offices serving every county in every state, the District of Columbia, and the American territories.

In 1972 the Cahns founded Antioch School of Law and served as its co-deans from 1971 to 1980. “Edgar and Jean created clinical legal education, a model that trains law students to do real work for real clients under faculty supervision,” Sandman says. “And every law school in the United States now requires its students to have some kind of clinical experience.”

“Edgar was a role model and a hero to me. At the core of his being was passion for justice and a deep faith in the dignity, value, and virtue of every person,” Sandman adds.

Shelley Broderick, dean of UDC Law from 1998 to 2018, says she was privileged to have worked with and been inspired and supported by the Cahns throughout her career. “Edgar taught Law & Justice to every first-year student during orientation for decades until just this past year. Students left his course bonded as soldiers in a righteous cause. He was kind and unfailingly generous with his time, talent, and treasure. He was fully engaged and passionate about moving the needle on fairness and equality for all,” Broderick says.

Until his death, Edgar Cahn served as distinguished professor of law at UDC Law, inspiring generations of students to take up the public interest cause. “He was indefatigable until his last breath. He was truly one of a kind and he will be missed,” Broderick says.

Among those Cahn mentored was D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center Managing Attorney Adrian Gottshall, a former student of Cahn’s in his LLM class on systems change. Gottshall says Cahn inspired his students to reject oppressive legal and social systems and to become catalysts for change. “I was fortunate to have learned from such a legal legend,” says Gottshall. In a final encouraging email to Gottshall last year, Cahn wrote, “Tenacity is always the hidden, secret ingredient [to changing broken systems] . . . stick with it!”

Cahn also helped economically disadvantaged populations by founding TimeBanks USA in 1995. His idea of “time banking” was simple: An hour of volunteer service to others is banked as a single credit, and those credits can be used to receive the services and help of others. The organization now includes more than 200 banks in operation around the globe.

D.C. Bar CEO Robert Spagnoletti echoed the importance of Cahn’s contributions. “Few people have had a greater impact on providing legal services for those in need, on both a local and national scale, than Edgar Cahn,” Spagnoletti says. “The University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law continues his legacy through its outstanding clinical programs and graduating talented lawyers who are dedicated to public service. Countless members of our community are indebted to Edgar Cahn and the passion that he brought to the fight for free and affordable legal services.”

Pro Bono Center Acting Director Darryl Maxwell says Cahn was a trailblazer in the legal services community who “embodied the axiom that lawyers have a professional duty to help the most vulnerable among us. His impact reached far beyond the law school walls where he taught.”

Edgar Stuart Cahn was born March 23, 1935, in New York City to Edmond Cahn, a noted legal philosopher, and Lenore Lebach Cahn, a social worker advocating against elder abuse. After graduating from Swarthmore College in 1956 with a degree in English literature, Cahn earned an MA and PhD in literature at Yale University. He received his JD from Yale Law School in 1963 and became a speechwriter and counsel for then-Attorney General Robert Kennedy and served as special assistant to Sargent Shriver, director of the newly formed Office of Economic Opportunity.

Cahn is survived by his second wife, Christine Gray Cahn; two sons from his first marriage; two stepchildren; his sister; five grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

washington post logoWashington Post, Prosecutors reach plea deal with two of Ahmaud Arbery’s killers facing hate-crime charges, Annabelle Timsit and Hannah Knowles, Jan. 31, 2022. Prosecutors have reached plea agreements with two of the three White men convicted of murdering 25-year-old Black man Ahmaud Arbery and facing federal hate-crime charges, court documents show.

Notices of the plea agreements for Travis McMichael, 35, and his father, Gregory McMichael, 66 — part of the trio sentenced in early January to life in prison for murdering Arbery in a case that sparked nationwide outrage and protests — were filed Sunday in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia.

Lee Merritt, an attorney for Arbery’s mother, denounced the agreements Sunday night in a statement, calling them a “back room deal” and a “betrayal to the Arbery family who is devastated.” He said that the pleas would let the McMichaels serve the first 30 years of their sentence in federal prison, allowing them better detention conditions.

Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, said federal prosecutors ignored her wishes in offering Travis and Gregory McMichael any kind of plea deal and said she plans to oppose the agreements during a pretrial hearing scheduled at 10 a.m. Monday. Prosecutors said in the notice that details of the pleas were shared with the court for its consideration.

The McMichaels and their neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan, 52, were found guilty in November of murdering Arbery. Their pursuit of Arbery in pickup trucks through suburban streets near Brunswick, Ga., in February 2020 ended with Travis McMichael fatally shooting Arbery, who was unarmed.

The three men face federal hate-crime and attempted-kidnapping charges in a trial that was expected to begin Feb. 7 to determine whether — and to what extent — race played a role in their pursuit and killing of Arbery.

Bryan, the only one of the three granted the possibility of parole, was not mentioned in Sunday’s plea deal notices.

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washington post logoWashington Post, Trump suggests that if he is reelected, he will pardon Jan. 6 Capitol rioters, Tyler Pager, Jan. 30, 2022 (print ed.). Former president Donald Trump suggested Saturday night he will pardon the rioters charged in connection with the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol if he is elected president in 2024.djt texas 1 29 2022

Trump (shown below right in Texas on Saturday night), who has teased but not confirmed another run for president, has repeatedly criticized the prosecution of individuals who violently stormed the Capitol to protest the certification of Joe Biden’s election as president. But his comments at a Texas rally on Saturday marked the first time he dangled pardons, an escalation of his broader effort to downplay the deadly events of Jan. 6.

Some of those involved in the riot held out hope for a Trump pardon before he left office 14 days later, but none were granted.

“If I run and I win, we will treat those people from January 6 fairly,” he said near the end of a lengthy campaign rally in Conroe, a city about 40 miles north of Houston. “We will treat them fairly, and if it requires pardons, we will give them pardons because they are being treated so unfairly.”

Authorities have arrested and charged more than 700 people in connection with a sprawling investigation into the insurrection. Earlier this month, the Justice Department charged Stewart Rhodes, the founder of the far-right Oath Keepers group, and 10 other members or associates of the group with seditious conspiracy, the most serious charges levied as part of the department’s investigation.

Trump also bashed the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack, as he continued to spread baseless claims that the 2020 election was rigged and stolen from him.

“This hasn’t happened to all of the other atrocities that took place recently,” he said. “Nothing like this has happened. What that ‘unselect’ committee is doing and what the people are doing that are running those prisons, it’s a disgrace.”

  supreme court building

washington post logoWashington Post, White House rebukes GOP senator who said pick for Supreme Court will be ‘beneficiary’ of affirmative action, Brady Dennis, Jan. 30, 2022 (print ed.). "We hope Senator Wicker will give President Biden’s nominee the same consideration" he gave to Trump pick Amy Coney Barrett, a White House spokesman said. Spokesman says Biden has record of “extraordinarily qualified and groundbreaking nominees”

The White House on Saturday issued a forceful rebuke to a U.S. senator from Mississippi who said President Biden’s promise to pick a Black woman for the Supreme Court would ensure that the nominee is a “beneficiary” of affirmative action.

joe biden black background resized serious fileThe comments from Republican Sen. Roger Wicker, left, came Friday during a wide-ranging radio interview, in which he bemoaned the “left-wing judge” that Biden is likely to nominate to replace retiring Justice Stephen G. Breyer. Asked by host Paul Gallo on SuperTalk Mississippi Radio about Biden’s vow to nominate a Black woman, Wicker acknowledged the president was roger wicker twitterfulfilling a campaign promise.

“The irony is that the Supreme Court is at the very same time hearing cases about this sort of affirmative racial discrimination, while adding someone who is the beneficiary of this sort of quota,” Wicker said, in comments first reported by the Mississippi Free Press.

“The majority of the court may be saying writ large that it’s unconstitutional. We’ll see how that irony works out,” he said, adding that whoever Biden nominates “will probably not get a single Republican vote.”

“The majority of the court may be saying writ large that it’s unconstitutional. We’ll see how that irony works out,” he said, adding that whoever Biden nominates “will probably not get a single Republican vote.”

republican elephant logoOn Saturday, White House spokesman Andrew Bates said in a statement that Biden’s promise to elevate a Black woman to the highest U.S. court “is in line with the best traditions of both parties and our nation.”

Bates noted that Ronald Reagan had pledged during his presidential campaign to send the first woman to the court, saying that it “symbolized” the American ideal that “permits persons of any sex, age, or race, from every section and every walk of life to aspire and achieve in a manner never before even dreamed about in human history.”

Reagan selected Sandra Day O’Connor for a vacancy in 1981. She served on the Supreme Court until 2006.

ny times logoNew York Times, For Ketanji Brown Jackson, View of Criminal Justice Was Shaped by Family, Patricia Mazzei and Charlie Savage, Jan. 30, 2022. The story of an uncle’s cocaine conviction formed only part of Judge Jackson’s understanding of the system’s complexities. She is now seen as a contender to be President Biden’s Supreme Court pick.

ketanji brown jackson robeKetanji Brown Jackson, right, does not much talk about it, but when she was a college freshman, an uncle was sentenced to life in prison — a Black man, like so many others, handed a severe punishment during the war-on-drugs era.

The story of Thomas Brown’s cocaine conviction in the rough-and-tumble Miami of the 1980s formed only part of her early understanding of the criminal justice system’s complexities. Another uncle was Miami’s police chief. A third, a sex crimes detective. Her younger brother worked for the Baltimore police in undercover drug stings.

And then there is Judge Jackson, 51, whose peripatetic legal career, guided by the needs of marriage and motherhood, led her to big law firms, a federal public defender’s office, the United States Sentencing Commission and the federal bench, where she is widely seen as a contender to fulfill President Biden’s pledge to nominate the first Black woman to the Supreme Court.

The man she would succeed, Justice Stephen G. Breyer, who announced his retirement last week, once hired her as a clerk and alluded during her 2013 swearing-in ceremony to how her background strengthened her legal foundation.

“She sees things from different points of view, and she sees somebody else’s point of view and understands it,” he said.

Judge Jackson has not yet written a body of appeals court opinions expressing a legal philosophy, having joined the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia only last summer.

Her earlier rulings as a district judge in Washington, however, comported with those of a liberal-leaning judge, blocking the Trump administration’s attempts to fast-track deportations, cut short grants for teen pregnancy prevention and shield a former White House counsel from testifying before Congress about President Donald J. Trump’s efforts to obstruct the Russia investigation.

As a judge, she is known more for being detailed and thorough, sometimes to a fault, than for crisp and succinct rulings. Her high-profile opinion in 2018 invalidating Mr. Trump’s executive orders that sought to undermine labor protections for public employees sprawled over 119 pages and peaked with an 84-word sentence.

She tends to assert lively command during arguments and hearings, displaying the skills of a national oratory champion in high school. And on a bench that would have more women than ever, Judge Jackson would bring particular knowledge of criminal law and sentencing legal policy.

That she just underwent a Senate confirmation is seen as another mark in her favor. The Senate confirmed her to the appeals court in June by a 53-to-44 vote. All 50 Democratic caucus members voted for her, as did three Republicans: Susan Collins of Maine, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

But it is her rulings over more than eight years on the Federal District Court that have attracted the most attention.

In 2017, she sentenced a man to four years in prison after he had fired a military-style rifle inside a Washington pizzeria. He had been deluded by a false internet conspiracy theory, known as Pizzagate, that Hillary Clinton was operating a pedophile ring there.

After she invalidated Mr. Trump’s executive orders that undercut public labor union protections, an appeals court unanimously reversed her ruling on the grounds that the courts lacked jurisdiction to consider whether the orders were lawful.

In perhaps her most famous decision, Judge Jackson ruled in 2019 that Donald F. McGahn II, the former White House counsel, had to obey a congressional subpoena seeking his testimony about Mr. Trump’s actions during the Russia investigation.

“Presidents are not kings,” she wrote, adding that current and former White House officials owe their allegiance to the Constitution. “They do not have subjects, bound by loyalty or blood, whose destiny they are entitled to control.”

 

President Volodymr Zelensky of Ukraine spoke on Friday in Kyiv (Photo via Ukrainan Presidency Office and New York Times).

President Volodymr Zelensky of Ukraine spoke on Friday in Kyiv (Photo via Ukrainan Presidency Office and New York Times).

washington post logoWashington Post, Britain says ‘nothing is off the table’ on Russia sanctions amid escalating threat to Ukraine, Rachel Pannett, Robyn Dixon and Kareem Fahim, Jan. 30, 2022. Britain’s foreign secretary said Sunday it would “widen” its sanctions on the Kremlin to include “companies involved in propping up the Russian state” as Washington and its allies intensified their efforts to deter a possible military invasion of Ukraine.

The comments by Foreign Secretary Liz Truss came a day after Britain said it was preparing to send extra land, air and sea forces to Eastern Europe to support NATO allies as Russia masses tens of thousands of troops on the border with Ukraine.

News of the planned British deployment came as the United States and its allies continue to debate the likelihood and timing of any Russian strike on Ukraine.

vladimir putin hand up palmerTruss, asked about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intentions during an interview with the BBC Sunday, said it was “highly likely that he is looking" to invade Ukraine. “That is why we are doing all we can through deterrence and diplomacy to urge him to desist. That’s why we are strengthening our sanctions regime here in the United Kingdom. We’re going to be introducing new legislation so that we can hit targets including those who are key to the Kremlin’s continuation and the continuation of the Russian regime."

In a separate interview with Sky News, Truss did not rule out the possibility that the sanctions could include seizures of property in London owned by Russian “oligarchs.” “Nothing is off the table,” she said.

Officials in Washington and London have warned a Russian invasion is imminent, while Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is not convinced, calling the military buildup at the border an act of “psychological pressure.” U.S. allies including France, Germany and Norway remain hopeful that some kind of diplomatic compromise can be reached.

washington post logoWashington Post, GOP-led states rush to pass antiabortion bills, Caroline Kitchener, Jan. 30, 2022 (print ed.). Lawmakers in at least 29 states, anticipating that the Supreme Court may upend or weaken Roe v. Wade, have filed measures to restrict the procedure.

Nebraska lawmakers kicked off the new year by introducing a bill to ban all abortions if the Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision is overturned. The next day, Florida legislators announced their plan to narrow the window for abortion access from 24 weeks of pregnancy to 15. And later that week in Phoenix, state legislators unveiled the Arizona Heartbeat Act, designed to mimic a Texas law passed last year.

republican elephant logoWith the U.S. Supreme Court expected to decide in the coming months whether to upend its nearly 50-year precedent that established a constitutional right to abortion nationwide, lawmakers in Republican-led states across the country have moved aggressively in recent weeks to lay the groundwork for a new era of abortion restrictions.

While it’s possible that the high court either will overturn Roe or leave the precedent fully intact, many legal scholars and advocates on both sides anticipate the justices will land somewhere in the middle, instantly changing the standard for abortion legislation. Antiabortion lawmakers are trying to predict what the Supreme Court might do as they craft laws designed to take effect soon after a ruling, whatever the justices decide.

“We don’t know exactly what that decision is going to be yet,” said Arkansas state senator Jason Rapert (R), who has been jockeying to pass a bill modeled after the Texas law, which banned abortion after six weeks. “Until that decision is released, we need to pick up every tool to save babies’ lives — and do all we can, whenever we can.”

The push for new laws reflects the pent-up energy among antiabortion lawmakers who have been constricted for decades by parameters established in Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which declared laws unconstitutional if they impose an “undue burden” on someone seeking an abortion before their fetus is viable outside of the womb. The court’s much-anticipated ruling this year in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization relates to a law passed in 2018 in Mississippi, which poses a direct threat to Roe because it bans abortion at 15 weeks of pregnancy except in cases of medical emergencies or fetal abnormalities. Fifteen weeks is significantly before viability.

So far, lawmakers in at least 29 states have filed antiabortion legislation in their 2022 legislative session. Those efforts have helped inspire a push in the other direction in some states where Democrats hold power, with pro-abortion rights legislators in at least 17 states filing bills that aim to protect abortion access, according to Planned Parenthood.

 

Pro-Trump Coup Attempt, Election Rights, Probes

 

virginia thomas donald trump jr amazon 2018

Ultra-right activist Virginia Thomas, a longtime lobbyist for extreme causes who has made vast amounts of money in key positions and wife of Associated Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, poses four years ago in the Trump International Hotel with Donald Trump Jr. Within the Trump Town House on Insurrection Eve, the epicenter of the epicenter was a blue-walled conference room with a flag at one end echoing Ali Alexander’s (and other insurrectionists’) favored refrain on Insurrection Eve: “1776!” Alexander’s favored use of the date has long been the phrase, “1776 [violence] is always an option!”

Within the Trump Town House on Insurrection Eve, the epicenter of the epicenter was a blue-walled conference room with a flag at one end echoing Ali Alexander’s (and other insurrectionists’) favored refrain on Insurrection Eve: “1776!” Alexander’s favored use of the date has long been the phrase, “1776 [violence] is always an option!”Proof, Investigative Commentary: The Coming Collapse of Donald Trump’s January 6 Conspiracy, Part 5: Ginni Thomas, Seth Abramson, left, Jan. 30, 2022. seth abramson graphicThis shocking new PROOF series details mounting evidence that Trump's seditious January 6 conspiracy is at the point of collapse because of the cowardice, fear, and perfidy of his co-conspirators.

seth abramson proof logoIntroduction: On Insurrection Eve—January 5, 2021—the epicenter of Trumpist coup plotting in the United States, the White House excepted, wasn’t the now-infamous Willard Hotel in Washington, but rather Trump’s so-called “private residence” in the nation’s capital: the Trump Town House at Trump International Hotel.

Presiding over the war room in the Town House was none other than Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son. Just as crucial to the plotting under way that fateful night was Trump Jr.’s then–secret fiancée Kimberly Guilfoyle, a leading presidential adviser who spent part of the hours-long war-room session speaking by phone with domestic terrorist Ali Alexander, co-leader of the Stop the Steal “movement” with Trump friend and adviser Roger Stone.

Proof must debunk the most widely spread myth about Ginni Thomas’s participation in Trump’s insurrection: that she helped organize the busloads of insurrectionists who arrived in Washington on Insurrection Eve, doing so to aid the aforementioned Alexander and Turning Point USA chief Charlie Kirk. While it’s true that Alexander has now confirmed he and Kirk orchestrated such busing in advance of the storming of the Capitol, and while it’s clear that some of those so aided by Kirk and Alexander later committed federal crimes on January 6—there is no evidence that Ginni Thomas was part of that effort, so this Proof report does not address it at all.

The reason many Americans believed Thomas was involved in the logistics of January 6 at such a granular level is partly owing to her reputation—an unfair extrapolation—and partly owing to her own public statements about January 6, for which, of course, she is directly responsible. As Slate has correctly reported via journalist Mark Joseph Stern, Ginni Thomas’s declarations on Insurrection Day gave many Americans pause:
Twitter avatar for @mjs_DCMark Joseph Stern @mjs_DC

On the morning of Jan. 6, Ginni Thomas—wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas—endorsed the protest demanding that Congress overturn the election, then sent her “LOVE” to the demonstrators, who violently overtook the Capitol several hours later. She has not posted since....

In short, as the House January 6 Committee seeks to connect three spheres of coup plotting—grassroots activists and political insiders, Congress, and the White House—there is no map of the key players within these spheres in January 2021 that does not have both Ginni Thomas and Barbara Ledeen at or near the center of it.

The House January 6 Committee would be wise to subpoena these two women immediately in order to find out what they know as soon as possible. Proof is confident that if such a subpoena is issued, one or both women will take the same tack that their associates already have, either by asserting the Fifth Amendment (like Eastman and Clark), defying their subpoenas (like Meadows and Bannon), fighting document production vociferously (like Flynn and Trump), issuing statements filled with half-truths (like Foy and Navarro), or testifying under circumstances that suggest perjury (Alexander).

If House members do not determine what Ginni Thomas knew between now and the presumed Republican takeover of Congress in January 2023, it will be impossible for the case to be made that Clarence Thomas cannot sit on any Supreme Court case that involves Trump or the January 6 insurrection now or in the future. That is how urgent the immediate issuance of federal subpoenas to Barbara Ledeen and Ginni Thomas is.

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

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

washington post logoWashington Post, Kansas man who made Biden death threat said he was ‘coming for’ president, Secret Service alleges, Andrew Jeong and Spencer S. Hsu, Jan. 30, 2022 (print ed.). Charges have been filed against a Kansas man who said he was “coming for” President Biden and was found to be in possession of ammunition, though not a weapon, according to court documents.

Scott Ryan Merryman first called police in Independence, Kan., this past week to say he was going to Washington to see Biden, according to a complaint filed in Maryland federal court on Friday. He allegedly told the Secret Service in a phone interview the next day that God had said he should go to the capital to “lop off the head of the serpent in the heart of the nation,” Senior Special Agent Lisa Koerber said in a sworn affidavit.

secret service logoMerryman repeatedly denied that the serpent was a reference to the president, but on Thursday, Merryman called the White House, where a switchboard operator said he explicitly threatened Biden, the Secret Service said. Merryman, whose Facebook profile states he works in construction and used to be employed by the Army, said during that call that he was “going to cut off the head of the snake/anti-Christ,” according to the complaint. News of the charges was first reported by the Daily Beast.

After the White House phone conversation, Merryman told a Secret Service agent who spoke with him: “I’m coming for … sleepy Joe. I’m talking about President Biden, and you can quote me,” charging papers said.

The previous day, Secret Service agents met Merryman in the parking lot of a Cracker Barrel in Hagerstown, Md., the service said. He consented to a search in which he was found with three rounds of ammunition, although he told law enforcement that he no longer had a weapon, according to charges.

The Secret Service allege Merryman violated at least two federal laws, including one that prohibits threatening to harm the president. That charge carries a prison term of up to five years.

A Facebook page that the complaint said belonged to Merryman also contained what the Secret Service described as “a series of increasingly threatening verbiage.” In a Tuesday post — one of many rife with extremist Christian rhetoric — Merryman allegedly wrote that he would go “on a God led journey to our nations capital,” and asked his followers “watch my strategic moves for the coming days.”

Palmer Report, Opinion: Liz Cheney confirms January 6th Committee is landing its cooperating witnesses, Bill Palmer, right, Jan. 30, 2022. Whenever bill palmerdiscussing House Republican Liz Cheney, it’s important to keep in mind that .... Cheney is not our friend. But she has proven to be our reliable ally when it comes to the specific matter of the January 6th Committee. Whether it’s because she honestly has a problem with treason, or whether she just wants to strategically take Donald Trump and his loyalists down, is irrelevant.

bill palmer report logo headerI spell all this out because while Liz Cheney often lies about other topics, she’s been consistently telling the truth about the January 6th Committee investigation. So when Cheney said in a local Wyoming interview this past week that the committee is getting “tremendous cooperation” from hundreds of witnesses, and that notorious holdouts like Steve Bannon and Mark Meadows are more of the exception than the rule, I believe her.

This is important because at this point in this kind of probe, we the public don’t know what all is going on behind the scenes. The January 6th Committee has to keep the cooperation of certain witnesses secret so as not to tip off some other hostile witness, and so on. And of course the only way to keep this kind of information secret from certain people is to keep it secret from the entire public – for now.

Each week the media reports that yet another mid-level Trump administration person has been cooperating with the committee. Usually, these reports reveal that the person in question has been secretly cooperating for weeks or even months. In other words, even when we learn about this stuff, this information tends to be several steps behind what’s really been going on.

So when Liz Cheney says that the committee has been getting tremendous cooperation from witnesses, it’s a reminder that while we still don’t have most of their names, they have in fact been giving the committee the information it needs to know about Donald Trump’s crime spree. The folks who think the committee is doing “nothing” or has gotten “nowhere,” just because they can’t see the committee’s results publicly yet, have a misunderstanding of how these kinds of probes work.

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Investigative Reports

washington post logoWashington Post, Rents are up 40 percent in some cities, forcing millions to move, Abha Bhattarai, Jan. 30, 2022. Rising rents are also expected to be a driving force in inflation this year and have been an ongoing policy challenge for the Biden administration.

Kiara Age moved in less than a year ago and now it’s time to move again: Rent on her two-bedroom apartment in Henderson, Nev., is rising 23 percent to nearly $1,600 a month, making it impossibly out of reach for the single mother.

Age makes $15 an hour working from home as a medical biller while also caring for her 1-year-old son, because she can’t afford child care. By the time she pays rent — which takes up more than half of her salary — and buys groceries, there’s little left over.

“I am trying to figure out what I can do,” said Age, 32, who also has an 8-year-old daughter. “Rent is so high that I can’t afford anything.”

Rental prices across the country have been rising for months, but lately the increases have been sharper and more widespread, forcing millions of Americans to reassess their living situations.

Average rents rose 14 percent last year, to $1,877 a month, with cities like Austin, New York and Miami notching increases of as much as 40 percent, according to real estate firm Redfin. And Americans expect rents will continue to rise — by about 10 percent this year — according to a report released this month by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. At the same time, many local rent freezes and eviction moratoriums have already expired.

Higher rent prices are also expected to be a key driver of inflation in coming months. Housing costs make up a third of the U.S. consumer price index, which is calculated based on the going rate of home rentals. But economists say there is a lag of 9 to 12 months before rising rents show up in inflation measures. As a result, even if inflation were to subside for all other components of the consumer price index, rising rents alone could keep inflation levels elevated through the year, said Frank Nothaft, chief economist at real estate data firm CoreLogic.

The pandemic has exacerbated inequalities in many parts of life, and housing is no different. Homeowners benefited from rock-bottom interest rates and surging home prices, while renters have faced surging costs with little reprieve. And unlike markups in other categories — such as food or gas, where prices can waver in both directions — economists say annual leases and long-term mortgages make it unlikely that housing costs will come back down quickly once they rise.

Eleven million households, or 1 in 4 renters, spend more than half of their monthly income on rent, according to an analysis of 2018 census data by Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, though experts say that figure is likely even higher now.

washington post logoWashington Post, Public education faces crisis of epic proportions amid pandemic, culture wars, Laura Meckler, Jan. 30, 2022. From enrollment to staffing shortages to violence, America's public schools have not faced a challenge this great since "Brown v. Board of Education." How politics and the pandemic put schools in the line of fire

Test scores are down, and violence is up. Parents are screaming at school boards, and children are crying on the couches of social workers. Anger is rising. Patience is falling.

For public schools, the numbers are all going in the wrong direction. Enrollment is down. Absenteeism is up. There aren’t enough teachers, substitutes or bus drivers. Each phase of the pandemic brings new logistics to manage, and Republicans are planning political campaigns this year aimed squarely at failings of public schools.

Public education is facing a crisis unlike anything in decades, and it reaches into almost everything that educators do: from teaching math, to counseling anxious children, to managing the building.

Political battles are now a central feature of education, leaving school boards, educators and students in the crosshairs of culture warriors. Schools are on the defensive about their pandemic decision-making, their curriculums, their policies regarding race and racial equity and even the contents of their libraries. Republicans — who see education as a winning political issue — are pressing their case for more “parental control,” or the right to second-guess educators’ choices. Meanwhile, an energized school choice movement has capitalized on the pandemic to promote alternatives to traditional public schools.

washington post logoWashington Post, Inside the campaign to pressure Justice Breyer to retire, Matt Viser, Tyler Pager, Seung Min Kim and Robert Barnes, Jan. 30, 2022 (print ed.). The Supreme Court justice’s decision to step down followed an extraordinary campaign designed to pressure him to retire and make way for a new nominee to be named by a Democratic president. During a Harvard Law School lecture last April, Justice Stephen G. Breyer made clear that he viewed the judiciary as divorced from politics. Once a judge takes an oath, the Supreme Court jurist said, “They are loyal to the rule of law, not to the political party that helped to secure their appointment.”

stephen breyer full portraitBut just three days later, a new phase in an extraordinary year-long campaign was launched to pressure Breyer, left, to rethink his loyalties and focus far more on the political party that helped secure his appointment and the court’s dwindling liberal minority. A group of Democratic operatives circulated an online petition. Activists protested his events. Op-eds appeared in newspapers. A truck circled the Supreme Court building with a billboard that read: “Breyer, retire.”

It was the start of a remarkably public push on the political left to pressure Breyer, 83, the high court’s oldest justice and one of its three liberals, to retire while Democrats controlled the White House and Senate and make way for a younger nominee installed by President Biden. Activists were motivated by the experience of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the liberal icon who died in office in 2020 and was replaced by President Donald Trump’s nominee, conservative Amy Coney Barrett.

ny times logoNew York Times, Democrats Decried Dark Money. Then They Won With It in 2020, Kenneth P. Vogel and Shane Goldmacher, Jan. 30, 2022 (print ed.). A New York Times analysis reveals how the left outdid the right at raising and spending millions from undisclosed donors to defeat Donald Trump and win power in Washington.

For much of the last decade, Democrats complained — with a mix of indignation, frustration and envy — that Republicans and their allies were spending hundreds of millions of difficult-to-trace dollars to influence politics.

“Dark money” became a dirty word, as the left warned of the threat of corruption posed by corporations and billionaires that were spending unlimited sums through loosely regulated nonprofits, which did not disclose their donors’ identities.

Then came the 2020 election.

Spurred by opposition to then-President Trump, donors and operatives allied with the Democratic Party embraced dark money with fresh zeal, pulling even with and, by some measures, surpassing Republicans in 2020 spending, according to a New York Times analysis of tax filings and other data.

The analysis shows that 15 of the most politically active nonprofit organizations that generally align with the Democratic Party spent more than $1.5 billion in 2020 — compared to roughly $900 million spent by a comparable sample of 15 of the most politically active groups aligned with the G.O.P.

The party spent years warning of the threat of corruption posed by spending sums through loosely regulated nonprofits. Then came 2020.
Donors allied with the Democratic Party embraced the murky donations with zeal, The Times found, raising concerns among some experts of a dark-money arms race.

 

Virus Victims, Responses

washington post logoWashington Post, Flouting CDC, Virginia Gov. Youngkin’s health chief wants to help the state move on from covid, Jenna Portnoy, Jan. 30, 2022 (print ed.). Colin Greene knew that some public health directors — foot soldiers in the fight against coronavirus — would balk at Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s order making masks optional in schools.

The rule Youngkin (R) implemented the day he took office flipped the playbook they’d followed for two years overnight, and undermined Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance as infection rates skyrocketed and patients overwhelmed hospitals.

colin greene“A lot of people are really invested in the old way of doing things, the pre-omicron way of doing things,” Colin Greene, right, the state’s acting health commissioner, said in an interview Thursday. “Many are also culturally invested in essentially every word that comes out of the CDC. … There’s a lot more to health than just preventing disease.”

More than half of Virginia school districts are defying Youngkin’s mask-optional order

Greene, 63, inherits an agency on the front lines of responding to a pandemic that had killed 16,127 Virginians as of Friday. He is well-liked in northwestern Virginia, where he was health director in a region spanning four counties and the city of Winchester, for more than four years before Youngkin tapped him for the statewide role.

Formally deputy health commissioner, Greene is serving as an acting replacement for M. Norman Oliver, an appointee of former governor Ralph Northam and the former chair of the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Virginia School of Medicine. Oliver’s research focused on health inequities, especially the impact on racial and ethnic minorities, according to the health department.

  • Washington Post, Va. public universities lack authority for their covid vaccine mandates, new GOP attorney general finds, Justin Jouvenal, Lauren Lumpkin and Hannah Natanson, Jan. 29, 2022.

ny times logoNew York Times, Living by the Code: In China, Covid-Era Controls May Outlast the Virus, Chris Buckley, Vivian Wang and Keith Bradsher, Jan. 30, 2022. Apps for tracking the spread of illness gave Xi Jinping a way for the Communist Party to reach into the lives of citizens. This sharpened surveillance may last beyond the pandemic, as officials use potent techno-authoritarian tools against corruption and dissent.

The police had warned Xie Yang, a human rights lawyer, not to go to Shanghai to visit the mother of a dissident. He went to the airport anyway.

His phone’s health code app — a digital pass indicating possible exposure to the coronavirus — was green, which meant he could travel. His home city, Changsha, had no Covid-19 cases, and he had not left in weeks.

China FlagThen his app turned red, flagging him as high risk. Airport security tried to put him in quarantine, but he resisted. Mr. Xie accused the authorities of meddling with his health code to bar him from traveling.

“The Chinese Communist Party has found the best model for controlling people,” he said in a telephone interview in December. This month, the police detained Mr. Xie, a government critic, accusing him of inciting subversion and provoking trouble.

The pandemic has given Xi Jinping, China’s top leader, a powerful case for deepening the Communist Party’s reach into the lives of 1.4 billion citizens, filling out his vision of the country as a model of secure order, in contrast to the “chaos of the West.” In the two years since officials isolated the city of Wuhan in the first lockdown of the pandemic, the Chinese government has honed its powers to track and corral people, backed by upgraded technology, armies of neighborhood workers and broad public support.

ny times logoNew York Times, Young students are bearing the weight of pandemic anxiety, with some taking on adult responsibilities, Jacey Fortin and Giulia Heyward, Jan. 30, 2022. The pandemic has changed children. Some can’t shake that feeling of instability. Others are taking on adult responsibilities. And anxiety is all around.

After months of remote learning, a year of in-person-but-not-quite-stable hybrid school and a fall semester that was just beginning to feel kind of normal, Kyla Chester-Hopkins, a high school junior in Milwaukee, learned that she had Covid-19.

Kyla, 16, was deeply anxious about spreading it to her family members. She worried that she had infected her best friend. So in early January, she stopped going to school and returned to learning online — stuck, once again, in the bedroom where she had already spent so much of 2020.

Back then, she was home with her father and four siblings, all but one of whom — her baby brother — relied on the same Wi-Fi connection to work and learn. Missing art class most of all, she pulled out her acrylic paints to make murals that sprawled across her bedroom walls and ceiling. She returned to school in the fall of 2020, but it was hybrid at the time, and most of her classmates were not there.

Her junior year has been better. Kyla recovered from her bout of Covid this month and is now back in class. But she feels that the instability of her freshman and sophomore years is not over yet, and she is always cautious.

“There are students who don’t wear their masks, or complain about wearing a mask, and I nag them,” she said. “People say I’m like another staff member at our school.”

ny times logoNew York Times, 2 Nurses Made Over $1.5 Million in Fake Vaccine Card Scheme, Prosecutors Say, Amanda Holpuch, Jan. 30, 2022 (print ed.). Two nurses on Long Island are accused of collecting more than $1.5 million by selling forged Covid-19 vaccination cards, according to the Suffolk County district attorney’s office.

The nurses, Julie DeVuono, who owns Wild Child Pediatric Healthcare in Amityville, and Marissa Urraro, her employee, sold fake vaccination cards and entered false information into New York’s immunization database, prosecutors said. They charged $220 for forged cards for adults and $85 for children, according to the district attorney’s office.

Ms. DeVuono, 49, and Ms. Urraro, 44, were arraigned on Friday, each charged with one count of second-degree forgery. Ms. DeVuono was also charged with one count of offering a false instrument for filing.

washington post logoWashington Post, Spotify responds after Joni Mitchell and others join Neil Young and demand the platform remove their content, Travis M. Andrews, Jan. 30, 2022. Spotify broke its silence on Sunday and announced slight changes to its policies around content concerning covid-19, after facing a week of criticism for allowing its creators — particularly podcaster Joe Rogan — to spread misinformation about the pandemic.

“You’ve had a lot of questions over the last few days about our platform policies and the lines we have drawn between what is acceptable and what is spotify logonot,” Spotify CEO Daniel Ek wrote in a news release. “We have had rules in place for many years but admittedly, we haven’t been transparent around the policies that guide our content more broadly.”

The new changes include publicly publishing the company’s internal rules for what is allowed on the platform, “testing ways to highlight” those rules to its creators and “working to add a content advisory to any podcast episode that includes a discussion joe rogan logoabout COVID-19.”

“We know we have a critical role to play in supporting creator expression while balancing it with the safety of our users,” Ek wrote. “In that role, it is important to me that we don’t take on the position of being content censor while also making sure that there are rules in place and consequences for those who violate them.”

The controversy began last week, when rocker Neil Young posted a letter on his website demanding that his music be removed from Spotify in response to “fake information about vaccines” on the platform. He singled out Rogan, who hosts “The Joe Rogan Experience” podcast, as part of his issue with Spotify, writing: “They can have Rogan or Young. Not both.”

Two days later, Spotify began the process of pulling Young’s music, saying in a statement that they “regret” Young’s decision “but hope to welcome him back soon.”

Days later, others began joining Young. Others, including Howard Stern and “The View” host Joy Behar, have argued that while they don’t agree with Rogan, they don’t think the platform should remove his podcast, equating such a move to censorship.

The resulting fallout, according to Variety, found Spotify’s market share falling more than $2 billion last week.

Spotify’s newly published platform rules shed light on why Rogan — who has suggested healthy, young people shouldn’t get vaccinated; praised ivermectin, a medicine used to kill parasites in animals and humans that has no proven anti-covid benefits; and invited prominent conspiracy theorists onto his show — has not been heavily penalized.

The rules include disallowing “content that promotes dangerous false or dangerous deceptive medical information that may cause offline harm or poses a direct threat to public health,” such as asserting that covid-19 is a hoax or “promoting or suggesting that vaccines approved by local health authorities are designed to cause death.”

Rogan doesn’t quite do any of that. He often argues that he’s merely asking questions and has insisted that he’s “not anti-vax.” And he’s particularly skilled at insulating himself from criticism by arguing that he knows nothing, so he can’t tell anyone anything. “I’m not a respected source of information, even for me,” he said.

Palmer Report, Opinion: The real problem with Joe Rogan and Spotify, Lorraine Evanoff, Jan. 30, 2022. American Rock Hall of Fame legend Neil Young has had enough of COVID misinformation. This week Young challenged Spotify to choose between his music, or the podcast of the mendacious Joe Rogan. Spotify opted to keep The Joe Rogan Experience podcast (JRE), causing a public backlash. So many users unsubscribed, Spotify had to freeze cancellations because their system was overwhelmed. Also, Spotify stock is down 10-25%, depending on when you mark the price.

bill palmer report logo headerThe fallout continues, with Spotify drawing unwanted attention to its refusal to create a policy banning misinformation. JRE, the most popular podcast in the world, has been condemned for having several anti-vax guests, including discredited doctor Robert Malone, who was banned from Twitter for promoting Covid-19 misinformation. Rogan and his guests use their notoriety and academic backgrounds to give the appearance of credibility to manipulate listeners into thinking they are being informed, when, in fact, they are being dangerously misinformed. Note that 90% of hospitalizations and deaths due to COVID are the unvaccinated.

joe rogan logoThis incident has also refocused attention on social media regulation. The Internet is protected under Section 230 of Title 47 of the U.S. Communications Decency Act, which gives social media platforms immunity from contributors’ content, “even when they encourage illegal action, deliberately keep up manifestly harmful content, or take a cut of users’ illegal activities,” according to legal experts Citron & Franks.

The extreme right has already highjacked cable television and radio allowing Fox News and other rightwing programmers to skirt FCC regulations. The rightwing extremists have now used Section 230 to highjack the Internet. But they may have gone too far and reform is on the table. According to The Atlantic, Fox News, JRE, and other rightwing influencers promoting dangerous anti-vaccine campaigns to “save the economy,” no longer can use that argument under the booming Biden economy.

Portals such as Wikipedia, who post unsubstantiated claims about public figures, in what normally would be considered “unfair representation” generally actionable in all other media formats, may no longer be considered an ‘interactive computer service’ protected under Section 230 against defamation, when published on an Internet platform. The 1st Amendment states that Congress can make no laws hindering freedom of speech. But Congress and the courts can use current laws to protect U.S. citizens.

joni mitchell world cover

washington post logoWashington Post, Joni Mitchell pulls music from Spotify, saying she stands with Neil Young in protesting misinformation, Adela Suliman, Jan. 30, 2022 (print ed.). Canadian singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell has become the latest artist to demand that her work be removed from music streaming service Spotify, in protest over coronavirus misinformation she said was being featured there.

spotify logoShe said she stood in solidarity with fellow artist Neil Young, who made headlines this week when he posted a letter on his website demanding that his catalogue of songs be removed from Spotify in response to “fake information about vaccines” on joni mitchell clouds coverthe platform.

“I’ve decided to remove all my music from Spotify,” Mitchell, shown above and at right on two of her major albums, wrote in a brief statement on her website on Friday. “Irresponsible people are spreading lies that are costing people their lives. I stand in solidarity with Neil Young and the global scientific and medical communities on this issue.”

The singer, who last year celebrated the 50 year anniversary of her album “Blue,” also linked to an open letter signed by medical and scientific professionals calling on Spotify to “immediately establish a clear and public policy to moderate misinformation on its platform.”

washington post logoWashington Post, More musicians join Neil Young in demanding Spotify remove their content over covid misinformation, Annabelle Timsit, Jan. 30, 2022.  A controversy over coronavirus misinformation on Spotify is heating up, with a handful of musicians this weekend joining Neil Young in saying they want their music off the streaming platform as it continues to host provocative podcaster Joe Rogan.

Rock musician Nils Lofgren, best known as a member of Crazy Horse and Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, on Saturday became the latest artist to join a protest kicked off by Young, saying in a statement that he, too, would “cut ties with Spotify” and urged “all musicians, artists and covad 19 photo.jpg Custom 2music lovers everywhere” to do the same. Canadian singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell also said she plans to remove her music from Spotify in solidarity with Young “and the global scientific and medical communities.”

Separately, Brene Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston who hosts the popular podcasts “Unlocking Us” and “Dare to Lead” on Spotify, tweeted Saturday that she “will not be releasing any podcasts until further notice” but did not list a specific reason or whether the announcement was linked to the broader

Ottawa City News, Convoy protesters seeking food accused of harassing Ottawa soup kitchen staff, Kelsey Patterson, Jan. 30, 2022. “This weekend’s events have caused significant strain to our operations at an already difficult time,” tweeted the Shepherds of Good Hope homeless shelter.

The staff and volunteers at an Ottawa homeless shelter say they were harassed by members of the truck convoy protesters on Saturday, January 29 who were demanding meals from the shelter’s soup kitchen.

canadian flagThe Shepherds of Good Hope homeless shelter took to social media to share their experience with some of the demonstrators who descended on the nation’s capital to protest Justin Trudeau and his government’s imposition of COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

In a statement posted to Twitter on Sunday, January 30, the SGH says a member of the shelter was assaulted and a security guard was subsequently "threatened and called racial slurs" while attempting to help.

"The staff and volunteers at our soup kitchen experienced verbal harassment and pressure from protestors (sic) seeking meals. While we are not certain of exact numbers, the demands for meals and verbal altercations continued for several hours over the dinner period."

SGH says some protesters were initially given meals in an attempt to "diffuse the conflict." But no further meals were provided after management was informed of the situation.

The homeless shelter also said trucks were parked in their ambulance drop-off zone for nearly 12 hours, and the Salvation Army outreach van "was not able to run in the downtown core," leading to back-up contingency plans for client transportation.

“Our soup kitchen is committed to providing meals to people experiencing and at risk of homelessness in Ottawa. This weekend’s events have caused significant strain to our operations at an already difficult time.”

Worldometer, World & U.S. Coronavirus Case Totals (updated Jan. 30, 2022), with some governments reporting lower numbers than the totals here and some experts saying the numbers are far higher:

World Cases: 373,741,363, Deaths: 5,677,640
U.S. Cases:     75,481,122, Deaths:    906,861
Indian Cases:   41,092,522, Deaths:    494,110
Brazil Cases:   25,247,477, Deaths:     626,643

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washington post logoWashington Post, White House confirms South Carolina judge is under consideration for Supreme Court, Seung Min Kim, Jan. 29, 2022 (print ed.).  The White House on Friday confirmed that President Biden is considering a South Carolina federal judge and favorite of House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.) as a potential candidate for the Supreme Court.

The statement is the first time the White House has publicly confirmed a name under consideration to replace Justice Stephen G. Breyer, who announced this week that he would retire after the end of the current court term.

At the same time, the White House indicated that Judge J. Michelle Childs is one of several people under consideration by the president, who has pledged to live up to his campaign promise of nominating the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court.

Childs is a South Carolina judge who in December was nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, considered the second-most influential court in the country and often a steppingstone to the Supreme Court.

But her confirmation hearing for the D.C. Circuit, scheduled in the Senate Judiciary Committee for Tuesday, was quietly postponed. A committee aide said Friday that the panel “looks forward to processing a number of circuit nominees in the near future.”

In response to inquiries from The Washington Post about the postponement, White House spokesman Andrew Bates said that Childs is “among multiple individuals under consideration for the Supreme Court.”

“And we are not going to move her nomination on the Court of Appeals while the President is considering her for this vacancy,” Bates said. “At the same time, reporting indicating that the President is only seriously considering three potential nominees is incorrect.”

The other most-often-discussed names for Biden’s first Supreme Court pick are Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson of the D.C. Circuit and Leondra Kruger, a California Supreme Court justice. Others under consideration, according to people familiar with the matter, include Anita Earls, a North Carolina Supreme Court justice, New York University law professor Melissa Murray and Minnesota federal District Judge Wilhelmina “Mimi” Wright.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: By retiring, Breyer avoids Ginsburg’s mistake, Leah Litman (an assistant professor of law at the University of Michigan and host of the Supreme Court podcast "Strict Scrutiny"), Jan. 30, 2022 (print ed.). An apolitical justice appears to have bowed to political reality.

While Justice Stephen G. Breyer has not given his reasons for leaving the Supreme Court, he may have learned some lessons from Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s fateful decision to remain on the bench into President Donald Trump’s term. Despite his desire that the court not be viewed as a political body, Breyer appears to have bowed, in the end, to political reality.

Ginsburg reportedly said in her last days — in 2020 — that it was her “most fervent wish” that Trump’s successor, not Trump, select her replacement. Among other reasons, Ginsburg may have had in mind Trump’s promise to appoint justices who would overrule Roe v. Wade. While Ginsburg had nuanced thoughts about Roe, in a dissent in a 2007 case, she wrote that women’s “ability to realize their full potential … is intimately connected to ‘their ability to control their reproductive lives.’”

But Ginsburg chose not to retire while President Barack Obama was in office, despite frequent calls for her to do so. When she died in September 2020, Trump got to nominate Amy Coney Barrett to replace her, and Republican senators quickly confirmed Barrett (even as ballots were already being cast in the presidential race). Sure enough, with Barrett on the bench, the court allowed Texas to effectively nullify the right to an abortion. The court left in place — and continues to leave in place — a law that essentially makes it impossible for women in the nation’s second-most-populous state to obtain abortions more than six weeks after their last period.

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More On Ukraine

 

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washington post logoWashington Post, U.S. says Russia ‘clearly’ now has capability to attack Ukraine, Amy Cheng and Siobhán O'Grady, Jan. 30, 2022 (print ed.). President Biden said he planned to send some U.S. troops to Eastern Europe, describing the number as “not too many.”

The United States does not think Russian President Vladimir Putin has reached a decision on whether to attack Ukraine again, but Moscow “clearly Russian Flagnow has that capability” to seize important territories from Kyiv, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Friday.

The Pentagon chief told reporters that Russia has continued to use disinformation channels to manufacture a pretext for a renewed invasion, but he added that Putin can still “do the right thing” by calling off the more than 100,000 troops he has stationed near Ukraine’s borders and by pursuing a diplomatic solution.

Washington “remains committed to helping Ukraine defend itself through security assistance material,” Austin added. “Whatever [Putin] decides, the United States will stand with our allies and partners.” (Kyiv is not a NATO member, and one of Moscow’s key demands is that the former Soviet state be permanently barred from joining the Western military alliance.)

On Friday, President Biden said he planned to send some U.S. troops to Eastern Europe, describing the number as “not too many.”

Even as the West rushes billions of dollars worth of economic and military assistance to Kyiv, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has criticized how the United States and its close allies have handled the escalating tensions.

volodymyr zelenskii cropped headshotThe 44-year-old leader, left, faulted the West for waiting to impose more damaging sanctions on Moscow, while also assailing decisions by the United States, Britain and Australia to withdraw some embassy staffers and their families. And he has accused his Western counterparts of inciting “panic” with repeated suggestions that an invasion was imminent.

U.S. intelligence, relying in part on satellite imagery, has found that Russia is massing forces around Ukraine in support of a potential multi-front incursion. Moscow also is stocking blood supplies for troops near the border, Reuters reported late Friday, citing three unidentified U.S. officials.

ny times logoNew York Times, U.S. Sanctions Aimed at Russia Could Take a Wide Toll, Michael Crowley and Edward Wong, Jan. 30, 2022 (print ed.). The boldest measures that President Biden is threatening to deter an invasion of Ukraine could roil the Russian economy as well as those of other nations.

The most punishing sanctions that U.S. officials have threatened to impose on Russia could cause severe inflation, a stock market crash and other forms of financial panic that would inflict pain on its people — from billionaires to government officials to middle-class families.

U.S. officials vow to unleash searing economic measures if Russia invades Ukraine, including sanctions on its largest banks and financial institutions, in ways that would inevitably affect daily life in Russia.

But the strategy comes with political and economic risks. No nation has ever tried to enact broad sanctions against such large financial institutions and on an economy the size of Russia’s. And the “swift and severe” response that U.S. officials have promised could roil major economies, particularly those in Europe, and even threaten the stability of the global financial system, analysts say.

Some analysts also warn of a potential escalatory spiral. Russia might retaliate against an economic gut punch by cutting off natural gas shipments to Europe or by mounting cyberattacks against American and European infrastructure.

The pain caused by the sanctions could foment popular anger against Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin. But history shows that the country does not capitulate easily, and resilience is an important part of its national identity. U.S. officials are also sensitive to the notion that they could be viewed as punishing the Russian people — a perception that might fuel anti-Americanism and Mr. Putin’s narrative that his country is being persecuted by the West.

From Cuba to North Korea to Iran, U.S. sanctions have a mixed record at best of forcing a change in behavior. And while the Biden administration and its European allies are trying to deter Mr. Putin with tough talk, some experts question whether they would follow through on the most drastic economic measures if Russian troops breached the border and moved toward Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital.

President Biden has said he will not send American troops to defend Ukraine. Instead, U.S. officials are trying to devise a sanctions response that would land a damaging blow against Russia while limiting the economic shock waves around the world — including in the United States. Officials say that for now, the Biden administration does not plan to target Russia’s enormous oil and gas export industry; doing so could drive up gasoline prices for Americans already grappling with inflation and create a schism with European allies.

But many experts on sanctions believe that the boldest sanctions against Russia’s financial industry, if enacted, could take a meaningful toll.

 

President Volodymr Zelensky of Ukraine spoke on Friday in Kyiv (Photo via Ukrainan Presidency Office and New York Times).

President Volodymr Zelensky of Ukraine spoke on Friday in Kyiv (Photo via Ukrainan Presidency Office and New York Times).

ny times logoNew York Times, Ukraine Rebukes U.S. Over Claims Russia Attack Is Close, Michael Schwirtz and Andrew E. Kramer, Updated Jan. 29, 2022.
Ukrainian officials sharply criticized the Biden administration Friday for its ominous warnings of an imminent Russian attack, saying they had needlessly spread alarm, even as a new Pentagon assessment said Russia was now positioned to go beyond a limited incursion and invade all of Ukraine.

ukraine flagThe diverging viewpoints brought into the open the stark disagreement between Ukraine and its key partner over how to assess the threat posed by Russia, which has massed about 130,000 troops on Ukraine’s border in what American officials are calling a grave threat to global peace and stability.

The tensions, which have simmered in the background for weeks, have surfaced at a particularly delicate moment, as President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia reviews the American response to his demands for addressing Russian security concerns in Eastern Europe.

“They keep supporting this theme, this topic,’’ President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine said of the repeated warnings by American officials. “And they make it as acute and burning as possible. In my opinion, this is a mistake.”

ny times logoNew York Times, As Russian Troops Amass in Belarus, a Ukraine Border Is Largely Undefended, Michael Schwirtz, Jan. 30, 2022 (print ed.). From the border, it’s a fast 140 miles to Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital. Only a few troops stand guard there.

On the other side of this border in northern Ukraine, not visible through the thick pine and birch forests that crowd the E-95 highway but noticeable to passing truckers, a force is gathering in Belarus more potent than anything seen in the country since the fall of the Soviet Union, officials and military analysts say.

Russia has deployed tanks and artillery, fighter jets and helicopters, advanced rocket systems and troops by the thousands all across Belarus, augmenting a fighting force that already envelopes Ukraine like a horseshoe on three sides. Russia says the troops have deployed for military exercises scheduled to commence next month, but the buildup in Belarus could presage an attack from a new vector, one in proximity to Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv.

With much of Ukraine’s military might concentrated in the country’s east — where a war with Russian-backed separatists has raged for eight years — military analysts and Ukraine’s own generals say it will be difficult for the country to muster the forces necessary to defend its northern border.

World Crisis Radio, Biden will move US forces to NATO front lines on eastern flank; media defeatists and appeasers on parade, Webster G. Tarpley, right, Jan. 29-30, 2022 (print ed.). webster tarpley 2007US GDP increased by 5.7% in all of 2021 and by 6.9% in fourth quarter, a stunning success for Biden which the corporate media are loath to report.

House January 6 Committee sends subpoenas to 14 Electoral College imposters as DoJ admits investigation is ongoing;

71 Virginia school districts defy Wall Street hedge fund predator Youngkin on school mask requirements, and seven sue him; Demagogue Salvini fails to impose a candidate as Italian President, leaving reactionaries in disarray;

New research from Germany and Norway demonstrates that populist regimes increased excess covid deaths by 18%, compared to an increase of just 8% in non-populist states; Anti-vaxers on losing streak after fiasco of DC march;

Among Moscow’s favorite disinformation lines is the imminent collapse of the ”putrid west”; this line has been peddled by irrationalist Slavophiles for almost two centuries!

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. 29, 2022 (print ed.). 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. 29, 2022 (print ed.). 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.

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U.S. Politics, Governance, Economy

washington post logoWashington Post, Social Security expands public services, but field offices to remain closed until spring, Lisa Rein, Jan. 30, 2022 (print ed.). The agency’s pandemic closures curtailed applications for disability payments and left the elderly and sick to navigate the system without access to workers.

The Social Security Administration is expanding a vital pandemic service to taxpayers that it had restricted to just one hour a day, allowing drop boxes at its closed field offices to accept sensitive documents and forms for more hours as it eases toward opening some facilities.

The agency is putting the workaround in place while its network of 1,230 local offices remain closed until at least mid-April, apart from a smattering of in-person appointments. Most Social Security employees have been working from home since March 2020, but officials say they are trying to improve assistance to low-income elderly and disabled people who rely on their local Social Security office to navigate one of the government’s most complex systems of subsistence benefits.

The agency announced last week that it reached agreement with its major unions to begin a return to the office this spring. Bargaining over the timing of the move was contentious for months, officials on both sides acknowledge. The deal followed criticism from advocates for the disabled and members of Congress about Social Security largely closing its doors while most government offices opened months ago or never closed to the public during the pandemic.

ny times logoNew York Times, Republicans Relish Biden’s Troubles, Eyeing a Takeover of Congress, Annie Karni, Updated Jan. 29, 2022. The president’s woes have delighted Republicans, who have been seeking to rehabilitate themselves in the eyes of voters after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.President Biden’s woes have delighted Republicans, who have been seeking to rehabilitate themselves after the Jan. 6 attack, Jan. 28, 2022.

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 washington post logoWashington Post, Biden gives infrastructure speech after visiting Pittsburgh bridge that collapsed hours earlier, Timothy Bella, Sean Sullivan, Ian Duncan and Meryl Kornfield, Jan. 29, 2022 (print ed.). Four people were hospitalized, but none of the injuries are life-threatening, authorities said.

A major bridge collapsed in this city just hours before President Biden arrived to tout his new infrastructure law, providing a vivid illustration of the country’s crumbling transportation system — but also highlighting that it will take years for many of the benefits to be felt.

The striking juxtaposition of a fallen bridge (shown above and below in AP photos) and a prescheduled presidential visit prompted Biden to make an impromptu stop at the accident site, where stranded and damaged cars were still visible along the fallen span. No one was killed when the bridge buckled at 6:39 a.m., officials said, though four people were hospitalized with injuries that were not life-threatening.

joe biden twitterBiden warned that the country might not be so lucky next time. “We don’t need headlines saying that someone was killed when the next bridge collapses,” Biden said. “We saw today, when a bridge is in disrepair, it literally can threaten lives.”

Congress passed a bipartisan $1.2 trillion infrastructure package in November that included $27.5 billion to fix bridges, and since then Biden has visited spans in several states to pitch its benefits. But Andy Herrmann, a former president of the American Society of Civil Engineers, said the sum represents just a “down payment” toward what is needed across the country.

And it will likely be years before state and local officials can hire contractors and launch many of the projects, even though the infrastructure law seeks to ease the process by allowing the federal government to fully fund some projects rather than requiring matching funds, as is typical.

“We’re the city of bridges — and how many are out there?” said Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D), who also visited the site on Friday. “I hope it’s a wake-up call to the nation that we have to make these critical infrastructure investments and that people are afforded a safe drive to work.

Pittsburgh bridge collapse

washington post logoWashington Post, Infrastructure programs on hold until Congress passes budget to fund them, Ian Duncan and Tony Romm, Jan. 30, 2022 (print ed.). New transportation programs can’t be launched, and states are putting off planning how to use new money, because of uncertainties over approval.

Nearly three months after President Biden signed a roughly $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill into law, federal transportation officials say much of their work is on hold — stuck in limbo as a result of an unresolved congressional fight over federal spending.

The result is billions of dollars unable to be spent, blunting the immediate impact of one of President Biden’s signature accomplishments.

“A significant portion of our highway, transit and safety programs are limited” by caps in the existing federal budget, said Carlos Monje Jr., the Transportation Department’s third-highest-ranking official. “Without congressional actions, we aren’t going to be able to move on many of the new programs funded in the bill.”

Among them is $1.2 billion to help reduce carbon emissions and $1.4 billion to protect roads and bridges against the effects of climate change. And while the Federal Railroad Administration is in line to receive $66 billion in the next five years, Monje said the agency can’t hire the staff it needs to manage the significant infusion of money.

Some states, meanwhile, are putting off projects until Congress approves $9 billion in additional highway money.

The issues stem from what Monje called a “wonderful dance” between lawmakers who authorize federal spending and those who appropriate the money. The infrastructure bill authorized the money to be spent, but in many cases, it still needs a second round of approval in the form of an appropriation. Congress hasn’t been able to agree on spending for the budget year that began in October, and instead has been rolling forward last year’s appropriations. That approach does not include the increase in transportation spending.

washington post logoWashington Post, Books, speeches, hats for sale: Post-presidency, the Trumps try to make money the pre-presidency way, Michael Scherer and Josh Dawsey, Jan. 29, 2022 (print ed.). Donald Trump’s advisers sent a “breaking” alert a few weeks before Christmas to his political supporters, informing them of a new opportunity to show their “loyalty” through a book of photographs.

“ARE YOU GOING TO BUY PRESIDENT TRUMP’S NEW BOOK?” the email read.

The book, based largely on photographs in the public domain, and sold unsigned for $75 and over three times that with Trump’s signature, has been published by a new company founded by his son, Donald Trump Jr. It paid the former president a multimillion-dollar advance for signing copies, writing captions and helping curate photos, according to a person familiar with the arrangement, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to reflect private discussions.

Former first lady Melania Trump has sold digital images of a painting of her eyes for about $180 each, with payments that had to be submitted to her website in the form of a cryptocurrency called Solana. She has also offered for sale a hat she wore on a state visit to France, a painting of her wearing the hat, and a digital image of the same, for a minimum bid that she originally pegged at $250,000, though that amount fell precipitously in recent weeks as the value of Solana plunged.

Trump and his family have also been hitting the road, with both the former president and Trump Jr. expected to attend a for-profit speaking event in Houston on Saturday, before a free political rally just outside the city. Tickets for the American Freedom Tour range from $9 for satellite room viewing, $25 for a general admission seat, or $3,995 for a meeting and photo with the younger Trump and other perks.

The lines between political and for-profit efforts by the former president and his family have blurred for months as they have moved to reestablish and expand the branding empire they enjoyed before he entered the White House. Major Republican committees are promoting Trump’s private business interests, and Trump has repeatedly used his political action committee to promote his private products, in addition to building a political war chest of more than $110 million.

Years after shuttering businesses selling Trump steaks, Trump vodka and Trump mattresses, the Trumps have returned to unconventional direct-to-consumer appeals that trade on his continued popularity among a devoted base to the tune of millions of dollars in receipts. Even as some of his traditional businesses have struggled after a polarizing presidency, Trump and his family have been launching a whole set designed to target his die-hard followers.

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World News, Human Rights, Disasters

ny times logoNew York Times, 50 Years on, Bloody Sunday’s Wounds Are Still Felt, Alan Cowell, Jan. 30, 2022 (print ed.). A half-century after the killings in Northern Ireland, symbols of division and hostility still hold their potency.

The events themselves took a matter of minutes to unfold in a paroxysm of one-sided gunfire that snuffed out more than a dozen lives, each one of them a new martyr in Northern Ireland’s somber annals of loss. But the effort to unravel what happened in those brief moments — to parse the antecedents and the outcomes, to trace the lines of command on the grisly day that became known as Bloody Sunday — devoured years of costly inquiry.

And when the questioning was done, the conclusion was drawn by some that the killings by British soldiers on Jan. 30, 1972, had earned a place alongside the Sharpeville shootings in South Africa in 1960 and the Tiananmen Square killings in Beijing in 1989 as exemplars of lethal violence in the name of a state, directed against those who sought to defy its writ.

The failings were legion, committed by a unit of the British military once known for its gallantry and prowess in theaters of conflict as far-flung as Arnhem in the Netherlands during World War II and the Falklands in 1982. Much soul-searching and much obfuscation swirled around the central question of whether, as some of the soldiers initially insisted, they had opened fire in response to an armed and potentially lethal attack by the outlawed, underground Irish Republican Army.

ny times logoNew York Times, North Korea’s Latest Missile Test Appears to Be Its Boldest in Years, Choe Sang-Hun, Updated Jan. 30, 2022. Flight data indicates that the launch on Sunday was the North’s most powerful since 2017. South Korean analysts expect further escalations from Kim Jong-un.

ny times logoNew York Times, Italian Lawmakers Re-Elect Sergio Mattarella as President, Preserving Status Quo, Jason Horowitz, Jan. 30, 2022 (print ed.). Mr. Mattarella has presided over a chaotic seven years in which the country swung wildly from the left to the right, acting as the guardrails of Italy’s democracy.

After noxious and chaotic back-room negotiations, Italian lawmakers on Saturday re-elected the country’s current president, Sergio Mattarella , keeping the status quo, avoiding early elections and prolonging Italy’s current period of stability under Prime Minister Mario Draghi, who himself had coveted the job.

italian flag wavingBut the election of Mr. Mattarella, 80 and reluctant to serve again, after six disastrous days of secret votes in which different political interests within the governing coalition failed to rally around a new candidate, revealed the fractious politics and crumbling alliances just beneath the surface of Italy’s national unity government.

Divisive Italian politics is nothing new, but the election was especially closely watched because its outcome had the potential of determining whether Mr. Draghi, widely credited with bringing stability to Italy in a critical time, would stay on the scene or become a casualty of the political chaos.

In a private meeting on Saturday morning, Mr. Draghi, who many considered the no-brainer candidate to fill the seven-year presidential office, personally asked Mr. Mattarella to consider staying on because the political conflagration over the inconclusive ballots had begun to burn institutional figures, like the president of the Senate and the head of the Secret Service, two prominent women who were proposed as candidates only to be rejected and tarnished.

Mr. Draghi returned from the meeting and then called the governing coalition’s party leaders to try to broker a deal, according to an official in Mr. Draghi’s office who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss it publicly.

The choice of Mr. Mattarella increased the likelihood that Mr. Draghi, a former president of the European Central Bank, would continue to lead the unity government until scheduled elections in February 2023.

Having Mr. Draghi’s hand on day-to-day affairs was certain to calm international markets as well as the European Union’s leadership in Brussels, which is counting on Italy to effectively manage hundreds of billions of dollars in pandemic recovery funds and demonstrate the wisdom of the bloc’s experiment in collective debt.

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More On U.S. Crime, Courts

joe exotic tiger king

ny times logoNew York Times, Joe Exotic Is Resentenced to 21 Years for ‘Tiger King’ Murder-for-Hire Plot, Derrick Bryson Taylor, Jan. 29, 2022 (print ed.). Last year, a federal appeals court vacated the initial sentence for the plot, which was featured in the Netflix series “Tiger King.” Petitions for pardons from two presidents have also failed.

Joe Exotic, shown above, the former Oklahoma zoo owner who was the central figure in the 2020 Netflix documentary series “Tiger King,” was resentenced to 21 years in prison on Friday for the failed murder-for-hire plot targeting Carole Baskin, a self-proclaimed animal-rights activist who had FBI logocriticized his zoo’s treatment of animals, his lawyers said.

The new sentence reduces his punishment by one year. The original sentence, for 22 years in prison, was vacated as improper by a federal appeals court last summer.

John M. Phillips, a lawyer for Joe Exotic, whose real name is Joseph Maldonado-Passage, said in a statement, “We are unsatisfied with the court’s decision and will appeal.” At a news conference, he said that Mr. Maldonado-Passage was disappointed.

In court documents on Friday, Mr. Maldonado-Passage said, “Please don’t make me deal with cancer in prison waiting on an appeal.”

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Media, Education News

washington post logoWashington Post, Nadal wins Australian Open, sets men’s record for Grand Slam singles title, Liz Clarke, Jan. 30, 2022. By the fifth set of Sunday’s Australian Open final, having battled back after falling two sets in arrears, Rafael Nadal had no energy for the pirate-like leaps of his youth or even a shout of “Vamos!”

To save what energy remained, he celebrated service breaks and big points against Daniil Medvedev with a simple clenched fist.

In the end, after a five-hour, 24-minute battle of attrition, Nadal’s champion’s heart, resolute belief and extraordinary stamina delivered the mostsignificant victory of his career — and a men’s record 21st Grand Slam title, 2-6, 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-4, 7-5.

Nadal’s triumph, at 35, breaks the three-way tie atop men’s tennis history that he had shared with Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, whose bid to compete in this year’s Australian Open as an unvaccinated played was denied by the country’s immigration minister, who deemed his presence a threat to public health and order.

washington post logoWashington Post, Perspective: Trump declared war on the media. Now proxy battles are being waged in American courts, Margaret Sullivan, right, Jan. 30, margaret sullivan 2015 photo2022. But none of these landmark cases are as potentially consequential as Sarah Palin’s suit against the New York Times.

From the start of his presidential bid, Donald Trump took full advantage of the public’s growing mistrust of the mainstream press. The journalists tirelessly chronicling the near-daily scandals erupting from his White House were “scum,” he taunted. They were dishonest, he insisted. They were “the enemy of the people.”

HIs adviser Stephen K. Bannon memorably called the media “the opposition party.” Plenty of Americans agreed: These days, even local TV reporters are likely to be blasted as “fake news” as they try to cover school board meetings.

Now, more than a year after Trump’s presidential term ended, three volatile lawsuits forged in the culture-war fire he stoked are making their way through the legal system.

All are defamation suits, and the mere names involved suggest just how hot those flames may get: Sarah Palin, the right-wing lightning rod who gleefully slammed the “lamestream media”; Project Veritas, the hidden-camera “sting” outfit that targets journalists and liberals; Fox News, the conservative cable network that morphed into the Trump White House’s propaganda office; and the New York Times, the pillar of elite journalism that became the object of some of Trump’s most scalding attacks — and is now the defendant in two of the cases.

New York Post, Woman who jumped from NYC high-rise identified as Miss USA 2019 Cheslie Kryst, Larry Celona, Tina Moore and Jorge Fitz-Gibbon, Jan. 30, 2022. The woman who leaped to her death from a Midtown high-rise Sunday was former Miss USA Cheslie Kryst, law-enforcement sources told The Post.

Shortly before she jumped, Kryst posted on her Instagram page, “May this day bring you rest and peace.”

The 2019 pageant winner and 30-year-old lawyer jumped from her luxury 60-story Orion building at 350 W. 42nd St. around 7:15 a.m. and was found dead in the street below, sources said. “In devastation and great sorrow, we share the passing of our beloved Cheslie,” the former beauty queen’s family said in a statement Sunday.

“Her great light was one that inspired others around the world with her beauty and strength. She cared, she loved, she laughed and she shined.

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washington post logoWashington Post, White House rebukes GOP senator who said pick for Supreme Court will be ‘beneficiary’ of affirmative action, Brady Dennis, Jan. 29, 2022. "We hope Senator Wicker will give President Biden’s nominee the same consideration" he gave to Trump pick Amy Coney Barrett, a White House spokesman said. Spokesman says Biden has record of “extraordinarily qualified and groundbreaking nominees”

The White House on Saturday issued a forceful rebuke to a U.S. senator from Mississippi who said President Biden’s promise to pick a Black woman for the Supreme Court would ensure that the nominee is a “beneficiary” of affirmative action.

joe biden black background resized serious fileThe comments from Republican Sen. Roger Wicker, left, came Friday during a wide-ranging radio interview, in which he bemoaned the “left-wing judge” that Biden is likely to nominate to replace retiring Justice Stephen G. Breyer. Asked by host Paul Gallo on SuperTalk Mississippi Radio about Biden’s vow to nominate a Black woman, Wicker acknowledged the president was roger wicker twitterfulfilling a campaign promise.

“The irony is that the Supreme Court is at the very same time hearing cases about this sort of affirmative racial discrimination, while adding someone who is the beneficiary of this sort of quota,” Wicker said, in comments first reported by the Mississippi Free Press.

“The majority of the court may be saying writ large that it’s unconstitutional. We’ll see how that irony works out,” he said, adding that whoever Biden nominates “will probably not get a single Republican vote.”

“The majority of the court may be saying writ large that it’s unconstitutional. We’ll see how that irony works out,” he said, adding that whoever Biden nominates “will probably not get a single Republican vote.”

On Saturday, White House spokesman Andrew Bates said in a statement that Biden’s promise to elevate a Black woman to the highest U.S. court “is in line with the best traditions of both parties and our nation.”

Bates noted that Ronald Reagan had pledged during his presidential campaign to send the first woman to the court, saying that it “symbolized” the American ideal that “permits persons of any sex, age, or race, from every section and every walk of life to aspire and achieve in a manner never before even dreamed about in human history.”

Reagan selected Sandra Day O’Connor for a vacancy in 1981. She served on the Supreme Court until 2006.

 

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washington post logoWashington Post, U.S. says Russia ‘clearly’ now has capability to attack Ukraine, Amy Cheng and Siobhán O'Grady, Jan. 29, 2022. President Biden said he planned to send some U.S. troops to Eastern Europe, describing the number as “not too many.”

The United States does not think Russian President Vladimir Putin has reached a decision on whether to attack Ukraine again, but Moscow “clearly Russian Flagnow has that capability” to seize important territories from Kyiv, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Friday.

The Pentagon chief told reporters that Russia has continued to use disinformation channels to manufacture a pretext for a renewed invasion, but he added that Putin can still “do the right thing” by calling off the more than 100,000 troops he has stationed near Ukraine’s borders and by pursuing a diplomatic solution.

Washington “remains committed to helping Ukraine defend itself through security assistance material,” Austin added. “Whatever [Putin] decides, the United States will stand with our allies and partners.” (Kyiv is not a NATO member, and one of Moscow’s key demands is that the former Soviet state be permanently barred from joining the Western military alliance.)

On Friday, President Biden said he planned to send some U.S. troops to Eastern Europe, describing the number as “not too many.”

Even as the West rushes billions of dollars worth of economic and military assistance to Kyiv, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has criticized how the United States and its close allies have handled the escalating tensions.

volodymyr zelenskii cropped headshotThe 44-year-old leader, left, faulted the West for waiting to impose more damaging sanctions on Moscow, while also assailing decisions by the United States, Britain and Australia to withdraw some embassy staffers and their families. And he has accused his Western counterparts of inciting “panic” with repeated suggestions that an invasion was imminent.

U.S. intelligence, relying in part on satellite imagery, has found that Russia is massing forces around Ukraine in support of a potential multi-front incursion. Moscow also is stocking blood supplies for troops near the border, Reuters reported late Friday, citing three unidentified U.S. officials.

ny times logoNew York Times, U.S. Sanctions Aimed at Russia Could Take a Wide Toll, Michael Crowley and Edward Wong, Jan. 29, 2022. The boldest measures that President Biden is threatening to deter an invasion of Ukraine could roil the Russian economy as well as those of other nations.

The most punishing sanctions that U.S. officials have threatened to impose on Russia could cause severe inflation, a stock market crash and other forms of financial panic that would inflict pain on its people — from billionaires to government officials to middle-class families.

U.S. officials vow to unleash searing economic measures if Russia invades Ukraine, including sanctions on its largest banks and financial institutions, in ways that would inevitably affect daily life in Russia.

But the strategy comes with political and economic risks. No nation has ever tried to enact broad sanctions against such large financial institutions and on an economy the size of Russia’s. And the “swift and severe” response that U.S. officials have promised could roil major economies, particularly those in Europe, and even threaten the stability of the global financial system, analysts say.

Some analysts also warn of a potential escalatory spiral. Russia might retaliate against an economic gut punch by cutting off natural gas shipments to Europe or by mounting cyberattacks against American and European infrastructure.

The pain caused by the sanctions could foment popular anger against Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin. But history shows that the country does not capitulate easily, and resilience is an important part of its national identity. U.S. officials are also sensitive to the notion that they could be viewed as punishing the Russian people — a perception that might fuel anti-Americanism and Mr. Putin’s narrative that his country is being persecuted by the West.

From Cuba to North Korea to Iran, U.S. sanctions have a mixed record at best of forcing a change in behavior. And while the Biden administration and its European allies are trying to deter Mr. Putin with tough talk, some experts question whether they would follow through on the most drastic economic measures if Russian troops breached the border and moved toward Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital.

President Biden has said he will not send American troops to defend Ukraine. Instead, U.S. officials are trying to devise a sanctions response that would land a damaging blow against Russia while limiting the economic shock waves around the world — including in the United States. Officials say that for now, the Biden administration does not plan to target Russia’s enormous oil and gas export industry; doing so could drive up gasoline prices for Americans already grappling with inflation and create a schism with European allies.

But many experts on sanctions believe that the boldest sanctions against Russia’s financial industry, if enacted, could take a meaningful toll.

 

President Volodymr Zelensky of Ukraine spoke on Friday in Kyiv (Photo via Ukrainan Presidency Office and New York Times).

President Volodymr Zelensky of Ukraine spoke on Friday in Kyiv (Photo via Ukrainan Presidency Office and New York Times).

ny times logoNew York Times, Ukraine Rebukes U.S. Over Claims Russia Attack Is Close, Michael Schwirtz and Andrew E. Kramer, Updated Jan. 29, 2022.
Ukrainian officials sharply criticized the Biden administration Friday for its ominous warnings of an imminent Russian attack, saying they had needlessly spread alarm, even as a new Pentagon assessment said Russia was now positioned to go beyond a limited incursion and invade all of Ukraine.

ukraine flagThe diverging viewpoints brought into the open the stark disagreement between Ukraine and its key partner over how to assess the threat posed by Russia, which has massed about 130,000 troops on Ukraine’s border in what American officials are calling a grave threat to global peace and stability.

The tensions, which have simmered in the background for weeks, have surfaced at a particularly delicate moment, as President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia reviews the American response to his demands for addressing Russian security concerns in Eastern Europe.

“They keep supporting this theme, this topic,’’ President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine said of the repeated warnings by American officials. “And they make it as acute and burning as possible. In my opinion, this is a mistake.”

ny times logoNew York Times, As Russian Troops Amass in Belarus, a Ukraine Border Is Largely Undefended, Michael Schwirtz, Jan. 29, 2022. From the border, it’s a fast 140 miles to Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital. Only a few troops stand guard there.

On the other side of this border in northern Ukraine, not visible through the thick pine and birch forests that crowd the E-95 highway but noticeable to passing truckers, a force is gathering in Belarus more potent than anything seen in the country since the fall of the Soviet Union, officials and military analysts say.

Russia has deployed tanks and artillery, fighter jets and helicopters, advanced rocket systems and troops by the thousands all across Belarus, augmenting a fighting force that already envelopes Ukraine like a horseshoe on three sides. Russia says the troops have deployed for military exercises scheduled to commence next month, but the buildup in Belarus could presage an attack from a new vector, one in proximity to Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv.

With much of Ukraine’s military might concentrated in the country’s east — where a war with Russian-backed separatists has raged for eight years — military analysts and Ukraine’s own generals say it will be difficult for the country to muster the forces necessary to defend its northern border.

World Crisis Radio, Biden will move US forces to NATO front lines on eastern flank; media defeatists and appeasers on parade, Webster G. Tarpley, right, webster tarpley 2007US GDP increased by 5.7% in all of 2021 and by 6.9% in fourth quarter, a stunning success for Biden which the corporate media are loath to report.

House January 6 Committee sends subpoenas to 14 Electoral College imposters as DoJ admits investigation is ongoing;

71 Virginia school districts defy Wall Street hedge fund predator Youngkin on school mask requirements, and seven sue him; Demagogue Salvini fails to impose a candidate as Italian President, leaving reactionaries in disarray;

New research from Germany and Norway demonstrates that populist regimes increased excess covid deaths by 18%, compared to an increase of just 8% in non-populist states; Anti-vaxers on losing streak after fiasco of DC march;

Among Moscow’s favorite disinformation lines is the imminent collapse of the ”putrid west”; this line has been peddled by irrationalist Slavophiles for almost two centuries!

washington post logoWashington Post, GOP-led states rush to pass antiabortion bills, Caroline Kitchener, Jan. 29, 2022. Lawmakers in at least 29 states, anticipating that the Supreme Court may upend or weaken Roe v. Wade, have filed measures to restrict the procedure.

Nebraska lawmakers kicked off the new year by introducing a bill to ban all abortions if the Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision is overturned. The next day, Florida legislators announced their plan to narrow the window for abortion access from 24 weeks of pregnancy to 15. And later that week in Phoenix, state legislators unveiled the Arizona Heartbeat Act, designed to mimic a Texas law passed last year.

With the U.S. Supreme Court expected to decide in the coming months whether to upend its nearly 50-year precedent that established a constitutional right to abortion nationwide, lawmakers in Republican-led states across the country have moved aggressively in recent weeks to lay the groundwork for a new era of abortion restrictions.

While it’s possible that the high court either will overturn Roe or leave the precedent fully intact, many legal scholars and advocates on both sides anticipate the justices will land somewhere in the middle, instantly changing the standard for abortion legislation. Antiabortion lawmakers are trying to predict what the Supreme Court might do as they craft laws designed to take effect soon after a ruling, whatever the justices decide.

“We don’t know exactly what that decision is going to be yet,” said Arkansas state senator Jason Rapert (R), who has been jockeying to pass a bill modeled after the Texas law, which banned abortion after six weeks. “Until that decision is released, we need to pick up every tool to save babies’ lives — and do all we can, whenever we can.”

The push for new laws reflects the pent-up energy among antiabortion lawmakers who have been constricted for decades by parameters established in Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which declared laws unconstitutional if they impose an “undue burden” on someone seeking an abortion before their fetus is viable outside of the womb. The court’s much-anticipated ruling this year in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization relates to a law passed in 2018 in Mississippi, which poses a direct threat to Roe because it bans abortion at 15 weeks of pregnancy except in cases of medical emergencies or fetal abnormalities. Fifteen weeks is significantly before viability.

So far, lawmakers in at least 29 states have filed antiabortion legislation in their 2022 legislative session. Those efforts have helped inspire a push in the other direction in some states where Democrats hold power, with pro-abortion rights legislators in at least 17 states filing bills that aim to protect abortion access, according to Planned Parenthood.

washington post logoWashington Post, America’s split-screen pandemic: Many families move on while neighbors struggle to survive, Ariana Eunjung Cha, Jan. 29, 2022 (print ed.). Should we move on? Stay home til omicron wanes? Dueling realities characterize the 23rd month of a crisis that people expected would long be over.

The El Campo Impact 13-and-under girls volleyball team was down by one point in their opening tournament of the year. It was Kamryn Thompson’s turn to serve, and it was a winner. Cheers and screams rose from the packed crowd of hundreds of maskless coaches, parents and siblings in a mid-January gathering that felt as if the coronavirus had never hit.

About 15 miles away, Gabriela Hernandez was trapped behind a glass partition in a pediatric intensive care unit jammed with severely ill children battling covid-19. Her daughter, Kimberly, who is immunocompromised, had tested positive for the virus, and now her body was going haywire. Hernandez and the hospital’s medical teams were frustrated about the choices that have helped propel the virus’ spread and put vulnerable people like Kimberly at risk.

The split-screen reality of American life amid a pandemic has never been as stark as at this moment, in the 23rd month of a crisis that people had expected would long be over.

“I know people who have died because of this and people don’t believe it,” Hernandez said. “You have to believe it. You have to know that this is happening.”

 

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. 29, 2022 (print ed.). 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. 28-29, 2022. The Oath Keeper “QRFs” show how things could have been a lot worse, and how much more there is to learn.

huffington post logoThe 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.

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.

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Investigative Reports

washington post logoWashington Post, Inside the campaign to pressure Justice Breyer to retire, Matt Viser, Tyler Pager, Seung Min Kim and Robert Barnes, Jan. 29, 2022.The Supreme Court justice’s decision to step down followed an extraordinary campaign designed to pressure him to retire and make way for a new nominee to be named by a Democratic president. During a Harvard Law School lecture last April, Justice Stephen G. Breyer made clear that he viewed the judiciary as divorced from politics. Once a judge takes an oath, the Supreme Court jurist said, “They are loyal to the rule of law, not to the political party that helped to secure their appointment.”

But just three days later, a new phase in an extraordinary year-long campaign was launched to pressure Breyer to rethink his loyalties and focus far more on the political party that helped secure his appointment and the court’s dwindling liberal minority. A group of Democratic operatives circulated an online petition. Activists protested his events. Op-eds appeared in newspapers. A truck circled the Supreme Court building with a billboard that read: “Breyer, retire.”

It was the start of a remarkably public push on the political left to pressure Breyer, 83, the high court’s oldest justice and one of its three liberals, to retire while Democrats controlled the White House and Senate and make way for a younger nominee installed by President Biden. Activists were motivated by the experience of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the liberal icon who died in office in 2020 and was replaced by President Donald Trump’s nominee, conservative Amy Coney Barrett.

ny times logoNew York Times, Democrats Decried Dark Money. Then They Won With It in 2020, Kenneth P. Vogel and Shane Goldmacher, Jan. 29, 2022. A New York Times analysis reveals how the left outdid the right at raising and spending millions from undisclosed donors to defeat Donald Trump and win power in Washington.

For much of the last decade, Democrats complained — with a mix of indignation, frustration and envy — that Republicans and their allies were spending hundreds of millions of difficult-to-trace dollars to influence politics.

“Dark money” became a dirty word, as the left warned of the threat of corruption posed by corporations and billionaires that were spending unlimited sums through loosely regulated nonprofits, which did not disclose their donors’ identities.

Then came the 2020 election.

Spurred by opposition to then-President Trump, donors and operatives allied with the Democratic Party embraced dark money with fresh zeal, pulling even with and, by some measures, surpassing Republicans in 2020 spending, according to a New York Times analysis of tax filings and other data.

The analysis shows that 15 of the most politically active nonprofit organizations that generally align with the Democratic Party spent more than $1.5 billion in 2020 — compared to roughly $900 million spent by a comparable sample of 15 of the most politically active groups aligned with the G.O.P.

The party spent years warning of the threat of corruption posed by spending sums through loosely regulated nonprofits. Then came 2020.
Donors allied with the Democratic Party embraced the murky donations with zeal, The Times found, raising concerns among some experts of a dark-money arms race.

 

Virus Victims, Responses

ny times logoNew York Times, Ten Billion Vaccine Doses Have Been Administered Globally, Staff Reports, Jan. 29, 2022 (print ed.). 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.

washington post logoWashington Post, Visualizing the omicron wave striking and rolling across the country (Interactive chart), Dan Keating, Madison Dong and Tim Meko, Jan. 28, 2022. The  coronavirus’s omicron variant blew case rates and hospitalizations to national records as it hit the Northeast in January, but it has turned elsewhere.

washington post logoWashington Post, Flouting CDC, Virginia Gov. Youngkin’s health chief wants to help the state move on from covid, Jenna Portnoy, Jan. 29, 2022. Colin Greene knew that some public health directors — foot soldiers in the fight against coronavirus — would balk at Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s order making masks optional in schools.

The rule Youngkin (R) implemented the day he took office flipped the playbook they’d followed for two years overnight, and undermined Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance as infection rates skyrocketed and patients overwhelmed hospitals.

colin greene“A lot of people are really invested in the old way of doing things, the pre-omicron way of doing things,” Colin Greene, right, the state’s acting health commissioner, said in an interview Thursday. “Many are also culturally invested in essentially every word that comes out of the CDC. … There’s a lot more to health than just preventing disease.”

More than half of Virginia school districts are defying Youngkin’s mask-optional order

Greene, 63, inherits an agency on the front lines of responding to a pandemic that had killed 16,127 Virginians as of Friday. He is well-liked in northwestern Virginia, where he was health director in a region spanning four counties and the city of Winchester, for more than four years before Youngkin tapped him for the statewide role.

Formally deputy health commissioner, Greene is serving as an acting replacement for M. Norman Oliver, an appointee of former governor Ralph Northam and the former chair of the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Virginia School of Medicine. Oliver’s research focused on health inequities, especially the impact on racial and ethnic minorities, according to the health department.

  • Washington Post, Va. public universities lack authority for their covid vaccine mandates, new GOP attorney general finds, Justin Jouvenal, Lauren Lumpkin and Hannah Natanson, Jan. 29, 2022.

joni mitchell world cover

washington post logoWashington Post, Joni Mitchell pulls music from Spotify, saying she stands with Neil Young in protesting misinformation, Adela Suliman, Jan. 29, 2022. Canadian singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell has become the latest artist to demand that her work be removed from music streaming service Spotify, in protest over coronavirus misinformation she said was being featured there.

spotify logoShe said she stood in solidarity with fellow artist Neil Young, who made headlines this week when he posted a letter on his website demanding that his catalogue of songs be removed from Spotify in response to “fake information about vaccines” on joni mitchell clouds coverthe platform.

“I’ve decided to remove all my music from Spotify,” Mitchell, shown above and at right on two of her major albums, wrote in a brief statement on her website on Friday. “Irresponsible people are spreading lies that are costing people their lives. I stand in solidarity with Neil Young and the global scientific and medical communities on this issue.”

The singer, who last year celebrated the 50 year anniversary of her album “Blue,” also linked to an open letter signed by medical and scientific professionals calling on Spotify to “immediately establish a clear and public policy to moderate misinformation on its platform.”

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. 29, 2022 (print ed.). ‘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.

covad 19 photo.jpg Custom 2It 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.”

Worldometer, World & U.S. Coronavirus Case Totals (updated Jan. 29, 2022), with some governments reporting lower numbers than the totals here and some experts saying the numbers are far higher:

World Cases: 371,024,198, Deaths: 5,669,871
U.S. Cases:     75,271,402, Deaths:    905,661
Indian Cases:   40,858,241, Deaths:    493,218
Brazil Cases:   25,040,161, Deaths:    625,948

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More On U.S. Supreme Court

 

supreme court building

washington post logoWashington Post, White House confirms South Carolina judge is under consideration for Supreme Court, Seung Min Kim, Jan. 29, 2022 (print ed.).  The White House on Friday confirmed that President Biden is considering a South Carolina federal judge and favorite of House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.) as a potential candidate for the Supreme Court.

The statement is the first time the White House has publicly confirmed a name under consideration to replace Justice Stephen G. Breyer, who announced this week that he would retire after the end of the current court term.

At the same time, the White House indicated that Judge J. Michelle Childs is one of several people under consideration by the president, who has pledged to live up to his campaign promise of nominating the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court.

Childs is a South Carolina judge who in December was nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, considered the second-most influential court in the country and often a steppingstone to the Supreme Court.

But her confirmation hearing for the D.C. Circuit, scheduled in the Senate Judiciary Committee for Tuesday, was quietly postponed. A committee aide said Friday that the panel “looks forward to processing a number of circuit nominees in the near future.”

In response to inquiries from The Washington Post about the postponement, White House spokesman Andrew Bates said that Childs is “among multiple individuals under consideration for the Supreme Court.”

“And we are not going to move her nomination on the Court of Appeals while the President is considering her for this vacancy,” Bates said. “At the same time, reporting indicating that the President is only seriously considering three potential nominees is incorrect.”

The other most-often-discussed names for Biden’s first Supreme Court pick are Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson of the D.C. Circuit and Leondra Kruger, a California Supreme Court justice. Others under consideration, according to people familiar with the matter, include Anita Earls, a North Carolina Supreme Court justice, New York University law professor Melissa Murray and Minnesota federal District Judge Wilhelmina “Mimi” Wright.

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More On Ukraine

washington post logoWashington Post, Putin stands fast on Ukraine demands in call with Macron, Robyn Dixon, Andrew Jeong and Rick Noack, Jan. 29, 2022 (print ed.). 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, U.S. Sees More Russian Troops Massing; Moscow Hints at Diplomatic Opening, Staff Reports, Jan. 29, 2022 (print ed.). 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. 29, 2022 (print ed.). 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. 29, 2022 (print ed.). 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.

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U.S. Politics, Governance, Economy

ny times logoNew York Times, Republicans Relish Biden’s Troubles, Eyeing a Takeover of Congress, Annie Karni, Updated Jan. 29, 2022. The president’s woes have delighted Republicans, who have been seeking to rehabilitate themselves in the eyes of voters after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.President Biden’s woes have delighted Republicans, who have been seeking to rehabilitate themselves after the Jan. 6 attack, Jan. 28, 2022.

pittsburgh bridge aerial view

 

washington post logoWashington Post, Biden gives infrastructure speech after visiting Pittsburgh bridge that collapsed hours earlier, Timothy Bella, Sean Sullivan, Ian Duncan and Meryl Kornfield, Jan. 29, 2022 (print ed.). Four people were hospitalized, but none of the injuries are life-threatening, authorities said.

A major bridge collapsed in this city just hours before President Biden arrived to tout his new infrastructure law, providing a vivid illustration of the country’s crumbling transportation system — but also highlighting that it will take years for many of the benefits to be felt.

The striking juxtaposition of a fallen bridge (shown above and below in AP photos) and a prescheduled presidential visit prompted Biden to make an impromptu stop at the accident site, where stranded and damaged cars were still visible along the fallen span. No one was killed when the bridge buckled at 6:39 a.m., officials said, though four people were hospitalized with injuries that were not life-threatening.

joe biden twitterBiden warned that the country might not be so lucky next time. “We don’t need headlines saying that someone was killed when the next bridge collapses,” Biden said. “We saw today, when a bridge is in disrepair, it literally can threaten lives.”

Congress passed a bipartisan $1.2 trillion infrastructure package in November that included $27.5 billion to fix bridges, and since then Biden has visited spans in several states to pitch its benefits. But Andy Herrmann, a former president of the American Society of Civil Engineers, said the sum represents just a “down payment” toward what is needed across the country.

And it will likely be years before state and local officials can hire contractors and launch many of the projects, even though the infrastructure law seeks to ease the process by allowing the federal government to fully fund some projects rather than requiring matching funds, as is typical.

“We’re the city of bridges — and how many are out there?” said Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D), who also visited the site on Friday. “I hope it’s a wake-up call to the nation that we have to make these critical infrastructure investments and that people are afforded a safe drive to work.

Pittsburgh bridge collapse

washington post logoWashington Post, Infrastructure programs on hold until Congress passes budget to fund them, Ian Duncan and Tony Romm, Jan. 29, 2022. New transportation programs can’t be launched, and states are putting off planning how to use new money, because of uncertainties over approval.

Nearly three months after President Biden signed a roughly $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill into law, federal transportation officials say much of their work is on hold — stuck in limbo as a result of an unresolved congressional fight over federal spending.

The result is billions of dollars unable to be spent, blunting the immediate impact of one of President Biden’s signature accomplishments.

“A significant portion of our highway, transit and safety programs are limited” by caps in the existing federal budget, said Carlos Monje Jr., the Transportation Department’s third-highest-ranking official. “Without congressional actions, we aren’t going to be able to move on many of the new programs funded in the bill.”

Among them is $1.2 billion to help reduce carbon emissions and $1.4 billion to protect roads and bridges against the effects of climate change. And while the Federal Railroad Administration is in line to receive $66 billion in the next five years, Monje said the agency can’t hire the staff it needs to manage the significant infusion of money.

Some states, meanwhile, are putting off projects until Congress approves $9 billion in additional highway money.

The issues stem from what Monje called a “wonderful dance” between lawmakers who authorize federal spending and those who appropriate the money. The infrastructure bill authorized the money to be spent, but in many cases, it still needs a second round of approval in the form of an appropriation. Congress hasn’t been able to agree on spending for the budget year that began in October, and instead has been rolling forward last year’s appropriations. That approach does not include the increase in transportation spending.

washington post logoWashington Post, Books, speeches, hats for sale: Post-presidency, the Trumps try to make money the pre-presidency way, Michael Scherer and
Josh Dawsey, Jan. 29, 2022 (print ed.). Donald Trump’s advisers sent a “breaking” alert a few weeks before Christmas to his political supporters, informing them of a new opportunity to show their “loyalty” through a book of photographs.

“ARE YOU GOING TO BUY PRESIDENT TRUMP’S NEW BOOK?” the email read.

The book, based largely on photographs in the public domain, and sold unsigned for $75 and over three times that with Trump’s signature, has been published by a new company founded by his son, Donald Trump Jr. It paid the former president a multimillion-dollar advance for signing copies, writing captions and helping curate photos, according to a person familiar with the arrangement, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to reflect private discussions.

Former first lady Melania Trump has sold digital images of a painting of her eyes for about $180 each, with payments that had to be submitted to her website in the form of a cryptocurrency called Solana. She has also offered for sale a hat she wore on a state visit to France, a painting of her wearing the hat, and a digital image of the same, for a minimum bid that she originally pegged at $250,000, though that amount fell precipitously in recent weeks as the value of Solana plunged.

Trump and his family have also been hitting the road, with both the former president and Trump Jr. expected to attend a for-profit speaking event in Houston on Saturday, before a free political rally just outside the city. Tickets for the American Freedom Tour range from $9 for satellite room viewing, $25 for a general admission seat, or $3,995 for a meeting and photo with the younger Trump and other perks.

The lines between political and for-profit efforts by the former president and his family have blurred for months as they have moved to reestablish and expand the branding empire they enjoyed before he entered the White House. Major Republican committees are promoting Trump’s private business interests, and Trump has repeatedly used his political action committee to promote his private products, in addition to building a political war chest of more than $110 million.

Years after shuttering businesses selling Trump steaks, Trump vodka and Trump mattresses, the Trumps have returned to unconventional direct-to-consumer appeals that trade on his continued popularity among a devoted base to the tune of millions of dollars in receipts. Even as some of his traditional businesses have struggled after a polarizing presidency, Trump and his family have been launching a whole set designed to target his die-hard followers.

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World News, Human Rights, Disasters

ny times logoNew York Times, Italian Lawmakers Re-Elect Sergio Mattarella as President, Preserving Status Quo, Jason Horowitz, Jan. 29, 2022. Mr. Mattarella has presided over a chaotic seven years in which the country swung wildly from the left to the right, acting as the guardrails of Italy’s democracy.

After noxious and chaotic back-room negotiations, Italian lawmakers on Saturday re-elected the country’s current president, Sergio Mattarella , keeping the status quo, avoiding early elections and prolonging Italy’s current period of stability under Prime Minister Mario Draghi, who himself had coveted the job.

italian flag wavingBut the election of Mr. Mattarella, 80 and reluctant to serve again, after six disastrous days of secret votes in which different political interests within the governing coalition failed to rally around a new candidate, revealed the fractious politics and crumbling alliances just beneath the surface of Italy’s national unity government.

Divisive Italian politics is nothing new, but the election was especially closely watched because its outcome had the potential of determining whether Mr. Draghi, widely credited with bringing stability to Italy in a critical time, would stay on the scene or become a casualty of the political chaos.

In a private meeting on Saturday morning, Mr. Draghi, who many considered the no-brainer candidate to fill the seven-year presidential office, personally asked Mr. Mattarella to consider staying on because the political conflagration over the inconclusive ballots had begun to burn institutional figures, like the president of the Senate and the head of the Secret Service, two prominent women who were proposed as candidates only to be rejected and tarnished.

Mr. Draghi returned from the meeting and then called the governing coalition’s party leaders to try to broker a deal, according to an official in Mr. Draghi’s office who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss it publicly.

The choice of Mr. Mattarella increased the likelihood that Mr. Draghi, a former president of the European Central Bank, would continue to lead the unity government until scheduled elections in February 2023.

Having Mr. Draghi’s hand on day-to-day affairs was certain to calm international markets as well as the European Union’s leadership in Brussels, which is counting on Italy to effectively manage hundreds of billions of dollars in pandemic recovery funds and demonstrate the wisdom of the bloc’s experiment in collective debt.

washington post logoWashington Post, Biden administration set to withhold $130 million from Egypt over human rights concerns, Siobhán O'Grady, Jan. 29, 2022 (print ed.). President Sissi’s government has not met conditions attached to the security assistance, U.S. officials say.

The Biden administration is set to withhold $130 million in security assistance to Egypt over human rights concerns after U.S. officials determined that Cairo has not fulfilled conditions attached to the assistance, State Department officials said Friday.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to his Egyptian counterpart on Thursday on a call that included a discussion of human rights and is expected to sign off on the decision on Sunday, the officials said. State Department officials declined to say how the money would be redirected.

A spokesperson for Egypt’s foreign ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

The administration has been facing a Jan. 30 deadline to decide whether to release the funds, which U.S. officials announced last year would be withheld unless Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi’s government met several requirements. The State Department has declined to publicly detail the specific conditions, but officials and congressional aides have said they include halting the longtime prosecution of civil society advocates involved in a legal case known as Case 173 and the release or dismissal of charges against 16 individuals.

washington post logoWashington Post, Protesters torch trains in India as frustration over lack of jobs boils over, Claire Parker, Jan. 29, 2022 (print ed.). Angry job seekers torched trains and set tires alight in northeastern India this week out of frustration over widespread unemployment and what many applicants say is an unfair recruitment process in the country’s huge railway sector.

india flag mapThe protests, in which young people obstructed rail traffic, were a violent expression of disillusionment with one of the world’s largest employers.

Photos showed flames billowing from rail cars in the northeastern state of Bihar and hundreds of people walking across train tracks there. Protesters in Patna, the state capital, burned tires and blocked roads Friday in a strike called by student associations.

The violent scenes have drawn attention to the joblessness that was worsening in India even before the coronavirus pandemic, as young people — particularly educated ones — struggled to find employment. Many are left helping their families with unpaid domestic tasks as they prepare to compete for a relatively small number of government jobs, according to the BBC.

 ny times logoNew York Times, ISIS Fighters Get Surrender-or-Die Ultimatum in Syria Prison Standoff, Jane Arraf and Sangar Khaleel, Jan. 29, 2022 (print ed.). 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.

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More On U.S. Crime, Courts

joe exotic tiger king

ny times logoNew York Times, Joe Exotic Is Resentenced to 21 Years for ‘Tiger King’ Murder-for-Hire Plot, Derrick Bryson Taylor, Jan. 29, 2022 (print ed.). Last year, a federal appeals court vacated the initial sentence for the plot, which was featured in the Netflix series “Tiger King.” Petitions for pardons from two presidents have also failed.

Joe Exotic, shown above, the former Oklahoma zoo owner who was the central figure in the 2020 Netflix documentary series “Tiger King,” was resentenced to 21 years in prison on Friday for the failed murder-for-hire plot targeting Carole Baskin, a self-proclaimed animal-rights activist who had criticized his zoo’s treatment of animals, his lawyers said.

The new sentence reduces his punishment by one year. The original sentence, for 22 years in prison, was vacated as improper by a federal appeals court last summer.

John M. Phillips, a lawyer for Joe Exotic, whose real name is Joseph Maldonado-Passage, said in a statement, “We are unsatisfied with the court’s decision and will appeal.” At a news conference, he said that Mr. Maldonado-Passage was disappointed.

In court documents on Friday, Mr. Maldonado-Passage said, “Please don’t make me deal with cancer in prison waiting on an appeal.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Former Kansas teacher accused of leading all-female ISIS brigade, Rachel Weiner, Jan. 29, 2022. A former teacher from Kansas became a rare female combat leader in the Islamic State, teaching other women and children to use guns and bombs, federal prosecutors said in a case unsealed Friday night.

Allison Fluke-Ekren, 42, was charged with material support for terrorism in 2019 but was only brought to the Eastern District of Virginia Friday evening, after a recent arrest in Syria.

She led an ISIS military battalion, tried to plan a terrorist attack on an American college campus and taught and translated extremist doctrine, prosecutors say.

Women make up only about 10 percent of those charged by the United States with supporting the Islamic State, and no previous case has involved someone accused of holding such a powerful position in the group. Experts have debated how large a role women played in armed conflict on behalf of the Islamic State. While the group enforced strict gender codes, violence by women was never banned. When its territory in Iraq and Syria came under attack 2016 and 2017, leaders explicitly encouraged women to take up arms.

Fluke-Ekren was a key part of that effort, prosecutors contend.

“Fluke-Ekren translated her extremist beliefs into action by serving as the appointed leader and organizer of an ISIS military battalion, directly training women and children in the use of AK-47 assault rifles, grenades, and suicide belts to support the Islamic State’s murderous aims,” wrote First Assistant U.S. Attorney Raj Parekh in a detention memo.

According to the court record, Fluke-Ekren left the United States in 2008 for Egypt; she migrated to Libya in 2011 and then Syria a year later, where she hoped to join a violent Islamist movement. Authorities say her husband traveled with her and became a sniper trainer for ISIS; he later died in an airstrike and is not named in court records. In 2014, he designed a plan to plant explosives at a U.S. college in retaliation for an airstrike, an alleged witness told authorities. The plan was approved by ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, according to prosecutors, but never came to fruition after Fluke-Ekren became pregnant.

washington post logoWashington Post, Officers charged in Floyd’s killing were taught to intervene, trainer testifies, Holly Bailey, Jan. 29, 2022 (print ed.). Former Minneapolis police officers J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas K. Lane and Tou Thao were at the scene with Derek Chauvin and are accused of violating Floyd’s civil rights The three former Minneapolis police officers on trial for violating George Floyd’s civil rights had been trained to verbally and physically intervene to stop a colleague from using unreasonable force and broke department policy when they didn’t stop Derek Chauvin from kneeling on Floyd’s neck, a police supervisor testified Friday.

Katie Blackwell, a Minneapolis Police Department inspector who commanded the agency’s training division at the time of Floyd’s May 2020 death, testified that former officers J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas K. Lane and Tou Thao had undergone hours of training on the department’s use of force guidelines, including the duty to intervene and the obligation to render medical aid when someone in their custody needs it.

“You are accountable for what you do — and if you don’t do anything at all,” Blackwell said, as prosecutors questioned her about the department’s training practices and policies in the run-up to Floyd’s killing.

Blackwell testified that in her viewing of the body-camera footage of Floyd’s fatal arrest, she found the behavior of Kueng, Lane and Thao “inconsistent” with police policy. She said the officers failed to intervene to get Chauvin to stop using force, and should have repositioned Floyd when he stopped resisting and rendered medical aid when he lost consciousness.

Asked if there was anything that could have prevented the officers from intervening, Blackwell replied, “Nothing.”

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Media, Education News

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: How Can We Publish Good Science Quickly and Keep Bad Science in Check? Peter Coy, Jan. 28, 2022. Peer review is both the greatest strength and the greatest weakness of the scientific research system. It filters out bad work and makes good work better. But it can also slow down the dispersal of new ideas, which is a big problem when it comes to tackling fast-changing challenges like the Covid-19 pandemic.

And, of course, peer review can fail. Retraction Watch, a website, maintains a list of more than 100 Covid-19 research papers that were peer reviewed, published and then had to be retracted.

On the whole the scientific community has done a good job of managing the peer review challenge. Most research today is released originally in the form of preprints, which are articles that are made widely available even though they haven’t been peer-reviewed. The major scholarly journals, which used to insist on exclusivity, have agreed not to deem a preprint as having been published, which means they will consider it for publication. That way the work gets out quickly and still has a chance to appear in a journal, which entails closer scrutiny (through peer review) and earns the authors a measure of academic repute.

But dissemination of scientific knowledge could be done better. “The limitation is that any idiot can publish any idiotic stuff on a platform that doesn’t have pre-publication peer review,” says Robert West, an emeritus professor of behavioral science and health at University College London and a past editor in chief of Addiction, a scholarly journal. The trick is to develop a system that keeps the speed while reducing the risk that bogus ideas such as treating Covid-19 with ivermectin or hydroxychloroquine will slip through.

In an early stab at collecting and publicizing early-stage work, the National Institutes of Health created a registry for preprints of biology research, but discontinued it in 1967 after the scholarly journals in the field refused (at the time) to consider submissions that had previously posted as preprints, according to a 2020 article in JAMA.

washington post logoWashington Post, Conspiracy theorists, banned on major social networks, spread message on newsletters, podcasts, Elizabeth Dwoskin, Jan. 29, 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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Jan. 28

Top Headlines

 

Pro-Trump Coup Attempt, Election Rights, Probes


Virus Victims, Responses


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World News, Human Rights, Disasters

 

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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.

washington post logoWashington Post, White House confirms South Carolina judge is under consideration for Supreme Court, Seung Min Kim, Jan. 28, 2022. The White House on Friday confirmed that President Biden is considering a South Carolina federal judge and favorite of House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.) as a potential candidate for the Supreme Court.

The statement is the first time the White House has publicly confirmed a name under consideration to replace Justice Stephen G. Breyer, who announced this week that he would retire after the end of the current court term.

At the same time, the White House indicated that Judge J. Michelle Childs is one of several people under consideration by the president, who has pledged to live up to his campaign promise of nominating the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court.

Childs is a South Carolina judge who in December was nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, considered the second-most influential court in the country and often a steppingstone to the Supreme Court.

But her confirmation hearing for the D.C. Circuit, scheduled in the Senate Judiciary Committee for Tuesday, was quietly postponed. A committee aide said Friday that the panel “looks forward to processing a number of circuit nominees in the near future.”

In response to inquiries from The Washington Post about the postponement, White House spokesman Andrew Bates said that Childs is “among multiple individuals under consideration for the Supreme Court.”

“And we are not going to move her nomination on the Court of Appeals while the President is considering her for this vacancy,” Bates said. “At the same time, reporting indicating that the President is only seriously considering three potential nominees is incorrect.”

The other most-often-discussed names for Biden’s first Supreme Court pick are Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson of the D.C. Circuit and Leondra Kruger, a California Supreme Court justice. Others under consideration, according to people familiar with the matter, include Anita Earls, a North Carolina Supreme Court justice, New York University law professor Melissa Murray and Minnesota federal District Judge Wilhelmina “Mimi” Wright.

 

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.

washington post logoWashington Post, Pennsylvania court declares state’s mail-in voting law unconstitutional, in win for Republicans, Mariana Alfaro, Jan. 28, 2022. The state’s Democratic attorney general promised a swift appeal and insisted that the court’s action won’t have an immediate impact on elections this year.

A Pennsylvania court struck down the state’s expansive mail-in voting law as unconstitutional, delivering a temporary win to state Republicans who challenged the law after former president Donald Trump falsely claimed mail-in voting resulted in election fraud.

While the two-year-old law was struck down by a majority on the five-judge panel of the Commonwealth Court, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D) and the state’s Attorney General, Josh Shapiro (D), promised a swift appeal, criticizing the court’s opinion as being “based on twisted logic and faulty reasoning.”

“The administration will immediately appeal this decision to the state Supreme Court and today’s lower court ruling will have no immediate effect on mail-in voting pending a final decision on the appeal,” Wolf said Friday.

The state’s Republican-controlled legislature passed the law establishing no-excuse mail-in voting for all voters in 2019 with bipartisan support. Previously, Pennsylvania voters could cast absentee ballots if they met a certain criteria.

Amid the pandemic, more than 2.6 million Pennsylvania voters cast mail-in or absentee ballots out of 6.9 million.

The court said Friday that any changes to the voting law would require a constitutional amendment.

“No-excuse mail-in voting makes the exercise of the franchise more convenient and has been used four times in the history of Pennsylvania.

Approximately 1.38 million voters have expressed their interest in voting by mail permanently,” Judge Mary Hannah Leavitt wrote. "If presented to the people, a constitutional amendment to end the Article VII, Section 1 requirement of in-person voting is likely to be adopted. But a constitutional amendment must be presented to the people and adopted into our fundamental law before legislation authorizing no-excuse mail-in voting can ‘be placed upon our statute books.’”

In bringing the legal challenge, some Republicans in the state echoed Trump’s baseless claims of widespread voter fraud and his criticism of mail-in voting, with several seeking to undo the law they once voted for.

In a statement to The Washington Post, Wolf pointed out the GOP reversal.

“The Republican-controlled legislature passed Act 77 with strong bipartisan support in 2019 to make voting more safe, secure, and accessible and millions of Pennsylvanians have embraced it,” Wolf said. “The simple fact is that despite near-unanimous Republican legislative support for this historic update to Pennsylvania election law, they now want to strip away mail-in voting in the service of the ‘big lie.’”

Shapiro, in his statement, stressed that the court’s ruling will not have “any immediate impact" on upcoming elections. The state is holding both gubernatorial and a U.S. Senate election this year.

The Pennsylvania Department of State also said in a statement that it disagreed with the ruling and that it is “working to file an immediate appeal” to the state’s Supreme Court, which has a 5-to-2 Democratic majority.

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 logoWashington 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.”

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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

Herald Business Journal (Everett, WA), Lynnwood pirate bar faces mutiny over ‘catch the virus’ show, Claudia Yaw, Jan. 28, 2022. Employees quit, bands canceled and patrons swore off the Vessel Taphouse after it advertised discounts for people sick with COVID.

Aaron Burke isn’t the only pirate fanatic in Snohomish County.

On a recent birthday, he took about 20 fellow scalawags to Vessel Taphouse near Lynnwood, with nearly all of them decked out in eyepatches, tricornes and swashbuckling gear.

“It’s a huge identity thing for me. I’ve been into pirate culture for many, many years, and I was excited when Vessel first opened,” said Burke, a Microsoft employee whose home is festooned with model ships and octopus art. “You can pull up in full pirate garb at 5 p.m. on a Thursday and nobody blinks. I’ve done that.”

But in the past week, the venue lost the part-time pirate — as well as staff, bands and other customers — over a show with advertised discounted prices for people sick with COVID-19.

“Come see the show, maybe catch the virus or just stay home and whine,” Vessel Taphouse posted to Facebook last Friday. “Tickets 10 bucks or 6 with proof of Omicron positive test!!”
A sign and skeleton welcome guests Thursday at Vessel Taphouse in Lynnwood. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

A sign and skeleton welcome guests Thursday at Vessel Taphouse in Lynnwood. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

The so-called “I’m too sick to attend” show sparked a firestorm of backlash at 15615 Highway 99. Owner Steve Hartley said four employees quit and three bands refused to play another show that weekend, including headliner Atrocity Girl, a Seattle-based rock band.

“After talking it over, we feel really disturbed this post was ever allowed to be made,” Atrocity Girl posted to Facebook. “We do not condone this behavior and do not think COVID is a joke.”

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More On U.S. Supreme Court

 

President Biden, right, and Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer shake hands at the White House on Thursday during the announcement of Breyer’s upcoming retirement. (Washington Post Photo by Demetrius Freeman).President Biden, right, and Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer shake hands at the White House on Thursday during the announcement of Breyer’s upcoming retirement. (Washington Post Photo by Demetrius Freeman).

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: If Breyer can learn to recognize political reality, Biden can, too, Linda Hirshman, Jan. 28, 2022. Both men believed — against most of the evidence — in old-fashioned compromise.

Just in the nick of time, Justice Stephen G. Breyer is going to retire from the Supreme Court. At age 83, Breyer came awfully close to tossing his legacy onto the pyre where the heritage of Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and — less visibly but more consequentially — Sandra Day O’Connor, lie smoldering. Both stayed on the court so long that they were replaced by hard-right judges. Neither recognized the way politics, and the Republican Party, had changed until it was too late. Breyer appears to have learned their lesson. The question is whether President Biden can, too.

Republicans have known that timing matters for the Supreme Court since 1968, when they pushed Democratic appointee Abe Fortas out just in time for Richard Nixon to name his replacement. Decades later, Ginsburg blundered because she was blind to how American politics were racing rapidly to the right.

For a long year, it has seemed that Breyer, and, worse, Biden, were similarly near- and shortsighted about political reality: Breyer dithered over the “factors” in any decision; Biden has bobbed and weaved to avoid upsetting the GOP.

Massive pandemic relief went out without his name on it, the Trump-dominated courts eviscerated his efforts to control the virus, and he never named the Former Guy, lest he alienate his supporters.

A replacement of one moderate liberal for another won’t fix the court. But maybe it gives Biden a chance to realize finally that the past — those vaunted days of fellowship and bipartisan reason — is not only past, it is dead.

 

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ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: Democrats Should Take a Page From Mitch McConnell’s Book, Stephanie Cutter, Jan. 28, 2022. With Justice Stephen Breyer’s announcement that he will retire from the Supreme Court this summer, President Biden has a chance to take the landmark step of putting the first Black woman on the court, while shaping the future of jurisprudence. Thanks to President Donald Trump and the former Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, there is a new set of rules in place for Supreme Court nominations that all but guarantees Democrats will succeed.

Unless of course, we mess it up.

In 2009, when President Barack Obama nominated Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the court, our team shepherded the nominee through the halls of the Senate for courtesy calls with 89 senators, most of whom waited to announce their intended vote until the Judiciary Committee did its work in vetting and questioning her. Not until that process was complete could they take the measure of her fitness to serve on the court.

Those days are gone. Mr. Biden shouldn’t look to the process we followed in the Sotomayor nomination. Instead, he should look to the nomination and confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett.

Over Mr. Trump’s term, Republicans distilled the Supreme Court nomination process to pure politics. Instead of spending weeks scrutinizing a nominee’s rulings and parsing legal intricacies for potential hearing questions, they simply rubber-stamped Mr. Trump’s picks. Even before Mr. Trump announced his nominee to succeed Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Lindsey Graham, declared that he had enough votes to confirm any nominee in both the Judiciary Committee and on the Senate floor.

And within minutes of the president’s nomination of Judge Barrett, Republican senators began to declare their support for her. Thirty-eight days after Justice Ginsburg died, her successor was confirmed. The process exemplified one of the defining features of the modern Republican Party: its laser focus on the judiciary and its extraordinary discipline in filling seats when its members control the Senate — or blocking confirmations when they do not.

An overly deliberative process would add nothing in an environment this toxic and divisive. No one doubts that some Republicans will pluck a line out of a long-ago legal brief by the nominee and try to spin it as a fatal flaw or attempt to stoke racial tensions by demeaning her credentials. So we should not give more room for the opposition to tarnish the nominee. We need to set a strategy and timeline, ignore those critical of a fair but expedited nomination process — including from inside our own party — and maintain singular focus until the president’s nominee is confirmed.

Moving fast isn’t just a defensive move. It can also help rally the nation. We know that Mr. Biden has committed to nominating the first Black woman to the court. As for any nominee, her qualifications will lead the way. But, when President Obama nominated the first Latina — Justice Sotomayor — it was her incredible life story of growing up in the Bronx as the daughter of parents from Puerto Rico that won the hearts and minds of many Americans, even potential critics like Senator Graham. She remains the Supreme Court’s most popular justice.

The moment Justice Breyer’s replacement is announced, she will instantly become a historic figure. Every woman known to be a contender has a rich story to tell and will set a powerful example for generations of Americans to come. Let’s hurry up and introduce her, and get her ready to join the court.

Ms. Cutter, a Democratic political strategist, was an adviser to President Barack Obama and coordinated the process that resulted in the nomination and confirmation of Justice Sonia Sotomayor. She also was the executive producer of President Biden’s inauguration.

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.

Recent Headlines

 

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

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.

ny times logoNew York Times, A #MeToo Moment Shakes Israel’s Ultra-Orthodox, Isabel Kershner, Jan. 28, 2022 (print ed.). An acclaimed religious children’s author was accused of abusing women and children. Then he killed himself, shocking the conservative community.

Other Recent World Headlines

 

More On U.S. Crime, Courts

 

Joe Michael Ervin in a booking photo from from 1970, which is well before the series of homicides that were announced today (Denver Police mugshot).

Joe Michael Ervin in a booking photo from from 1970, which is well before the series of homicides that were announced today (Denver Police mugshot).

washington post logoWashington Post, Denver police solve killings of three women and a teen from 40 years ago: ‘Our team did not forget,’ Ellen Francis, Jan. 29, 2022. Police in Colorado have identified the man who killed three women and a teenage girl more than 40 years ago, with the help of genetic genealogy and DNA.

Between 1978 and 1981, three of the women were stabbed to death in Denver, while the fourth was found dead with stab wounds in an Adams County field, police said.

The suspect, identified as Joe Michael Ervin, was arrested after 26-year-old police officer Debra Sue Corr pulled him over at a traffic stop in June 1981. He shot her with her gun in what became the first line-of-duty death for the Aurora Police Department. He later killed himself in custody, local media reported.

After authorities had examined the murders as separate incidents, DNA evidence tied two of them in 2013, and the probe “soon snowballed,” according to the police. Investigators found more links between the four cases in 2015 and 2018, eventually tracing the samples to the ancestry of the killer and exhuming his body in Texas. This month, they determined the DNA matched, police announced.

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.

Recent U.S. Courts Headlines

 

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.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Current weather: Snowflakes in the red states, Dana Milbank, right, Jan. 28, 2022. If we see any more snowflakes appear in red dana milbank neweststates, the National Weather Service is going to have to issue a blizzard warning.

Tennessee made news this week when it was reported that rural McMinn County took the initiative of banning from classrooms the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel “Maus,” by Art Spiegelman, which teaches children about the Holocaust by portraying Jews as mice and Nazis as cats.
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So the state once celebrated for Davy Crockett’s bravery now fears a cartoon mouse exposing teens to indecorous language. Can’t get more snowflakey than that.

Spiegelman joins the good company of Nobel-laureate Toni Morrison (whose debut novel, “The Bluest Eye,” was banned in Wentzville, Mo., on Jan. 20), “The Daily Show” host Trevor Noah (whose memoir survived a ban attempt in Osseo, Minn., last month) and Margaret Atwood (whose “The Handmaid’s Tale” was targeted in Goddard, Kan., in November) — as well as scores of other books, the vast majority of which have protagonists who are Black, or LGBTQ, or perceived as being anti-police.

McMinn County’s banning of Spiegelman’s mice comes almost a century after Tennessee tried to ban Darwin’s monkeys in the Scopes trial. The Volunteer State, apparently, is not evolving. And the political right, it seems, has undergone reverse evolution. Its new theory: survival of the fussiest.

The American Library Association tells me that there were 330 “challenges” in the three months between Sept. 1 and Dec. 1, 2021, with December still to be tallied. That compares with just 156 in all of 2020, and 377 in 2019, the last pre-pandemic year. This means book bannings are happening at roughly quadruple the previous pace.

msnbc logo CustomMSNBC, TikTokers spam Virginia GOP governor's tip line for snitching on teachers, Ja'han Jones, Jan. 28, 2022. Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin clearly thought a tip line (read: snitch line) that would allow conservative parents to rat out educators accused of teaching critical race theory would go over well. In light of recent news, I have to agree.

glenn youngkinAfter Youngkin, right, on Monday announced a new email address for parents to send in their complaints, zealous Gen Zers on TikTok banded together with a plot to flood the inbox with trolling emails. The result was glorious. The advocacy group Gen-Z for Change created a website that allows users — in just a few clicks — to send prewritten emails containing song lyrics to Youngkin’s tip line.

tiktok logo square Custom“I’m indescribably angry with right-wing pundits trying to stoke nonexistent division while the U.S. is actively being labeled a backsliding democracy,” Sofia Ongele, the creator of the website, told Insider. “Seeing that Glenn Youngkin was trying to vilify educators, I thought I would do everyone a favor and take that tip line down.”

Youngkin ran a campaign that sought support from white parents in Virginia by playing to their outrage over school lesson plans about inequality. But many Gen Zers don’t share that warped view of the world, and Youngkin is quickly learning they have a variety of ways to make that known.

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Jan. 27

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Pro-Trump Coup Attempt, Election Rights, Probes

 

U.S. Media News

 

Virus Victims, Responses


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World News, Human Rights, Disasters

 

U.S. Elections, Governance, Economy

 

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Top Stories

 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.
Image

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

The New Republic, Analysis: Meet the Trio Who May Have Figured Out How to Save American Democracy, Steven Rosenfeld, Jan. 27, 2022. Three retired election auditors in Arizona foiled the Cyber Ninjas scam—and may have created a template for how to protect elections in 2022 and 2024.

Since the 2020 election, Donald Trump and his allies have produced no evidence that Joe Biden’s victory was illegitimate despite their dozens of failed lawsuits, shrill propaganda, and bad-faith postelection reviews. But Trump’s party has shown no reluctance to revise the rules of voting to advantage Republicans before 2022’s midterms and 2024’s presidential election.

Led by battleground state legislators, the Trumpers have rewritten voting laws, threatened election administrators, begun purges of county election boards, created new gerrymanders, and more. The worst of these power grabs limit access to a ballot, which is the starting line of voting, for anti-Trump blocs and would disqualify ballots and nullify votes before the finish line.

This playbook is not new. But modern voting systems, from voter registration to tallying paper ballots, contain numerous stages and respective data sets, many of which are public records and are quite detailed. If smartly used after Election Day, these records could provide an easily understood evidence trail that would make it much harder for the Trump faction to proclaim victory prematurely or falsely.

There are formidable obstacles, though—not just to accessing and parsing the data but to getting election professionals and opinion leaders on board. In recent years, their top priority has been countering cybersecurity threats from abroad, not countering domestic disinformation so that average voters, not election insiders, can see and trust what lies behind high-stakes results.
Using public election records to debunk stolen election lies and confront propagandists is not a “fool’s game.”

Using public election records to debunk stolen election lies and confront propagandists is not a “fool’s game,” as a New York Times editorial board member recently opined—arguing that “the professional vote-fraud crusaders are not in the fact business.” The template of debunking and confronting election-theft lies is the largely untold story of what happened in Arizona in 2021, where Trumpers ultimately were forced to admit that Biden won, a process
I witnessed.

Trump’s agents were plotting to fabricate a favorable vote count. But they were stymied by their vast inexperience in elections. As important, they were boxed in at key junctures by three retired election technologists who used public records to hold them accountable. The trio warned the pro-Trump contractors and their legislative sponsors that their “audit” was being watched, repeatedly reported why it was a propaganda-filled hoax, and gradually won local and national press coverage.

Most strikingly, it was the technologists—not Arizona’s Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, nor Democratic Party lawyers, experts in policy circles and academia, or journalists—who showed that tens of thousands of loyal Republican voters from Phoenix’s suburbs did not vote for Trump. That pattern alone, based on hard data, confirmed his loss in Arizona.

The retirees did more. They rebutted the lie from Trump’s noisemakers that tens of thousands of dead people and made-up people voted, by pairing every ballot cast with a legal voter. They showed that there was no collusion to alter vote counts when local election officials reviewed sloppily marked ballots to determine a voter’s intent, again using public data that tracked the officials’ actions.

And months after Arizona Senate Republicans hired the Cyber Ninjas, a data security firm led by a Trump cultist with no experience in elections, to oversee its 2020 election review in Maricopa County (greater Phoenix), the retirees boxed the Ninjas into revealing that they could not accurately recount votes—again using public records. That strategy culminated last September, when Cyber Ninja CEO Doug Logan testified that Biden had won Arizona, after all.

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.”

ny times logoNew 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?

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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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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.”

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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.

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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

 

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U.S. Media, Sports, Education News

 

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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.

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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. 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.

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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. 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.

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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 independ