RT USA News06:09

1. 2 Colorado officers arrested after bodycam footage shows unarmed trespassing suspect CHOKED & PISTOL WHIPPED05:34[−]

Two police officers in Colorado have been arrested and charged after beating a suspect bloody during a trespassing call, one seen pistol whipping him over a dozen times, with the local police chief calling their acts criminal.

The officers, John Haubert and Francine Martinez of the Aurora Police Department, were arrested on Tuesday for a litany of offenses over a July 23 encounter with suspected trespassers, the city government said. Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson played bodycam footage of the incident during a Tuesday press conference, warning the video is “very disturbing” and would “shock the conscience.”

“What you’re going to see is going to anger you, and may even bring you to tears. I know as I watched it, I felt myself welling up with tears as well as anger,” she said, adding “We’re disgusted. We’re angry. This is not police work. We don’t train this, it’s not acceptable.”

This was not the Aurora Police Department. This was criminal.

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Officer Haubert – who struck suspect Kyle Vinson in the head and face with his service pistol “approximately 13 times,” according to Wilson – faces charges including felony menacing, second degree assault, attempted first degree assault, official misconduct and official oppression. Martinez, meanwhile, was charged for failing to stop the excessive use of force or report it to her superiors. Both have since bonded out of custody and are now on leave, the police chief said, though Martinez will continue to collect a paycheck in the meantime.

Vinson, 29, was hospitalized with contusions and required stitches after the scuffle. He is heard repeatedly pleading with the officers not to kill him in the footage, which Wilson said captured a “very despicable act” by the responding officers.

The police chief said the department received a trespassing call around 1pm on July 23. When Haubert and Martinez arrived at the scene, they saw three men sitting on the ground near their bicycles. Though Wilson noted they were initially “cooperative,” officers ran their names and found all three men had outstanding arrest warrants. When they tried to arrest one suspect, he and another man fled while Vinson remained seated, with officers quickly pinning him to the ground and ordering him to turn onto his stomach. The ensuing scuffle was captured in the bodycam footage, in which Vinson is repeatedly struck by Haubert, who is also seen choking him with one arm for about 40 seconds. The officer is heard threatening to shoot Vinson several times.

Court documents obtained by the Associated Press show that Vinson was wanted after he failed to submit urine samples, stopped attending court-ordered domestic violence counseling and failed to appear for probation meetings linked to a prior offense. Wilson noted that the man likely did not know about the warrant.

Insisting on the public’s “right to know” and the need for “transparency,” Wilson said the department is conducting an “expedited” internal probe in coordination with local prosecutors, hoping it will bring “some sort of closure” to the case. In the meantime, she urged for “peace” from residents, asking that they allow the disciplinary process to run its course.

“As angry as you are, I need peace in this city, please. I need peace from the community members,” she said, adding “The first part of justice has been served with the officers being arrested.”

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2. Gilgamesh Dream: US confiscates Sumerian tablet stolen from Iraq & bought by Hobby Lobby04:09[−]

The US government has seized an ancient Sumerian cuneiform tablet that was bought by a US dealer around the time of the 2003 invasion, and later purchased by craft store chain Hobby Lobby for the Museum of the Bible in Oklahoma.

On Tuesday, the US Justice Department announced that Hobby Lobby – whose owners are devout Christians – agreed to forfeit the artifact, which contains a portion of the ancient Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the world’s oldest works of literature.

“Forfeiture of the Gilgamesh Dream Tablet demonstrates the [DOJ’s] continued commitment to eliminating smuggled cultural property from the US art market,” said Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Polite Jr.

Federal agents originally seized the tablet from the Oklahoma City museum in September 2019. Hobby Lobby had acquired it in a private sale in 2014, from an auction house in London that the DOJ did not name, but which was reported to be Christie’s.

The “cultural value of this tablet that travelled the world under false provenance exceeds any monetary value,” said special agent Peter Fitzhugh of Homeland Security Investigations, which was involved in the proceedings.

The tablet is over 4,000 years old, measures approximately 6 inches by 5 inches (15 cm by 12 cm), and is inscribed in the language of Akkad.

According to a complaint filed by the DOJ on July 16, the unnamed US antiques dealer visited England “in or about 2001” to view a series of ancient cuneiform tablets in an apartment in London. The artifacts are alleged to have belonged to Jordanian coins dealer Ghassan Rihani, who died the same year.

“In or about March or April 2003” – around the time the US invaded Iraq – the dealer visited the apartment again and bought the tablet, which was said to be “encrusted with dirt and unreadable,” from a Rihani “family member.” The dealer then shipped the tablet into the US without declaring its contents and cleaned it, at which point the inscription was recognized as part of the Epic of Gilgamesh.

In 2007, the antiquities dealer sold the tablet alongside a letter falsely claiming it had been found in a box bought at a 1981 auction. The tablet was then resold “several times” until it ended up at the auction house, at which point it was bought by Hobby Lobby and sent to the museum.

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According to Jacquelyn Kasulis, acting US attorney for the Eastern District of New York, the DOJ intends to eventually return the “rare and ancient masterpiece of world literature to its country of origin.”

Iraqi museums suffered several looting spells in the last three decades. Nine of the country’s regional museums were targeted by looters in 1991 during the Gulf War. The rampage resulted in some 4,000 artifacts being destroyed or stolen.

Iraqi authorities have estimated that more than 35,000 items were taken from the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad when it was sacked during the 2003 invasion. The subsequent US-backed Iraqi governments have tried to get the artifacts returned, but have seen little success. In 2014, when the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) terrorist group claimed a large portion of Iraq and Syria and looted the museum in Mosul, the US government pledged to crack down on trade in stolen artifacts, saying that the proceeds might contribute to financing terrorism.

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3. Biden says vaccine mandate for federal employees under consideration as reports suggest announcement will come this week02:34[−]

US President Joe Biden has confirmed that he is mulling vaccine requirements for federal workers. CNN reported the mandate is imminent and will likely be formally announced as early as Thursday.

Asked about a possible mandate for government personnel on Tuesday, Biden told reporters the move is “under consideration right now,” but declined to comment further. Soon after, however, CNN reported that the new rules would be announced on Thursday, citing a source with “direct knowledge of the matter.”

While the specifics remain unclear, Biden is expected to propose restrictions similar to those recently imposed in New York City and California, where public workers are now required to take the jab, the source said, adding that the president will also unveil new incentives to encourage vaccinations. They noted that the rules would not extend to the military, at least for now.

The discussions of mandatory immunizations for government employees follow a decision by the Department of Veteran Affairs on Monday to require vaccines for its health workers, becoming the first federal agency to do so.

While the White House urged federal agencies not to require inoculations for on-site work as recently as June, saying they “should generally not be a pre-condition,” it appears to have shifted its stance in the few weeks since. Moreover, lawyers at the Justice Department concluded earlier this week that federal law does not prohibit vaccine mandates, including for private entities and regardless of whether the immunizations are fully authorized by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), potentially laying the ground for future requirements.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) abruptly reversed its previous guidance that the vaccinated do not need to wear masks indoors, pointing to the more contagious Delta variant making the rounds across much of the world.

Asked whether the ever-changing health guidelines could be confusing for Americans, Biden turned his sights to the unvaccinated, suggesting they are to blame for the ongoing health crisis.

“We have a pandemic because the unvaccinated and they're sowing enormous confusion. And the more we learn about this virus and the Delta variation, the more we have to be worried and concerned,” he said. “There's only one thing we know for sure, if those other hundred million people got vaccinated, we'd be in a very different world.”

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4. SWASTIKA in State Department elevator prompts condemnations from Blinken, Israel02:16[−]

After what looked like a Nazi symbol was found carved into the wall of a State Department elevator in Washington, Israeli ambassador to the US denounced anti-Semitism and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called it abhorrent.

“Unfortunately, late yesterday a swastika was found carved in an elevator in our building here, at the State Department,” Deputy Spokesperson Jalina Porter told reporters on Tuesday.

“This graffiti has been removed and the incident will be investigated,” she added.

The crudely carved symbol was discovered inside Elevator 36 at the State Department headquarters in Foggy Bottom late on Monday, Axios reported on Tuesday with an exclusive photo. The elevator is reportedly near the office of the US Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism.

Blinken, who is Jewish, is currently on a trip to Kuwait and India. He sent an email to the State Department employees on Tuesday, calling the “hateful graffiti” a painful reminder that “anti-Semitism isn't a relic of the past.”

“It's still a force in the world, including close to home. And it's abhorrent. It has no place in the United States, at the State Department, or anywhere else. And we must be relentless in standing up and rejecting it,” Blinken wrote.

“We also know from our own history and from the histories of other nations that anti-Semitism often goes hand in hand with racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and other hatreds. None of these ideologies should have a home in our workplace or our nation,” the secretary added.

Gilad Erdan, Israeli ambassador to the US and the UN, also commented on the discovery, calling the State Department swastika “a serious incident of antisemitic vandalism, which once again shows that antisemitism does not distinguish between Jews in Israel and Jews in America, and harms not only Israel but the entire world.”

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According to Axios, the defaced elevator “raises troubling questions about security” at the State Department. All of the elevators inside the complex are inside the secure perimeter, covered by cameras and uniformed guards. There are fewer employees on premises than usual, since many State Department staffers continue to work from home on account of the coronavirus pandemic. Any outside contractors allowed access are supposed to be vetted by the Diplomatic Security Service. All of this should make it easy to identify the culprit, though that has not happened yet.

Earlier this month, State Department officials said that President Joe Biden intends to nominate a full-time ambassador to the post of antisemitism envoy, currently handled by Kara McDonald, deputy assistant secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.

Jewish groups have also lobbied the White House for a stronger response to anti-Semitic attacks in the US, which they tied to the recent violence in Israel and Gaza.

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5. 50,000+ illegal migrants were released into US in 4 months and only 13% checked back in reports01:33[−]

Having detained more than a million people who crossed the US-Mexico border illegally this year, US Customs and Border Enforcement (ICE) has reportedly released more than 50,000 of them into the country without a court date.

People who cross the border illegally are normally held in ICE detention, or transferred to other US government agencies. Some are released on bond and given a date to appear before an immigration judge.

Since mid-March, however, more than 50,000 migrants have been released by ICE into the interior of the US, with only a sheet of contact information for ICE offices where they should check in “to get work permits,” according to Axios.

Only 6,700 of them, or about 13%, have actually checked in with ICE as of Monday, the outlet reported citing a source briefed on Homeland Security data. Some 27,000 still have time to show up, while the rest went missing and haven't checked in within the prescribed 60 days.

Axios also cited Congressman Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), who said that 7,300 migrants in just the Rio Grande Valley sector had been released during the past week, and that the total number was closer to 55,000.

Cuellar, whose district stretches along the Rio Grande, was responsible for publication of photos showing the holding facilities for unaccompanied minors, back in March.

The surge of illegal migrants into the US continues, with more than 20,000 people apprehended in the Rio Grande Valley sector alone just last week.

Earlier this month, the US Border Patrol said apprehensions along the border had reached a 20-year record, exceeding one million people in this fiscal year – with three more months left to go. More than 178,000 people were detained in June – including 56,000 traveling as families, a 25% increase from May.

On Tuesday, the White House announced it was seeking “expedited removal” of families and children crossing illegally. However, only 14% of such migrants were expelled in June, according to CBS News. The Biden administration said the process was being hindered by Mexico’s refusal to accept families not from Central America, CDC rules and humanitarian exceptions, among other things.

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The Axios report has drawn numerous reactions from the administration’s conservative critics. Senator Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) called it “utterly lawless,” accusing the White House of “trying to sneak through massive amnesty” for illegal migrants.

Others pointed out that the administration was allowing this to happen while reinstating some coronavirus restrictions on Americans.

“The same people [who] want to mask you and lock you down for your ‘safety’ are facilitating an invasion of our country by tens of thousands of unknown foreign nationals,” said Newsmax host Benny Johnson, calling it “evil” and “repulsive disrespect for America from our ruling class.”

Covid-19 vaccination is so important “that we are allowing an unlimited number of unvaccinated people to enter the country illegally and releasing them, even chauffeuring them, into the interior,” tweeted Pedro Gonzalez of Chronicles magazine.

One of the first things President Joe Biden did upon taking office in January was to revoke most of his predecessor Donald Trump’s immigration policies, starting with halting construction on the border wall. Despite the record-shattering influx of migrants, some wearing “Biden let us in” shirts, the White House has refused to call the situation on the border a “crisis” and insisted the surge was seasonal and caused by climate change, violence, or poverty.

Vice President Kamala Harris was put in charge of the border situation, and has since visited Mexico, Guatemala, and a Border Patrol office in El Paso, on the other side of Texas from the Rio Grande Sector.

On Tuesday, the White House released a document dubbed the ‘Blueprint for a Fair, Orderly and Humane Immigration System,’ in which it said the US “will always be a nation of borders, and we will enforce our immigration laws in a way that is fair and just.”

“We will continue to work to fortify an orderly immigration system,” the document added.

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6. Iowa gov & others dismiss new CDC mask guidance: Not grounded in reality or common sense01:28[−]

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, as well as others such as Gov. Greg Abbott (R-Texas), has made clear they have no interest in following the CDCs new guidance that states those vaccinated against Covid-19 still need to mask up.

Reynolds joined a chorus of conservative voices in expressing opposition to the CDC’s latest masking advice.

On Tuesday, health officials announced that even if someone is fully vaccinated against Covid-19, they should still wear masks in public and when in indoor spaces with other people if they happen to be in an area where there is evidence of “substantial or high transmission.”

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The agency also recommended children in school all be masked as well, another proposal that has been highly controversial across party lines.

In a statement responding to the new guidance, Reynolds dismissed masks as being the answer to rising cases around the country and promoted vaccines as the best way to curb upticks in infections.

“I’m concerned that this guidance will be used as a vehicle to mandate masks in states and schools across the country, something I do not support,” she said, adding that the latest guidance is “not grounded in reality or common sense.”

Multiple cities have already seen mask mandates come back despite vaccines being readily available across the country, including Los Angeles and Las Vegas.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky defended the new mask guidance by stating that officials believe vaccinated people infected with the delta variant could still spread it to others.

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There are 47 counties in Iowa that have been identified by the CDC as having “high” or “substantial” transmissions. Like numerous other states, Iowa has seen hospitalizations from the coronavirus tick up in the last month. Vaccine demand has also slowed in the last month, with around 49% of the state being vaccinated.

“I trust Iowans to do the right thing,” Reynolds said of her state’s vaccination rate, making clear she has and will continue to push back against any “government mandates in our schools and government.”

Other Republican governors have begun dismissing the CDC’s new guidance, as well. Gov. Greg Abbott (R-Texas), one of the first to move his state out of its pandemic-era lockdown, released a statement through his office on Tuesday declaring that “the time for government mandating masks is over.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Florida) has similarly shown resistance. His press secretary, Christina Pushaw, told Fox News on Tuesday that the new guidance “isn’t based in science.”

“Mandating masks for vaccinated people erodes public trust and confidence in the effectiveness of the vaccines,” she said.

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7. US government auctions off only copy of Wu-Tang Clan album once owned by notorious Pharma Bro Martin Shkreli, 27 [−]

The federal government has sold the sole copy of the Wu-Tang Clans Once Upon a Time in Shaolin, three years after seizing it from jailed pharma executive Martin Shkreli. The sale cleared Shrelis debt to the government.

‘Once Upon a Time in Shaolin’ was sold to an anonymous buyer for an undisclosed sum, the Brooklyn US Attorney’s Office announced in a press release on Tuesday. While the sale price was undisclosed, it was enough to satisfy the remaining balance on a forfeiture judgment of approximately $7.4 million, owed by Shkreli since 2018.

The album, and Shkreli himself, have undergone a long and bizarre journey to reach this point. ‘Once Upon a Time in Shaolin’ was released by the Wu-Tang Clan in 2015, though not to rap fans worldwide. Instead, a single two-CD copy inside a jewel-encrusted silver box was held in a vault in Morocco, before it was auctioned off by Paddle8, a New York auction house.

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Shkreli bought the album that year for $2 million, and in doing so entered into an agreement that he could not commercially exploit it until the year 2103. He promised fans that he would release it for free if Donald Trump won the 2016 election, and streamed excerpts online when Trump defeated Hillary Clinton.

At the time, Shkreli was a public enemy over his company acquiring the rights to the antiparasitic medication Daraprim and raising its price by more than 5,000 percent, though he insisted that the few Daraprim patients in the US had their bills covered by insurance, and that the price hike would fund further research into new drugs.

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However, Shkreli continued to attract attention with outlandish statements and publicity stunts. While out on bail for securities fraud in 2017, he infamously put out a bounty of $5,000 for a strand of Hillary Clinton’s hair, a move that saw his bail revoked and Shkreli jailed.

Shkreli handed over the album, along with other personal assets including a Picasso painting, to the government the following year, when he was sentenced to 84 months behind bars for misleading investors in two failed hedge fund ventures.

Whether the new owner will let anyone listen to the album is unknown. As for Shkreli, the former pharmaceutical executive will be eligible for release from prison in late 2023.

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8. Matt Gaetz, Marjorie Taylor Greene and other Republicans run out of own press conference by whistling protesters, 27 [−]

A press conference with Republican House members, including Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-Florida) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Georgia), was dramatically cut short as protesters drowned them out and chased them down the street.

Protesters gathered behind the Republicans holding the Tuesday presser about the January 6 Capitol riot and immediately began the disruptions with whistles being blown and one demonstrator walking around with a mockup of Donald Trump on a stick.

At one point, Greene directly addressed the protesters and promised Republicans “will not back down.”

“We will not back down, we will not stop asking questions, we are looking for the truth. And we believe the truth can be found by reaching out and answering and asking the right questions to the right people,” she said.

The presser ended once protesters got too close to the Republicans and essentially took over the event. Gaetz and Taylor Greene were followed by protesters, even seemingly getting confused about where they were walking as they were swarmed. One woman immediately grabbed attention on social media for running after the Florida congressman repeatedly asking: “Are you a pedophile?”

The comment was in reference to a federal investigation into allegations that Gaetz paid a 17-year-old girl for sex and to travel across state lines to meet him, which he denies.

While conservatives pundits were quick to blast the unproductive disruption by protesters, more liberal critics took to social media to celebrate the “heroes” who caused the scene.

Criticism of Gaetz was further fueled on Tuesday after his future sister-in-law posted TikTok videos blasting him. Gaetz is engaged to the TikToker’s sister, Ginger Luckey.

In her videos, Roxanne Luckey, 20, called Gaetz “weird and creepy” and claimed he tried pressuring a relationship between her and an older man, according to the Daily Beast. She said she was “not surprised” by the accusations against him. She has since made her TikTok account private.

Held outside the Department of Justice, the event was meant to highlight the alleged mistreatment of those who have been arrested in connection with the January 6 Capitol riot.

Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Arizona), who also took part, described the rioters arrested as “nonviolent prisoners” and claimed he has heard reports that they have faced mistreatment in jail, including allegedly being kept in solitary confinement for nearly 24 hours.

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“These are not unruly or dangerous, violent criminals, these are political prisoners who are now being persecuted during the pain of unjust suffering,” he said.

While the press conference was held, a committee put together in the House began hearing testimony from Capitol officers about their experiences on January 6. Republicans have been highly critical of the committee, claiming it is too biased towards the Left. One of the two Republicans sitting on the committee, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyoming), took time during Tuesday’s proceedings to blast her colleagues over their press conference.

“The fact that so many members of our leadership, and others, the fact that they’ve gone from recognizing what happened on the 6th to protesting in front of the Justice Department on behalf of those who were part of the insurrection is something that I can’t explain,” she said, adding that it’s a “disgrace.”

Republican House leader Kevin McCarthy has dubbed Cheney a “Pelosi Republican” for her involvement in the committee and her continued criticism of her own party.

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9. A pathetic fraud: Anti-Trump Republican Adam Kinzinger mocked for crying during January 6 riot hearing, 27 [−]

Anti-Trump Republican Adam Kinzinger has been mocked for his teary testimony decrying the pro-Trump riot on Capitol Hill in January. With such waterworks on show, its likely no wonder Nancy Pelosi chose him to probe the riot.

Representative Kinzinger (R-Illinois) is one of only two Republicans serving on House Speaker Pelosi’s select committee investigating the Capitol Hill riot, after Pelosi kicked two pro-Donald Trump Republicans off the panel last week, and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy pulled the remaining GOPers off in protest. Kinzinger, however, defied McCarthy and accepted a spot on the panel, alongside fellow anti-Trumper Liz Cheney (R-Wyoming).

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In his opening speech to the committee on Tuesday, Kinzinger summoned up what many observers called crocodile tears.

“I never expected today to be quite as emotional for me as it has been,” he choked, addressing Capitol Police officers in attendance. “You guys won. You guys held,” he said, before sobbing, “Democracies are not defined by our bad days. We're defined by how we come back from bad days.”

On the bad day in question, Congress was interrupted from its business of certifying Joe Biden’s electoral win. One death on the day has been definitively linked with the rioting: the shooting dead of an unarmed Trump supporter by a Capitol Police officer. Nevertheless, Kinzinger insisted that the riot was a far greater threat to the US than the Black Lives Matter riots of 2020, which led to around two dozen deaths and between $1 and $2 billion worth of property damage in just two weeks.

“Not once did I ever feel like the future of self-governance was threatened like I did on January 6,” Kinzinger said. “There’s a difference between breaking the law, even rejecting the rule of law, between a crime, even grave crimes, and a coup.”

Kinzinger was flayed on social media for his performance. Congressional candidate Catalina Lauf, who is challenging Kinzinger in his district, described his stunt as “nothing but political theater. Just like everything else in Washington, DC.”

Shortly before Kinzinger tugged on the committee’s heartstrings, Cheney took a different tack, calling the political environment on the right that led up to the riot as “a cancer on our constitutional Republic, undermining the peaceful transfer of power at the heart of our democratic system.”

Kinzinger and Cheney are extremely unlikely to offer any kind of pushback against Pelosi’s characterization of the riot as an “insurrection.” With seven Democrats and two anti-Trump Republicans on board, the committee seems designed to reach a predetermined conclusion, which Pelosi spelled out earlier this month when she announced its formation. Describing the “root causes” of the riot, Pelosi named “white supremacy,” “anti-Semitism” and “Islamophobia” as responsible. Minority Leader McCarthy has described the committee as a “sham,” and Kinzinger and Cheney as “Pelosi Republicans.”

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10. US drone whistleblower Daniel Hale sentenced to 45 months in prison, 27 [−]

Daniel Hale, a former US Air Force intelligence analyst who leaked information about civilian deaths caused by drone strikes overseas, has been sentenced to almost four years in prison under the Espionage Act.

US District Judge Liam O’Grady passed the sentence on Tuesday in a federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, saying that the 45-month sentence was needed as a deterrent to others from disclosing government secrets. O’Grady told Hale he had other options than to share classified documents with a reporter.

Hale, 33, pleaded guilty in March to one count of violating the Espionage Act of 1917, admitting to “retention and transmission of national security information” and leaking 11 classified documents to a journalist. The documents were leaked to the Intercept, which published them in October 2015 as ‘The Drone Papers’.

Under the plea deal, Hale faced up to 10 years in prison – far less than the 50 years the original charges would have carried, had he gone to trial.

Other whistleblowers such as Edward Snowden, John Kiriakou, Daniel Ellsberg and WikiLeaks have advocated on Hale’s behalf, but prominent human rights organizations such as the ACLU and PEN have mostly remained silent. Freedom of the Press Foundation called his punishment “shamefully excessive.”

The ACLU reacted after the sentencing, saying Hale "helped the public learn about a lethal program that never should have been kept secret. He should be thanked, not sentenced as a spy."

As Kiriakou told RT in April, prosecuting whistleblowers under the Espionage Act robs them of the opportunity to explain their motivations.

“He did it because he was exposing a war crime. He is not allowed to say that. And he really doesn't have any chance of acquittal,” Kiriakou said.

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While working as a private contractor, Hale leaked a number of documents to the Intercept’s Jeremy Scahill, showing the extent to which President Barack Obama’s drone warfare program in places like Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen resulted in civilian casualties.

Documents showed that, of the 200 people killed between January 2012 and February 2013, only 35 were the intended targets. During one five-month period, nearly 90% of those killed were innocents, who were nonetheless classified as “enemies killed in action.”

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Hale is the third Intercept source to be arrested and put on trial by US authorities. The FBI’s Terry Albury and the NSA’s Reality Winner – only recently released on parole for good behavior – were both caught due to errors on part of the outlet’s staff. It wasn’t clear whether the same happened to Hale, but his attorney blamed “failure of source protection” for his 2014 arrest.

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11. Californians split down the middle on whether to dump Governor Newsom in recall election poll, 27 [−]

A new poll has shown that voters are warming up to the idea of dumping California Gov. Gavin Newsom when his recall election takes place on September 14.

The University of California survey, sponsored by the Los Angeles Times, found that 47% of “likely voters” are ready to drop the governor in favor of one of his many opponents, which include former Olympian and reality television star Caitlyn Jenner. Half of likely voters say they don’t back the recall efforts, but the difference between sides fits within the margin of error for the study.

Among all registered voters, 36% support the recall effort, but support has grown as the recall vote grows nearer. Republicans have been especially critical of Newsom’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic – Los Angeles County just reinstated its mask mandate – and the GOP is counting on its base being more motivated to show up and vote than Democrats, who are less interested in a recall election.

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Not a serious candidate?! Caitlyn Jenner accused of bailing out of California governors race to film reality TV in Australia

The last California governor to be recalled was Gray Davis, who was only just starting his second term when he was removed and replaced by Republican actor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

There is no equivalent of Schwarzenegger in this race, though, and while a large portion of voters seem to be sure about not supporting Newsom, there is still not a clear frontrunner among his opponents.

Conservative pundit Larry Elder led the pack in the latest poll, with just 18% support. Jenner, who has arguably had the splashiest campaign thus far, sits at only 3% support.

Republicans are minority voters in the blue state of California – only one quarter of registered voters there are Republican – but pollsters in the new survey noted they may have reason to be confident in the coming weeks. They accounted for a third of the voters who actually made it through the survey’s screening options.

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Radio Personality Larry Elder is honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame on April 27, 2015 in Hollywood, California.  Tommaso Boddi/WireImage
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A poll last week from Emerson College signified that 43% of voters backed recall efforts, with 48% opposed. Before that, a March poll from Emerson College showed only 38% support for recalling Newsom.

A spokesperson for Newsom acknowledged to the Los Angeles Times that Democrats need to be more concerned and actually get to the polls in the fall.

“This poll should be a wake-up call for Democratic voters and all those who don’t want to see a Trump Republican become governor of California,” Nathan Click said in a statement to The Hill.

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12. CDC asks VACCINATED Americans to mask up again, 27 [−]

The CDC has recommended that some fully vaccinated Americans once again wear face masks in certain indoor settings. The decision, made amid a surge in Covid-19 cases, dramatically reverses the organizations earlier guidance.

Two months ago, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cleared fully vaccinated Americans to return to indoor areas such as restaurants and work spaces without masks. On Tuesday, however, they backpedaled.

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With the more transmissible Delta variant of the coronavirus infecting even the vaccinated, and with cases rising in areas with low inoculation rates, the CDC is has asked both vaccinated and unvaccinated people to mask up when dining indoors or entering other crowded spaces in areas with high transmission rates.

"In areas with substantial and high transmission, CDC recommends that fully vaccinated individuals wear masks in public indoor settings to help prevent the spread of Delta and protect others," CDC Director Dr Rochelle Walensky said.

The CDC’s guidance is not law, but it typically informs the policies of the federal government and local authorities.

The decision has been in the works for several days. White House health advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN on Sunday that such guidance was “under active consideration” by the CDC at the time.

Daily new cases of Covid-19 have nearly quadrupled in the US since June, according to data from the CDC. With the majority of cases reported among the unvaccinated, public officials and media commentators have pinned the blame on those hesitant to get jabbed.

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People sit at the beach in Huntington Beach, California, US, May 23, 2020.
UNVACCINATED diners only: California restaurant says its having fun watching heads explode over mandatory no-vax policy

“This is an issue predominantly among the unvaccinated, which is the reason why we’re out there, practically pleading with the unvaccinated people to go out and get vaccinated,” Fauci told CNN on Sunday, adding that the US is currently moving “in the wrong direction” with regard to stamping out Covid-19.

According to the CDC, some 69 percent of US adults have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine. However, among those who haven’t yet got their shot, new polling shows that the vast majority have no intention of doing so. A return to indoor masking regardless of vaccination status will likely make selling these people on the shot an even more difficult proposition.

In addition to recommending indoor masking in certain areas, the CDC also recommended that all K-12 teachers and students wear masks regardless of vaccination status. Children are typically not at risk of hospitalization or death from Covid-19, and the CDC’s announcement represents another about-turn for the organisation, which earlier this month said that students and school employees who are fully vaccinated don’t need to wear masks.

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13. Michigan Democrat state rep defends spending campaign cash at STRIP CLUB for meeting where he had great lamb chops, 27 [−]

Michigan lawmaker Jewell Jones has sparked outrage after admitting to spending campaign funds at a Detroit strip club, but the 26-year-old Democrat has defended the visit as a constituent meeting.

Jones’ March meeting was at the Pantheion Club, and its purpose was to discuss “potential economic projects,” according to a Detroit News report.

The lawmaker claims he did not fully know what kind of establishment he was walking into, but he seems to have enjoyed himself, especially the food.

“We have (to) meet people where they’re at some times... #HOLLA,” Jones wrote in a text to a reporter before recommending the “great lamb chops” served at the gentlemen’s club where he dropped over $200.

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Jones’ campaign finance statements were released this week, which cover January through most of July, and show he spent over $6,000 at various lounges and clubs in what were described as “meetings.”

The young Democrat, working in his third term, previously made headlines in April after he was pulled over and arrested for swerving in and out of lanes while driving. He eventually pulled off the road and into a ditch, and proceeded to tell officers he had oversight over their department’s budget and he would call the governor. Jones ended up blowing over the legal alcohol limit for driving.

His next hearing on the case is scheduled for August, and Jones has already been accused of violating court orders. He was fined $1,000 last week for failing to keep his alcohol monitor on due to non-payment, and prosecutors have accused Jones of lying about National Guard training to get out of drug and alcohol testing for the court.

Critics have described Jones’ spending in just seven months as “unusual,” with some pointing to dinners that cost $500 or $700 dubbed professional meetings.

Simon Schuster, executive director of the nonprofit Michigan Campaign Finance Network, blasted politicians for using campaign cash to “wine, dine and entertain themselves… all under the guise of conducting business.”

Jones’ strip club visit, however, “truly pushes the limit of credulity,” he added.

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14. UNVACCINATED diners only: California restaurant says its having fun watching heads explode over mandatory no-vax policy, 27 [−]

A California restaurant has refused to back down after being bombarded with negative press and customer reviews for posting a sign demanding that all diners provide proof that they have not been vaccinated against Covid-19.

With vaccination status increasingly becoming a prerequisite to participate in many ordinary activities, one Huntington Beach eatery has decided to take a slightly different approach to granting privileges based on personal medical decisions.

On its storefront window, Basilico’s Pasta e Vino taped a sign reading: “PROOF OF BEING UNVACCINATED REQUIRED. We have zero tolerance for treasonous, anti-American stupidity. Thank you for pondering."

The restaurant’s owner, Tony Roman, said that the unorthodox policy is designed to get people thinking as some Southern California businesses begin asking customers for proof of vaccination.

“With the new and aggressive push for mandatory vax policies, we couldn't resist, so we are sending a message of our own. Hopefully most are smart enough to read between the lines. Otherwise we will just sit back and have fun watching their heads explode over it,” Roman said in a statement to local media.

An employee told the Los Angeles Times that the restaurant is not actually checking patrons' vaccine status. The restaurant previously declared itself a mask-free zone and refused to shut its doors when eateries were ordered in March 2020 to curtail indoor dining as part of Covid restrictions.

Some appear to appreciate the intended message behind the odd measure. A vaccinated woman who cuts hair at a nearby barbershop told local media that she didn’t feel slighted by the no-vaxxed-allowed policy.

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Stickers that are given to people who have been vaccinated against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) are pictured in Los Angeles, California, US, April 12, 2021.
Vaccinated employees of California city required to wear stickers if they want to work without masks

“You got other places that want you vaccinated to come in. No different, right?" she noted to a local ABC affiliate.

However, many others were furious over the move. The restaurant has been pelted with negative reviews on Yelp. One comment said that the provocative rule was a “slap in the face to all those who died from Covid-19.”

The Times’ story, too, seemed less than sympathetic with the gimmick, and suggested that the restaurant was being irresponsible by not taking a recent rise in Covid cases seriously.

Orange County, which includes Huntington Beach and is home to some three million people, recorded one new Covid-related death on July 26. The county currently has 194 Covid hospitalizations, of which 48 are ICU patients.

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The negative press and reviews seem to have only emboldened Roman. His restaurant issued a long, all-caps rant on Facebook deriding its “haters” and vowing to do “battle” with “PRO-MANDATORY VACCINE MINI GESTAPO AMERICAN TRAITORS.”

In a follow-up message, Basilico’s Pasta e Vino promised to “drop a big hammer” in the coming hours, adding a string of hashtags, including “#NeverBackingDown”, “#LeaveTheVaxTakeTheCannoli”, and “#Don'tBeAFredo.”

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15. Final death toll from Junes Florida apartment complex collapse at 98 after last body recovered, 27 [−]

The remains of the last person listed as missing after the deadly apartment complex collapse in Florida last month have been recovered, bringing the final death toll to 98.

“The last remaining missing person has now been accounted for and identified and the family notified,” Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said at a news conference, describing the search and rescue efforts as “the largest non-hurricane emergency response” in Florida’s history.

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Rescue crews respond at the site after a partial building collapse in Surfside near Miami Beach, Florida, US, June 25, 2021.
Engineer warned of major structural damage years before Florida condo complex collapsed media

Cava said that while the death toll is now final, work to clear the rubble will continue in order to recover and collect all other identifiable remains.

The 12-story Champlain Towers South oceanfront apartment complex in Surfside, near Miami, partially collapsed in the early hours of June 24, when residents were asleep. The exact cause of the tragedy remains unclear.

A month after the collapse, NBC 6 South Florida quoted 911 calls in which residents complained about hearing a loud bang shortly before the building came crashing down.

A 2018 engineering report found major structural damage caused by faulty waterproofing. It was reported that the majority of the building’s governing board resigned a year later in protest to what they claimed was a sluggish response to the problems revealed by the 2018 survey.

The debate over the cost and scope of work was said to have dragged out preparations for the urgently-needed repairs for three years.

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16. Leftist ESPN columnist jeered after claiming US flag-waving at Olympics reminds him of rise of white nationalism, 27 [−]

A veteran sportswriter has come under fire after suggesting that United States flags on display during the opening ceremony at the Tokyo Olympics were a visual reminder of the alleged surge of white nationalism in the US.

ESPN columnist Ben Rhoden told ‘CBS This Morning’ that the opening ceremony used to be one of his favorite parts of the Olympics, but that this year he felt differently about the event.

I love the opening ceremonies, the march of countries. Then I just realized: You know, man, particularly after these last four years, I had it wrong. Nationalism is not good. We’ve seen the rise of white nationalism.

Extrapolating on his insights, Rhoden said the sports ceremony made him think back to the January 6 Capitol riots, where he “saw a lot of US flags.”

“So now when I see the flag… what America am I living in?” he asked.

According to the ESPN writer, the Tokyo Olympics should be a “time of soul searching” for the United States, adding that winning medals might be “antithetic” to the quiet introspection that the nation so desperately needs.

His provocative commentary failed to score points with many on social media.

Jonathan Gilliam, a popular conservative commentator and former Navy SEAL, described Rhoden’s performance as a “brain dead leftist rant.”

One well-known sports analyst, Gerry Callahan, suggested Rhoden must have rejoiced when his Antifa and Black Lives Matter (BLM) “friends” burned American flags during weeks of nationwide anti-racism protests last year.

Others urged the ESPN columnist to avoid such broad generalizations when speaking about the US flag and what it represents. One particularly unimpressed commenter accused him of “peddling and grifting off victimhood.”

Rhoden received some backup on social media, however. Several tweets praised his remarks and said he should make regular appearances on CBS.

The Biden administration has claimed white supremacists and other right-wing elements have become a top security concern for the United States, pointing to the events on January 6, as well as other plots allegedly linked to domestic extremists, as evidence of this trend.

This narrative has come under growing scrutiny, however. Earlier this month, reports emerged that undercover FBI informants may have played a key role in a plan hatched by alleged extremists to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, raising questions about the actual seriousness of the plot. As for the storming of the Capitol on January 6: a recent poll found most Americans would prefer Congress to investigate the BLM riots, which have caused extensive damage to cities across the country.

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FILE PHOTO: Rioters are shown outside a burning Minneapolis liquor store in May 2020.
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17. Get that vaccine in their arm: Governor Cuomo launches $15mn campaign targeting NYs unvaxxed with one-on-one conversations, 27 [−]

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has called for state-sponsored arm-twisting aimed at getting the states unvaxxed to roll up their sleeves, even as the Empire State boasts high Covid vaccination rates among high-risk age groups.

The governor announced on Monday that the state would give a total of $15 million to six New York community organizations to carry out localized information campaigns targeting zip codes where vaccination rates are the lowest. Approximately 75% of adults in New York state have received at least one Covid shot, while 68% are fully vaccinated.

New York is facing a “pandemic of the unvaccinated” and more must be done to persuade unjabbed adults in the state – around 3.5 million people – to get the shot, Cuomo said.

[W]e have to get in those communities, and we have to knock on those doors, and we have to convince people, and put them in a car and drive them and get that vaccine in their arm. That is the mission.

The outreach will involve “one-on-one” conversations with those who haven’t been vaccinated, Cuomo said.

The governor claimed that the more-transmissible Delta variant will endanger the lives of anyone who doesn’t get vaccinated. “We’re going to lose lives and it will be disruptive – and we cannot let that happen,” he said, predicting what would happen if the state doesn’t ramp up its vaccine uptake.

The initiative coincides with a new policy announced by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, which will require all city employees to be vaccinated against Covid-19 or undergo weekly tests.

Despite Cuomo’s grave warnings, New York has reasons to be optimistic about its chances against Delta or any other Covid-19 strain. Covid-19 hospitalizations are at near-record lows. According to the most recent official data, the state has 546 Covid-19 hospitalizations, as well as 123 ICU patients being treated for the disease. To put these numbers in perspective, at the peak of the first Covid-19 outbreak in April 2020, New York had nearly 19,000 Covid-related hospitalizations, with more than 5,000 coronavirus patients in ICUs.

The state’s vaccination rate is also impressive, especially among high-risk age groups. New York has recorded 43,059 deaths since the start of the health crisis, with around 69% of fatalities occurring in people aged 70 or older. Currently, 90% of New Yorkers aged 65-74 have received at least one Covid vaccine dose, while nearly 81% of those aged 75 or older have gotten at least one shot.

The age groups that have seen the lowest vaccination rates – those between the ages of 12-44 – account for 4.5% of the state’s total Covid-related deaths.

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Local and federal governments across the globe have begun to resort to open coercion to increase vaccination rates among their populations. The forceful health policies have often been justified by pointing to the threat posed by the Delta variant. However, there is no conclusive evidence that this strain of Covid-19 is unusually lethal.

Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s Covid-19 technical lead, noted last month that it would be wrong to assume Delta is more deadly.

“We need more information to determine: is it really the variant itself or is it a combination of factors?” Van Kerkhove said. About a week earlier, the same WHO official said that “we don’t have an indication of increase in mortality from the Delta variant.”

Mandatory vaccination policies and the introduction of health passes required to carry out many daily activities have led to mass protests across Europe. In Australia, tough new lockdown restrictions sparked protests over the weekend that led to brawls with police.

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18. Countdown to Great Deplatforming part 2? PayPal partners with ADL against extremism & hate, 27 [−]

Pro-censorship anti-bigotry group the Anti-Defamation League has partnered with PayPal to fight hate by cutting off its financing. But its definition of hate, criticized as expansive and fungible, has prompted concerns.

The ADL and PayPal have banded together to “fight extremism and hate” by limiting users’ ability to donate money using the popular online payment processor, the advocacy group said on Monday.

“PayPal and ADL will focus on further uncovering and disrupting the financial pipelines that support extremist and hate movements,” the group said, adding that they would also go after “actors and networks spreading and profiting from all forms of hate and bigotry against any community.”

The pair also “launched a research effort” to figure out how “extremist and hate movements throughout the US are attempting to leverage financial platforms to fund criminal activity.” Such valuable information, they said, will be shared with law enforcement, the banking industry and policymakers.

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However, the ADL has faced criticism in the past for finding hate virtually everywhere. One of the most recent examples of such fervor came in response to an article published in Canada’s National Post, which was denounced by the ADL because its author mentioned that one of the 32 US lawmakers supporting a tax reform belonged to a Jewish fraternity. The group also argued that the GameStop stock trading bonanza helped to fan conspiracy theories about Jews.

The group partnered with social-justice organizations at the height of the George Floyd riots to pressure big-dollar Facebook advertisers to suspend their ads on the platform as part of ‘Stop Hate for Profit’ campaign.

The social media behemoth had a tearful reunion with some its advertisers shortly after it promised to submit to an “independent, third-party audit” alongside a chunk of speech-straining new rules, and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has admitted in congressional testimony that his platform suppresses nearly all so-called “hate speech” before it’s seen by a single human eyeball. That means algorithms not known for their affinity for humor and the subtleties of language are actually doing the job of determining what is allowed on the site, which for many people constitutes a gateway to the internet.

That, presumably, is why PayPal users to the right and left of the mainstream are concerned. Some of them took to social media to warn that its anti-hate drive could become tantamount to a “social credit score.”

Conservative journalist Jack Posobiec noted the general trend towards more Big Tech censorship, adding that both the Democratic and the Republican Parties seem to be on board, as the latter had “done nothing to prevent this from coming.” Another commenter observed that nobody ever voted to hand the ADL such power.

Some claimed that they had already lost their PayPal accounts for having the “wrong” ideology, arguing that ADL’s censorship is about marginalizing certain political views.

Caught between a rock and a hard place – or a censor-happy “anti-hate” group and an overzealous algorithm – many fear they fell victim to “financial censorship.” In typical Big Tech fashion, PayPal has made itself the only game in town in terms of online payment processors, aside from Patreon, which has also been knocking off big names for what the victims insist are spurious accusations of terms of service violations.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki has suggested that an acceleration of such deplatforming could be in the cards, pointing to the harms supposedly caused by anti-vaccine misinformation while demanding that users banned from Facebook should also be removed from Twitter and other tech platforms.

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19. As Chicagoans keep getting shot, mayor Lightfoot doubles down on racist media policy of talking only to non-white reporters, 27 [−]

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot is unapologetic about giving interviews only to non-white reporters, saying she would do it again. Meanwhile, almost 30 people were shot in the city over the weekend, seven of them fatally.

Lightfoot caused a stir in May, when she offered one-on-one interviews “only to Black or Brown journalists.” The decision has drawn criticism even from her fellow Democrats, while a reporter from the conservative-leaning Daily Caller filed a lawsuit, which the mayor has called “completely frivolous.”

“I would absolutely do it again. I'm unapologetic about it because it spurred a very important conversation, a conversation that needed to happen, that should have happened a long time ago,” Lightfoot said while appearing on a New York Times podcast, released on Monday.

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Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot (July 23, 2020. file photo)
Sorry, thats racism: Chicago mayor offers interviews ONLY to black or brown reporters citing need for DIVERSITY

“When I look across the podium, whether I’m in a formal press conference or I’m out in the neighborhood, the reporters who show up are invariably, overwhelmingly white,” she added.

Back in May, she argued that the media must change to better reflect diversity and inclusion, which are “imperative across all institutions,” and “build teams that reflect the make-up of our city.”

Lightfoot is Chicago’s first black female and openly gay mayor. She was elected in April 2019, with more than 73% of the vote across all 50 wards. Since then, however, she has been criticized for failure to stop a rising wave of violent crime, gun violence in particular.

At least 29 people have been shot in the city over the weekend, seven of whom have died, according to a round-up by the conservative outlet Breitbart, citing local media. That’s on top of 13 people shot on Thursday and another 30 last Wednesday.

Lightfoot has blamed the violence on firearms illegally brought to Chicago – which, like the rest of Illinois, has stringent gun control laws – from neighboring Indiana. Meanwhile, she has focused on racism as the “public health crisis” that threatens the city, directing nearly $10 million in federal Covid-19 relief to “equity zones” administered by nonprofit activists.

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Law enforcement officers investigate a crime scene near the border between the Morgan Park and West Pullman neighborhoods on July 7, 2021 in Chicago, Illinois.  Kamil Krzaczynski/Getty Images
Confronted with the fact their policies are ruining US cities and killing thousands, Dems give the usual reply: Shut up, racist!

Announcing a tentative deal with the police union on Monday – to replace the old one that expired in 2017 – Lightfoot focused on the provision ending the ban on investigating anonymous complaints about police misconduct. She also deflected questions about her re-election efforts, saying now was “not the time” to focus on that. Meanwhile, her campaign has tweeted about taking steps to “build a local and national supporter base for our reelection fund” that they intend to work “aggressively” to fundraise ahead of the election.

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20. Biden says US combat mission in Iraq will be over by years end, but wont say how many troops to remain deployed, 27 [−]

President Joe Biden said the US combat mission in Iraq will end this December, when Washingtons role will shift to training local forces, but declined to say what will come of the 2,500 American troops still in the country

Speaking during a meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi on Monday, Biden said the US will fully transition to ‘advise and assist’ operations come year’s end, though noted that “counterterrorism cooperation” would continue.

“Our role in Iraq will be... to be available, to continue to train, to assist, to help and to deal with ISIS as it arrives. But we’re not going to be, by the end of the year, in a combat mission,” the president said.

While he was asked how many US troops he would like to see in Iraq by the end of 2021, Biden avoided the question, saying only that “things are going well” and reiterating that the combat mission would not continue beyond the end of the year.

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FILE PHOTO. A US soldier stands behind Iraqi soldiers. Ameer Al Mohammedaw / dpa via Global Look Press
Washington denies its top envoy discussed withdrawal of troops from Iraq with Prime Minister Kadhimi

There are currently around 2,500 American soldiers in Iraq, down from over 5,200 after a series of small drawdowns ordered by ex-President Donald Trump. While US forces already play some advisory role for local troops, their previous emphasis on combat operations against the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) are set to end.

Despite the shift in focus, with no troop withdrawal in store, some defense experts have argued that the announcement amounts to little more than a symbolic act, with the Economist’s Middle East correspondent Gregg Carlstrom dubbing it a “PR gesture.”

Retired Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt – who served as the deputy director for operations in Iraq under the George W. Bush administration – also said the decision is unlikely to have “a significant operational impact” so long as “the non-combat intelligence, advisory and logistic missions continue with the same troop levels.”

While US officials told the New York Times last week that the White House was likely to agree to a drawdown and would announce a deadline on Monday, no date was given following Biden’s meeting with the Iraqi PM. Moreover, the officials said the US soldiers would merely be reclassified to other roles, suggesting few would actually leave the country.

Prime Minister Kadhimi hailed the “strategic partnership” between Baghdad and Washington during his sit-down with Biden, saying that the US “[helps] Iraq” and that “together we fight, fight and defeat ISIS.”

Though he said bilateral ties are now “stronger than ever,” American combat operations in Iraqi territory have dealt blows to relations in recent weeks, with Kadhimi issuing a harsh statement condemning US airstrikes carried out in June as “a blatant and unacceptable violation of Iraqi sovereignty and Iraqi national security.”

The sorties were launched against militia groups alleged to be backed by Iran, which Washington says are behind a string of rocket attacks on US forces. President Biden has ordered several similar strikes since taking office, continuing a policy of his predecessor, who oversaw the assassination of Iranian Quds Force head Qassem Soleimani near the Baghdad airport in January 2020. The Soleimani strike, which also killed a top Iraqi militia commander, triggered fierce protests in Iraq, with local lawmakers voting to expel US forces from the country, though the effort never came to fruition.

While it is unclear if Kadhimi broached the subject of a US troop withdrawal at any point during Monday’s meeting, earlier this month his office said he discussed the issue with a top White House envoy, and that a pullout could be part of a “new stage in strategic cooperation.” The Biden administration soon rubbished the claim, however, with a senior official telling Newsweek it “was not true.”

Following a round of meetings with Iraqi officials on Monday, the US State Department also noted that the American mission will “fully transition to a training, advising, assisting, and intelligence-sharing role” by December 2021. The Iraqi side stressed that bases housing US troops operate under local law and “are not US or Coalition bases,” adding that all foreign troops are in the country at the government’s invitation.

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Screenshot from a video released by US Central Command showing airstrikes against Iraqi militias  near the Syria-Iraq border on June 27, 2021.
Blatant violation of sovereignty: Iraqi PM, military condemn US airstrikes on its soil against Iran-backed militia groups

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21. Anti-lockdown Tennessee pastor tells mask-wearers they are not welcome: Im not playing these Democrat games, 27 [−]

As mask mandates continue to be debated across the US, a pastor in Tennessee, known for his opposition to lockdowns and mass vaccination, made it clear that mask-wearers will be removed from his church.

Addressing his congregation on Sunday, the controversial pastor said he was against counties reimposing mask mandates to curb a rise in coronavirus cases. If Mount Juliet, Tennessee, where the Global Vision Bible Church is located, goes through the same regression in policy, pastor Greg Locke claimed he would not be following the reinstated guidance.

“If they go through round two and you start showing up (with) all these masks and all this nonsense, I will ask you to leave,” Locke said to a round of cheers from his congregation. “I will ask you to leave. I am not playing these Democrat games up in this church. If you want social distance, go to the First Baptist Church, but don’t go to this one,” the pastor added, as the congregation gathered in a giant tent erupted in applause.

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In a service that was broadcast live on Facebook, Locke went on to criticize fellow pastors for refusing to do services like baptisms out of fear of the virus and its quickly spreading Delta variant.

“I ain’t playing these stupid games,” he said. “A bunch of pastors talking about how much they want to see people heal and they’re afraid to baptize people because of a Delta variant – I’m sick of it.”

Locke said he has no plans on closing even if ordered to.

“They will be serving Frosty’s in hell before we shut this place down,” he promised.

Locke gained national attention last year during Tennessee’s lockdown when he continued holding in-person services while most other churches turned to remote alternatives.

His anti-mask mandate has predictably caused a stir with liberal-leaning users on social media. Some predicted that Locke and his supporters would inevitably catch Covid-19, with one commentator going as far as suggesting that the pastor would die from the virus.

The current guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that fully vaccinated individuals do not need to social distance or wear masks in most public spaces. With growing concern among health officials about rising cases and slowing vaccination rates, however, the mask guidance could change. White House medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci revealed on Sunday that there are active discussions taking place at the CDC about reverting back to a universal masking recommendation.

Locke has also been a critic of Covid-19 vaccinations, urging his followers not to trust them, even claiming “political elites” are lying about getting inoculated.

“If you think for one minute that those political elites actually got the vaccination, you are smoking meth in your mamma’s basement,” Locke said in May. “Bunch of fake liars is what they are. They didn’t shoot nothing in their arm but a bunch of sugar water.”

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22. Biden administration declares long Covid a DISABILITY eligible for accommodation under civil rights law, 27 [−]

Using the anniversary of the adoption of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Biden administration has announced that Americans who suffer from lingering effects of Covid-19 dubbed long Covid can now claim disability.

Under a guidance announced Monday by the departments of Justice (DOJ) and Health and Human Services (HHS), 'long Covid' is defined as a series of symptoms, experienced by people who have been infected with the novel coronavirus, that “can last weeks or months” afterward and “worsen with physical or mental activity.”

The announcement was made on the 31st anniversary of the ADA being signed into law in 1990, which Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke – who oversees the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division – called “one of our most transformative civil rights laws.”

“As many of our neighbors find themselves with long-lasting effects from COVID-19, we are committed to making sure that people understand their rights under federal nondiscrimination laws,” Clarke said. “The Department of Justice will vigorously enforce the ADA and other federal civil rights laws to ensure that as the nation responds to, and recovers from, [Covid]-19, and that those with disabilities are full and equal partners in that recovery.”

Some individuals “experience debilitating long-term impairments that substantially limit major life activities,” said Acting Director Robinsue Frohboese of HHS’s Office of Civil Rights. “Today’s guidance makes clear that these individuals are entitled to equal opportunities and full participation in all aspects of life. “

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Even though 'long Covid' is still being studied by scientists, the DOJ and HHS have declared that it qualifies as a disability under the ADA, as well as Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare.

The “civil rights protections and responsibilities of these federal laws apply even during emergencies” and “cannot be waived,” the DOJ and HHS point out in their joint statement.

The pandemic has been invoked by governors and federal officials across the US to curtail a long list of liberties since March 2020, resulting in many court battles over lockdowns, mask and vaccine mandates, and other restrictions.

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Americans who claim that their symptoms “substantially limit” one or more major life activities would be eligible for “reasonable modifications” under the law. For example, students who have difficulty concentrating could get additional time on tests; people waiting in lines could be allowed to sit down without losing their place; and people who get dizzy standing would be allowed to have a stabilizing service animal.

However, an “individualized assessment” will be necessary to determine if a person’s symptoms qualify for disability status, the agencies said.

The guidance relies on the definition of 'long Covid' offered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which lists “common symptoms” as fatigue, difficulty concentrating (“brain fog”), shortness of breath, headaches, dizziness, chest pains, cough, joint or muscle pain, depression or anxiety, and loss of taste or smell, among others.

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Even if the impairment caused by these symptoms comes and goes, it is still considered a disability “if it would substantially limit a major life activity when the impairment is active,” the guidance says. It only applies to 'long Covid,' and does not address whether Covid-19 itself meets the legal definition of disability.

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23. Big Tech companies to target right-wing militias & attacker manifestos through same database used to identify terrorists, 27 [−]

A joint counterterrorism organization formed by Big Tech companies like Facebook and Microsoft will begin more aggressively targeting right-wing militia groups and manifestos on their platforms.

The Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT) has primarily focused on videos and images released by terrorist groups identified by the United Nations, including the Taliban.

The group will be expanding the scope of material they target in the coming months, according to a report from Reuters. New material flagged will include “attacker manifestos” often linked to white supremacism, as well as right-wing and neo-Nazi militia groups allegedly posing a threat.

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Right-wing groups that have grown in popularity in the last few years, like the Proud Boys and Three Percenters, have already been identified in the system.

Included in this Big Tech group are Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and others. The sharing of information between companies allows them to see what content is being banned and, in turn, they can ban similar content on their platform.

The GIFCT has come under scrutiny in the past and been accused of promoting censorship, an accusation that has earned renewed interest thanks to the latest announcement.

“Republicans have done nothing to prevent this from coming.They’re bought off by big tech. Are you paying attention yet?” conservative journalist Jack Posobiec tweeted.

“Over-achievement in this takes you in the direction of violating someone's rights on the internet to engage in free expression,” the group’s executive director Nicholas Rasmussen admitted to Reuters. He insisted, however, that threats of far-right extremism are “demanding attention right now.”

The GIFCT’s actions are not the only example, either, of Big Tech cracking down on user posts or lawmakers pushing them to more aggressively do so.

The ADL (Anti-Defamation League) announced on Monday they are partnering with PayPal “to fight extremism and hate” by jointly researching “how extremists leverage financial platforms to fund criminal activity.”

The Biden administration has been quick to criticize platforms like Facebook as well for not doing enough to combat ‘misinformation’ being spread about the Covid-19 vaccinations. Officials even identified 12 individuals on the platform they say are behind the alleged swath of ‘misinformation’ on vaccines.

Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) and Ben Ray Luján (D-New Mexico) have introduced legislation which could hold social media companies legally accountable for “health-related misinformation” being posted to their platforms.

Primarily conservative pundits have pushed back against these moves, arguing the administration and Big Tech companies are censoring speech for political reasons.

Former President Donald Trump has been one of the most vocal critics of social media companies, criticism that was heightened after he was banned across the board following the January 6 Capitol riot.

Earlier this month, the Republican announced he has joined a lawsuit against Facebook, Twitter, and Google, which is seeking to put “an end to the shadowbanning, a stop to the silencing, and a stop to the blacklisting.”

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24. Veterans Affairs becomes first US government agency to MANDATE Covid-19 vaccinations for some staff, 26 [−]

The Department of Veterans Affairs has made Covid-19 vaccination mandatory for some 115,000 of its medical employees the first federal agency to do so, as medical groups put pressure on the White House for a nationwide mandate.

“Whenever a Veteran or VA employee sets foot in a VA facility, they deserve to know that we have done everything in our power to protect them from [Covid-19],″ VA Secretary Denis McDonough announced on Monday afternoon.

The order applies to healthcare workers under Title 38, meaning physicians, dentists, podiatrists, optometrists, registered nurses, physician assistants, expanded-function dental auxiliaries and chiropractors who work at Veterans Health Administration facilities, visit them, or provide direct care to veterans, McDonough explained.

They were given eight weeks to get vaccinated, and told they would receive four hours of paid leave after presenting proof of it. While the VA announcement made no mention of penalties for those who refuse, McDonough told the New York Times that they would face “possible removal.”

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Four VA employees, all unvaccinated, have died in “recent weeks,” the secretary said, adding that three have been infected with the “increasingly prevalent” Delta variant of the virus.

McDonough, who used to be the White House chief of staff during President Barack Obama’s second term, said his decision was supported by the US medical community – referring to Monday’s letter by 55 medical organizations urging vaccine mandates for all healthcare workers across the US.

The letter called vaccination the “logical fulfillment of the ethical commitment of all health care workers to put patients first.”

The VA is the first government agency to mandate vaccinations. The precedent for private companies doing so has already been set. Last month, a Texas hospital system fired over 150 employees who refused the vaccination mandate. Over 100 of them sued to stop the forced vaccination, arguing that the current jabs have only been approved for emergency use, and their mandate amounted to a coerced medical experiment.

A federal judge threw out the lawsuit, saying that the doctors and nurses had a choice to freely accept a Covid-19 vaccine or “work somewhere else.”

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25. NYC Mayor de Blasio demands full vaccination for all city workers by September & threatens tough consequences for mask flouters, 26 [−]

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is requiring all city employees to be vaccinated against Covid-19 or face weekly tests, adding to a growing pool of workers hes mandating get the jab as he prepares to leave office.

The mandate, announced on Monday, will affect 340,000 municipal employees, including teachers and police officers – two groups that have historically had their differences with the mayor.

It’s not clear how long the testing mandate would remain in place for those who opt not to get vaccinated, and the tone of the mayor’s public announcements has been strongly in favor of mandating the jab. Unvaccinated staff, city health commissioner Dave Chokshi made clear, would not be permitted inside city property without masks.

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While 71% of adult New Yorkers have reportedly had at least one dose of the vaccine, certain groups of city workers lag far behind that figure, including de Blasio’s bete noire, the New York Police Department. Just 43% of them had gotten the shot as of last week, the department acknowledged.

The mayor also came forward on Friday to urge the city’s private businesses to require vaccinations, hinting then that he would do the same for hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers in the city’s employ. Already, public health employees have been ordered to get vaccinated or undergo weekly testing, and he urged the city’s private hospitals to “move immediately to some sort of mandate, whatever the maximum you feel you can do.

We have reached the limits of purely voluntary,” he continued, demanding “more mandates” as he complained that the city’s efforts to lure New Yorkers to the needle with prizes like cash, theater tickets, free MetroCards and at-home vaccination have not moved the numbers up. Some 65% of adult New Yorkers are fully vaccinated.

The reported deadline for most employees to get their shots would be September 13, the start date for a million children in city schools. Many parents are still resentful over last year’s tug-of-war regarding remote learning and the transition back to classrooms – a battle marked by repeated rescheduling by the mayor. Other employees working in “residential and congregate” settings – about 45,000 of them – will face an August 16 deadline.

Attempting to force vaccine mandates through has not always ended well, with many public unions opposing vaccination as a condition of employment even while encouraging their members to get the jab. The absence of full FDA approval for the shots, which are still only available under emergency use authorization in the US, has contributed to some healthcare providers’ reluctance to be inoculated.

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The mayor’s recent suggestion that he would “seriously consider” a policy like France’s, in which proof of vaccination or a negative test is required to enter some public spaces, has also sparked enormous protests in that country and it’s questionable whether New Yorkers would accept it.

In a bid to make it easier to tell the vaccinated apart from the unvaccinated, de Blasio announced the city would be rolling out an ‘NYC CovidSafe’ app on August 2. He also issued a dramatic call to Facebook and Twitter to deplatform the "Disinformation Dozen,” referring to 12 social media users who've been blamed for spreading false information about Covid-19 vaccines.

But the mayor, who was widely panned for his initial performance during the coronavirus epidemic, perceived as at odds with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo over restrictions and reopening, won’t be around for much longer no matter how the push to vaccinate goes.

Come election day, former NYPD officer and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, winner of the Democratic primary, will face off against Guardian Angels founder and conservative radio host Curtis Sliwa, the Republicans’ pick, to replace de Blasio as the city’s leader.

New York is not alone in mandating the jab for city workers. California officials also announced on Monday that state employees and health care workers will be required to show vaccination proof – or get tested weekly – from next month.

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26. US education watchdog warns of shadow justice system if Biden reverses Trump-era due process rules for campus sexual misconduct, 26 [−]

A Biden nominee to the education department would signal the rolling back of Trump-era protections to students accused of sexual misconduct on campuses, an education watchdog has warned.

In 2020, former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos enacted new regulations that “bolstered due process at colleges” under Title IX – a 1972 law that prohibits educational discrimination on the basis of sex. The new rules direct colleges to presume an accused student’s innocence until proven guilty.

Now, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is cautioning that these protections would be undone if Catherine Lhamon, President Joe Biden’s nominee as the department’s assistant secretary for civil rights, is confirmed to the role by Congress.

“We were finally seeing student rights moving in the right direction, but Catherine Lhamon’s nomination just shows how threatened the progress we’ve made is,” FIRE Executive Director Robert Shibley said in a statement.

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Shibley added that Lhamon’s “history and rhetoric” indicate she would encourage a “patently unfair shadow justice system” which deprives students of the right to due process.

Reacting to the regulations brought in by DeVos last year, Lhamon tweeted at the time that the rules would take “us back to the bad old days... when it was permissible to rape and sexually harass students with impunity.”

During her Senate confirmation hearing earlier this month, she doubled down on that criticism and said the “regulation had weakened the intent of Title IX that Congress wrote.” But Lhamon claimed that she would enforce the law despite her opinion of it.

In a recent report, titled ‘Spotlight on Due Process 2020-2021,’ FIRE conducted a review of some 53 of the country’s top colleges to see how many adhered to “fundamental procedural safeguards” required by the DeVos regulations – such as the presumption of innocence, the right to a meaningful hearing with the ability to cross-examine one’s accuser and the right to impartial fact-finding.

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The results revealed that 85% of schools included in the report “scored noticeably higher” in Title IX sexual misconduct policies than other policies, “demonstrating the positive effect of the regulations on due process” in these cases.

Nearly two-thirds of schools (64%) now have a Title IX policy that guarantees a “meaningful hearing,” in which “each party may see and hear the evidence being presented to fact-finders by the opposing party, before a finding of responsibility.”

However, in her now-rescinded 2014 guidance to universities, Lhamon had said that because a “Title IX investigation will never result in incarceration of an individual,” these cases were “not required” to have “the same procedural protections and legal standards” that govern criminal proceedings.

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The 2014 directive “strongly discouraged” schools from “allowing the parties to personally question or cross-examine each other during a hearing on alleged sexual violence” on the grounds that “allowing an alleged perpetrator to question a complainant directly may be traumatic or intimidating, and may perpetuate a hostile environment” for the victim.

In March, Biden – who has previously said the rules “shame and silence survivors”signed an executive order that called for a 100-day review to “consider suspending, revising, or rescinding” any Trump-era rules that are “inconsistent” with the policies of his administration.

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27. Dozens of US health care groups call for mandatory vaccines for medical workers as part of ethical commitment to patients, 26 [−]

Dozens of groups representing health care workers in the US have released a joint statement calling for mandatory Covid-19 vaccinations for their industry, amid a surge in the Delta variant.

The statement, put out by the American Medical Association and over 50 other groups, urged health care and long-term care facility workers to fulfill their “ethical commitment” to their patients by getting vaccinated.

“[Getting vaccinated] is the logical fulfillment of the ethical commitment of all health care workers to put patients first.”

The groups acknowledge that vaccination rates among nursing home and long care facility workers have been lagging. Recent data has shown that around 59% of these employees have received at least one dose of a vaccine. Analysis in May from WebMD and Medscape Medical News also estimated a quarter of hospital employees who have come into contact with patients have not been vaccinated.

“Unfortunately, many health care and long-term care personnel remain unvaccinated,” the statement reads. “As we move towards full FDA [Food and Drug Administration] approval of the currently available vaccines, all health care workers should get vaccinated for their own health, and to protect their colleagues, families, residents of long-term care facilities and patients.”

They went on to call for employers to “implement effective policies to encourage vaccination.”

While the Biden administration has not signaled that a potential federal vaccination mandate could be coming, they have stepped up their efforts to encourage people to get inoculated as cases have spiked across the country, with some cities such as Los Angeles even reverting to public mask mandates to curb the spread.

Some US employers have already begun offering financial incentives to workers to get vaccinated, and others have already said new hires will be required to be vaccinated, like Delta Airlines.

Ezekiel Emanuel, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, organized Monday’s statement and claimed that healthcare workers making vaccinations a priority will help the public better trust the vaccine, as inoculation rates have been slipping despite them now being readily available to most.

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“Despite everything – cajoling, making access readily available at any pharmacy, making it free, having the president plead – all of this hasn’t really moved the needle very much in the nation,” he told the Washington Post, adding that the “medical community” needs to lead.

Tracking from the American Hospital Association, which supports vaccine mandates, shows that very few hospitals have actually required vaccinations. With the available vaccines not yet fully approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), such mandates are a murky proposition and could lead to potential litigation from dissenters.

Outside the US, France has already taken the dive and now legally requires health care workers to get vaccinated. The mandate has seen swift and vocal protests in response. Protesters have been taking to the streets for weeks now to demonstrate against pandemic-era government measures pushing vaccines on citizens – including a “health pass” that will get vaccinated people access to certain venues, such as restaurants and bars.

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28. Twitter wars: US Army general mocked after accusing critic of being shill for Putin in embarrassing outburst, 26 [−]

A US Army major general is facing backlash after accusing one of his fellow countrymen of being a shill for Russian President Vladimir Putin upon being asked on social media how many wars he had won.

Major General Patrick Donahoe found himself embroiled in a Twitter argument on Friday after warning young people that their “youth” would not protect them from Covid-19 in an attempt to convince young people to get vaccinated “right now.”

Conservative writer Josiah Lippincott pointed out to Donahoe that there have only been 26 Covid-19 deaths in the US Department of Defense overall – far less than the number of DoD suicides in just the fourth quarter of 2020 – and suggested lockdown and “liberty restrictions” were doing more damage than the virus.

At that point the major general began to lash out at critics on Twitter.

Asked by one such critic “how many wars” he had “won” – a question which received over 1,600 likes – Donahoe bizarrely snapped, “Don’t be a shill for Putin.”

Donahoe’s tweet shocked some other high-profile Twitter users, some questioning why an active US Army general would speak to a civilian in such a way – and others wondering why he was wasting time on Twitter at all.

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“General, with respect, these types of public remarks should not be made by an active duty officer without clearance from public affairs,” commented national security lawyer and writer Bradley P. Moss. “You know better, and the officers and soldiers under your command have been reminded not to do this very thing.”

Former Army Infantry Colonel Kurt Schlichter accused Donahoe of “embarrassing Army vets,” while retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Samantha Nerove told Donahoe to “remember who you work for.”

“You protect & defend the Constitution & the right of all citizens to speak freely without fear of abuse from our own military,” she pointed out.

Donahoe – who served in Iraq and Afghanistan – did not directly respond to the backlash and instead posted another tweet which read, “Public Service Announcement. Block and report the trolls and the disinformation tinfoil hat team.”

That post was similarly criticized and ridiculed.

Many conservatives have been questioning whether the US Army is suddenly becoming “woke” after Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and US Army General Mark Milley defended the controversial Critical Race Theory and blamed the January 6 storming of the Capitol on “white rage” last month.

“Do you notice the woke generals we have? This was a real general,” declared former President Donald Trump in June following Milley’s remarks. “Our generals and our admirals are now focused more on this nonsense than they are on our enemies.”

Trump argued that if military generals continue to become more politically charged, they “will be incapable of fighting and taking orders.”

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29. 'SPOT THE FED: DEF CON hacker event roasted on social media after inviting top US Homeland Security official as keynote speaker, 26 [−]

High-profile hacker conference DEF CON has been accused of selling out by longtime attendees on social media after organizers announced that US Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas will be a keynote speaker this year.

The annual convention, which typically sees several thousand people in attendance, is one of the world’s largest hacker events. The 29th edition of the conference is scheduled to be held in Las Vegas early next month.

In recent years, DEF CON has opened its doors to tech experts from US government agencies and the corporate sector. However, the inclusion of Mayorkas – a trained lawyer and career public servant – prompted a flurry of angry reactions from other speakers, conference veterans and other members of the hacker community.

Over the weekend, the organizers put out a tweet to welcome Mayorkas, lauding his “wealth of experience” and “leadership on #cyber” and other “insights.” Several social media users questioned their choice of keynote speaker, wondering what exactly his tech credentials were.

One person commented that perhaps he could be asked about “the amount of data processed” to allow Mayorkas “to deport 2.1 million Mexicans when he was deputy secretary [of the Homeland Security Department]” during the second Obama administration.

Another individual suggested that Mayorkas could be asked for his thoughts on “recycling server cabinets as cages” to house illegal immigrants and whether that would be a “sustainability goal” to support.

Meanwhile, one of the main speakers at the event, Ian Coldwater, said he was “disappointed” with the organizers and wondered whether “we really need to be hearing from the guy in charge of baby cage operations right now, at this particular historical juncture?”

Some users pointed to a “major inconsistency” in the choice of keynote speaker and DEF CON’s “broader content selection process,” with one person wondering whether it was a “hacker conference, except when it’s a keynote.”

According to the event’s ‘Call for Papers’ page, all content at the event should “support the hacker mindset” instead of submissions better suited for “cybersecurity industry conferences” that do not align with the “culture, spirit and subject matter” appropriate to a “hacking con.”

Others wondered if the tweet was sent “under duress,” with one person citing the “abnormal” choice of keynote speaker, the use of “stock corporate terms” and the “unironic use of #cyber.” Another asked why DEF CON was “tweeting like a medium-sized corporation that no one cares about?”

The organizers also announced that Mayorkas would participate in a “between two servers style interview” with DEF CON founder Jeff Moss, who goes by the hacker name ‘Dark Tangent’. Several users termed it “disgraceful” on the organizers’ part to “entertain this embarrassment.”

In response to the criticism, Moss tweeted, “DHS is civilian, not military, and with all the new authorities CISA [Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency] has, they are going to be increasingly involved. The current administration is not the previous one.”

He later added that “policy comes from the top down, so to understand CISA priorities it would help to know the Secretaries – or the Presidents.”

Some users said this was nothing new for DEF CON while others pointed out that the event’s annual ‘Spot the Fed’ game was not “supposed to be this easy.” In a long-running joke at the conference that plays on the open secret about federal agencies infiltrating the event, attendees are given prizes for identifying agents.

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30. Mask flip-flop? CDC actively considering face cover advisory for vaccinated Americans, according to Fauci, 26 [−]

White House health advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci has revealed that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) could soon reconsider its guidelines, recommending vaccinated Americans mask up again.

Top health officials have reportedly been having preliminary talks about revising mask recommendations for vaccinated Americans due to a rise in cases and concerns over the more infectious Delta variant of Covid-19. According to current guidance, those vaccinated against the virus do not need to wear masks in most public spaces.

The revision of the mask guidance is indeed “under active consideration,” Fauci confirmed to CNN on Sunday. The infectious disease expert did not give a timeframe for when the federal guidance could change, but he praised those state officials who had already rushed ahead to reinstate local mask mandates in response to rising coronavirus cases.

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“If you look at what’s going on locally in the trenches, in places like L.A. County,” Fauci said, “the local officials have the discretion, and the CDC agrees with that ability and discretion capability to say, you know, you’re in a situation where we’re having a lot of dynamics of infection, so even if you are vaccinated, you should wear a mask.”

Fauci and other White House officials have used the uptick in cases to continue pushing unvaccinated Americans to get inoculated. Recent polling, however, has indicated that those who have refused to be vaccinated thus far have little to no interest in changing their minds.

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“This is an issue predominantly among the unvaccinated, which is the reason why we’re out there, practically pleading with the unvaccinated people to go out and get vaccinated,” Fauci said regarding the rise in cases around the country, adding that the US is currently moving “in the wrong direction.”

Fauci has been portrayed as a hero of the pandemic by Democrat politicians and mainstream media outlets, despite flip-flopping on mask-wearing guidelines, vaccination targets and other recommendations. His suggestion that vaccinated Americans should mask up again sparked a new round of criticism from conservatives.

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31. Arizona Republican who voted with Dems on elections bill BOOED off stage at rally ahead of Trump speech (VIDEO), 25 [−]

At a conservative Turning Point Action rally in Phoenix, Arizona, state Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita was loudly booed off stage ahead of Donald Trumps speech and clashed with the press.

The Saturday event, dubbed ‘Rally to Protect Our Elections’, included speeches from candidates running for various positions, such as state senate seats or secretary of state, a position Ugenti-Rita is currently vying for.

The state senator was booed before she even began her speech. After several false starts, Ugenti-Rita gave up and said, “I’m running to be your next secretary of state. I’m going to win the primary,” before she exited the stage.

Ugenti-Rita has been a target of Republicans recently, mainly thanks to her shooting down an elections bill from fellow state Senator Kelly Townsend. She joined Democrats in voting against the bill.

Ugenti-Rita’s frosty reception at the TPUSA event was not the end of her controversy. She has since been accused by conservative outlet the Gateway Pundit of having one of their reporters kicked out of the event and later arrested.

According to the Pundit’s report, their journalist, Jordan Conradson, confronted the state senator after her disastrous speech and asked her if her vote against Townsend’s election integrity bill was why she was booed. She would only say it was because the bill was “bad,” and when continuing to be questioned, event staff removed Conradson from the event for “harassing” the lawmaker.

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At the alleged request of Townsend herself, the reporter returned to the event, but was detained by police and could be facing a $900 fine over the incident.

Townsend has accused Ugenti-Rita of getting the reporter arrested because she was asked a question that “angered” her, but Ugenti-Rita gave a different version of events.

“A so-called reporter was removed by police & event security from an event yesterday after repeatedly harassing me. Then @AZKellyT encouraged him to break the law by committing trespassing by re-entering the building to continue to harass me,” she wrote of the incident.

In a lengthy Twitter thread, the lawmaker also defended herself from conservatives accusing her of not fighting for “election integrity.”

Trump also took the stage in Arizona on Saturday and continued pushing his belief that the 2020 presidential election outcome was the result of fraud, something there has been no official proof of.

“There is no way they win elections without cheating,” he said of the Democrats.

Trump was a supporter of Townsend’s bill and called out Republican state Sen. Paul Boyer by name in an email blast to supporters. He did not, however, name Ugenti-Rita in the statement despite her same vote.

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32. Settle down, son: Tucker Carlson confronted by critic while with family, dubbed worst human being known to mankind, 25 [−]

Fox News host Tucker Carlson was confronted by a furious critic while shopping with his family and told, you are the worst human being known to mankind.

A man named Dan Bailey found himself trending on social media over the weekend thanks to a video taken by a friend of a confrontation with Carlson at a fly-fishing store in Montana.

In the footage, Bailey told Carlson, “you are the worst human being known to mankind” and continued to harass him while the Fox News host said he was with his family.

“I don’t care that your daughter’s here,” Bailey said.

Once Carlson noticed the camera, he laughed and told Bailey to “settle down, son.”

Though the confrontation appears relatively short, Bailey celebrated confronting Carlson when he posted the video to Instagram.

“It’s not everyday you get to tell someone they are the worst person in the world and really mean it!” he wrote. “What an asshole! This man has killed more people with vaccine misinformation, he has supported extreme racism, he is a fascist and does more to rip this country apart than anyone that calls themselves an American.”

Carlson is Fox News’ most popular host and a frequent critic of liberals, particularly regarding the Covid-19 pandemic and Black Lives Matter protests. Carlson has even claimed recently that efforts to silence him reach all the way to the federal government. The conservative pundit claimed the National Security Agency (NSA) was monitoring his communications to take him off the air. The agency denied this, though a report this week claimed Carlson’s name was “unmasked” in third party communications being monitored.

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The recent incident between Carlson and Bailey occurred at Montana’s Dan Bailey’s Outdoor Company, which was quick to release a statement saying the similarity in name between the accoster and the company is only a coincidence.

“This person has no affiliation with our business, other than he shares the same name as our founder, who passed away in 1982,” they said. “To be clear, we treat every customer equally and respectfully. Our staff was professional and cordial to Mr. Carlson, as we are with all of our customers.”

Bailey’s actions were still spread far and wide and celebrated by Carlson critics on social media.

“Yes!!!” comedian Margaret Cho excitedly commented on the Instagram post.

“I'm just wondering how I can go about buying a beer for this fellow Dan Bailey,” writer Charlotte Clymer tweeted.

Conservatives were predictably more defensive of Carlson, with filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza even suggesting Bailey should be arrested for his actions.

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33. Pelosi insists January 6 committee about patriotism, not partisanship, as GOP senator says it's political advantage for Dems, 25 [−]

Senator Pat Toomey (R-Pennsylvania) has set off critics by claiming a House select committee probing January 6 is a political stunt to benefit Democrats but Speaker Nancy Pelosi hit back, insisting its all about patriotism.

“What does it say about your party that an investigation into a violent insurrection would reflect poorly upon it?” CNN’s Jake Tapper asked Toomey during a Sunday interview.

The House committee investigating the January 6 Capitol riot has quickly become a contentious issue for Republicans and Democrats, with Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy even recently vowing to boycott the committee after two of his picks were denied by Pelosi.

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“I would favor a truly bipartisan commission,” Toomey said in defense of his party, noting the numerous investigations into January 6 that are already underway.

The motivation to investigate the riot that day, however, is not what is driving these investigations, according to Toomey.

“I think we should be candid about the fact that it is politically to the advantage of Democrats to keep this issue at the forefront,” the senator said.

The Pennsylvania Republican later added that it’s “very clear” Democrats “have an incentive to drive a political message” through a “partisan commission.” Such investigations, he said, are to keep the focus away from the current policies of President Joe Biden.

“Which is more relevant in 2022?” he rhetorically asked.

Toomey’s attack on Democrats over their focus on the Capitol riot got him trending shortly after his interview, with liberals quick to defend their party and turn the blame on Republicans who have been reluctant to fully support efforts to ‘investigate’ January 6. Many also celebrated the fact that Toomey will soon be retiring from the political world and leaving his seat open, quite possibly to a Democrat.

Over 500 people have been arrested in connection with the Capitol riot and the FBI expects to identify hundreds more for prosecution. While Republicans have been eager to move on, there is no sign that will be happening, as even FBI Director Christopher Wray admitted last month, “This is far from over.”

On Sunday, Pelosi defended the select committee and claimed it would be bipartisan, despite friction with Republicans, and claimed the investigation would find “the truth” about the riot.

“Maybe the Republicans can't handle the truth, but we have a responsibility to seek it to find it and in a way that maintains the confidence of the American people,” she told ABC.

“It’s all about patriotism,” she added, “not partisanship.”

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34. Bilingual orders & no more gas: Police slapped with new RESTRICTIONS after George Floyd protest settlement in North Carolina, 25 [−]

Civil rights groups are celebrating a settlement with the city of Charlotte, North Carolina imposing new bans on police dispersing protests, stemming from a 2020 George Floyd demonstration where CS tear gas was used.

The lawsuit brought forth by the groups alleged that police orchestrated an attack on hundreds of protesters who gathered on June 2, 2020 to protest the death of George Floyd the previous month in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Footage from the protest appeared to show protesters being surrounded and chemical weapons being deployed by police, a tactic activists were quick to denounce and claim it was excessive force.

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Part of the settlement reached with the city includes new restrictions on how police in the city can handle dispersing protesting crowds. The use of CS tear gas, for instance, will be prohibited. Other revisions to police directives include allotted time being given for protesters to disperse after an order is given, and for that order to be given in both English and Spanish. At least two exits for protesters to disperse also need to be clearly communicated. Other measures include prohibiting pepper balls being aimed at the heads and necks of protesters.

The revisions will be in place for four years and include “a mechanism to enforce violations,” according to a press release announcing the settlement.

Groups behind the lawsuit include the ACLU of North Carolina, the Charlotte Chapter of the NAACP, and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

“This agreement is a step in the right direction, but it’s insufficient to reckon with the violence and trauma protesters endured at the hands of police across the state last year,” Kristie Puckett-Williams, statewide manager of the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina’s Campaign for Smart Justice, said.

CMPD Chief Johnny Jennings responded to the settlement by saying some policies had already been changed in light of the controversial protest response and he was open to the new changes.

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“We are a learning agency and always looking for ways to improve as we owe that to the City of Charlotte, Mecklenburg County and all of those we serve because it is the right thing to do,” he said.

Jennings has been promoting police reform in his position. He even recently announced what has been described as a ‘customer training’ program for police officers, helping to repair the relationship between police and the public. The program, announced last month, is using a consultant who previously worked for companies such as Chick Fil-A and Starbucks.

“That encounter, although it’s a negative incident, does not have to be a negative encounter with that officer,” Jennings said. “When we can leave a positive impression with that interaction … [we] don’t let that person to go away feeling CMPD officers are bad people or are jerks or whatever name you want to come up with.”

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35. As thousands of inmates sent home over pandemic could be told to return to prison, activists urge Biden to #KeepThemHome, 24 [−]

Activists are urging Congress and President Joe Biden to act before low-level criminals, sent to serve their sentences under house arrest at the height of Covid-19 pandemic, are forced to return to prison to finish their time.

A report this week from The New York Times about prisoners potentially being taken back into custody has had criminal justice reform activists up in arms, including groups such as the NAACP and ACLU.

On Saturday, activists vented their frustrations on social media, led by figures such as lawyer Emily Galvin-Almanza, using the hashtag #KeepThemHome to urge action from the administration.

The controversy over these prisoners’ future stems from a memo issued by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, which stated that inmates whose sentences extend beyond the “pandemic emergency period” would need to return to jail to complete their terms. According to the Times report, Biden officials have agreed with the legal opinion, meaning thousands of inmates who were released at the height of the pandemic to help slow the spread of the virus could be on their way back.

Critics have argued, however, that those who have remained in compliance while being monitored at home deserve to be allowed to continue to serve their sentences at home.

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With the official state of emergency likely continuing through the end of the year, activists have argued that either Congress could step in and expand federal authority to keep inmates at home beyond the pandemic, or Biden himself could use his clemency powers to commute sentences.

“Imagine being sent home from prison.....doing the hard work of re-integrating and finding work and support ONLY TO BE SENT BACK TO PRISON 16 MONTHS LATER FOR NO GOOD REASON,” podcaster and consultant Joshua B. Hoe tweeted on Saturday.

“Biden-Harris ran on criminal justice reform. Granting clemency to these inmates would be just that,” reporter Victoria Brownworth added.

The White House has not officially indicated what it will do about the inmates in question, with an official statement provided to the Times only generically doubling down on Biden’s past promises to lower incarceration levels and focus on criminal justice reform.

Rescinding the Trump-era legal opinion has mainly been urged by Democrat lawmakers, but some Republicans have joined the call too, including Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who argued in April that very few inmates in home confinement have broken the guidelines for their limited release or gotten into further legal trouble.

“It’s like waiting to be sentenced all over again,” Wendy Hechtman, who was serving a 15 year sentence for conspiracy to distribute a form of fentanyl, told the Times.

Others had been sentenced for similar crimes, as numerous reports and calls to action have highlighted. Kendrick Fulton, 47, for instance, was serving a 17 year sentence for selling crack cocaine when he was let out of prison 11 years earlier than he was supposed to. He has already served 17 years and is working in Round Rock, Texas.

“I served over 17 years already. What more do you want? I should go back for another 11 years to literally just do nothing?” he told Reuters in April, about the potential of being rounded up by the FBI and taken back to prison.

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36. Unacceptable: Fox News blasts NSA after report reveals they unmasked host Tucker Carlson in communications, 24 [−]

After the National Security Agency (NSA) denied targeting journalist Tucker Carlson, a new report has revealed the agency unmasked the Fox News hosts name while monitoring third-party communications.

Numerous lawmakers have called for an official investigation into Carlson’s recent claims that the NSA has been spying on his communications with the intention of taking him off the air. The agency pushed back against the claim last month, though critics noted the statement released about the accusations wasn’t exactly a clear ‘denial.’

According to a report from The Record, citing multiple people familiar with the situation, the NSA has completed a review of Carlson’s allegations and found that his name was “unmasked” in third-party communications being monitored. “Unmasking” is a process through which officials can request a redacted name of a US citizen in a final intelligence report being revealed to better understand the messages being looked at.

There is no further information about the specific communications, but Carlson had mentioned, before making his NSA accusations, that he was attempting to get an interview with Russian president Vladimir Putin.

The report claims that though Carlson’s name was revealed, his own communications were never gathered through “incidental collection,” which allows officials to obtain data from a citizen that is in contact with a foreign person already being monitored.

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Fox News has defended their popular-but-controversial host and said it is “entirely unacceptable” for the NSA to “unmask” Carlson’s name while he is attempting to do his job.

“For the NSA to unmask Tucker Carlson or any journalist attempting to secure a newsworthy interview is entirely unacceptable and raises serious questions about their activities as well as their original denial, which was wildly misleading,” the network said in a statement read off on Friday by ‘Tucker Carlson Tonight’ guest host Mark Steyn.

Neither the NSA nor Carlson have directly commented on the latest development, though Carlson has stuck by his claims. The Fox News host did become a hot topic of conversation on social media over the weekend, though not due to his spying accusations or the “unmasking” revelation about the NSA, but rather from a tiff with Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-California) that ended with the Democrat lawmaker stating, “I’m just not that into you.”

Swalwell posted alleged screenshots of a conversation between him and Carlson where the Fox News host told the lawmaker to call him, and Swalwell refused, citing Carlson’s criticism of his wife earlier in the week – according to the segment, Carlson claimed Swalwell’s campaign had spent $20,000 at a hotel where his wife used to work.

Swalwell refused to talk to Carlson – for which the host branded him a “coward” – and instead launched the #TuckerTantrum hashtag, which became popular among Democrats. Swalwell has not commented on the report about the NSA “unmasking” a reporter’s name.

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37. Reached the limits of voluntary system: New York Mayor de Blasio urges businesses to force vaccines on employees, 24 [−]

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has urged employers to be as aggressive as possible in mandating that workers get vaccinated against Covid-19, marking the latest sign the US jab campaign is shifting from cajoling to forcing.

“I’m calling on all New York City employers, including our private hospitals, to move immediately to some form of mandate,” de Blasio said on Friday in a radio interview. He called on employers to impose “whatever the maximum is you feel you can do.”

De Blasio’s comments come amid rising US Covid-19 infections, as the reportedly highly contagious Delta variant of the virus spreads across the country. With unvaccinated Americans entrenched in their hesitancy – newly released Associated Press-NORC poll results show that 80% who haven’t yet received the jab don’t plan to do so – Democrat politicians and public-health experts are increasingly calling for local mandates that leave people virtually no choice but to get the shots.

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After more than six months of New York’s Covid-19 vaccine rollout, during which residents were given “every form of incentives,” the city has “reached the limits of a purely voluntary system,” de Blasio said.

“Any type of mandate helps. It will move the ball. It will get more people vaccinated,” he added.

Both President Joe Biden and de Blasio have fallen short of their vaccination goals. The mayor had aimed to have 5 million New Yorkers fully inoculated against the virus by the end of June, but the current total is less than 4.5 million. Nationwide, the flow of Americans getting Covid-19 shots has plunged since, reaching a daily peak of 4.6 million in April, averaging around 500,000 a day in recent weeks, as those who wanted the jabs have already had plenty of opportunity to get them.

Earlier this week, De Blasio ordered that employees of New York’s public hospital system and Health Department clinics need to get vaccinated or be tested for Covid-19 every week. He admitted that he hoped such testing would become so tiresome that recalcitrant employees would find it in their interest to be inoculated, and he wants the private sector to use the same sort of tactics.

“We need to get more serious than ever about vaccination,” de Blasio said. “If everyone was vaccinated right now, we would not be having a conversation about the Delta variant. This is a pandemic of the unvaccinated.”

De Blasio’s mandate push marks a shift from his past stance, when he had insisted the city could persuade vaccine-hesitant residents to get the jabs through awareness campaigns and incentives, including prize draws, for those who cooperated. About 70% of New York adults have received at least their first vaccine dose, which is just above the 69% national rate.

Ironically, the mayor pitched “freedom” as a motivation for forcing people to get the shots, which have received only emergency use authorization from the FDA. “If people want freedom, if people want jobs, if people want to be able to live again, we have got to get more people vaccinated,” he said.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, Biden’s chief medical adviser, and Andy Slavitt, a former Covid-19 adviser to the administration, are among those who have similarly suggested employers and local governments use mandates to make life less tenable for those who choose not to get inoculated.

CNN’s Washington bureau chief reportedly offered much the same sentiment in an email that was accidentally made public this week, saying, “This is the point re: carrot vs. stick. The Carrot is no longer going to work.”

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De Blasio plans to ratchet up the pressure on vaccine-hesitant New Yorkers over time, especially city employees.

“I’ve been very explicit about the fact that this is the beginning and we’re going to climb up the ladder of measures to address this situation,” he told WNYC radio host Brian Lehrer. “We’re going to be making announcements piece by piece.”

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38. We cant coddle violent criminals! DC police chief shreds media & dysfunctional justice system after upscale district shooting, 24 [−]

Washington, DCs police chief took both the justice system and the media to task after another shooting in broad daylight this week, saying local courts are allowing violent criminals to run free as the press turns a blind eye.

Briefing reporters on a brazen daytime shooting in an upscale DC district the day prior, Metropolitan Police chief Robert Contee decried the “unacceptable” wave of violence gripping some of the city’s neighborhoods, arguing that a dysfunctional court system was failing to keep dangerous offenders off the streets.

“We could take the political route and talk about all of this fluffy stuff, but I’m going to give it to you straight, where the issues are,” he said at the press conference on Friday.

The justice system we have right now – it’s not functioning the way that it should. The courts are not open. That is a fact.

Two men were injured in Thursday’s incident, which saw more than 10 shots ring out on DC’s 14th Street. Police said the victims were “conscious and breathing” soon after the incident, though they offered few other details about their condition. Law enforcement also released footage of the suspected shooter and one accomplice, who fled the scene in a dark, four-door car, asking the public to help identify them. They remain at large.

Contee fumed that Thursday’s shooting only garnered media attention due to its location near the high-end Le Diplomate restaurant, suggesting the press often ignores violence in other neighborhoods. He pointed to the 922 shootings and 198 homicides tallied in DC in 2020, a 16-year high, saying such violence “should be shocking to the conscience of every person in our city” and has “been happening for a long time.”

“This is what the response should look like. It should look like this,” he said, gesturing toward the crowd of reporters around him. “Because there are a lot of corners I go to after a murder has occurred, and it’s just me, it’s just the officers.”

When you hear the gunshots in your community, that begs a different reaction.

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Contee added that a large backlog of cases involving violent criminals from 2020 had “not been disposed of” due to delays caused by Covid-19, asking, “Where do you think those individuals are? Anybody want to take a guess? They’re in the community.”

“Why is it that a guy who murdered somebody is out in the community after having been arrested two or three months prior with a firearm? What did we think he was going to do?” he went on, apparently referring to another case. “We want to help people, yes we should, but you cannot coddle violent criminals.”

Courts in the city have put jury trials on pause for much of the health crisis, with the DC Superior Court halting them for a full year, resuming only in late March. In the meantime, the police have continued to make arrests, but if prosecutors brought charges, suspects were often released under some level of supervision as their cases crawled through the system. The delays have resulted in a backlog of “hundreds” of cases, according to the Washington Post.

The flipside to the judicial gridlock, however, is that some defendants have languished in custody well beyond their ultimate sentences as they awaited trial. Meanwhile, as of Wednesday, the nation’s capital had recorded 105 homicides so far in 2021, keeping pace with last year’s decade-and-a-half high.

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39. Texas man arrested & charged in Capitol riot case after Bumble match reported him to FBI, 24 [−]

A Houston man has been charged over his alleged role in the January 6 riot at the US Capitol, after boasting about being there and sending pictures to a potential match on the dating app Bumble, who reported him to the FBI.

Andrew Quentin Taake, 32, was arrested on Friday and charged with five federal offenses, including assaulting officers, obstruction of law enforcement during civil disorder, and engaging in physical violence in a restricted building or grounds.

According to the charging documents, Taake discussed his participation in the riot with “Witness 1” on Bumble, and sent several photos of himself from that day. He admitted to being inside the Capitol building for about 30 minutes, and told the match he was there “from the very beginning.”

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After the Bumble match reported Taake to the FBI, federal agents were able to use data from the app to build a case against him. They confirmed that he had flown into Washington, DC via Baltimore the day before, and found footage from police body cameras showing him allegedly attacking officers with pepper spray and “what appeared to be a whip-like weapon.”

Hundreds of people have been arrested over the January 6 riot, when a mob of protesters supporting President Donald Trump stormed the Capitol building and disrupted the joint session of Congress meeting to certify the 2020 presidential election. The lawmakers had just started considering Republican objections to the results in several key states, where Trump and his lawyers alleged irregularities had occurred. Much of the opposition melted away after the riot and the reconvened Congress quickly confirmed Joe Biden’s election.

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A man, allegedly Robert Chapman, seen inside the US Capitol on January 6, 2021  United States District Court for the Southern District of New York
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Democrats have claimed the riot was an “insurrection” instigated by Trump, who was quickly banned from all social media platforms in the aftermath, but none of the people facing federal charges has been indicted for insurrection, sedition, or treason – only lesser crimes such as trespassing or disrupting official government business.

Taake is actually the second January 6 rioter who was arrested thanks to a tip from a Bumble user. In April, the FBI arrested Robert Chapman, of New York, who had allegedly bragged to a potential match about taking part in the unrest.

The Biden administration has since adapted the playbook for countering foreign terrorists and extremists to urge Americans to report on their family members and declare “white supremacy” and “homegrown violent extremism” the biggest threat to “our democracy” since the original Civil War.

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40. No probes for Cuomo & Whitmer: Biden DOJ drops investigations into Michigan, Pennsylvania, & New York nursing home Covid-19 deaths, 24 [−]

The Biden administration has decided not to investigate the Democrat governors of Michigan, Pennsylvania, and New York over claims their Covid-19 policies led to the deaths of thousands of vulnerable people in nursing homes.

Deputy Assistant Attorney General Joe Gaeta informed House Republicans on Friday that the Justice Department had decided not to open an investigation into any public nursing facilities in the three states “at this time.”

In August 2020, the Trump administration requested data about nursing home deaths from Michigan, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York – states that had policies ordering nursing homes to take in Covid-19 patients.

“We have reviewed the information you provided along with additional information available to the Department. Based on that review, we have decided not to open a [civil rights] investigation of any public nursing facility within Michigan at this time,” said the letter sent to Governor Gretchen Whitmer by Steven Rosenbaum, chief of the litigation section in the DOJ's civil rights division, on Thursday. The same letter was sent to Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania.

Whitmer’s April 2020 executive order required nursing homes to accept Covid-19 patients discharged from hospitals and place them in dedicated isolation units. Melissa Samuel, president of the Health Care Association of Michigan, claims the order was never fully implemented, however.

Wolf’s former health secretary, Rachel Levine – who withdrew her own mother from a nursing home even as overseeing the state policy of mandating homes take in Covid-19 patients – has since been confirmed as the first transgender assistant secretary at President Joe Biden’s Department of Health.

The DOJ apparently sent the same letter to New York’s Andrew Cuomo. The only remaining governor who could be under investigation at this point is New Jersey’s Phil Murphy.

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Michigan’s official figures say that 87% of Covid-19 deaths were among people aged 60 and older, and about a third of the state’s total deaths were “linked to” long-term care facilities, amounting to 5,754 residents and staff. However, investigative journalist Charlie LeDuff claims the numbers might have been undercounted by as much as 100%, and that officials at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services told him their review of data about the deaths was stopped because it was too “time-consuming.”

Whitmer’s celebrity status among the Democrats was cemented by the FBI announcement that they had thwarted a “plot” to kidnap her in October 2020. Since then, it has emerged that more than half the people involved were FBI informants – and the plot had actually originated with them.

Her spokesman, Bobby Leddy, welcomed the DOJ letter, calling accusations against Whitmer “baseless” and accusing her Republican critics of seeking to “politicize the worst public health crisis in 100 years.” Whitmer’s actions “saved thousands of lives,” while the Republican proposals would have led to more virus spread and deaths, he claimed.

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Tudor Dixon, one of the Republicans vying to run against Whitmer in 2022, denounced the DOJ for choosing to “put partisan politics ahead of accountability.” Dixon was unable to see her grandmother, who died in a nursing home during the lockdown, due to Whitmer’s executive orders barring visitations, which only expired in March this year.

But Dixon and other Republicans seem to be facing long odds, as Whitmer is reportedly flush with record amounts of cash, having raised more than any gubernatorial candidate in Michigan’s history.

On Wednesday, however, the Michigan state legislature repealed the emergency powers law she had used to impose lockdowns. The governor is unable to veto the decision, because it started out as a citizen petition that gathered half a million signatures.

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41. Why do you need to have that information? White House REFUSES to reveal number of breakthrough cases in Covid-infected staff, 24 [−]

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki has pushed back against calls to reveal the number of administration staff members who have been infected with Covid-19 despite being vaccinated.

During a press conference on Friday, Psaki was questioned about the lack of details on the revelation this week that there have been “breakthrough cases” among White House staff members – namely, the exact number of cases.

“I think, first, we’re in a very different place than we were six to seven months ago, as it relates to the virus,” Psaki said, adding that, despite more and more cases of vaccinated individuals getting infected, vaccination provides more protection from “serious illness” and typical symptoms associated with Covid-19.

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Asked if the White House is “hiding something” by not revealing to the public the number of infections, Psaki asked, “Why do you need to have that information?”

Told it was a case of “transparency,” she simply pointed to general information about “breakthrough cases” and Covid-related deaths and hospitalizations as a resource for more information.

Critics pounced on Psaki’s defense of the lack of information, with many claiming there would have been a very different reaction from the media if a Donald Trump-era press secretary such as Kayleigh McEnany had questioned a reporter’s search for “transparency,” especially related to Covid cases in the White House.

“Shocking that the self-described ‘most transparent administration in history’ even has to ask this dumb question,” Republican strategist Matt Whitlock tweeted.

Psaki revealed earlier this week that there had been positive Covid-19 cases in the White House that have not been disclosed.

During Friday’s press conference, she focused mainly on pushing vaccinations to the unvaccinated, as she has on previous occasions. She claimed unvaccinated Americans posed a threat to those who were vaccinated, despite the latter being protected from the virus.

Regardless of the efforts of Psaki and the rest of Joe Biden’s administration, the number of vaccinations administered continues to fall with each update, and interest in getting vaccinated remains significantly low for those who have avoided inoculation thus far.

The results of a poll released by the Associated Press on Friday showed that the majority of unvaccinated respondents had little to no interest in changing their status, with 45% saying they had no plans to get vaccinated, and another 35% saying they would likely not be getting vaccinated in the future.

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42. Hesitancy battle lost? Vast majority of unvaccinated Americans say they WONT be getting Covid-19 jabs, poll shows, 24 [−]

The Biden administration faces an uphill battle to meet its goals for Covid-19 vaccinations, as a newly released poll shows that 80% of American adults who havent yet recived the jab have no intention of doing so.

The results of the Associated Press-NORC poll, which was released on Friday, revealed that 45% of unvaccinated respondents said they “definitely” wouldn’t be getting inoculated against the virus, with 35% indicating they “probably” wouldn’t do so. Only 19% of those who hadn’t been vaccinated intended to get the shots, and just 3% consider those plans definite.

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The responses suggest there is little room for growth in US vaccination rates, because 67% of participants had already received the jab, and only 1% of overall respondents said they would definitely get inoculated. Just 5% said they would probably get vaccinated. Other unvaccinated Americans don’t plan to get jabbed, meaning around 73% is the apparent upside for the nation’s adult vaccination rate.

President Joe Biden had aimed to have 70% of US adults vaccinated with at least their first dose by July 4, but fell short, at 67%. Nearly three weeks beyond his target date, some 69% of adults have received a Covid-19 shot, according to CDC data. Nearly 60% of adults are fully vaccinated, and the rate is 49% for the overall population.

Perhaps more troubling for vaccine proponents is the declining rate of new vaccinations. After the rollout hit a one-day record of 4.6 million doses delivered on April 10, the daily pace has slowed to around 500,000 in recent weeks. In Alabama, which ranks last in the nation, with just 34% of its population fully vaccinated, and only a trickle of residents rolling up their sleeves to get the shots, Governor Kay Ivey became so frustrated on Thursday that she said it’s “time to blame the unvaccinated folks” for rising Covid-19 infections.

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While 83% of Democrat adults have been vaccinated, according to the Associated Press-NORC poll, just 51% of Republicans have been. And Republicans are more skeptical that the vaccines will be effective against the highly infectious Delta variant of Covid-19, which has driven the country’s recent jump in new cases.

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CDC pitches Covid boosters for immunocompromised after Israels suit, as Pfizer jab loses efficacy against Delta infections

The poll found that 58% of Republicans expect the vaccines to work well against new variants, while 81% of Democrats expressed confidence. Among unvaccinated Americans, 64% don’t trust the shots to prevent the spread of Delta.

An Israeli government study earlier this month found that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is 64% effective at preventing symptomatic Covid-19 cases caused by the Delta variant. The drugmaker had claimed a 95% overall efficacy rate. Biden declared earlier this week that, “You’re not going to get Covid if you have these vaccinations.”

But infections among vaccinated Americans have risen amid the spread of the Delta variant. In fact, there have been such cases among White House staffers, but Biden’s press secretary, Jen Psaki, declined on Friday to tell reporters the number of so-called “breakthrough” infections.

With most unvaccinated Americans firmly entrenched in their decision, some public-health experts are calling for tougher measures to force people to get the shots. Dr. Anthony Fauci, Biden’s chief medical adviser, has called for local governments, businesses and schools to mandate vaccination because the administration would face too much public backlash if it tried to make the jabs compulsory.

Former White House Covid-19 adviser Andy Slavitt suggested on Thursday in a CNN interview that unvaccinated workers and students should be forced to take tests daily, at their own expense, to prove they’re not infected. Making people come in an hour before work or class to take a Covid-19 test and pay for it would cause more Americans to “take the option to get vaccinated,” he argued.

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“We should be really seriously considering whether schools, workplaces, government agencies ought to be saying, ‘Hey, if you’re coming here, you need to be vaccinated, and if you’re not, you need to show you’ve got a negative test every single day,” Slavitt said.

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43. Biden doubles funding for unexpected needs of Afghan refugees as ex-interpreter abandoned by Pentagon is BEHEADED by Taliban, 24 [−]

US President Joe Biden has authorized $100 million in funding for unexpected urgent refugee and migration needs in Afghanistan, amid reports that at least one former translator for US troops has been beheaded by the Taliban.

Biden overrode his own June 11 decision to commit an amount "not to exceed $46 million” for the purpose, according to a White House announcement on Friday.

While the wording reflects the statutory requirements of the 1962 law under which the funding is provided, Biden explicitly mentioned “victims of conflict, and other persons at risk as a result of the situation in Afghanistan, including applicants for Special Immigrant Visas,” making it clear the money was intended to help Afghan translators and other local contractors who have worked for US and NATO forces in the country since 2001, and their families.

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FILE PHOTO: A US soldier from the 3rd Cavalry Regiment walks with the unit's Afghan interpreter before a mission near forward operating base Gamberi in the Laghman province of Afghanistan, December 11, 2014  Reuters / Lucas Jackson
Biden to announce Operation Allied Refuge to get revenge-wary Afghan translators into US Reuters

Another $200 million worth of “services and articles from the inventories of US government agencies” will be directed to meet the same needs, Reuters reported citing the White House.

Friday’s announcement came shortly after multiple corporate media outlets reported the story of Sohail Pardis, a 32-year-old former interpreter for US forces in Afghanistan, who was beheaded by the Taliban in Khost province.

Pardis was driving from Kabul to Khost on May 12, when he ran into a Taliban checkpoint. He was shot, dragged from his car, beaten and beheaded, media reported, citing local villagers who witnessed the event.

Pardis had worked for the US military for 16 months, before he was dismissed in 2012 after failing a routine lie detector test. His application to be evacuated to the US under the Special Immigrant Visa program was denied on those grounds.

Last week, the Biden administration announced ‘Operation Allied Refuge,’ an effort to evacuate thousands of Afghans who had assisted the US forces over the years. The last US combat troops are expected to pull out of Afghanistan by the end of August, leaving the government in Kabul to the mercy of the advancing Taliban.

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Surrendering Taliban militants stand with their weapons as they are presented to the media on November 4, 2010 in Herat, Afghanistan.  Majid Saeedi/Getty Images
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44. Spate of drug-resistant fungal infections found in Texas and DC hospitals, CDC warns, 23 [−]

Though the country and wider world may be preoccupied with Covid-19, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned of a highly transmissible and drug-resistant new strain of fungus spreading in American hospitals.

Candida auris may not be the household name that Covid-19 is, but that doesn’t mean scientists aren’t concerned about it. In a report released on Friday, the CDC noted that clusters of Candida auris cases have been reported in hospitals in Texas and Washington, DC since January, originating in healthcare facilities.

The fungus is highly transmissible, and “leads to invasive infections, including bloodstream infections” in 5%-to-10% of patients it colonizes. There was a 30% mortality rate in both the Texas and DC outbreaks, but as they occurred in hospitals, it is unclear what role the fungus played in these deaths.

Typically, fungal infections are treated with three classes of antifungal drugs: azoles, polyenes, and echinocandins. Candida auris is 85% resistant to azoles, 33% resistant to polyenes, and 1% resistant to echinocandins, the CDC warned in its report.

The CDC is concerned by the fact that both outbreaks occurred independently of each other. Its report concluded with a warning to physicians and hospital staff that “surveillance, public health reporting, and infection control measures are critical to containing further spread.”

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FILE PHOTO: Colonies of E. coli bacteria grown on an agar plate are seen in a microscopic image.
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Before Covid-19 stole the attention of scientists and healthcare professionals last year, antibiotic-resistant infections were considered one of the gravest threats to the public. In late 2019, the CDC sounded the alarm about the rise in such infections, warning that drug-resistant ‘superbugs’ were infecting three million Americans annually and killing four people every hour.

Additionally, the World Health Organisation warned last December that the overuse of antibiotics during the coronavirus pandemic was creating a strain of antibiotic-resistant “super gonorrhea.”

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45. Solving the wrong problem? San Francisco debuts ultra-pricey trash cans to deter homeless & vandals, 23 [−]

San Francisco is targeting homelessness in an unusual some might say backwards new way, debuting trash cans that cant be rummaged through in an effort to send the hungry homeless to other parts of town.

Some might address the problem of homelessness by building shelters or launching job programs, but San Francisco’s current approach is out of sight, out of mind. The city is commissioning high tech new trash cans that vagrants can’t paw through, hoping that they’ll take their unsightly needs somewhere else.

San Francisco Public Works

However, prototyping the flashy new cans will cost up to $20,000 each – a shocking outlay for a mere cosmetic procedure – and the city hopes to have 3,000 of them rolled out by the end of next year. Local media reports there are plans to launch a $537,000 pilot program to manufacture 15 of the specialized bins before the end of the year.

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The hyper-competitive real estate market of San Francisco won’t settle for the vagrant-proof trash cans already on the market, apparently, meaning the city has to design its own and test those alongside existing models first. Acting director of Public Works Alaric Degrafinried explained that the homeless “pick the lock, they dump the whole can on the street and then sort through the things they want while the garbage is either on the sidewalk or out on the street.

The solution in tech-obsessed San Francisco is to “develop the next generation of trash can” – to ‘disrupt’ trash pickup, in the parlance of Silicon Valley – and incorporate recycling, a remote notification when the can is full, and vandalism-proofing. The city will work on three prototypes, ordering five of each at an eye-popping $20,000 each, and test those alongside existing techno-trash-cans. They hurried to reassure residents that the cans won’t actually cost $20,000 each – instead, the replacement cans will “only” cost about $3,000 or $4,000 per can.

San Francisco is notorious for its large and aggressive homeless population, nurtured by a combination of mild weather, a lenient legal climate, and an insanely high cost of living. Recent legal developments have only encouraged the population to metastasize, with District Attorney Chesa Boudin declining to prosecute shoplifting and other low-level offenses so that pharmacies and convenience stores are preyed on again and again with police unwilling to answer a call for any theft less than $950 – the cutoff for a felony crime. Any sum less than that is merely considered a misdemeanor, requiring the employee to personally get involved in a way they are seldom willing to do out of fear of violence.

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Like its neighbor to the north, Portland, San Francisco is infamous for open-air drug use, quick-turnaround peddling of stolen goods, urinating and defecating on the streets, and other shocking behaviors. Boudin is currently facing a recall effort due to his perceived softness on crime, and a bill being considered in the state legislature would fund the Organized Retail Crime Task Force through the next four years out of concern that the so-called petty shoplifting is actually part of a much larger conspiracy.

However, San Francisco has been a haven for the homeless for decades, and rolling out high-end trash cans is unlikely to drive them away. Despite skyrocketing housing prices and a bumper crop of millionaires, the city also hosts some 18,000 homeless people, whether living on the street, crashing on others’ couches, or calling the area’s growing tent cities home.

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46. US government buys 200 million Pfizer shots as booster doses and for kids, 23 [−]

The US government has bought 200 million doses of Pfizers Covid-19 vaccine, in anticipation of booster shots and doses for children being approved. Meanwhile, jab or no jab, kids are being asked to mask up to return to school.

Pfizer announced the purchase on Friday, stating that the sale brings the total number of doses of its Covid vaccine supplied to the US government to 500 million. “Vaccines have been and will remain critical to protecting lives against this devastating disease,” Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said in a statement. “These additional doses will help the US government ensure broad vaccine access into next year.”

The White House later confirmed the purchase, an administration official telling the media that 65 million doses will be set aside for children under 12, and others reserved for use as booster shots – something Pfizer has pushed for and US regulators are still evaluating.

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CDC pitches Covid boosters for immunocompromised after Israels suit, as Pfizer jab loses efficacy against Delta infections

None of the three Covid vaccines currently in use in the US – by Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson – have yet been approved for children under 12. Clinical trials on children are currently underway for all three, and White House coronavirus adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci has said it is “likely by late fall, early winter, we'll have enough data” to consider approval.

Speaking at a CNN town hall earlier this week, President Joe Biden said that such authorization would come “soon.”

Technically, none of the coronavirus vaccines has been generally approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Instead they have been authorized for emergency use.

Children are not typically at risk of serious illness or death from Covid-19. Even as the more transmissible Delta variant becomes the dominant strain of the virus in the US, recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that under-18s account for 0.05% of all Covid-19 deaths in the US since the pandemic began, and around 3% of hospitalizations.

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All children over 2 should wear masks at school, regardless of vaccination status, pediatrician group says

Nevertheless, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) called this week for all children over two to wear masks when they return to school this fall, regardless of their vaccination status. The recommendation goes further than the updated guidance that was issued earlier this month by the CDC, which said students and school employees who are fully vaccinated don’t need to wear masks.

State to state and locality to locality, rules on masking vary. Eight states have prohibited mandatory masking policies, while others have taken a hard opposite approach. California banned maskless kids from entering public schools earlier this month, but backtracked on that decision within hours and left the decision up to local districts.

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47. Time to start blaming the unvaccinated: Alabamas governor splits critics as she loses it over states low inoculation rate, 23 [−]

Republican Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, who was previously dubbed one of the best in the US by Donald Trump, has earned surprising praise from liberals for venting her frustration on those who remain unvaccinated against Covid-19.

Asked by reporters on Thursday how to better promote vaccinations to those still refusing as cases spike in various states, Ivey replied, “I don’t know, you tell me!”

She added that “folks [are] supposed to have common sense” and then went on to claim it’s “time to blame the unvaccinated folks.”

“It’s time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks, not the regular folks. It’s the unvaccinated folks that are letting us down,” she said.

Alabama has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country, with less than 40% of people 12 and up fully vaccinated. Vaccination rates have slowly been dipping month-to-month in the state, as well.

Daily coronavirus cases have increased 70% in the last week, with hospitalization rates rising too, and Ivey says it’s “crystal clear” this is an issue among unvaccinated residents.

“These folks are choosing a horrible lifestyle and self-inflicted pain,” the governor said. “You know we’ve got to get folks to take the shot. The vaccine is the greatest weapon we have to fight Covid, there’s no question about that, the data proves it.”

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Ivey, who is fully vaccinated, claimed she has done “all I know how to do” when it comes to promoting vaccines to her constituents.

“I can encourage you to do something, but I can’t make you take care of yourself,” she said.

Ivey’s targeting of unvaccinated Americans is similar to statements from White House health officials, who have warned of a “pandemic among the unvaccinated” as they continue to promote vaccines and issue stark warnings about the growing delta variant.

There are numerous cases of vaccinated Americans still getting infected with Covid-19, but the vast majority who have found themselves infected and hospitalized are unvaccinated, according to officials.

State data from Alabama shows there have been 500 deaths from Covid-19 since the beginning of April, and only 20 of those deaths were people who were fully vaccinated.

In the wake of her comments, Ivey, a Trump supporter, has earned surprising praise from liberals on social media for venting her frustration against those still refusing to get inoculated.

Many critics, however, have also claimed it’s ‘too little, too late’ and Ivey’s past and current support of Republicans nixes her argument.

Ivey previously earned praise from conservatives for being one of multiple governors to ban potential ‘vaccine passports’ in her state.

She has also announced this week that masks will not be required when students go back to school in the fall, something many liberal activists have argued should be mandated. Chicago Public Schools, for instance, announced this week that, regardless of vaccination status, students will be masking when they return to classes.

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48. Could Sean Penn force VACCINE MANDATE in Hollywood? Actor refuses to return to set until all are inoculated against Covid-19, 23 [−]

Sean Penn is refusing to return to work on the upcoming TV series Gaslit until Covid-19 vaccines are made mandatory for all crew members, in a controversial move that could lead to major changes in the industry.

Recently returning from a globe-trotting trip to the Cannes Film Festival to promote his directorial effort, ‘Flag Day,’ Penn has refused to continue working on the Starz series ‘Gaslit,’ in which he stars, which still has two weeks of production left to complete.

The actor has offered to facilitate the vaccination efforts free of charge through his organization CORE, which has helped administer tests and vaccines throughout the pandemic.

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Stickers that are given to people who have been vaccinated against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) are pictured in Los Angeles, California, US, April 12, 2021.
Vaccinated employees of California city required to wear stickers if they want to work without masks

‘Gaslit,’ which co-stars Julia Roberts, is a ’70s-set limited series focusing on various figures involved in the Watergate scandal, and is being shot in Burbank, California. The studio behind the project, NBCUniversal, had already sent a memo to ‘Zone A’ staff – cast members and any crew coming within close proximity of them – mandating vaccines and offering them for free at a clinic set up near the production’s base. But Penn apparently wants everyone on set to get a jab, even those he won’t be interacting with.

The actor, who is fully vaccinated himself, is reportedly insisting on expanding the vaccine mandate not out of personal concern, but rather to make a point about the safety of allowing too many unvaccinated people to continue working on a set, according to a report from Deadline.

Health officials in California, as in numerous other states, have continued warning about the Delta variant in recent weeks as the number of cases rise again, especially in Los Angeles where a mask mandate was just put back in place.

Penn has been one of the most vocal celebrities pushing for vaccinations and masking – although he’s also one of many accused of breaking the same Covid restrictions he was championing at the height of the pandemic – and this latest move could spell major changes for the industry as a whole.

Movie and television productions have been under strict safety protocols since they resumed, and only lengthy negotiations between studios and unions have led to the agreement whereby cast members and Zone A crew could be required to be vaccinated. Expanding this mandate could lead to labor-law issues and even see productions such as ‘Gaslit’ shut down.

While Penn has earned praise from vaccine enthusiasts for his assertive efforts, some on social media have reacted by mocking and questioning his risking ‘Gaslit’ crew members’ paychecks because of his crusade.

The controversial star has nonetheless earned praise from industry colleagues, including actress Ellen Barkin.

If he doesn’t return to work, he will delay the production still further, adding to the studio’s rising costs.

While at the Cannes Film Festival, Penn took the time to blast former president Donald Trump’s response to Covid-19, saying he had let the country down by spreading “half-truths” and “misinformation.”

“When my [CORE] team and I would come home from test and vaccination sites at night – particularly, during testing under Trump, to maddening news – it felt like someone with a machine gun was gunning down communities that were most vulnerable from a turret at the White House,” he said.

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49. Vaccinated employees of California city required to wear stickers if they want to work without masks, 23 [−]

A California city has ordered its employees to wear a sticker identifying their fully vaccinated status if they choose to come to work without a mask, amid a growing global trend of distinguishing the vaxxed from the uninjected.

The city of Montclair, located in California’s Pomona Valley, has decreed that starting next week, employees who want to work without a mask will have to wear a sticker showing they’ve had a Covid shot.

According to City Manager Edward Starr, the policy is designed to ensure that Montclair is in compliance with a June directive issued by California’s workplace safety board, which instructs all vaccinated workers in the state to submit evidence or sign a pledge they have been vaccinated if they choose to abstain from wearing a face mask.

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Healthcare workers at La Tour Hospital in Meyrin near Geneva, Switzerland, November 26, 2020.
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In response to recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, California issued new guidance in April stating that fully vaccinated individuals could forgo masks in most settings.

The city official claimed that California’s Department of Public Health was encouraging the use of stickers on employee ID badges “to demonstrate they have been fully vaccinated.” He dismissed the notion that the labels could be seen as potentially problematic, and stressed that the policy would help the city to fulfill state and federal guidelines.

Starr also pointed to the fact that the CDC offers a selection of printable stickers that workplaces can provide to employees who get vaccinated. However, it doesn't appear that the public health authority has issued guidance recommending stickers be used as forms of identification.

But the reasons given for the new measure didn’t persuade city councilman Ben Lopez, who argued the policy was a violation of employee privacy and warned it could result in Montclair getting dragged to court.

“This policy is being rushed through and rammed down the throats of our employees with no legal counsel being sought and no discussion from our City Council,” Lopez said during a council meeting earlier this week. “I think we are on shaky legal ground.”

The councilman expressed concern that the stickers could make employees “uncomfortable” around one another and that they may even create a “level of ostracism” in the workplace.

Starr pushed back against the criticism by claiming that a “number of complaints” about the city’s approach to certifying vaccination status had already been filed with state authorities. But Lopez openly challenged this allegation, noting that he hadn’t heard of a single case in which a city employee had objected to how Montclair deals with such matters.

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The councilman further claimed that several city workers had told him that they oppose the new sticker policy. In an interview with local media, Lopez said that he supported keeping Montclair’s former policy, whereby city employees submitted paperwork documenting their vaccination status. Those unable or unwilling to do so were required to mask up.

Although visible displays of vaccination status are still a rarity in the United States and abroad, countries around the world have begun to implement digital health IDs that are required for participation in many ordinary activities.

In Switzerland, the head of the country’s centrist Green Liberal Party advocated for people working in hospitals and other healthcare facilities to wear identification showing their vaccination status, purportedly as a way to reduce the possibility of transmission in high-risk settings.

The use of Star of David badges or other labels has become popular among protesters who object to global vaccine rollouts and other Covid measures. Such demonstrators have been routinely criticized and shamed by the media for their allegedly extremist views about worldwide vaccination drives, many of them now openly coercive.

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50. Pentagon admits it trained SEVEN of Haiti presidents murderers, but denies encouraging assassination, 23 [−]

The Pentagons top spokesman has confirmed that at least seven Colombians implicated in the assassination of Haitis president had received US training in the past, but denied it might have somehow encouraged the hit.

“Thus far, we’ve identified seven individuals who were former members of the Colombian military that had received some sort of ... US funded and provided education and training,” Defense Department spokesman John Kirby said on Thursday, stressing that such training is “very common,” and did not “[lead] to or [encourage] what happened in Haiti.”

While Kirby declined to provide details on an individual basis for the seven assassins, he said the instruction included “cadet leadership development, counter-drug operations, noncommissioned officer professional development, small-unit leadership training, human rights training, emergency medical training, some helicopter maintenance training, and those kinds of things.”

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He went on to say that he knew of no plans at the Pentagon to reconsider this “very valuable, ethical leadership training” program despite recent events in Haiti, which saw President Jovenel Moïse shot dead by gunmen at his home near Port-au-Prince earlier this month. Around two dozen suspects have since been brought into Haitian custody, the majority of them former members of Colombia’s military now working for private security firms, some based in the US.

The Pentagon had previously confirmed that some of the Colombian assassins had received American training, but declined to offer any details at the time.

Though Kirby repeatedly argued that the US training courses played no role in the presidential hit, the assassination comes as the latest in a long line of coups and murder plots involving US-trained foreign personnel. Since 2008, Africa alone has seen no fewer than seven military coups spearheaded by American-trained fighters. Among the most recent are two separate coups in Mali since August 2020, both led by US-trained Colonel Assimi Goïta.

Worldwide, the record on US training programs appears much more damning. Between 1970 and 2009, American-trained militants were involved in 165 coup attempts, according to research published in 2017 by Jonathan Caverley of the US Naval War College and Jesse Savage of Trinity College Dublin. Though their research was confined to only two specific programs, they found a “robust relationship between US training of foreign militaries and military-backed coup attempts.”

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51. CDC pitches Covid boosters for immunocompromised after Israels suit, as Pfizer jab loses efficacy against Delta infections, 23 [−]

A panel of US health experts has given tentative support to third vaccine doses for those with compromised immune systems. Such a policy is already in place in Israel, where Pfizers jab is reportedly losing efficacy.

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, which advises the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said on Thursday that booster shots for the immunocompromised could be the right move, as the medically vulnerable continue to fall ill even after being fully vaccinated.

However, the panel did not offer a fully fledged recommendation for third doses, maintaining that more data was needed, as well as input from the Food and Drug Administration, which has given only emergency approval for the three vaccines greenlighted in the US.

The immunocompromised include cancer patients and those undergoing chemotherapy, organ transplant recipients, and people with HIV, among other conditions that affect the immune system.

While many in that vulnerable category have received coronavirus vaccinations, the shots do not always produce the antibody response seen in healthy patients, meaning they do not receive the same protection and immunity. Some patients showed virtually no antibody response after the first of a two-dose mRNA vaccine, such as Pfizer’s or Moderna’s, the CDC panel said.

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Some nations, such as France and Israel, have already approved booster shots for the immunocompromised amid the rapid spread of the Delta variant, a coronavirus mutation first observed in India. The UK is also now considering a similar policy.

In Israel, moreover, Pfizer’s Covid-19 shot has been steadily losing its overall effectiveness against the virus, which health officials say is likely due to the more contagious variant. After reporting that the vaccine had slipped to 64% effectiveness against any level of symptomatic infection earlier this month, the Health Ministry said it had further dropped to just 39% on Thursday.

The Pfizer shot was previously reported as more than 90% effective for infections of any severity, though the ministry said it remained 88% effective against hospitalizations and just over 91% against “severe symptoms.”

The new Israeli data comes with a catch, however, as much of it was collated in a Covid ‘hot spot’ where many elderly patients live, meaning the sample does not necessarily represent the country’s population. Some analysts have also warned of other pitfalls in the effectiveness data, arguing the numbers may not paint an accurate picture.

“Any attempt to deduce severe-illness vaccine effectiveness from semi-crude illness rates among the yes or no vaccinated is very, very risky,” said Ran Balicer, who chairs Israel’s national expert panel on Covid-19, adding that the approach may be “horribly skewed.”

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Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, July 19, 2021 file photo.
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Another expert on health stats at the Israel Institute of Technology, Dvir Aran, also insisted the Health Ministry was relying on “bad research,” saying “The problems aren’t with the vaccine, they are with the data.”

[The research] skews the results to make the vaccine seem less effective than it is.

As Israel and other nations appear to be inching closer to universal booster shots, US health officials have been more hesitant, notwithstanding Thursday’s preliminary recommendation. Though Pfizer has already announced it would seek FDA approval for a third dose of its vaccine earlier this month, top White House Covid adviser Anthony Fauci downplayed the move, insisting that boosters were “not needed at this time.” He nonetheless left that door open, saying that US health bodies were still studying the question and might later change their stance.

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52. Texas lawmaker claims fugitive Dems were exempt from mask rules when they flew to DC and they didnt know about Covid-19 surge, 23 [−]

Texas Democrat legislators arent slinking away quietly after their maskless, charter-jet junket to DC became a Covid super-spreader event. One is arguing that the group broke no rules and they didnt know cases were surging.

“TSA exempts private, non-commercial flights from the mask requirement,” state Representative Donna Howard said on Thursday in a Twitter post. The lawmakers “had been meeting at the Capitol without masks for several months, and we continued that practice, as we had been fully vaccinated.”

Howard and her colleagues have been criticized for jetting to Washington sans masks when they fled Texas earlier this month to block votes on Republican-backed bills they couldn’t defeat. Six of the Democrats, including Howard, have since caught Covid-19, and White House and congressional staffers tested positive after attending events with the group, including meetings with Vice President Kamala Harris, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and other party leaders.

“It was a political stunt, and it turned into a coronavirus super-spreader event, and I’m sure they still consider themselves heroes,” Senator John Barrasso (R-Wyoming) said on Wednesday.

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Howard may have intended to defuse some of the blowback by defending the mask-free flight, but social media observers weren’t buying her story. Some, including charter pilot Ben Pegram, pointed out that masks are required on such flights under Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and there is no such Transportation Security Administration exemption.

Howard was quickly ratioed on Twitter, too. Commenters mocked her, saying she had doubled down on being wrong” and incurred a debt to the truth” with every lie. Others noted the hypocrisy of imposing rules on others while violating CDC guidelines herself.

“You should respect human rights and not be a hypocrite,” podcast host Stephan Livera tweeted.

The apparent disconnect between supposed beliefs and actions was all the more glaring on Thursday, when Howard called for Texas to follow the science” and impose universal mask-wearing.”

Critics responded by posting pictures of Howard and her fellow Democrats on their private flight and on a bus without masks. One commenter quipped, I’m assuming someone photoshopped you into this super-spreader event.” Another asked, Do you people have mirrors, or you just lack shame?”

Perhaps not sure that her exemption explanation would suffice, Howard added, Unfortunately, the spike in infections from Delta variant became apparent immediately after our flight. Had we known at the time, we would have worn masks.

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It’s not clear what Howard meant by immediately,” since her mask-less traveling party rode charter buses together before and after arriving in the nation’s capital. Nor is it clear how elected officials who make the laws were unaware that Covid-19 infections had been rising for weeks amid the spread of the Delta variant, then became aware right after flying to Washington with a case of beer.

“It’s a lie that it wasn’t clear, and besides, you were still in violation of federal regulations,” Twitter user Gerry Dales said. You have no excuses, and you deserve all the fallout you get from this ill-considered publicity stunt.”

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53. Several injured, people flee in panic as dozens of gunshots ring out on busy street in Washington, DC (VIDEOS), 23 [−]

An apparent drive-by shooting in a crowded area of Washington, DC has left at least two men injured, police told local media, with reports of more than a dozen shots erupting on one of the citys busiest streets.

The shooting unfolded on DC’s 14th Street Northwest on Thursday, reporters on the scene said, some noting the area includes a number of high-end restaurants. Police told a journalist with a local Fox affiliate that the two men wounded were “conscious and breathing,” while another DC-based reporter noted that one victim had been hit in the arm, the other in the chest.

Video footage taken near the Le Diplomate restaurant captured a volley of gunfire, which CNN’s Jim Acosta said was “a few blocks” away from the site of the shooting.

Other clips and photos of the scene circulated online showed first responders tending to injuries and police securing the area.

One Twitter user who claimed to have witnessed the incident said they believed it to be a drive-by shooting, but police have so far not confirmed that detail. The authorities did say, however, that the suspect, a black male, fled the scene in a black Honda Civic immediately after the incident. At the time of writing, the shooter was still at large.

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54. Better late than never? House passes bill against forever chemicals in foot-dragging spectacle, after just ONE state enacts ban, 23 [−]

The House of Representatives has passed a bill to ban PFAS so-called forever chemicals that make products stain- and water-resistant unless their use is deemed unavoidable. Maine has banned the toxic substances from 2030.

“This overdue legislation will save lives,” Rep. Lori Trahan (D-Massachusetts), a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, declared on Wednesday. In addition to cleaning up existing PFAS contamination, the law would both help people who have suffered exposure to the deadly chemicals and avoid future exposure.

However, the nationwide version of the bill hasn’t quite become law, and requires President Joe Biden’s signature before it can take effect. Biden, who has promised to crack down on PFAS by designating them “hazardous substances,” announced that $75 million would be set aside in the 2022 budget to study forever chemicals and address the issues that come with decontamination.

The chemicals are already known to be associated with illnesses such as kidney cancer, immunological problems, and thyroid hormone issues, and have been removed from food packaging and other uses where they are likely to be accidentally ingested, but the companies that make them – 3M, DuPont, and other big-time political donors – have derailed previous presidents’ efforts to get tough on the polluters. It’s not clear whether the president – who infamously promised the donor establishment that “nothing will fundamentally change” under his presidency – is willing to risk the support of Big Chemical.

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Trahan’s office also hopes to clean up constituents’ water, announcing plans for a 10,500 square-foot (975 square-meter) water treatment plant designed to filter PFAS out of contaminated wells. However, her efforts to get a similar measure passed in the Senate have not yet borne fruit, and some 200 million Americans are currently drinking PFAS in their own water – a testament to how difficult it is to remove the chemical from water supplies once it infiltrates them.

However, some progress is being made, if infinitesimal. Similar legislation passed in the state of Maine last week, though locals complained it wouldn’t take effect until 2030, leaving residents to effectively poison themselves in the meantime should they fail to keep an eye out for products labeled “non-stick, stain-resistant” and so on. The forever chemicals are already pervasive in the drinking water of some 2,000 communities across the US, including 50 public water sources in Massachusetts alone – and that’s just reports from this year. Starting in 2023, companies that manufacture such products must notify the state as well.

The Maine law – the first of its kind – was hailed as “a national model for policymakers to eliminate all but the ‘essential’ uses of PFAS in products,” with the loophole usable for “critical products such as medical devices” and fire-fighting foam, according to environmental health group Defend Our Health. The products have been the target of several lawsuits in recent years, including a $671 million settlement with DuPont and Chemours regarding a perfluorooctanoic acid (a PFAS chemical) leak in 2017.

The toxic nature of PFAS and their sister chemicals has not exactly been a secret all these years. Polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl substances are all but impossible to remove from the body, hence the term “forever chemicals.” The Environmental Protection Agency is also seeking to step up the timetable regarding regulation and removal of these chemicals from drinking water, as once the substances enter the body, they are essentially impossible to extricate.

German sampling technicians take soil samples in a field near the US military airfield in Katterbach, Bavaria after an elevated concentration of PFAS in the soil and groundwater at the US barracks was discovered. June 15, 2021. Global Look Press / Daniel Karmann / dpa

The 9,000 chemicals in question do not break down naturally, instead accumulating in the environment throughout the food chain. While it might seem shocking that Maine was the first state to ban them, their ubiquity has presented something of a brick wall to those seeking a place to start with regard to removal. Getting other states on board also represents a major challenge.

Advocacy organization Environmental Working Group has been bringing public attention to PFAS since only the mid-2000s, meaning the cleanup effort is impossibly far behind, given the rapidity at which these toxins are generated, and the rate at which they poured into public consumption starting with the ‘Better Living Through Chemistry’ post-WW2 era. However, the additional $26 million the EPA would receive under Biden’s budgetary request made in April would be a much-welcome sum compared to the $49 million the agency received to combat the toxic substances this past year.

But Defend Our Health noted the time for studying “forever chemicals” had come and gone. “We’re well past the time of needing more research in order to declare PFAS as a class of hazardous substances, or to establish a truly health protective [maximum contaminant level] for drinking water,” deputy director Patrick MacRoy told Bloomberg earlier this year, adding that PFAS contamination had already forced the shutdown of multiple farms in Maine.

We could easily spend $75 million in Maine alone and still not ‘tackle’ PFAS pollution.

While 3M has tacitly admitted PFAS might not be the best substances for humans to be ingesting, noting “the science of PFAS continues to evolve,” the company insists “the weight of scientific evidence does not show PFOA or PFOS cause harm in people at current or past levels found in the environment.” Both are types of PFAS. Along with other companies, including DuPont, it recently settled a $4 billion lawsuit over the chemicals.

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55. Texas truckers face charges for smuggling HUNDREDS of migrants, but others just WALK across, 23 [−]

Three Texas residents are facing charges over two incidents of smuggling migrants into the US from Mexico in truck trailers. Meanwhile, hundreds of migrants a day are walking across the border, confident they wont be sent back.

Marc Anthony Bane, 45, and Tara Renee Dillon, 33, were taken before a US magistrate judge on Thursday to answer charges of attempting to smuggle 89 migrants in a tractor trailer, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) has said.

The day before, the same judge heard the charges against Michael Warren McCoy, 43, caught with 115 migrants in a refrigerated trailer.

Bane and Dillon were caught when a Border Patrol service dog in the Laredo sector noticed a smell coming from the truck stopped at a checkpoint on Interstate 35 in the middle of the night – only for agents to discover the migrants sweating profusely inside. Mccoy was pulled over by police on Highway 59, for failing to stay in a single lane.

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The DOJ did not say when the two incidents took place. Trailer smuggling seems to be a growing trend, as, earlier this month, Border Patrol arrested three US citizens and 74 migrants being smuggled in two trailers in the Big Bend sector of Texas.

Bane and Dillon allegedly expected to be paid $1,000 for the run. Charges against Mccoy allege he expected to be paid just $250 for his human cargo – and that he had made three such trips previously. All three face up to 10 years in federal prison and a fine of up to $250,000 if found guilty.

Tractor trailers are a particularly risky way for migrants to try to cross borders illegally, especially in the summer heat. In July 2017, nine migrants from Latin America were found dead inside a trailer that ended up abandoned in a San Antonio Walmart parking lot. In one of the worst cases in recent history, 71 migrants were found dead of suffocation and heat in Austria in August 2015.

The hundreds of migrants crammed into trucks and trailers are a drop in the tide of those currently crossing the US-Mexico border, however. Border Patrol says almost 1,000 people a day cross from Mexico in Del Rio, Texas alone. Many of them are from Haiti and African countries, according to Fox News reporter Bill Melugin, who documented their arrival on Thursday.

The Biden administration insists the surge in arrivals is seasonal, or caused by climate change, violence, or poverty – but not in any way by their revocation of the Trump administration’s immigration policies aimed at discouraging illegal immigration.

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56. More American voters want the 2020 BLM riots investigated than Democrat probe of Capitol insurrection poll, 22 [−]

A new poll suggests that most Americans believe Congress is investigating the wrong riot, amplifying the magnitude of the US Capitol insurrection while showing no concern over last summers burning and looting of major cities.

The Rasmussen Reports poll, released on Wednesday, found that 66% of American voters believe Congress should investigate the Black Lives Matter riots that spread across the nation following the May 2020 slaying of George Floyd in police custody. That compares with 49% who support House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s select committee probe of the January 6 Capitol riot.

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The findings come amid continuing political polarization over the Capitol breach, which President Joe Biden and other Democrats have touted as a racially motivated insurrection and “the worst attack on our democracy since the Civil War.” Pelosi on Wednesday rejected two of the five Republican appointees to the investigative committee, at which point House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said the GOP would not participate in the “sham process.”

The BLM riots left dozens of people dead and 2,000 police officers injured. In Minneapolis alone, property destruction was the worst the US has seen from civil unrest since the Los Angeles Rodney King riot of 1992. Four people died during the Capitol riot, which sprang from a protest of alleged election fraud. Three were protesters who died of natural causes, such as heart attack. The fourth was a rioter who was shot by a police officer. Also, hours after the riot, Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick died from a stroke in his office.

Only 21% of respondents in the Rasmussen poll said they would oppose a congressional investigation of the BLM riots, just half the percentage who don't believe Congress should probe the Capitol riot. While most of last summer's BLM demonstrations were peaceful, more than 500 turned violent.

Voter support for investigating the BLM riots is similar across all racial groups. About 67% of whites, 64% of blacks and 66% of Hispanics said such a probe should be done. Even 60% of Democrats agreed that the violent protests should be investigated, compared with 75% of Republicans and 63% of independents.

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The National Police Association (NPA), which partnered with Rasmussen on the poll, said voter support for a probe of the summer riots stems from the conduct of local politicians – both in their handling of the violent demonstrations and in policies they say made cities less safe in the aftermath.

“When the mayors of cities in which violent riots took place in 2020 refused to let police immediately stop the crimes taking place, it sent a message to violent criminals across the nation that crimes will be allowed and criminals won’t be touched,” the NPA said in a statement.

For the last year, violent crimes have increased nationally, and the lack of support from politicians has resulted in the number of police officers declining into a short-staffing recruitment and retention crisis.

The Rasmussen poll showed that 63% of voters believe BLM rioters and looters should be prosecuted, just as Capitol riot participants have been. Likewise, 65% said Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris should meet with the family of retired St. Louis police captain David Dorn, who was murdered during a BLM riot, just as they did with Floyd’s family.

About 65% of respondents said they disagree with the BLM claim that the American flag and pro-police flags are symbols of racism. And 53% agreed that Congress should award medals to officers who defended their cities during the 2020 riots, just as Pelosi called for Capitol Police members to get awards. Moreover, while 51% believe that politicians who downplay the Capitol breach deserve to be criticized, 62% said those who try to diminish the summer riots merit rebukes.

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57. Sounds very ethical and anonymous!: Hunter Biden WILL meet potential art buyers, fueling accusations of influence-peddling, 22 [−]

Hunter Biden will meet prospective buyers before he auctions his art this fall, despite the White Houses promise that sales will be anonymous. Fresh accusations of corruption have been leveled at the Biden family.

Hunter Biden, son of President Joe Biden, says he took up painting while recovering from a crack cocaine addiction. When news broke that he was planning on selling these paintings at a show in New York later this year, the Biden administration headed off conservative outrage with a convoluted scheme that it said would stop buyers using the sale to purchase favor from the Bidens.

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“After careful consideration, a system has been established to allow Hunter Biden to work in his profession within reasonable safeguards,” Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters earlier this month. Psaki said that a gallery owner would price Hunter’s art, that the identity of buyers would be kept secret from Hunter and his family, and that bids above the asking price would be rejected.

Not any more. Hunter will in fact meet potential buyers before his paintings go to sale, CBS News reported on Wednesday. Georges Berges Gallery spokeswoman Robin Davis told CBS that Biden will be at two shows before the sale, one in Los Angeles and one at the Georges Berges Gallery itself in New York.

Davis said that attendees at the shows will be “vetted,” the White House said that "the president has established the highest ethical standards of any administration in American history,” and a source told CBS that “Hunter Biden will not discuss potential purchases, prices, or anything related to the selling of artwork.”

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Yet the public will never know what Hunter and the buyers discuss. These discussions will be beyond the reach of the Freedom of Information Act, and the deal announced by Psaki includes no enforcement mechanisms. Regular Americans, who haven’t actually seen the ethics deal itself, are being asked to trust the White House and the Bidens at their word.

Conservatives are skeptical. “Turns out those ‘anonymous sales’ will be anonymous to everyone BUT Hunter Biden and the buyers,” Colorado Rep. Ken Buck (R) tweeted. “Sounds pretty shady to me.”

“Sounds like a very ethical and anonymous art sale!” Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton (R) tweeted.

“Hunter Biden will meet with prospective buyers of his absurdly overpriced, presidency-profiting art,” tweeted Walter Shaub, former head of the Office of Government Ethics during the Obama administration. “Good grief. The president has such a blind spot on this issue. I really hope he and his son come to their senses.”

Hunter’s art itself has received mixed reviews. Multiple critics and experts told the New York Post that the works are “pretty strong” and “compelling.” However, Pulitzer Prize-winning art critic Sebastian Smee told CNN last week that the paintings are “nothing much to see,” and “you wouldn’t, unless you were related to the artist, spend more than $1,000 on it.” Nevertheless, the first son’s paintings are expected to sell for as much as $500,000 a piece.

Flogging art at this price wouldn’t be the first time Hunter has been handsomely rewarded for work with no prior experience. During his dad’s tenure as vice president, Hunter Biden raked in $50,000 per month on the board of directors of a Ukrainian energy firm, despite never working in the energy sector before. While on the board he introduced his father to a Burisma executive who asked him for “influence.”

Hunter Biden also got involved with business ventures in China, according to leaked emails, seeking tens of millions of dollars for “introductions alone,” with 10 percent of one proposed venture kicked up to “the big guy,” an apparent reference to Joe Biden.

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58. The carrot is no longer going to work: CNN exec says in leaked email that US should rethink carrot vs. stick vaccination drive, 22 [−]

A CNN executive has hinted that there need to be more forceful measures to increase Covid vaccine uptake in the US, after grumbling about the issue in an email that he mistakenly sent to a conservative activist.

The peculiar message was revealed by Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who showed a screengrab of the email in question.

“FW: #NEWS: A majority of unvaccinated Americans say they’re unlikely to get the Covd-19 vaccine, regardless of outreach efforts,” read the email’s subject line.

The author of the email, identified by Carlson as CNN’s Washington bureau chief, wrote to a colleague: "This is the point re: carrot vs. stick. The carrot is no longer going to work..."

Although the Fox host didn’t identify him by name, CNN’s Washington bureau is currently headed by the network’s senior vice president, Sam Feist.

The suggestive commentary likely would have remained shielded from public scrutiny had the CNN bigwig in question not accidentally sent it to Charlie Kirk, a popular conservative activist and commentator.

CNN confirmed the authenticity of the email, but insisted that there was nothing newsworthy about its contents.

“The email, mistakenly sent to Kirk, was simply acknowledging that current vaccination incentives are losing steam,” the network said in a statement.

Kirk appeared on Carlson’s program to discuss the strange email.

“Is it CNN’s stated position now that they’re going to try to administer medicine under the threat of punishment?” the conservative pundit asked. Referring to the “carrot vs. stick” analogy used in the email, Kirk wondered aloud: “What does the stick look like in CNN’s world?”

Reacting to the segment on Twitter, CNN’s Brian Stelter argued that Carlson had twisted the email to push an “outright lie” about the news network.

“CNN has 4,000 staffers. One exec sends an email about vaccine hostility opining that ‘the carrot is no longer going to work.’ Carlson obtains it. And his show turns it into an outright lie: ‘CNN WANTS TO USE A 'STICK' ON THE UNVACCINATED’,” Stelter wrote.

The Biden administration aimed to have 70% of US adults receive at least one Covid shot by July 4. Currently, around 66% of American adults have had their first dose, while 57% have been fully vaccinated. Among the general population, 49% are fully inoculated. While there are no federal mandates forcing Americans to get jabbed, medical facilities, universities and other institutions have created their own compulsory vaccination rules.

Washington’s Covid czar Dr. Anthony Fauci recently raised eyebrows after suggesting that local mandates would eventually require most Americans to get vaccinated if they want to be part of society.

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59. CIA taps Bin Laden hunter to probe mystery Havana syndrome plaguing spies & diplomats, as US says cases hit 200 reports, 22 [−]

The CIA has tasked a veteran officer involved in the decade-long hunt for Osama Bin Laden to investigate the so-called Havana syndrome afflicting US spies and diplomats overseas, the Wall Street Journal reported.

CIA Director William Burns recently selected the intelligence officer, who has not been identified, to lead a task force to investigate the unexplained symptoms, the Journal reported on Wednesday, citing “current and former officials familiar with the matter.”

The agency reportedly launched the task force in February, while a separate State Department initiative also got underway in March, led by Pamela Spratlen, a former ambassador to Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan between 2011 and 2018.

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A number of observers online found irony in the new appointment, recalling that the search for the Al-Qaeda figurehead took over a decade, following Washington’s invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

Bin Laden was ultimately located in 2011 in a village just north of the Pakistani capital, having slipped out of Afghanistan in the early days of the US war, which continued for another 20 years regardless. According to journalist Seymour Hersh, his whereabouts had long been known by Pakistani intelligence, which works closely with the American intel community.

While its cause remains unknown, the “Havana syndrome” has affected up to 200 Americans since it was first detected at the US Embassy in Cuba in 2016, US officials claimed on Tuesday. They said nearly half of the reported cases had involved CIA officers or their relatives, while the others were divided between Pentagon and State Department personnel. A range of symptoms have been linked with the ailment, including dizziness, cognitive problems, nausea, fatigue, and severe headaches.

Last December, a panel at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine concluded that a “directed, pulsed radio frequency (RF) energy” device was the likely culprit behind the mysterious illness. However, other experts have voiced doubt about the ‘directed energy’ hypothesis, including Cheryl Rofer, who worked as a chemist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory for nearly four decades.

“The evidence for microwave effects of the type categorized as Havana syndrome is exceedingly weak,” she wrote in a May op-ed for the magazine Foreign Policy. “No proponent of the idea has outlined how the weapon would actually work. No evidence has been offered that such a weapon has been developed by any nation.”

Other theories have also been floated. While the Associated Press released audio in 2017 of a cricket-like sound purported to be a “sonic attack” on US diplomats in Cuba, a pair of experts reviewed the recording and determined it didn’t merely sound like insects, but literally was the mating call of the male Indies short-tailed cricket. Neurologists that spoke with The Guardian suggested mass hysteria could explain the Havana syndrome, saying the symptoms could be psychosomatic rather than the result of an advanced weapon.

Washington has nonetheless sought to subtly cast blame on Moscow for the strange symptoms, with numerous media reports citing unnamed “top officials” who “privately suspect that Russia is responsible for the Havana syndrome.” Little to no evidence has been provided to support the claim, however.

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60. Top US general Milley insists military is apolitical as he dodges questions about white rage & critical race theory comments, 22 [−]

While US Army General Mark Milley ducked questions about his past comments on such politically polarizing topics as white rage and critical race theory (CRT), he wanted to make one thing clear: the military is apolitical.

Speaking at a Pentagon press briefing on Wednesday, Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, declined when pressed to elaborate on his congressional testimony last month linking the US Capitol riot to “white rage” and defending the military's teaching of CRT.

“I’m not gonna address specifically white rage or black rage or Asian rage or Irish rage or English rage or German rage or any other rage,” Milley told reporters. “The events of January 6 happened. Those are all gonna get sorted out.” He added that it was important for the military to understand not only foreign societies, but “our own society – to understand the soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and the society they’re coming from.”

Asked again about his use of the term “white rage,” Milley said “I’m not going to discuss it right now. I think it’s a very complicated topic, and we don’t have the time to go into the nuance of it right this minute. I can do that later. I’ll be happy to do that later.”

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Milley had used the phrase when testifying to the House Armed Services Committee about the Capitol breach, saying, “I want to understand white rage, and I’m white. What is it that caused thousands of people to assault this building and try to overturn the constitution of the United States of America?”

He also bristled at suggestions by some members of Congress that military leaders were “woke,” and defended a West Point seminar on CRT, saying it was critically important for leaders to be “open-minded and widely read.”

Milley also sidestepped a question about media reports in the past week about a new book in which it’s alleged he made plans with other military officials last fall to prevent then-president Donald Trump from attempting a “coup” if he lost the November election.

“I know there’s a lot of interest out there in all of these books that are out there, and quoting me and lots of others, etc.,” he said. “I’m not going to comment on what’s in any of those books.” He added that he had always provided his best military advice, regardless of who was president, and that the Pentagon had “maintained the tradition of an apolitical military.”

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin defended Milley, insisting he didn’t “have a political bone in his body.”

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61. No need to worry about a federal vaccine mandate, Fauci says, as local entities will likely do the job of forcing Covid-19 jabs, 22 [−]

Dr. Anthony Fauci has raised the volume of his Covid-19 alarm bells, warning that vaccinated Americans should wear masks indoors, as local mandates force the unvaccinated to get jabbed if they want to participate in society.

“I don’t think you’re going to see a central mandate,” Fauci, the chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden, said in a CNBC interview on Wednesday. “I think there will be a reflex pushback on that.”

But what I do see in the future are local mandates – at local businesses, local universities and colleges – so that if people want to do things and be able to participate in activities, they will get vaccinated.

Fauci made his comments amid the spread of the more contagious Delta variant of Covid-19, which has prompted local governments such as Los Angeles County’s to reimpose mask mandates regardless of vaccination status. Contrary to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines suggesting that people who’ve been inoculated against the virus don’t need to wear face coverings, Fauci said vaccinated Americans should consider masking up indoors to guard against the Delta variant.

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“If you want to go the extra mile of safety, even though you’re vaccinated, when you’re indoors, particularly in crowded places, you might want to consider wearing a mask,” Fauci said. He added that rising Covid-19 infections in vaccinated people reflect the variant’s “extraordinary capability of transmitting from person to person.”

The Biden administration missed his target of having 70% of US adults vaccinated with at least their first dose by July 4. The current first-jab rate among adults is under 66%, and only 57% are fully inoculated, according to CDC data. Among the entire American population, around 49% are fully vaccinated.

The Biden administration has repeatedly said there are no plans to issue a federal mandate or introduce a centralized ‘vaccine passport’ scheme to access public places, but Fauci has increasingly agitated for municipalities, institutions, and private entities to achieve the same effect through local requirements. He predicted earlier this month in a CNN interview that local mandates will become more common once Covid-19 vaccines have received full approval from the Food and Drug Administration, rather than being distributed under emergency authorizations, as is currently the case.

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62. Federal judge halts enforcement of Arkansas ban on surgeries, hormones, & puberty blockers for transgender kids, 22 [−]

The Arkansas state government cannot enforce a law banning doctors from providing gender-confirming treatments to transgender minors, a federal judge ruled, temporarily striking down the ban as an ACLU lawsuit proceeds against it.

US District Judge Jay Moody granted a preliminary injunction against the law on Wednesday, siding with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in a suit launched in May. The court ruled that depriving patients of the treatments in question “midstream” would cause “irreparable harm.”

“Arkansas’ trans health ban has been BLOCKED by the court. We won’t rest until this cruel and unconstitutional law has been struck down for good,” the ACLU’s Arkansas branch said of the ruling.

Passed in April by state lawmakers, the treatment ban would prohibit doctors from providing gender-confirming surgeries, hormones, or puberty blockers to patients under the age of 18. It would also put restrictions on state funds and the insurance coverage used for that care.

Before Wednesday’s injunction, the law was set to take effect on July 28, but will now go unenforced as the ACLU suit moves ahead.

READ MORE: Arkansas becomes first state to ban surgery, hormones and puberty blockers for transgender youths

Though the measure was initially blocked by Governor Asa Hutchinson, the state’s Republican-controlled legislature overrode his veto by a wide margin in both chambers. The governor reiterated his opposition to the ban after Moody’s ruling, predicting it would ultimately be struck down for good.

“While this is a preliminary ruling, it appears the act will be struck down as unconstitutional for the same reason that I vetoed it,” he said in a statement on Wednesday, adding that the ban “was too extreme and did not provide any relief” for trans youths already undergoing such treatments.

The ACLU sued the state in May on behalf of four transgender teens and two doctors, arguing the treatment ban is “cruel and unconstitutional,” and would be “devastating for trans youth and their families.” It is one among several similar cases the civil liberties organization is currently pursuing, with others challenging state-level bans related to transgender athletes. In another ruling on Wednesday, a federal judge in West Virginia also sided with the ACLU, stopping the state enforcing a law that aimed to “protect” biological females from competing against biological males in school sports.

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63. Feds slap Ohio incel with hate crime & weapons charges over alleged revenge slaughter plot, 22 [−]

An Ohio man has been charged with attempting to commit a hate crime and possessing a machine gun. The man reportedly posted on incel forums and planned a slaughter of women out of hatred, jealousy and revenge.

Tres Genco, 21, of Hillsboro, was arrested by federal agents and charged by a grand jury on Wednesday, according to an indictment published by the Justice Department. He is accused of plotting to commit a hate crime and illegally possessing a machine gun, with the hate crime charge carrying a possible life sentence and the weapons charge a sentence of 10 years in prison.

Genco was investigated last year by sheriff’s deputies, who found body armor and a Glock handgun modified with a bump stock device – possibly the “machine gun” mentioned in the indictment – in his house. Investigators soon found out that he had allegedly posted on online forums for ‘incels’ – short for “involuntary celibate,” or men who believe they have been unfairly denied romantic or sexual relationships with women.

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Genco allegedly scoped out a college in Ohio last January, before searching the internet for information on “planning a shooting crime” and “when does preparing for a crime become an attempt?”

A common term among young internet users, ‘incel’ was thrust into mainstream discourse in 2014, when 22-year-old Elliot Rodger killed six people at the University of California in Santa Barbara. In the run-up to his rampage, Rodger recorded videos outlining his plan to “punish” women for not being attracted to him, and penned a manifesto plotting a “Day of Retribution.”

Genco allegedly wrote a manifesto too, stating in it that he would “slaughter” women “out of hatred, jealousy, and revenge” and referring to death as the “great equalizer.” He is accused of planning the attack to coincide with the anniversary of Rodger’s killing spree, and described an incident in which he supposedly squirted women and couples with orange juice from a water gun as an “extremely empowering action.” Rodger did the same before his rampage.

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Genco is not the first man to allegedly have drawn inspiration from Rodger’s massacre. In 2018, another self-described ‘incel,’ Alek Minassian, mowed down 26 people with a van in Toronto, Canada, killing 10. He told investigators he was an admirer of Rodger and had been in touch with him online, adding that he hoped his vehicular rampage would inspire further attacks. He was found guilty in March on 10 counts of first-degree murder.

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64. Harvey Weinstein, movie mogul who gave rise to #MeToo movement, pleads not guilty to sex-crime charges in California, 22 [−]

Fresh from being extradited to California from a New York prison, disgraced Hollywood movie producer Harvey Weinstein has pleaded not guilty to 11 sex-crime charges, including four counts of rape, in Los Angeles.

Defense lawyer Mark Werksman entered the plea on Weinstein's behalf on Wednesday in Los Angeles County Superior Court. Weinstein, co-founder of the once-powerful studio Miramax, was shackled and brought into the courtroom by sheriff’s deputies in a wheelchair, wearing a brown jail jumpsuit and a Covid-19 mask pulled down under his nose.

The arraignment hearing came just one day after 69-year-old Weinstein arrived in California, ending his fight against being extradited to the state. He was sentenced to 23 years in a New York prison in March 2020, after being convicted in that state of raping one woman, an aspiring actress, and forcing a second, a production assistant, to perform oral sex.

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FILE PHOTO: Harvey Weinstein is shown arriving at a court in New York City in February 2020, when jurors were deliberating on sexual-assault charges against him.
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In California, Weinstein is accused of sexual assaults on five unidentified actresses and models. The alleged incidents occurred from 2004 to 2013, mostly in Los Angeles and Beverly Hills hotel rooms. He faces charges of rape, forcible oral copulation, sexual battery by restraint, and sexual penetration by use of force.

“The big picture is that these allegations stem from many years ago, and that’s the problem the district attorney’s office is going to face,” Werksman said. “And that’s the problem all of these accusers face, in that they brought allegations that can’t be substantiated or corroborated by any forensic evidence, any contemporaneous reporting, any credible witnesses.”

Werksman told Judge Sergio Tapia that he will file a motion to dismiss three of the charges, saying they were beyond the statute of limitations. He called those charges “baseless” and “from long, long ago.” He added that he’s confident Weinstein will be acquitted if given a fair trial.

Los Angeles prosecutors obtained a grand jury indictment against Weinstein in March, so they won’t need a preliminary hearing to show probable cause that the allegations are true. That means the case will be able to advance to trial relatively quickly. Weinstein’s extradition agreement reportedly includes a provision that the trial begin by November, unless the defendant waives that right.

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Extradition proceedings were halted last year because of the Covid-19 pandemic, and Weinstein’s lawyers had argued unsuccessfully for his transfer to California to be delayed further on “humanitarian” grounds, given his medical ailments. Werksman asked on Wednesday for a health examination of Weinstein, citing such concerns as his client’s vision. “He’s going blind in one eye,” the lawyer said.

Starting in 2017, Weinstein was accused of sexually assaulting dozens of actresses and other young women, and of using pressure tactics to silence his victims. Some of his accusers, such as actresses Rosanna Arquette and Heather Graham, said Weinstein threatened to block them from getting film roles if they didn’t do what he wanted.

“Anyone who abuses their power and influence to prey upon others will be brought to justice,” Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascon said in a statement on Wednesday.

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65. Johnson & Johnson and other leading US drug distributors agree to $26bn settlement with states over their role in opioid epidemic, 22 [−]

US pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson and the nations three biggest drug distributors have agreed to pay a combined $26 billion to end the legal liability for their alleged roles in spurring the nations opioid crisis.

Attorneys general from seven states announced the deal on Wednesday, saying that Johnson & Johnson would pay $5 billion and distributors McKesson, Cardinal Health, and AmerisourceBergen about $21 billion combined. The money will be paid out over time – nine years for Johnson & Johnson and 18 years in the case of the distributors – and will go to states that agree to accept the settlement and forgo pursuing their own lawsuits against the companies.

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Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, whose state will receive more than $500 million, said the agreement fulfilled her promise of making companies that got rich off the opioid epidemic pay a price. The money will help fund programs to prevent and treat opioid addictions.

The companies face thousands of lawsuits over the crisis, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said caused nearly 500,000 deaths between 1999 and 2019. Johnson & Johnson is accused of pushing painkillers for excessive use and downplaying their addiction risks, while the distributors allegedly failed to do enough to stop the drugs flowing into illegal channels. Johnson & Johnson agreed last month to a $230-million settlement with New York state.

“These companies helped fuel the opioid crisis, which rages in our communities, Healey said. US overdose deaths rose to a record high last year, she added.

Under the latest agreement, Johnson & Johnson will be banned from making opioids, and the distributors will add new systems to track such products and prevent them ending up in the wrong hands.

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States could start receiving the money by early next year, but the settlement is contingent on getting the vast majority of state and local governments to sign on. At least 48 states must join to get the full payout, and 97 to 98% of local governments must agree to drop or forgo their claims, NBC News reported.

Hard-hit states such as West Virginia and Washington may stick with their own lawsuits. A trial in Washington’s lawsuit against McKesson, Cardinal Health, and AmerisourceBergen is scheduled to begin in September. Its case against Johnson & Johnson is slated to go to trial next January.

“The settlement is, to be blunt, not nearly good enough for Washington,” Bob Ferguson, the state’s attorney general, said in a statement. He added that even if the more than 300 Washington cities and counties join in the deal, a total of $527.5 million would be paid to the state over 18 years. Washington is seeking a “transformative” amount of money in order for state and local governments to address the epidemic, he said.

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66. Rand Paul to make criminal referral to DOJ after accusing Fauci of lying to Congress regarding gain-of-function virus research, 21 [−]

Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) is asking federal prosecutors to hold Dr. Anthony Fauci accountable for allegedly perjuring himself in congressional testimony over funding research that made an animal virus transmissible to humans.

“I will be sending a letter to the Department of Justice (DOJ) asking for a criminal referral because he has lied to Congress,” Paul said on Tuesday night in a Fox News interview.

The statement came hours after Paul sparred with Fauci, chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden, in a fiery Senate hearing over the Covid-19 pandemic. Fauci denied lying to Congress when he testified in May that the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) never funded so-called gain-of-function virus research at China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology.

Paul cited a paper by a Wuhan scientist on research into bat coronaviruses, funded by the NIH, and noted that it had been reviewed by MIT biologist Kevin Esvelt, who concluded that “certain techniques that the researchers used seemed to meet the definition of gain-of-function.”

Fauci reiterated that the research wasn't gain-of-function, as the NIH has also claimed, and told Paul, "You do not know what you are talking about, quite frankly, and I want to say that officially." He went on to accuse the senator of lying, saying Paul was suggesting that the NIH-funded research created Covid-19. Paul argued that Fauci was creating a straw man, repeatedly pointing out that he wasn't saying the viruses in question caused the pandemic.

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Anthony Fauci (L) and Rand Paul (R) clash during a Senate hearing on the federal government's coronavirus response in Washington, DC, July 20, 2021  Reuters / J. Scott Applewhite
You dont know what youre talking about!: Fauci LOSES IT with Sen. Rand Paul over Wuhan lab funding accusations

Lying to Congress is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison. Referrals to the DOJ by members of Congress are non-binding and often lead to nothing. Paul argued that there’s no question that the research in question is the epitome of gain-of-function.

“We have scientists that will line up by the dozens to say that the research he was funding was gain-of-function,” the senator told Fox. “He’s doing this because he has a self-interest to cover his tracks and to cover his connection to Wuhan lab.” He added that regardless of whether it’s proven that Covid-19 originated in the Wuhan lab, Fauci is “lying about whether or not he funded gain-of-function research, and yes, he should be punished.”

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Richard Grenell, former acting director of national intelligence in the Trump administration, was among those convinced of Fauci’s guilt, posting a video of Fauci’s hand shaking as he was being grilled by Paul. “He’s been outed,” Grenell said. “Dr. Fauci has no credibility. He’s imploded, and he has made the situation worse.”

Fauci has been portrayed as a hero of the pandemic by Democrat politicians and mainstream media outlets, despite flip-flopping on mask-wearing guidelines and other recommendations. Paul noted that Fauci controls billions of dollars in research funding, and claimed scientists are afraid to say anything critical of him.

“People are deathly afraid of him,” Paul told Fox. “Researchers won’t cross him. To cross him means it’s the last money you’ll ever get.”

He suggested, too, that Fauci is obfuscating the nature of the work done at the Wuhan lab to escape responsibility for his role in such research and for previously defending gain-of-function by saying the knowledge gained is worth the risk of causing a pandemic, which he argued would be unlikely.

“That’s just a terrible judgment, and we shouldn’t leave the future of mankind to one bureaucrat,” Paul told podcast host Brad Polumbo.

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67. NYC enveloped by haze from wildfire smoke all the way from West Coast, as air quality hits worst in 14 years (PHOTOS), 21 [−]

Smoke from the deadly West Coast wildfires has grown so massive it can be seen and breathed as far away as New York City, where the air quality was measured as the worst in over 14 years.

Weather experts said the fine particulate matter was seven times the acceptable health limit set by the World Health Organization.

Air quality in New York was measured as the worst worldwide on Tuesday – on par with Kolkata, India – owing to the raging wildfires on the West Coast, with state officials advising those with respiratory issues like asthma to avoid strenuous activity outdoors.

Despite the fires burning some 2,500 miles away, New Yorkers couldn’t help but see the effects, including an eerie orange tinge to the moon and a pervasive haze that left some Manhattan residents unable to even see across the Hudson River to New Jersey.

With more than 80 major wildfires burning in 13 states, most in the West, the city’s famous skyline has been enveloped in haze for the past two days, with similar effects visible from as far away as Philadelphia, Washington, DC, and Toronto.

The air quality index hit 157 in the city – far above the safe limit of 100 and the worst recorded anywhere on Wednesday – reportedly extending into the 160s that morning.

Conditions are bad enough to trigger breathing difficulties, from runny eyes and scratchy throat to irritation caused by inhaling soot particles called PM2.5, made up of the remnants of burnt trees and brush carried long distances on the wind. The particles can cause a wide range of health problems if inhaled.

It’s the second year in a row that these particles have made it all the way to New York, and appears to herald a disturbing trend – last year’s largest blazes began in Southern California and soon turned the sky in the northern part of that state a hellish orange as well.

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At least one of the wildfires is believed to have been caused in part by local utility PG&E, which has had a hand in causing fires for the last four years, while the largest fire so far, the Bootleg Fire in Oregon, is so massive it is creating its own weather patterns.

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68. Pelosi boots two Republicans off Capitol Hill riot committee, GOP responds by pulling out of sham investigation altogether, 21 [−]

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has kicked two Republicans off a committee she created to investigate the pro-Trump riot on Capitol Hill in January. Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy responded by pulling all Republicans from the panel.

In a statement on Wednesday, Pelosi said that she rejects the appointment of Republican Reps. Jim Banks (Indiana) and Jim Jordan (Ohio) to a select committee she formed last month to investigate the “root causes” of the pro-Trump riot at the US Capitol on January 6.

Like former President Donald Trump’s supporters who entered the Capitol, Banks and Jordan both objected to Joe Biden’s electoral victory and voted not to certify it. Both are close allies of the former president, and vocal critics of Pelosi. In her statement, Pelosi said that she wouldn’t object to three other Republican nominees, only one of whom voted not to certify Biden’s win.

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Pelosi names white supremacy & anti-Semitism as root causes of Capitol riot, announcing new Congress probe into insurrection'

“With respect for the integrity of the investigation, with an insistence on the truth and with concern about statements made and actions taken by these Members, I must reject the recommendations of Representatives Banks and Jordan to the Select Committee,” Pelosi’s statement read. “The unprecedented nature of January 6th demands this unprecedented decision.”

Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-California) responded by declaring that he would pull these remaining representatives from Pelosi’s committee, which he described as a “sham.”

“Unless Speaker Pelosi reverses course and seats all five Republican nominees, Republicans will not be party to their sham process and will instead pursue our own investigation of the facts,” McCarthy tweeted.

From its inception, the committee seemed designed to reach a predetermined conclusion. In a speech announcing its formation, Pelosi declared that “white supremacy...anti-Semitism,” and “Islamophobia” were all responsible for the riot. Even in her statement on Wednesday, Pelosi claimed that “the violent domestic attack on Congress on January 6th was the worst assault on the Capitol since the War of 1812 and the worst domestic assault on American Democracy since the Civil War.”

The riot itself was broken up in a matter of hours, and Congress swiftly resumed its business of certifying Biden’s win. Only one person died at the hands of another during the riot – an unarmed Trump supporter shot dead by a Capitol Police officer. Nevertheless, Pelosi and other top Democrats, and President Biden himself, have used the terms “insurrection,” “assault on democracy,” and “domestic terrorism” to describe it – and to push tough new domestic terror laws and policies.

Barring a few anti-Trump members within their ranks, Republicans generally oppose Democrat-led efforts to investigate the riot, which they view as a partisan exercise. Shortly before Pelosi announced her select committee last month, Republican Senators voted down a proposal to establish a 9/11-style commission to probe the riot.

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69. Missouri legislative committee condemned after hearing on teaching of critical race theory featured NO black participants, 21 [−]

Many Americans are up in arms, after it emerged that Missouri a state with a history of slavery held a legislative committee hearing on the teaching of critical race theory without the participation of any black people.

On Monday, the Missouri legislative committee, led by Republican senator Cindy O’Laughlin, held an invitation-only hearing concerning how students from kindergarteners through to 18-year-olds should be taught about race and racism.

However, the event has been widely slammed, after it emerged no one present at the hearing was black. In fact, O’Laughlin even admitted she wanted to use the session to hear more from parents who were upset by critical race theory lessons and who “have basically been turned away” by their local schools, according to local media.

Some people took to Twitter to vent their anger, describing the hearing as a “ridiculous travesty,” although others said they did not find it surprising at all in Missouri.

Even Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas condemned O’Laughlin’s hearing, saying those in attendance were “lining up on the wrong side of history.” He called the lack of black participants a “cruel” reminder that the state did not care about the voices of black parents or children. “Sadly not rare here,” he wrote.

Lucas’ perspective was strongly reinforced by others on social media, but some were less polite in their opposition. One person claimed that “Missouri [was] sticking with its slave state status with pride,” while another said that it was not even trying to hide its contempt for black people.

“They’ve ALWAYS thought they could speak for us ... this ain’t the 1800s and we’re NOT 12 years a Slave,” one person fumed.

Another pronounced the committee leaders as “insane” and suggested the slight may have been “viciously intended” by the Missouri GOP.

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The president of the Missouri chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Rod Chapel, labeled the meeting “ridiculous,” adding that the organizers clearly wanted only to gather information from those on one side of the argument.

In what is a traditionally conservative state, many people have balked at the teaching of critical race theory – the concept that racism is a core element of US history and remains systemically embedded both in US society in general and the legal system in particular.

Criticism of critical race theory teaching in Missouri has gone right to the top, with Governor Mike Parson tweeting his opposition on Tuesday to what he describes as “extreme teachings” in schools across the state.

In three tweets, the governor said critical race theory had “no business being taught in Missouri classrooms,” but said it should be up to the schools, with input from parents and teachers, to decide a way forward.

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70. US senators Sanders, Murphy & Lee introduce bipartisan bill to rein in presidential war powers & foreign weapons deals, 21 [−]

A bipartisan group of US senators has introduced sweeping reforms of executive war-making authority and rules governing arms sales and national emergencies, in an effort to claw back congressional powers from the White House.

Senators Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) put forward the National Security Powers Act on Tuesday – the latest effort to curtail presidential war powers, which have steadily accrued to the executive branch over several decades.

“I believe that we have become far too comfortable with the United States engaging in military interventions all over the world, and the time is long overdue for Congress to reassert its constitutional role in matters of war and peace,” Senator Sanders said in a press release announcing the new bill.

The lawmakers said the act had three main goals: clarifying and amending the original War Powers Resolution; reforming arms export regulations in a way that would require Congress to “affirmatively authorize” certain foreign weapons sales; and altering rules around national emergencies to prevent presidents from “exploiting a crisis to increase executive authority.”

Enacted in 1973 during the Vietnam War, the War Powers Resolution was meant to place a check on the White House’s ability to commit the country to armed conflict without lawmakers’ consent. However, as the US Constitution specifies that Congress must proactively declare a war, the Resolution effectively watered down that provision, allowing for armed action with a mere Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), which falls short of an outright declaration.

The new legislation would define key terms left unclear in the original War Powers Resolution, namely the meaning of “hostilities.” The senators said the word “has been interpreted so narrowly by the Executive branch that key aspects of the [War Powers Resolution] became almost meaningless.”

The bill would also add “teeth” to the resolution by automatically cutting off war funding unless the president secured Congressional approval, the senators said. While lawmakers currently require a veto-proof majority to terminate unauthorized military action, the bill would instead force the White House to obtain “specific statutory authorization” to keep a war going.

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Congress has not formally declared war since 1942, when it greenlighted operations against Nazi-allied Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria. American wars and interventions since have relied on various forms of AUMFs, such as the Vietnam-era Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, or the 2001 measure that authorized action against the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks. It has since been invoked for armed missions in at least 14 countries.

Though several older authorizations remain on the books – including those from 1991, 2001 and 2002, as well as a 1957 AUMF authorizing action against “international communism” – the National Security Powers Act would “sunset” those measures.

While the Act focuses primarily on presidential war powers, it also seeks to limit executive authority on foreign arms deals and the use of national emergencies.

The bill would force the White House to secure ‘affirmative’ approval for weapons sales that exceeded a certain dollar amount, reversing the current rules that require a significant majority of lawmakers to block a sale. It would also limit the president’s use of national emergency declarations, which the senators said could “unlock a vast array of ‘emergency powers.’” They noted that 37 such national emergencies remain in force, some originating in the 1970s.

The new legislation comes amid other attempts to restrain executive war powers, including a series of bills aimed at repealing several existing AUMFs. While the two chambers passed a bipartisan measure in 2019 that would have forced the end to US involvement in Saudi Arabia’s bombing campaign in Yemen, then-President Trump ultimately vetoed the bill. It marked the first time Congress had attempted to invoke the War Powers Resolution to end a foreign conflict since it was passed nearly a half-century earlier.

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71. Undercover FBI informants played key role in plot to kidnap Michigan governor, suspects claim, as they accuse govt of entrapment, 21 [−]

Several of the men accused of planning to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer say they were entrapped by the FBI, with government documents suggesting that at least 12 undercover informants played major roles in the scheme.

A lengthy investigation by BuzzFeed News – published on Tuesday and based on court filings, text and audio transcripts, and more than two dozen interviews with sources close to the case – claimed that the 12 informants and undercover agents “played a far larger role” in the kidnapping plot than was previously known.

“Working in secret, they did more than just passively observe and report on the actions of the suspects. Instead, they had a hand in nearly every aspect of the alleged plot, starting with its inception,” the outlet reported, noting that the scope of their involvement “raises questions as to whether there would have even been a conspiracy without them.”

So far, one of the 14 suspects in the case has formally accused the government of entrapment, saying the FBI actively drove the plot forward and helped to assemble its key planners, while lawyers for two others say they plan to raise similar claims in the future.

All but one of the 14 defendants – six of whom were slapped with federal counts, while eight others were charged under Michigan’s terrorism laws – have pleaded not guilty, insisting there was no serious plan to kidnap Whitmer. One defense attorney deemed the plot “big talk” between “crackpots” and “military wannabes.”

In the FBI’s original criminal complaint issued on October 6, 2020, the bureau acknowledged that it “relied on information provided by Confidential Human Sources (CHS) and Undercover Employees (UCE) over several months,” saying that, while all the informants were not present with the plotters at all times, “at least one … was usually present during the group meetings.”

The bureau mentioned only four undercover sources, however, including two actual agents, in its initial complaint – far fewer than the 12 ultimately revealed in later filings. The FBI also did not disclose the full extent of their involvement in the plot, though did note that some informants were paid for their work.

One of them, named as ‘CHS-2’ in the complaint, was paid at least $14,800, which the FBI says included “reporting and expenses,” while a source labeled ‘CHS-1’ was paid $8,600. It did not specify a reason for that payment.

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Though not included in the initial affidavit, it was later revealed that another informant, identified only as ‘Dan’ in government documents, was paid around $6,000 for “reimbursement for expenses” and another $24,000 for his “services” as a source. The bureau also purchased him a new car, deeming it a “witness protection expense.”

An Iraq War veteran, ‘Dan’ would become so deeply involved with the group of alleged kidnappers that he eventually rose to be its “second-in-command,” according to BuzzFeed. For around six months, he collected hundreds of hours of recordings of the group using a wire, encouraging suspects to collaborate with one another and “prodding” the ringleader to “advance his plan.” At times, he even paid to transport group members to meetings, as did another Wisconsin-based informant.

Last week, an attorney for one defendant filed a motion citing texts from an FBI agent to ‘Dan,’ saying they showed the bureau directed him to recruit specific people into the kidnapping conspiracy. The lawyer is now requesting all messages exchanged between the two, suggesting they could bolster an entrapment defense.

The group also arranged plans to purchase bomb-making materials from an undercover agent, as the FBI affidavit notes that four suspects planned to “meet with a UCE on October 7, 2020, to make payment on explosives and exchange tactical gear.” They were arrested before that meeting could happen, and the full extent of the agent’s involvement in the plot remains unclear.

While the US Department of Justice declined BuzzFeed’s requests for comment, the Michigan attorney general’s office downplayed the defendants’ claims, saying they were “not indisputable facts,” and that officials would “counter and correct these issues in court.”

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FILE PHOTO: Members of the 'Oath Keepers' militia protest against the certification of the 2020 US presidential election on Capitol Hill, Washington, DC, January 6, 2021  Reuters / Jim Bourg
Media hushes up report suggesting FBI involvement in Capitol riot, as White House turns anti-terrorism efforts on American people

The alleged plotters were arrested in October 2020, with many held without bail ever since. Authorities claim the group began preparing for the kidnapping in June of last year after months of discussions online, in which members frequently criticized Whitmer’s policies, namely Michigan’s draconian Covid-19 lockdowns. The group was said to have held several military-style training sessions and gathered thousands of dollars in weapons and gear for Whitmer’s abduction.

Though the government is likely to challenge the entrapment allegations, the FBI has come under fire for its questionable use of confidential informants in the past, particularly in cases linked to terrorism. In one high-profile case that culminated in 2012, members of another Michigan militia group accused of planning to kill a police officer were acquitted after the defense successfully argued the conspiracy was instigated by embedded FBI informants.

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72. DEA agent arrested for participating in US Capitol riot, allegedly flashing his badge & firearm while off duty, 21 [−]

An off-duty US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent who allegedly flashed his badge and gun while standing outside the Capitol during the January 6 riot has been arrested for entering a restricted area with a firearm.

The agent, Mark Sami Ibrahim of Orange County, California, also stands accused of making a false statement to Department of Justice investigators because he denied displaying his badge or pistol at the Capitol, according to an indictment filed against him earlier this month. He was arrested on Tuesday in Washington.

Ibrahim was charged despite not being accused of participating in the riot or engaging in any violence when election-fraud protesters breached the Capitol. He had told investigators that he was in Washington to help a friend document the protest for the FBI, but the friend said he had attended the event to promote himself for a post-DEA career as a podcast host.

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FILE PHOTO: Members of the 'Oath Keepers' militia protest against the certification of the 2020 US presidential election on Capitol Hill, Washington, DC, January 6, 2021  Reuters / Jim Bourg
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Dozens of law enforcement officers across the US have come under scrutiny for their presence at the Capitol protest. President Joe Biden and other Democrat politicians have framed the breach as a major act of domestic terrorism, rooted in racism, and “the worst attack on our democracy since the Civil War.”

“This indictment results from conjecture, political pressure and a flawed attempt to paint a specific narrative through pictures taken wholly out of context,” defense lawyer Darren Richie said in a statement. “Mr. Ibrahim firmly believes the truth shall always prevail.”

Ibrahim was a probationary employee of the DEA and had notified the agency of his intention to resign before the riot. He told Fox News host Tucker Carlson in March that, immediately he returned to California, the DEA took away his badge and gun and suspended him. He was fired two months later, which he claimed was wrongful termination.

Prosecutors alleged that Ibrahim entered a restricted area on Capitol grounds and climbed onto the Peace Memorial at the foot of Capitol Hill. He participated in a WhatsApp group chat with at least five other law enforcement officers, the criminal complaint said, and posted a photograph of himself standing next to one of the barricades that the crowd had pulled apart.

Other photos included in the indictment show him with his jacket held up to expose his badge and gun. Another shot places him in a spot about 180 feet inside the barricades, prosecutors said.

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FILE PHOTO: Supporters of Donald Trump demonstrate inside the US Capitol in Washington, DC, January 6, 2021  Reuters / Mike Theiler
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73. Vaccinated White House & Pelosi aides caught Covid-19 from fugitive Texas Democrats reports, 21 [−]

A White House official and a staffer for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are exhibiting mild symptoms of Covid-19 after spending time with the delegation of Texas Democrats sheltering in Washington. Both were vaccinated.

The staffer for Pelosi (D-California) helped guide the Texans around the US Capitol last week, after they fled to DC in a bid to block a Republican election integrity bill in the state legislature. That staffer then attended a rooftop reception at a hotel on K Street last Wednesday with the White House official who later tested positive, Axios reported on Tuesday.

Both individuals were “mildly symptomatic” and fully vaccinated, the publication noted. Their names have not been disclosed. So far, six of the 50 Texas Democrats have tested positive for the virus, despite being fully vaccinated.

Confirming that “a fully vaccinated” official tested positive on Monday, the White House said they were not allowed onto the campus, and that the medical unit had conducted contact tracing interviews and determined there had been “no close contact” with principals – for example, President Joe Biden or Vice President Kamala Harris – and staff.

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Harris had previously met with the Texas Democrat delegation, but said she would not be quarantining as it didn’t qualify as “close contact.” Her own test over the weekend came back negative.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Tuesday that the aide in question had “mild symptoms.” She also confirmed that there had been additional “breakthrough infections” among vaccinated staffers, but would not say how many or when. In keeping with the administration’s commitment to transparency, it will release the information proactively if “commissioned officers” – that is, presidential assistants – test positive, she said.

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Pelosi’s spokesman, Drew Hammill, identified the staffer as “a fully vaccinated senior spokesperson in the speaker’s press office,” and said the entire office was working remotely, except for those who had no exposure to the individual or recently tested negative. The staffer “has had no contact with the speaker since exposure,” Hammill added.

Asked about it on Tuesday, Pelosi said it was “all the more reason for all of us to be vaccinated, as he was. Wear a mask. Take every precaution.”

Though both Biden and Pelosi are fully vaccinated, there are concerns their advanced age – 78 and 81, respectively – might put them at greater risk of complications if infected.

Psaki also disagreed with reporters who asked if the Texans’ visit amounted to a “superspreader” event, which hasn’t stopped some in the media and in Congress from using the term, however.

Dr. Brian Monahan, the attending physician of the Capitol, has confirmed that “several” congressional staff and one member of Congress have become infected with the coronavirus, despite being fully vaccinated. He blamed the so-called Delta variant of the virus, said to be more contagious than the original strain.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, has threatened to arrest the fugitive lawmakers for disrupting the legislature’s proceedings. The 50 Democrats have pledged to stay in DC – where they are outside Abbott’s jurisdiction – for as long as it takes to block the election integrity bill, which they argued amounts to racist voter suppression. They compared their plight to slavery.

“What do you do to a slave if you don’t do nothing but arrest them when they flee?” said Senfronia Thompson, a representative for Harris, on Friday. “We fled Texas and if they want to arrest me, go ahead. I’m ready to be arrested.”

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74. Democrat congressman marks Bezos suborbital flight by calling for tax on SPACE TOURISM, 21 [−]

While some observers may have pondered the wonder of a billionaire flying into space, the suborbital venture by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos triggered US Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon) to call for a tax on such travel.

“Space exploration isn’t a tax-free holiday for the wealthy,” Blumenauer, a senior member of the House Ways and Means Committee, said in a statement on Tuesday.

Just as normal Americans pay taxes when they buy airline tickets, billionaires who fly into space to produce nothing of scientific value should do the same, and then some.

Blumenauer’s statement came just before Bezos and three other passengers took part in the first manned space mission by the billionaire’s Blue Origin rocket-ship firm. The team landed in West Texas after briefly floating in space. Just nine days earlier, fellow billionaire Richard Branson completed a similar suborbital flight by his spaceflight company, Virgin Galactic.

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Richard Branson (L) and Jeff Bezos (R)  Reuters / Joe Skipper and Isaiah J. Downing
Billionaire back-slapping: Branson congratulates Bezos on impressive space flight

The Oregon politician’s proposed tax, which he called for in a bill named the Securing Protections Against Carbon Emissions (SPACE) Tax Act, would seem to fit with the typical Democrat strategy of exploiting class tensions. Bezos, who ranks as the world’s richest person, and Branson had already drawn criticism for using their wealth to fly into space, rather than investing in helping people. The Amazon founder riled critics further when, on returning to Earth, he thanked employees and customers by saying, “You guys paid for all this.”

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Jeff Bezos is shown at a post-flight press briefing on Tuesday after completing his rocket-ship company's first manned mission to space.
You guys paid for all this: Internet fumes as billionaire Bezos thanks Amazon employees, customers for funding his trip to space

But Blumenauer’s plan could also be a significant revenue generator for the government if space tourism becomes as big as Branson, Bezos, and another billionaire rocket-ship entrepreneur, Elon Musk, have predicted.

The congressman has clearly thought the issue through. He noted that while transatlantic airline flights have similar carbon footprints to suborbital trips, space launches generate 60 times the per-passenger emissions. And with Virgin Galactic looking to send a load of tourists into space every 32 hours, the numbers could add up.

Blumenauer said the new tax should be applied on a per-passenger basis and vary based on altitude. Flights going more than 80 miles above the Earth’s surface, such as the suborbital trip Bezos enjoyed on Tuesday, would be taxed higher.

NASA flights for scientific-research purposes would be exempt from the levy. In cases where some passengers were working on behalf of NASA for scientific advancement, the tax would be levied only on those travelers just along for a joy ride.

“Things that are done purely for tourism or entertainment and that don’t have a scientific purpose should in turn support the public good,” Blumenauer said.

Members of Congress have also begun thinking about regulating space tourism, prompted by concerns over public safety and air traffic congestion, but a moratorium on such rule-making has been put in place until 2023 to encourage innovation.

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75. Trump inauguration chair arrested and charged with acting as unregistered agent of foreign power, 21 [−]

Thomas Barrack, a California billionaire who organized Donald Trumps 2017 presidential inauguration, was charged in New York with acting as an agent of the United Arab Emirates and making false statements to federal agents.

Barrack, 74, is accused of “acting and conspiring to act” as an agent of the UAE between April 2016 and April 2018, as well as obstruction of justice for falsely claiming otherwise in a June 2019 interview with federal authorities, the US Department of Justice said on Tuesday.

Matthew Grimes, 27, of Colorado and Rashid Sultan Rashid Al Malik Al-Shahi, 43, an Emirati national, were indicted as his co-conspirators. The trio “repeatedly capitalized on Barrack’s friendships and access” to Trump, “high-ranking campaign and government officials, and the American media to advance the policy goals of a foreign government without disclosing their true allegiances,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Mark Lesko of the DOJ’s National Security Division, calling the conduct “nothing short of a betrayal” of those officials, including the president.

Barrack was chairman of Trump’s presidential inaugural committee between November 2016 and January 2017. The Biden administration claims he “informally advised” senior government officials on issues related to US foreign policy in the Middle East, and sought the post of special envoy to the region – which he did not get. He is alleged to have been “regularly and repeatedly” in contact with UAE leadership, whether personally or through Grimes and Al-Shahi, whom he allegedly called a “secret weapon” to advance Emirati policy in Washington.

Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner ended up running the administration’s Middle East policy, which culminated in the September 2020 signing of ‘Abraham Accords’ that normalized ties between the UAE, Bahrain and Israel.

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The flags of the U.S., United Arab Emirates, Israel and Bahrain flutter along a road in Netanya, Israel September 14, 2020.
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Among the activities the DOJ held against Barrack were allegedly inserting pro-UAE language into Trump’s energy policy speech in May 2016; seeking direction for an op-ed published by Barrack in October that year, and asking UAE officials for a ‘wish list’ of policy priorities in December.

In September 2017, Barrack allegedly sought to advise Trump against a Camp David summit to address the dispute between the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries and Qatar, which ended up not happening. The GCC-Qatar standoff began in June 2017 and ended two weeks before Joe Biden’s inauguration.

Barrack “allegedly made numerous false statements, including falsely denying that [Al-Shahi] had ever requested that he take any actions on behalf of the UAE” during a June 20, 2019 voluntary meeting with the FBI, the DOJ said. Grimes and Barrack have both been arrested, while Al-Shahi remains at large.

The US corporate press – as well as the online Resistance – were quick to put charges against Barrack in the context of their narrative about crime and corruption allegedly endemic in the Trump administration, given all the charges against his aides and even the recent indictment of his company’s chief financial officer.

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(L)  Reuters / Brandon Bell; (R) Allen Weisselberg.  Reuters / Carlo Allegri
Criminal charges against the Trump Organization are a political prosecution as they couldnt get Trump on anything else

Others, however, pointed out that the charges – false statements to the FBI and not registering as a foreign agent – amounted to the same kind of process crimes used by special counsel Robert Mueller to go after General Michael Flynn, Roger Stone, and several Trump campaign aides, when his ‘witch hunt’ turned up no ‘collusion’ with Russia.

“How long until they get to everyone who worked in or liked” the Trump administration, former State Department official Amanda Milius, who also directed the documentary ‘The Plot Against The President’, wondered on Twitter.

Others pointed to the hypocrisy of DOJ statements, such as AAG Lesko’s vow that anyone “regardless of their wealth or perceived political power” will be prosecuted for “undisclosed foreign influence,” or the FBI’s “unwavering commitment to rooting out those individuals who think they can manipulate the system to the detriment of the United States and the American people,” given that President Joe Biden’s son Hunter hasn’t been prosecuted for any of his alleged influence-peddling through foreign business deals.

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76. Dumbest idea in Senate history? Graham slams plan to wedge amnesty proposal into overstuffed infrastructure bill, 20 [−]

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham has wasted no time savaging Democrats suggestion illegal immigrants receive amnesty as part of a new infrastructure bill, warning it would trigger an epic run for the border if allowed to pass.

If you give one person legal status there will be a run on our border like you have never seen before,” the South Carolina Republican warned during a Fox News appearance on Monday, calling it “the dumbest idea in the history of the Senate, the history of the White House.”

It will lead to the breakdown of law and order beyond what you see today.

Graham added that tying the amnesty resolution in with a hotly-anticipated (and hence must-pass) infrastructure bill would constitute a “power grab” that has “not a damn thing to do with infrastructure.

The senator accused Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of attempting to set a timetable for debating the bill Wednesday even though it hadn’t actually been completed, accusing the senator of “trying to blow this effort up” by “filing cloture on a bill that doesn’t exist.” He suggested President Joe Biden, hardly a natural ally of the Republican Graham, “get on the phone to Schumer and tell him to stand down.”

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Wayne Dupree: DACA ruling is right, illegal immigrants should never get to jump the line on visas

Attempting to ram through the measure with immigration tacked on would wreck the hard-fought bipartisan “effort to find common ground on infrastructure regarding roads, bridges, and ports,” Graham lamented.

Further compounding the pressure, a group of Democratic House members delivered a letter to the Chairs of the House and Senate Committees on the Budget last week, urging them to include “bold reforms to our immigration system” in their budget resolution for 2022.

In the letter, Democrats said they stand “ready to work with [committee chairs] to pass immigration reform through the budget reconciliation process” – a procedure which could help them bypass the Senate’s filibuster, which could otherwise derail Democrats’ ‘dreams’ – literally and figuratively. All 50 Democratic senators would have to fall in line for reconciliation to work, and a number of senators have voiced concern that the procedure – typically used only for relatively uncontroversial issues – won’t hold up for such a hot-button issue as immigration policy.

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FILE PHOTO: A US Border Patrol agent assists a migrant woman and child as they're released from federal detention at a bus depot in McAllen, Texas, July 31, 2019.
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Despite running with immigration reform as a central plank of his platform, President Joe Biden’s promised fix for the US’ ongoing immigration headaches has not yet materialized. The appalling conditions in which illegal immigrants are being held at the southern US border have both parties up in arms, denouncing the separation of migrant families and their alleged use as a political football, tugging at heartstrings for political points.

Biden appointed Vice President Kamala Harris to lead the response to the immigration crisis ??– a move that won him no political points, particularly after it took three months for the VP to even make a trip to the border.

Democrats also received an unwelcome surprise last week after a judge declared DACA – the ‘Dream Act’ – illegal, pulling the rug out from under what had long been seen as a reliable first step to citizenship for hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants.

The program’s protection for those whose parents entered the country illegally continues to protect existing ‘dreamers’ already taking advantage of its pathways to citizenship, but new applications are frozen after a judge ruled the program itself illegal on Friday, and there does not seem to be any indication the Biden administration plans to follow up on the decision by expelling ‘dreamers’.

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77. You guys paid for all this: Internet fumes as billionaire Bezos thanks Amazon employees, customers for funding his trip to space, 20 [−]

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos marked his return to Earth by thanking employees and customers of the retail giant for funding his trip to space, setting off critics who accused the billionaire of exploiting the poor and then gloating.

“I want to thank every Amazon employee and every Amazon customer, because you guys paid for all this,” Bezos, donning a cowboy hat and blue astronaut coveralls, said at a press briefing on Tuesday after completing the first manned space mission by his Blue Origin rocket-ship firm. “So seriously, for every Amazon customer out there and every Amazon employee, thank you from the bottom of my heart very much. It’s very appreciated.”

Judging by reaction on social media platforms, the expression of appreciation wasn’t appreciated. Observers ripped the 57-year-old billionaire, who ranks as the world’s richest person with a fortune estimated by Forbes at nearly $205 billion, for indulging in space endeavors at the expense of allegedly mistreated employees rather than using his riches to help people.

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(L) Jeff Bezos  REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne; (C)  Pixabay/Arek Socha; (R) Richard Branson  REUTERS/Simon Dawson
Our unequal world does not need a billionaire space race. Id send Bezos & Branson on a one-way ticket to the Moon

“Correction: Employees didn’t pay for this,” podcast host and Ohio state senator Nina Turner said on Twitter. “Their wages were stolen to pay for a billionaire’s space vacation. Jeff Bezos can thank his workers by treating them with dignity and paying them fair wages, and he can thank us all by paying his damn taxes.”

Journalist Auskar Surbakti picked up on the tax theme, saying, “Jeff Bezos should also thank governments around the world for allowing him to dodge countless billions of dollars in taxes.”

Yahoo Finance host Zack Guzman tweeted that Amazon warehouse employees would just like to be granted bathroom breaks. In fact, workers have complained of grueling and unsafe working conditions, as well as insufficient and timed bathroom breaks. The company also was hit with five new lawsuits in May, brought by warehouse and office workers who alleged racial and gender discrimination, sexual harassment and retaliation for filing complaints.

Writer Nicole Tersigni likened Tuesday’s comment by Bezos to a macabre scene: “Jeff Bezos, gluing the last body to his castle made out of poor people, couldn’t have done it without you guys.”

But Bezos did find admiration in at least one place: the White House. President Joe Biden’s press secretary, Jen Psaki, called Tuesday’s Blue Origin space flight “an example of American exceptionalism. That's how we see it.”

The capsule carrying Bezos and three other passengers landed in West Texas after briefly floating in space. The adventure came just nine days after fellow billionaire Richard Branson completed a similarly brief suborbital flight to space.

After expressing his gratitude, Bezos spoke about the incredible feeling of venturing to space. The most profound aspect of the experience was looking down on the earth from above and seeing the “fragility” of its atmosphere.

“When you get up above it, what you see is it’s actually incredibly thin,” Bezos said. “It’s this tiny little fragile thing, and as we move about the planet, we’re damaging it.”

To the extent that human activity damages the atmosphere, Bezos likely inflicts more than his share of harm. He already owns two private jets, and his carbon footprint will be growing considerably after he reportedly bought a $165 million Beverly Hills mansion last year and ordered a 127-meter yacht. The $500 million vessel requires a motorized support ship with a helipad, at least partly because its three giant masts don’t allow for landing a helicopter on its deck.

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Bezos lands in west Texas desert after successful space flight

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78. Disgraced Hollywood movie producer Harvey Weinstein handed over for extradition to face sex-crime charges in California, 20 [−]

Harvey Weinstein, the Hollywood filmmaker whose notorious litany of alleged sex crimes supercharged the #MeToo movement, is being extradited to California to face rape and related charges after delaying tactics finally ran out.

Weinstein, 69, was handed over to authorities for transport to California from New York on Tuesday morning, according to New York state corrections officials. The former studio boss had been incarcerated at a prison near Buffalo, in upstate New York, since being sentenced in March 2020 to 23 years behind bars on convictions of rape and sexual assault against two women.

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Film producer Harvey Weinstein arrives at New York Criminal Courtroom during his ongoing sexual assault trial in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., February 24, 2020.  REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz
Good riddance to Harvey Weinstein, a repugnant pig who brutalized both women and cinema

Awaiting Weinstein in California are 11 counts of sex crimes against five women in the Los Angeles area from 2004 to 2013. He allegedly exploited his power as one of Hollywood's most influential producers – Weinstein and his brother, Bob Weinstein, founded Miramax – to sexually assault or harass dozens of actresses and other young women, then use an ‘army of spies’ to silence his victims.

In California, Weinstein is accused of rape, forcible oral copulation, sexual battery by restraint, and sexual penetration by use of force. Prosecutors there first charged him in January 2020, just as the defendant's New York trial for allegedly raping an aspiring actress and forcing a production assistant to perform oral sex was getting underway.

Because a grand jury confirmed the California charges against Weinstein in March of this year, prosecutors will be able to skip a public hearing to show probable cause, meaning his case can be advanced to trial more quickly.

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File photo: Harvey Weinstein arrives at New York Criminal Court  REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
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A New York judge approved Weinstein's extradition in June. Defense lawyers and prosecutors agreed last year to delay the move, citing the Covid-19 pandemic.

When extradition efforts began anew earlier this year, Weinstein's attorneys objected, citing faulty paperwork and seeking a “humanitarian” delay so he could undergo eye and dental surgeries.

At the hearing last month where his extradition was ordered, lawyer Norman Effman suggested that his arraignment be held by video so he can be kept in the New York prison for medical treatment. New York prosecutor Colleen Curtin Gable retorted, “It's Los Angeles. It's not some remote outpost that doesn't have any sort of medical care.”

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Tara Reade: How can survivors like me ever trust American justice when men like Bill Cosby walk free?

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79. You dont know what youre talking about!: Fauci LOSES IT with Sen. Rand Paul over Wuhan lab funding accusations, 20 [−]

White House coronavirus adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci has told Kentucky Senator Rand Paul You dont know what youre talking about, after Paul accused him of lying about his alleged role in controversial virus research in China.

Questioning Fauci during a Senate Health Committee hearing on Tuesday about the government’s coronavirus response, Sen. Paul (R) implied that Fauci lied to Congress in May when he said that the National Institute of Health (NIH) did not fund so-called ‘gain-of-function’ research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China, believed by many to be the source of the coronavirus pandemic.

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“I have never lied before the Congress, and I do not retract that statement,” Fauci replied.

Paul presented a 2015 academic paper that asserts such research did take place at the Wuhan lab, and was partly funded by the NIH. One US scientist has reviewed the paper and concluded that the research within “seemed to meet the definition of gain-of-function,” — but that it did not lead to the creation of the novel coronavirus. The term 'gain-of-function' refers to modifying and increasing the transmissibility of animal viruses to better study their effect on humans.

“This paper that you’re referring to was judged … up and down the chain as not being gain-of-function,” Fauci responded, before Paul interjected.

“You take an animal virus and you increase its transmissibility to humans, you’re saying that’s not gain-of-function?” Paul asked.

“That is correct, and Senator Paul, you do not know what you are talking about, quite frankly, and I want to say that officially,” Fauci snapped back.

Despite the paper’s own definition of gain-of-function research seemingly being the same as Paul’s, the White House scientist still insisted that the research outlined in the 2015 paper “is not” the same thing.

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The paper itself does not prove that the Covid-19 coronavirus was created in the Wuhan lab, but it does imply that similar research on bat-borne coronaviruses was carried out there, with the NIH’s financial support. Such research used to be done in the US, but was paused by the Obama administration in 2014 and subsequently outsourced to China. Between 2015 and 2019, the Wuhan lab received, albeit indirectly, more than $800,000 in grants from the NIH. $600,000 in grant payments were given to the institute via EcoHealth Alliance, a private research firm, and $216,000 via the University of California, Irvine.

Paul has repeatedly implied that Covid-19 originated in the Wuhan lab, and accused Fauci on Tuesday of trying to “dance” around his supposed “responsibility for four million people dying around the world from a pandemic.” Yet despite Paul’s accusations, no smoking gun has been found to link the NIH to the strain of coronavirus that triggered the ongoing pandemic.

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80. US issues urgently needed cybersecurity warning to pipeline operators amid new rift with China over hacking, 20 [−]

The Department of Homeland Security has ordered pipeline owners and operators to implement urgently needed protections against cyberattacks, in the second such directive since a crippling ransomware attack in May.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued its latest directive to pipeline owners and operators on Tuesday, more than two months after a ransomware attack shut down a critical gasoline and diesel pipeline carrying half the fuel supply of the entire US East Coast. The attack forced the line’s operator, Colonial Pipeline, to shut much of its network for several days, until a ransom was paid to the cybercriminals responsible.

The directive asks companies like Colonial Pipeline to “implement specific mitigation measures to protect against ransomware attacks,” to “develop and implement a cybersecurity contingency and recovery plan,” and to “conduct a cybersecurity architecture design review.”

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The DHS did not provide more specific information in its announcement, but said the directive was issued in response to “the ongoing cybersecurity threat to pipeline systems.” A similar directive was given in May following the Colonial attack, which gave operators a month to investigate any security weaknesses and report them to the agency.

The scale or severity of this threat is unclear. While the FBI believes a gang of “Russia-based” hackers known as “DarkSide” was responsible for the Colonial attack, Washington’s attention has been focused more on Beijing in recent days.

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(FILE PHOTO)  REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/Illustration
China dismisses Western hacking claims as unreasonable following Microsoft breach, hits back at eavesdropping Washington

On Monday, the UK, US, Canada, and the EU accused China and its Ministry of State Security of sponsoring a global hacking campaign linked with an earlier attack on Microsoft.

Microsoft has also pointed the finger at Beijing, stating in March that a cyber breach which compromised tens of thousands of computers worldwide was the work of “a group assessed to be state-sponsored and operating out of China.”

China has denied any involvement. “China firmly opposes and cracks down on cyberattacks of any kind, let alone encourages, supports or condones hacker attacks. This position is consistent and clear,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said on Tuesday.

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81. Bezos lands in west Texas desert after successful space flight, 20 [−]

The capsule carrying Jeff Bezos and the other passengers on board Blue Origins New Shepard has successfully landed in the west Texas desert, following the crafts first crewed trip into space.

After briefly floating in space, the craft descended back to Earth, using parachutes to guide it back to the flat terrain of west Texas.

Bezos was joined by his brother Mark, female aviation pioneer Wally Funk, and Oliver Daemen, an 18-year-old Dutch teenager whose wealthy father paid for an auctioned seat on the craft. All the passengers appear to be safe.

The craft’s reusable rocket also made a safe landing. After propelling the capsule towards space, it used brakes, fins, and a last-minute booster to touch down on solid ground.

This still image taken from video by Blue Origin shows Blue Origin's reusable New Shepard craft capsule as it returns from space before touchdown, on July 20, 2021, in Van Horn, Texas. Handout / BLUE ORIGIN / AFP

New Shepard had just launched around 11 minutes earlier from Blue Origin's Launch Site One, located in a stretch of remote desert in the Guadalupe Mountains in west Texas.

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82. Jeff Bezos heads off to space, 20 [−]

Jeff Bezos is launching into space on Tuesday as part of Blue Origins first crewed flight to the edge of the Earths atmosphere.

The 11-minute flight will take the world’s richest man more than a dozen miles above our planet’s surface and will mark the first manned mission for Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket and space capsule. Bezos will be joined by his brother Mark, 82-year-old pilot and female aviation pioneer Wally Funk, and 18-year-old physics student Oliver Daemen, whose wealthy father paid for his $28-million ticket. Bezos founded Blue Origin in 2000 in the hopes of developing rocket technology for commercial purposes.

The New Shepard is designed to take off vertically from a launch pad, providing short but high-speed excursions into space. The spacecraft is capable of reaching speeds of up to 2,300mph – about three times the speed of sound. Bezos and the other passengers will experience brief moments of weightlessness as they skim outer space.


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83. The countdown begins: Richest earthling Jeff Bezos set to make not-so-groundbreaking billionaire space flight, 20 [−]

Jeff Bezos is scheduled to make his debut trip into space on Tuesday. The worlds richest man was upstaged by fellow billionaire Richard Branson, who skimmed the outer atmosphere earlier this month.

The former Amazon CEO will make an 11-minute excursion to the edge of Earth on board Blue Origin’s New Shepard spacecraft. Bezos founded Blue Origin in 2000 with the aim of using some of his vast fortune to develop rocket technology for commercial purposes. It won’t be a solo trip, though: Bezos will be joined in the space capsule by his brother Mark, 82-year-old pilot and female aviation pioneer Wally Funk, and an 18-year-old physics student named Oliver Daemen, whose investment firm-owning father paid for his $28-million ticket.

READ MORE: British billionaire Branson set to become first ‘space tourist’ to fly his own craft on Sunday, upstaging rival spacefarer Bezos

If all goes according to plan, the launch time will be 9am EDT (1300 GMT). For those planning on hosting a pre-launch party, Blue Origin's livestream will start at 7:30 am EDT (1130 GMT).

The company released a video on Sunday detailing the “meticulous & rigorous launch program” that paved the way for Tuesday’s flight. New Shepard has already flown 15 unmanned, automated test flights. The successful trials prompted Bezos to announce in June that he would be on the spacecraft’s first crewed flight.

Designed to take off vertically from a launch pad, New Shepard is capable of short but high-speed joyrides, providing passengers with brief moments of weightlessness as they zoom more than a dozen miles about Earth’s surface. The craft reportedly reaches speeds of up to 2,300 mph – about three times the speed of sound – perhaps making it difficult to snap photos of the panoramic views of our planet.

While the flight undoubtedly marks an important milestone for commercial spaceflight, Bezos was out-rocketed by fellow super-rich guy Richard Branson. The Virgin Galactic founder was among the six people who crewed the maiden flight of his company’s Unity 22 spaceplane on July 11.

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(L) Jeff Bezos.  AFP / MANDEL NGAN; (R) Virgin Galactic's passenger rocket plane VSS Unity, carrying billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson and his crew, New Mexico, U.S., July 11, 2021.  Reuters / Joe Skipper
Cant wait to join the club: Space billionaires Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk congratulate Richard Branson on his flight

The flight was successful, but there is debate about whether it actually counted as a true visit into space. The aerially launched craft did not pass the Karman line, considered to be the boundary between Earth and space at 100 kilometers (or about 62 miles) above sea level.

Despite the technicalities, Bezos congratulated Branson for his achievement after the flight and said that he couldn’t wait to “join the club” – presumably the Society of Billionaires Who Have Traveled to Space.

Both men appear to be eyeing cosmic profits that could come from space tourism, although it remains to be seen who can conquer the extraterrestrial market first.

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84. Twitter suspends Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene over Covid-19 disinfo after calls to stop human experiments & battle obesity, 20 [−]

Twitter has slapped Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene with a temporary suspension, saying the Georgia Republican ran afoul of the sites Covid-19 misinformation policy. Greene rejected the move as state-backed censorship.

Greene was given a 12-hour suspension on Monday night over at least two “misleading” posts, the New York Times reported, citing a Twitter spokesperson.

“We took enforcement action on the account @mtgreenee for violations of the Twitter Rules, specifically the Covid-19 misleading information policy,” the spokesperson said.

In the offending posts, shared on Sunday and Monday, Greene voiced a number of opinions and claims related to the pandemic, saying that “no entity should force non-FDA approved vaccines or masks” on the public, while deeming them a form of “human experimentation.”

The second missive argued that Covid-19 is “not dangerous for non-obese people and those under 65,” with both posts earning a ‘misleading’ label from Twitter.

Greene responded to the temporary ban in a statement, accusing the Big Tech firm of “doing the bidding of the Biden regime to restrict our voices,” adding that Twitter is working to “prevent the spread of any message that isn’t state approved.” In separate comment to the Hill, she deemed her suspension a “communist-style assault on free speech.”

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U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the economy from the White House in Washington, U.S. July 19, 2021.  Reuters / Jonathan Ernst
Facebook isnt killing people: Biden walks back own comments, insists platform must do more to fight vaccine misinformation

Greene’s account remains live, but she will be unable to use it for the duration of the 12-hour ban. It was not her first suspension from the site, having been banned by mistake on at least two occasions due to errors with Twitter’s algorithms, the company claimed. She was also purposely suspended in January over violations of the platform’s “civic integrity” policies soon after supporters of then-president Donald Trump led a riot in the US Capitol.

Twitter’s policy governing Covid-19 disinformation prohibits any content that is “demonstrably false or misleading and may lead to significant harm,” including posts about the nature of the virus or “the efficacy and/or safety of preventative measures, treatments, or other precautions to mitigate or treat the disease.”

The decision to suspend Greene comes amid a small surge in coronavirus infections in the US, with most new cases believed linked to the more contagious Delta variant first detected in India. While infections have fallen far below the level seen during the peak in January, when there were some 300,000 new cases each day, last Friday the country reported nearly 80,000 infections in a 24-hour period, a notable increase from June, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University.

The move also follows President Joe Biden’s claim that social media platforms like Facebook are “killing people” by allowing misinformation to flourish. Though he walked the comment back on Monday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki also noted in recent days that the administration is “flagging problematic posts” for Facebook to delete, suggesting the government is stepping up its pressure on social media firms to police user content.

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FILE PHOTO: A Facebook logo is displayed on a smartphone in this illustration taken January 6, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic
Facebook says 85% of US users are pro-vaccine as it rejects Bidens criticism of killing people with Covid-19 misinformation

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85. All children over 2 should wear masks at school, regardless of vaccination status, pediatrician group says, 20 [−]

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is calling for children over two years old to wear face coverings at school, even if theyve been vaccinated against Covid-19, exceeding US CDC guidelines as some states ban mask mandates.

“Combining layers of protection that include vaccinations, masking and clean-hands hygiene will make in-person learning safe and possible for everyone,” Dr. Sonja O’Leary, chair of the AAP’s Council on School Health, said in a statement on Monday.

The recommendation goes further than the updated guidance that was issued earlier this month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which said students and school employees who are fully vaccinated don’t need to wear masks. California public-health officials last week told schools to refuse entry to students and staff who decline to wear masks, but it backtracked hours later, allowing local education districts to decide how to enforce their Covid-19 rules.

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Students take zoom class as the Westchester Family YMCA in Los Angeles, California, U.S., March 2, 2021.  REUTERS/Mike Blake
California reverses policy banning maskless children from entering public schools, ending mandate hours after it began

The AAP opted for a blanket mask policy, saying some schools won’t have a system in place to monitor the vaccination status of students, but inoculations for a host of other medical conditions are already enforced by districts nationwide.

The AAP lists vaccine makers Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer among its major donors and supporters. Ironically, requiring all students to wear masks could diminish one of the incentives to get Covid-19 jabs.

Most US states have no mask mandate for public schools, and eight have prohibited local districts from imposing such orders, according to Burbio.com, which tracks school reopenings and pandemic policies. Nine states have mask requirements for all students, while two require only unvaccinated children to wear face coverings.

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Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra and Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis tour an emergency shelter for migrant children in Pomona, California, U.S. July 2, 2021.  Marcio Jose Sanchez/Pool via REUTERS
Los Angeles County brings back mask mandate, regardless of vaccine status, after rise in Covid-19 cases

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86. California utility PG&E admits it probably started ANOTHER devastating wildfire years after triggering record-breaking destruction, 20 [−]

Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) seems to have once again helped ignite a deadly wildfire in California, contributing to the carnage in the most populous US state for the fourth year in a row, according to a report on its website.

Documents posted to the utility’s website on Monday and filed with the California Public Utilities Commission indicate that a PG&E employee saw “blown fuses in a conductor on top of a pole, a tree leaning into the conductor, and a fire at the base of the tree” when he responded to a reported circuit outage around 7am local time last Tuesday. The equipment problem is believed to have helped contribute to the start of the Dixie Fire in Feather River Canyon, a devastating blaze that is still just 15% contained.

Unable to access the pole until nearly 12 hours after first taking note of the fire, due to “challenging terrain and road work resulting in a bridge closure,” the employee reported that upon returning to the site around 4:40pm local time, he encountered “a fire on the ground near the base of the tree” plus “two of three fuses blown and what appeared to him to be a healthy green tree leaning into the Bucks Creek 1101 12 kV conductor, which was still intact and suspended on the poles,” according to the report.

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Only then did the worker call his supervisor – who subsequently called 911. Given PG&E’s abysmal track record of responding to wildfires (especially those linked to its equipment), it is perhaps unsurprising that the utility reportedly waited five days – rather than the required two to four hours – to report the nascent blaze to the state regulatory agency.

The Dixie Fire has already consumed more than 30,000 acres as of Monday, and continues to force evacuations in Plumas and Butte counties. PG&E’s systems reportedly showed an outage near Cresta Dam in the area of Feather River Canyon where the fire began. Mandatory evacuation orders remain in force in High Lakes, Bucks Lake, and Meadow Valley in Plumas County; Jonesville and Philbrook in Butte County are also under evacuation order. Cal Fire reported on Monday that 800 structures remain under threat.

PG&E has become notorious for its dysfunctional equipment’s apparent contributions to the increasingly devastating wildfires plaguing the region. PG&E equipment has been connected to at least one wildfire every year for the past four years, starting with the deadly 2018 Camp Fire.

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The utility pleaded guilty last year to 84 counts of manslaughter, each count representing one life lost in the Camp Fire. The deadly blaze began in October in the town of Pulga, eventually engulfing 140,000 acres aided by high winds and low humidity. Some 8,700 homes were destroyed and tens of thousands of people forced to evacuate, while even those whose homes were spared the destruction were unable to go outside due to the extremely unhealthy air quality. The worst wildfire in California history, the Camp Fire killed 85 people and all but wiped out the town of Paradise.

The judgment pitched PG&E into a bankruptcy from which it finally emerged last year, with a promise to compensate fire victims for whatever damages had not been covered by their insurance – a sum of $13.5 billion that will be partially paid in company stock.

Last year, PG&E equipment was found to be partially responsible for the Zogg Fire in Shasta County. The company is still facing a criminal investigation over that blaze and was forced to pay out $43 million to local governments for that fire and the previous year’s Kincade Fire in Sonoma County. The utility still faces prosecution in Sonoma County over the 2019 fire.

Should PG&E continue to perform not just poorly but criminally, the utility could ultimately be taken over by the state, though California’s Public Utilities Commission requires the firm to progress through six ‘tiers’ of its so-called enhanced oversight program first. PG&E is already on the first tier, having been nailed for the shoddy job it did clearing out tree limbs and other kindling from its riskiest lines since November, and has pledged to spend $4.9 billion on “wildfire safety” this year.

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File photo of PG&E crew fixing lines downed in the Camp Fire  REUTERS / Elijah Nouvelage
Completely unacceptable: Anger as power company shuts off supply to 800,000 over California wildfire fears

Its promise to “do better” after four years of contributing to the devastating losses experienced by California residents was made as a condition for exiting bankruptcy. Meanwhile, company officials have attempted to blame drought and climate change, instead of taking responsibility.

PG&E has also outraged and alienated customers by shutting off the power supply during peak usage hours for hundreds of thousands of people, hoping to prevent the sparking that has been known to cause wildfires out of fear that high winds could topple the power lines altogether.

An investigation by the CPUC accused the utility of lacking even a rudimentary safety strategy, noting it only makes “positive changes” when forced to do so by dire accidents like fires and explosions. The CPUC report itself was issued seven years after the explosion of a gas pipeline in 2010, which killed eight people and uncovered poor if not criminal business practices such as overcharging customers, underspending on maintenance, and in general placing profit over everything – including but not limited to safety.

This year’s fire season is already predicted to be especially devastating, with expectations it will be longer, drier, and riskier than previous years’ even as PG&E struggles to fix its decaying infrastructure.

Over 158,000 acres of Northern California forest have burned so far this season, including the Tamarack Fire, which grew to 23,000 acres as of Monday morning and remains entirely uncontained. It was reportedly ignited by a lightning strike earlier this month, and local firefighters made the questionable decision not to dispatch fire crews “because of safety concerns,” leaving Alpine County Sheriff Rick Stephens to explain the bizarre response to local residents who now face losing their homes to the inferno. The Beckwourth Complex Fire has burned over 105,000 acres as of Monday and is 82% contained.

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Employees of Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) work in the aftermath of the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, November 14, 2018.
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87. Ro Khanna and... Bill Kristol? Progressive Democrat draws outrage over choice of new best friend in defending liberalism, 20 [−]

Liberal and conservative Americans alike were dismayed after progressive Congressman Rohit Khanna (D-California) praised none other than neoconservative imperialist Bill Kristol as a defender of democracy and liberal values.

Kristol “is one of the most thoughtful voices in defending liberalism and democratic institutions in our country,” Khanna tweeted on Monday, adding he “learned a lot” from him about “shaping… an inclusive narrative around American patriotism.”

Khanna added that he was a “strong and early critic of the war in Iraq” – which Kristol promoted – and that they have “very different worldviews on foreign policy,” but having “a discussion about strengthening liberalism and liberal institutions with people you disagree” is important for pluralistic democracy.

That a former national chairman of progressive Senator Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vermont) campaign for president would consort with a neoconservative interventionist was a bridge too far for many of Khanna’s fellow leftists, whose angry replies vastly outnumbered the likes he got on Twitter by a ratio of 3:1.

Kristol is “a blood-soaked neoconservative war criminal” who helped launch the invasion in which a million Iraqis died and co-founded “the ultra-imperialist Project for the New American Century (whose goal was US military domination of the entire planet),” tweeted the Grayzone’s Ben Norton, for example.

Another progressive asked Khanna if he was being held hostage, to which the California congressmen replied “hahaha.”

“We disagree strongly on the Iraq war, but I believe you engage where there is common ground and he has been a voice on strengthening safeguards against executive abuse,” Khanna added, doubling down.

Kristol has become a fixture on CNN and MSNBC for the last several years, having reinvented himself as a ‘principled conservative’ critic of President Donald Trump’s administration. The former editor of the now-defunct Weekly Standard also cashed in on the anti-Trump #Resistance by serving on the board of the Alliance for Securing Democracy, an outfit uniting neocons and liberals that’s behind the “Hamilton68 dashboard Twitter witch hunt for “Russian trolls.” All of his concerns about executive overreach evaporated with the inauguration of President Joe Biden, however.

Kristol actually waded into the Twitter controversy himself, saying he had a “stimulating” lunch with Khanna and admired his “willingness to argue—and occasionally (gasp!) agree.”

“You are a war criminal. That’s the end of it,” podcast host and self-described leftist Tina Desiree Berg shot back. “It’s not fine and you absolutely do not hold up democratic institutions with your imperialist nonsense.”

One of the reasons Khanna’s tweet drew such a strong response is that the California Democrat has cultivated an image of someone who opposed foreign wars – Yemen, in particular – and a progressive seeking to push the party further to the left. A former deputy assistant secretary for commerce in President Barack Obama’s first term, Khanna was elected to Congress after beating the eight-term incumbent Mike Honda in the 2016 primary.

He has now managed to “completely discredit the myth of the progressive Democrat in a single tweet,” quipped journalist Caitlin Johnstone.

The revulsion wasn’t limited to Democrats, either, as Congressman Matt Gaetz (R-Florida), a Trump Republican, asked Khanna if he’d asked Kristol “what country he wants to invade next.”

Back in March, long before the anti-government protests in Cuba, Kristol had advocated annexing the Caribbean island nation, along with giving statehood to Washington, DC and Puerto Rico – championed by Democrats as a way of obtaining a permanent majority in the US Senate.

Nor was that Kristol’s first venture into imperialism under a Democrat administration. Back in 1996, he co-authored an article with Robert Kagan – husband of future State Department official and Kiev cookie distributor Victoria Nuland – arguing for “benevolent global hegemony” by Washington in the unipolar moment following the end of the Cold War.

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Havana, Cuba (February 12, 2021 file photo).
Annex Cuba? Left & right unite to bash woke neocon imperialist Bill Kristol for advocating US takeover of island nation

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88. American women to be forced to register for military DRAFT, according to revision planned by Senate Democrats media, 20 [−]

US Senate Democrats are reportedly preparing to overhaul the nations military Selective Service System to require that all Americans, including women, be required to register for the draft.

Senator Jack Reed (D-Rhode Island), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, has authored legislation expanding the registration requirement to include women, Politico reported on Monday, citing a copy of the bill. The current registration mandate applies only to males, when they reach 18, and carries potential fines or imprisonment for violators.

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The legislation may be attached to the National Defense Authorization Act, meaning it could become a trading chip as lawmakers push back and forth on a must-pass bill through which Congress oversees military policy and budgeting.

Although the US hasn't conscripted soldiers through a draft since 1973, the inclusion of women in the Selective Service System is controversial. The Obama administration opened all combat roles to women in 2015, despite a Marine Corps study that showed female troops underperformed males and were more than twice as likely to be injured.

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Lawsuits have challenged the constitutionality of male-only draft registration. The US Supreme Court declined last month to hear a case filed by the National Coalition for Men, but three justices said the current mandate may be unconstitutional and outdated.

Congress, which stopped short of passing past bills to require women to register for the draft, created a commission to study the issue. The panel last March recommended the move, saying, “This is a necessary and fair step, making it possible to draw on the talent of a unified nation in a time of national emergency.”

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89. Covid-19 vaccine mandate not coercion, federal judge rules in Indiana University case, 20 [−]

Compelling Indiana University (IU) students to take Covid-19 vaccines or face stringent rules isnt coercion that violates the US Constitution but a legitimate public health interest, a federal judge in South Bend has ruled.

Eight students at the state’s largest university sought to block the requirement that everyone returning to campus in August must be fully vaccinated, including staff. US District Judge Damon Leichty denied their motion late on Sunday.

Vaccine mandates have been upheld by US courts, Leichty wrote in his 100-page opinion, adding that the university is pursuing “a reasonable and due process of vaccination in the legitimate interest of public health for its students, faculty, and staff.”

The decision was hailed by most corporate media outlets, who pointed out it was the first such ruling in the US – and that Leichty was nominated by former US President Donald Trump and confirmed by the Senate in 2019.

Others were more critical. Civil rights lawyer Robert Barnes called it a “terrible” ruling that will be contested on appeal, and argued it “basically tries to restore the 19th century case law where governments could force vaccine, force sterilizations, and force populations into detention camps in the name of ‘safety’.”

The university currently requires all students, faculty and staff to be fully vaccinated by August 1. Students who do not comply will have their class registration canceled, access cards and computer access “terminated” and not be allowed to participate in any campus activity, while faculty and staff who refuse “will no longer be able to be employed” by IU, as “working remotely and not meeting the [Covid-19] vaccine requirement is not an option.”

The eight plaintiffs argued this violated their rights to bodily integrity, informed choice of medical treatment and religious freedom, forcing them to choose between vaccination and education.

For certain students “this may prove a difficult choice, but a choice nonetheless,” Leichty wrote, rejecting their argument. They can get the vaccine, apply for exemption or deferral, transfer to a different school or drop out for the semester, he added, noting that “this hard choice doesn't amount to coercion.”

Leichty further argued that students had already complied with IU’s mitigation strategies “without harm” during last year’s closures, and since the same measures would now be in effect for those few granted an exemption, they could not show “irreparable harm” to warrant an injunction.

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An employee watches over people as they wait a mandatory 15 minutes after receiving the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona, U.S., January 21, 2021.  REUTERS/Cheney Orr
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IU is able to demand vaccinations since Governor Eric Holcomb has not followed in the footsteps of fellow Republican Governor Doug Ducey in Arizona, who last month banned public universities in his state from doing so.

Ducey’s decision came on the heels of a ruling by another federal judge allowing the Houston Methodist hospital system to mandate vaccinations, as a private employer. Judge Lynn Hughes of the Southern District of Texas told over 100 healthcare workers who objected that they could “freely choose to accept or refuse a Covid-19 vaccine,” but if their choice goes against the mandate of their employer, they “simply need to work somewhere else.”

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90. Trump calls McConnell 'KNUCKLEHEAD', bashes Pence and Barr for letting Biden win election via 'fraud' in newly-published interview, 20 [−]

Donald Trump blasted Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) for refusing to kill the filibuster now the roadblock to partisan Democrat bills and complained that former allies allowed Joe Biden to steal the presidency from him.

“He's a stupid person,” the former president said of McConnell in an interview published by Vanity Fair on Monday. “I don't think he's smart enough.” He added, “I tried to convince Mitch McConnell to get rid of the filibuster, to terminate it, so that we would get everything, and he was a knucklehead and he didn't do it.”

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Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Dallas, Texas, July 11, 2021  AFP / Andy Jacobsohn
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McConnell, the former Senate majority leader, was far from being the only target of Trump's ire in the interview, which took place in March at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida and was done for a book by two Washington Post journalists. Former Vice President Mike Pence and Attorney General Bill Barr also took fire, as Trump faulted them for failing to stop what he called “the greatest fraud ever perpetrated in this country” – Biden's victory in the 2020 presidential election.

Pence, who's likely to run for president in 2024, resisted pressure from Trump to block congressional certification of Biden's win on January 6. Pence should have challenged the results from disputed states and sent them back to lawmakers in those locales to resolve, which would have led to a different outcome, Trump said.

“I think the vice president of the United States must protect the Constitution of the United States,” he said. “I don't believe he's just supposed to be a statue who gets these votes from the states and immediately hands them over. If you see fraud, then I believe you have an obligation to do one of a number of things.”

Barr failed to properly investigate election fraud, such as sending FBI agents to Georgia to probe Fulton County's vote-counting operations, Trump said. He posited that Barr became exhausted and overly sensitive to media criticism after initially doing a good job in handling the “Russia hoax.”

“Bill Barr disliked me at the end, in my opinion, and that's why he made the statement about the election because he did not know” that massive election fraud hadn't occurred, Trump said, adding, “He started off as a great patriot, but I don't believe he finished that way.”

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Donald Trump  REUTERS / Carlo Allegri
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Trump pointed to other villains, including the US Supreme Court – and specifically Justice Brett Kavanaugh – as well as Arizona Governor Doug Ducey for enabling Biden's victory to stand up. And beyond McConnell, he ripped such Republicans as former US House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senator Mitt Romney (Utah) and the late John McCain (Arizona) for hindering his agenda while in office.

Another culprit, Trump pointed out, was the Covid-19 pandemic. Before the virus outbreak, he saw himself as “unbeatable,” regardless of how strong a candidate he might face in 2020.

I think it would be hard if George Washington came back from the dead and he chose Abraham Lincoln as his vice president – I think it would have been very hard for them to beat me.

Although he expressed no regrets about his handling of the pandemic, Trump criticized two of his top White House medical advisers, Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx. Fauci was a “self-promoter” who was “wrong on everything,” he said, while Birx was so over-reaching on social-distancing restrictions that “if it were up to her, everything would be closed forever.”

Trump did have a regret concerning last year's riots in major US cities, saying, “I think if I had it to do again, I would have brought in the military immediately.”

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The former president also regretted that some of his supporters breached the Capitol on January 6. He said he wanted his supporters to gather en masse outside the Capitol to protest certification of fraudulent election results, but not to enter the building.

“Personally, what I wanted is what they wanted,” he said. “They showed up just to show support because I happen to believe the election was rigged at a level like nothing has ever been rigged before.”

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FILE PHOTO: Then-Vice President Mike Pence (R) and President Donald Trump are shown during happier times for the pair, attending a White House event in July 2017.  Reuters / Carlos Barria
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Those former allies who failed to show sufficient support during the battle over the election results apparently won't get back in Trump's good graces, if they should seek to. Ex-South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, who Trump appointed as ambassador to the United Nations, fits into that category.

“Nikki Haley wants to come here so badly,” Trump said. “She did a little nasty couple of statements. She has been killed by the party. When they speak badly about me, the party is not happy about it.”

Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who was the No. 2 choice to become his vice-presidential running mate in 2016, likely won't be on the shortlist again if Trump runs in 2024. “Chris has been very disloyal, but that's OK,” Trump said.

Having Trump's blessing remains valuable for Republican office seekers. As Trump himself noted, a long line of GOP politicians have made the trek to Mar-a-Lago to seek his endorsement for various positions. Even McConnell said in February that he would “absolutely” support Trump as the party's 2024 presidential nominee.

The Kentucky senator had accused Trump of “disgraceful dereliction of duty” over his actions leading up to the Capitol riot, but he softened his stance after a poll showed that 46% of Republican voters would abandon the GOP if Trump started a new party.

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91. Afghan refugees who aided US to be housed at Fort Lee military base with families while awaiting final visa approval, 19 [−]

The State Department has announced that Afghan nationals who aided the military efforts in Afghanistan will be housed at a military base with their families, with thousands more still awaiting processing amid the US withdrawal.

The first set of applicants will be taken to Fort Lee, Virginia, according to a Defense Department notice given to members of Congress. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said the base will be an “initial relocation site” for refugees whose visa statuses are the closest to completion. Over 2,500 applicants and their families will be housed at Fort Lee.

The US’ ongoing withdrawal from Afghanistan has ignited fears that Afghan allies who aided US efforts, mainly as translators, could face retribution from the Taliban once the US military is gone.

Of the 2,500 who will be completing their visa process at Fort Lee, 700 are Afghan nationals who supported military efforts, and they are being processed through the Special Immigrant Visa Program, which was created in 2009. The rest of the applicants are family members.

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FILE PHOTO: A US soldier from the 3rd Cavalry Regiment walks with the unit's Afghan interpreter before a mission near forward operating base Gamberi in the Laghman province of Afghanistan, December 11, 2014  Reuters / Lucas Jackson
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Altogether, there are over 18,000 applicants to be processed, and President Joe Biden has vowed to speed up the typically long process. Under ‘Operation Allies Refuge’, the Biden administration plans on flying Afghan nationals and their families out of the country by the end of the month. Some could possibly be temporarily housed in countries other than the US.

The House is set to vote Thursday on expediting the process for the Special Immigrant Visa program. The bill will raise the cap on the program and loosen some requirements that can slow the process down. Biden has expressed support for the bill.

The US military has said that its withdrawal is approximately 95% complete. Full withdrawal is expected to be complete by the end of August.

“The US has officially handed over seven facilities to the Afghan Ministry of Defense. The withdrawal process continues; US Central Command estimates that we have completed more than 95% of the entire withdrawal process,” the US Central Command announced last week.

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92. How John McAfee blew $100 million: Widow says Belize, 49 children, lawsuits, and 2008 crash all played a part, 19 [−]

Between the government of Belize, the 2008 financial crisis, predatory lawsuits, and 49 children all over the world, software guru John McAfee went from millionaire to penniless and died before he could rebound, his widow says.

McAfee’s net worth was estimated at $100 million in 1994, when he left the antivirus company he founded. What was left of it following the 2008 financial crisis perished after the government of Belize seized his assets in 2012, his widow Janice said in a tweet on Monday.

“When I met John, which was the day after he was deported from Guatemala to Miami, he had nothing to his name save the clothes on his back,” Janice McAfee wrote.

McAfee also provided financially for 47 of the children he had fathered around the world, Janice revealed. He found out about two more before he was jailed in Spain, bringing the total to 49.

Another portion of his wealth was spent on attorneys “fighting the countless lawsuits brought against him, one of the many drawbacks to naming your company after yourself,” she added.

McAfee, 75, was found dead inside his jail cell in Barcelona on June 23, after a judge ruled to allow his extradition to the US on tax evasion charges. The eccentric ex-millionaire had repeatedly said he would never commit suicide. Janice, who married McAfee in 2013, refuses to believe the official explanation given by the Spanish authorities, and has questioned the authenticity of what they said was his suicide note.

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John McAfee, co-founder of McAfee Crypto Team and CEO of Luxcore and founder of McAfee Antivirus, speaks at the Malta Blockchain Summit in St Julian's, Malta November 1, 2018.  REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi
Sounds like one of Johns tweets: McAfees doubtful widow shares PHOTO of his alleged suicide note

She also argued that McAfee “gained and lost money many times” over the course of their relationship, and was “no stranger to rebuilding himself from nothing.”

His latest venture was cryptocurrency. Yet just a week before his death, McAfee announced that all of his crypto assets had been “dissolved through the many hands of Team McAfee” and there was no secret stash the US government could claim.

“I have nothing. Yet, I regret nothing,” he tweeted.

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FILE PHOTO: John McAfee, co-founder of McAfee Crypto Team and CEO of Luxcore and founder of McAfee Antivirus, during an interview in Havana, Cuba, on July 4, 2019
I have nothing: Imprisoned software guru John McAfee says his crypto fortune is gone

“John was a master at reinventing himself and he was stolen from us before he could complete his greatest transformation,” Janice McAfee said on Monday.

Starting in NASA’s Apollo program in the 1960s, McAfee went on to work as a programmer at Univac, Xerox, and Booz Allen Hamilton, among others. He developed the world’s first commercial computer anti-virus program in 1987.

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93. Business model based on outrage... or is it envy? Ben Shapiro strikes back at NPR hit piece on Daily Wires conservative agenda, 19 [−]

Fast-talking conservative pundit Ben Shapiro has risen to the top of the Facebook news heap despite the platforms supposedly stringent controls on disinformation, NPR declared on Monday, pearls clutched firmly in fists.

National Public Radio admitted that Shapiro’s site, the Daily Wire, doesn’t “normally include falsehoods,” and is even (according to its own Standards & Policies page) “committed to truthful, accurate, and ethical reporting” – but that’s not the point, they sniffed.

Shapiro seemed bemused to discover that the latest excuse for seemingly trying to take him offline was not “fake news,” or “climate change denial,” or any of the other usual suspects – but instead being “overtly conservative.”

We make no bones about this,” he insisted on Monday in a tweet responding to NPR’s screed denouncing his very politics as anathema to social media.

Disinformation and opinion are two peas in the same pod, NPR seemed to imply – at least, as long as that opinion runs contrary to the mainstream narrative.

Jaime Settle, director of the Social Networks and Political Psychology Lab at the College of William & Mary, said the Daily Wire was responding to a demand for “outrage politics” and suggested Shapiro was holding the marketplace of ideas hostage with disinformation – without actually lying.

If you’ve stripped enough context away, any piece of truth can become a piece of misinformation.

Such an approach of only covering stories that bolster a conservative agenda, and only including certain facts, leaves readers coming away from the site “with the impression that Republican politicians can do little wrong and cancel culture is among the nation’s greatest threats,” NPR said.

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Fox News host Tucker Carlson at the National Review Institute's Ideas Summit in Washington, DC March 29, 2019.
Trump was spied on, so why not Tucker? There is no room for dissent in Our Democracy

Truth doesn’t necessarily degenerate into falsehood for lack of painstaking epistemological hand-holding, but making the bold claim shorn of context does seem to prove Settle’s thesis. After all, who among NPR’s typical audience is familiar with the sort of material usually aired on conservative radio, let alone the standard content Shapiro posts on his site?

It’s much easier to demonize that with which one is unfamiliar, as it can be rejected handily with broad strokes, without the psychological dyspepsia that accompanies the knowledge one is lying.

NPR, after all, officially declared in October that reporting on Hunter Biden’s laptop would be a “waste of time,” essentially saying that inconvenient truths now amount to deletion-worthy disinfo.

Despite no evidence that the New York Post’s bombshell stories on the younger Biden’s laptop contents were false, they were declared by NPR as “not really stories” and “just pure distractions” that waste the time of readers and viewers.

It’s no secret Shapiro is backed by the money of right-wing billionaires who reliably pushed his content before any organic fanbase existed to do so – but he’s hardly the only political pundit to rely on outside funding to get his message across.

Indeed, the Young Turks, a formerly progressive news outlet who analyzed Shapiro’s funding ‘machine’ in a 2018 article, have seen their channel’s own politics swing far to the neoliberal center following a $20-million donation from Clinton backer Jeffrey Katzenberg in 2017.

Ironically, the narrative managers seem stubbornly incapable of grasping how they themselves are responsible for Shapiro’s success. By making it impossible for authentic alt-media figures – those without the wealthy sponsors that Shapiro and his ilk have leveraged to victory – to remain on social media thanks to a never-ending stream of reported rule violations (a ‘cyberbullying’ claim here, a spurious YouTube strike there), only the wealthy and well-connected can get anywhere near the public eye if they’re peddling something more than mainstream pablum.

NPR can’t even seem to figure out the source of its loathing for Shapiro. In its Monday writeup, it acknowledged that most of the Daily Wire’s content was not original reporting, but news from other sites repackaged “with a conservative slant” and given “an intellectual sheen.”

It then rolled out ThinkProgress and Popular Information founder Judd Legum to complain that for this “minimal effort,” the Daily Wire is “rewarded with massive engagement on Facebook.

Ultimately, while NPR may point its finger at Shapiro for his “outrage-based business model,” it’s the narrative managers whose Trump-centric worldview – increasingly stale as the man’s presidency fades into the rearview mirror – leaves its audience frothing at the mouth. The Bad Orange Man occupies endless free real estate inside their heads, and outrage keeps them coming back.

Unfortunately for them, that audience is shrinking, and their new tactics based on targeting non-Trump conservative figures – Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, for instance – aren’t exactly bringing home the bacon.

No one is falling for this latest redefinition of ‘disinformation’ as ‘facts or opinions we don’t like’ – and even some CNN guests have had enough of the moralizing smugness that pours out of the television in waves.

NPR’s hypocrisy wasn’t lost on social media, where many pointed out that NPR was ginning up outrage against Shapiro’s alleged outrage-producing machine in order to – some suggested – call for the removal of a better-performing competitor from Facebook.

NPR’s defenders did point out that the network stopped short of actually calling for Shapiro’s removal from the airwaves, however.

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94. Facebook isnt killing people: Biden walks back own comments, insists platform must do more to fight vaccine misinformation, 19 [−]

After Facebook protested US President Joe Bidens claim it was killing people by allowing misinformation about Covid-19 vaccines, he told reporters its not what he really meant, but insisted they needed to censor more.

"I meant precisely what I said,” Biden told reporters on Monday, asked about his words outside the White House on Friday, going on to explain that what he really meant was that a dozen people out there were responsible for 65% of “misinformation” on the platform, based on the article he read.

“Facebook isn’t killing people,” Biden said. “These 12 people are out there giving misinformation, anyone listening to it is getting hurt by it. It’s killing people. It’s bad information.”

“My hope is that Facebook, instead of taking it personally…that they would do something about the outrageous misinformation about the vaccine, that’s what I mean,” he added.

Asked about the claims by the White House press secretary Jen Psaki – about misinformation on Facebook – on Friday, as he was departing for Camp David by helicopter, Biden just said “they’re killing people.”

Mark Zuckerberg’s behemoth was quick to protest, insisting it wasn’t their fault Biden wasn’t meeting his ambitious vaccination goals, and citing facts and figures to show that 85% of its users were pro-vaccine. Facebook has also deployed “unprecedented resources” to crack down on information not approved by the World Health Organization (WHO) or local governments, hiding 167 million pieces of content deemed untrue by fact-checkers and erasing 18 million instances of “Covid-19 misinformation,” said VP of Integrity Guy Rosen.

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FILE PHOTO: A Facebook logo is displayed on a smartphone in this illustration taken January 6, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic
Facebook says 85% of US users are pro-vaccine as it rejects Bidens criticism of killing people with Covid-19 misinformation

That clearly wasn’t enough for the White House press corps, who asked Biden if Facebook had done anything more over the weekend, and if he intends to hold them accountable if they don’t.

“To be completely honest with you, I don’t know that they did anything today, up to over the weekend, I don’t think they had. But I don’t know,” the president responded. All he’s trying to do, he added, was “make people look at themselves…look in the mirror.”

CNN’s Oliver Darcy, an outspoken advocate for social media censorship, described Biden’s comments as “quite a walk back.”

This creates an “awkward position” for commentators who went after Facebook “emboldened by the president’s initial words,” said NBC’s Dylan Byers.

The Biden administration’s crusade against online ‘misinformation’ was launched last Thursday, when the US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy declared it “an imminent and insidious threat to our nation’s health” and claimed that 67% of unvaccinated Americans had heard at least one “myth” about Covid-19 vaccines.

Psaki doubled down on Friday, saying that people banned on one platform should be banned on all of them, while dodging questions about defining misinformation and concerns about the First Amendment and freedom of speech.

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White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, July 16, 2021.
Social media misinformation killing people, Biden says, as White House doubles down on private censorship

As to the article Biden was referring to, it appears to have been produced by the UK-based Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), a nonprofit activist group that was involved in the June 2020 attempt by NBC to pressure Google into demonetizing the blog ZeroHedge and the conservative-leaning online magazine Federalist.

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95. 8 months in prison for man who took selfie with QAnon Shaman in first Capitol riot felony sentence, 19 [−]

A Florida man faces eight months behind bars for participating in the pro-Trump riot on Capitol Hill in January. The man committed no violence, but prosecutors still claimed he took part in a threat to democracy.

Paul Allard Hodgkins pleaded guilty in June to obstructing Congress, a felony crime with a theoretical maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. Hodgkins, of Tampa, Florida, entered the US Capitol in January alongside crowds of former President Donald Trump’s supporters, carrying a ‘Trump 2020’ flag. He snapped selfies in the Senate chamber and posed alongside infamous ‘QAnon Shaman’ Jacob Chansley.

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(L) Supporters of US President Donald Trump protest outside the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, in Washington, DC.  ALEX EDELMAN / AFP; (R) People watch as the Stonewall Jackson statue is removed from Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia on July 1, 2020.  Ryan M. Kelly / AFP
Worse than the Civil War? Bidens description of January 6 is designed to create even more division across America

Hodgkins was sentenced to eight months in prison and 24 months’ probation by a federal judge in Washington, DC on Monday, and his punishment is expected to serve as a benchmark for hundreds of other rioters facing felony charges. One rioter has already been sentenced for misdemeanor offences: 49-year-old Anna Morgan Lloyd, who received three years’ probation last month, in addition to a fine and community service. Lloyd received leniency after disavowing the conduct of her fellow rioters and telling her judge that she had read anti-racist literature supplied by her lawyer.

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FILE PHOTO: An explosion caused by a police munition is seen while supporters of then-President Donald Trump gather in front of the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC, January 6, 2021.
Longtime Democrat turned Trump supporter becomes first sentenced over January 6 Capitol insurrection

Democratic Party politicians and the liberal media have characterized the January 6 riot as an “insurrection” and an act of “domestic terrorism.” Prosecutors in Hodgkins’ case have used similar verbiage, with a sentencing request from the government stating that “the need to deter others is especially strong in cases involving domestic terrorism, which the breach of the Capitol certainly was.”

Government prosecutors asked the judge to apply a sentence of around 18 months, claiming that “like each rioter, [he] contributed to the collective threat to democracy.”

“Threat to democracy,” however, is not a legally defined crime, and the actual impact of the riot on American democracy has been the subject of heated debate between the left and right since January. While President Joe Biden has called the riot the “worst attack on our democracy since the Civil War,” the mob was dispersed within several hours and Congress swiftly resumed its job of certifying Biden’s electoral win. Moreover, Hodgkins was not charged with conspiracy, meaning the conduct of the rest of the rioters should have no bearing on his case.

Hodgkins’ defense attorney pushed back against the use of the term “domestic terrorism” by the government. Speaking in court on Monday, he asserted that calling the riot “domestic terrorism” is “offensive and gaslighting the country, and it needs to stop.... It was a protest that became a riot, period, full stop.”

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96. MORE Texas Democrats test positive for Covid-19 after fleeing state to skip vote and pal around with Kamala Harris & others, 19 [−]

Two more Texas House Democrats who traveled to Washington, DC to protest an elections integrity bill have tested positive for Covid-19, bringing the total infected up to five.

After three of the more than 50 who traveled to DC last week tested positive for Covid-19 – despite all three being fully vaccinated – the House Democratic Caucus announced it was testing all other lawmakers and staff on the trip. Two more positive cases were found.

The news comes on the heels of Vice President Kamala Harris, who met with some of the group on Tuesday and praised their obstructionist efforts, announcing she would not be quarantining in light of the news. It was later reported she visited Walter Reed Medical Center, though the appointment was described as “routine.”

It all was met with mockery on social media, similar to the first three cases, with many pointing to the trip as a failed media stunt, full of maskless pictures of the protesting Democrats together.

State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer has revealed that he is one of the latest caucus members to test positive for Covid-19. Rep. Celia Israel of Austin also tested positive and is experiencing mild symptoms. Both are fully vaccinated.

In a Twitter thread, Israel highlighted both her infection and delaying her own wedding to go to DC as examples of the “sacrifice” and the “risk” she and others are apparently taking on their trip.

There have been an increasing number of high-profile cases in which fully vaccinated individuals appear to become infected. Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Florida) announced on Monday that he had tested positive for Covid-19, but he has been vaccinated since the vaccine was first available to him earlier this year. Rock band Foo Fighters also recently announced the cancellation of what was intended to be a concert exclusively for fully vaccinated individuals, due to someone within the band’s “organization” testing positive.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has blasted the Democrats multiple times for fleeing the state to avoid voting on the new elections bill – which would increase ID requirements and ban things such as drive-thru voting – and said the lawmakers will be greeted with handcuffs upon their return.

“What the law is, it’s in the Constitution, and that is the house, the State House of Representatives who were here in the Capitol in Austin right now, they do have the ability to issue a call to have their fellow members who are not showing up to be arrested, but only so long as that arrest is made in the state of Texas,” the governor told Fox News last week, adding the Democrats will be arrested and forced back into the state capitol the moment they are back in Texas.

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Kamala Harris meets with Democratic members of the Texas state legislature in Washington DC
Kamala Harris will not quarantine after being in contact with two Covid-19 positive Texas Democrats

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97. First under Biden, Guantanamo Bay prisoner released after 19 YEARS of detention without charges, 19 [−]

A Moroccan national, Abdul Latif Nasir, has been released from the infamous Guantanamo Bay detention facility after spending some 19 years imprisoned without ever facing any charges.

The move was announced by the US military in a statement on Monday. The Pentagon described the release as a “transfer from the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay to the Kingdom of Morocco.”

No charges have ever been brought against the Moroccan national, who spent some 19 years in the Guantanamo detention facility after getting captured in Afghanistan in late 2001. The US military alleged that he deliberately traveled to the country “for jihad,” received “military or terrorist training,” and overall was described as “Al-Qaeda leadership cadre” – yet Nasir has never been prosecuted.

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FILE PHOTO: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange makes a speech from the balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy, in central London, Britain February 5, 2016.   REUTERS/Peter Nicholls
US would show no mercy to Assange if hes extradited, but Bush & Blair will never face justice for their crimes

The detainee was originally cleared for release back in 2016 under Barack Obama’s administration, with the Periodic Review Board overseeing the prisoners deeming “that law of war detention of Abdul Latif Nasir no longer remained necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the national security of the United States,” the Pentagon said.

The planned release, however, was not completed before Donald Trump took over the White House. Trump halted the Gitmo prisoners’ release initiative altogether, and even promised to throw more “bad dudes” into the detention facility, originally established in January 2002 shortly after the 9/11 attacks to hold prisoners in the American ‘war on terror’.

With the release of Nasir, only 39 prisoners remain at Guantanamo Bay, according to the Pentagon. The population of the notorious prison peaked at almost 700 back in 2009, dwindling under Obama. While the former president failed to fulfill his promises given back in 2008 to shut down the facility within a year, giving in to pressure from the military and the intelligence community, he managed to greatly reduce the number of detainees.

The notorious prison has been at the epicenter of multiple scandals since its very opening, with the concerns ranging from the sub-par conditions in which the prisoners were held – at the launch of the prison camp, they were held in open-air cages – to assorted mistreatment of the detainees.

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Detainees in orange jumpsuits sit in a holding area under the watchful eyes of Military Police at Camp X-Ray at Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, during in-processing to the temporary detention facility on January 11, 2002.
Gitmos oldest inmate approved for release after being held for 16 YEARS without charge

The CIA has been accused of subjecting the detainees to the so-called ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ – basically, torture – that included sleep deprivation, beatings, waterboarding and so on. The ‘enhanced interrogation’ was officially banned by Obama back in 2009, yet the practice actually continued unofficially, according to the UN, which repeatedly urged Washington to stop it and punish those responsible.

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98. Washington says Beijing was behind Microsoft Exchange ransomware attack media, 19 [−]

Criminal hackers backed by Chinas Ministry of State Security are responsible for a massive ransomware attack exploiting Microsoft Exchange email servers earlier this year, the Biden administration has alleged.

The cyber breach announced by Microsoft in March affected tens of thousands computers worldwide, with the company pointing finger at “a group assessed to be state-sponsored and operating out of China.” The US believes that he Ministry of State Security used the group, which was otherwise motivated by profit, to achieve its own ends, an official in the Biden administration told several media outlets on condition of anonymity, including the AP and AFP news agencies.

The disclosure was described as being part of the US’ attempt at a “multination public shaming” of Beijing for its alleged misdeeds. Washington did not impose any sanctions in response to the cyber attacks, but said it confronted Chinese officials about them.

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Pentagon assessing systems after TENS OF THOUSANDS of servers compromised in global Microsoft hack blamed on Chinese hackers

Beijing denied any involvement in criminal hacking operations, saying it firmly opposes “cyber attacks and cyber theft in all forms” and that the US accusations lacked evidence. Russia is another country that Washington has accused of using cybercriminals to launch several recent attacks against Western targets. Moscow also denied the allegations, calling them baseless.

The unnamed official said US cyber experts learned more about how the supposed government-sponsored hackers in China operated. On Monday, several US security agencies published an advisory to the business community explaining how it can defend itself from such attacks. The semi-official accusation against Beijing coincided with the release of the document.

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Computer servers (file photo)
FBI receives search warrant to INFILTRATE & FIX hundreds of systems affected by Chinese hack of Microsoft Exchange servers

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99. Majority of fully vaccinated Americans still concerned about the Delta variant poll, 19 [−]

Most Americans, including those who are fully vaccinated, are growing concerned about the Delta variant of the coronavirus, according to a new poll.

Over 60% of Americans have concerns about the Delta variant, according to a CBS/YouGov poll published on Sunday. The mutation recently became the dominant variant in Covid-19 cases in the US. White House health officials have used it in their push to get more Americans vaccinated, arguing it is more transmissible and deadly.

Fully vaccinated individuals have turned out to be more worried about the Delta variant, with 72% of those polled saying they are concerned about it. Among respondents who are either unvaccinated or waiting on their second dose, a much lower 48% said it is a worry for them.
As US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy promoted vaccinations on ABC on Sunday, he said the Delta variant is behind upticks in cases and could lead to numerous local governments reinstating their mask mandates, which has already happened in major cities like Los Angeles and Las Vegas.

President Joe Biden and other White House officials have pointed to ‘misinformation’ spreading on social media as a reason for vaccination rates slowing down, but a majority of respondents said they either are or plan to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19, regardless of their political party.

Democrats remain far more open to the idea, however, with over 80% saying they are or will be fully vaccinated, against 62% of Republicans saying the same. Among Independents, it was still a majority with 67% saying they are or will be inoculated.

Despite concerns about the Delta variant in the US, the poll did signify an overall positive shift in Americans’ view of the government’s handling of Covid-19. Asked if the fight against the pandemic is “going well” or “badly,” 64% said the former. Asked the same question in January, only 35% of people polled said things were “going well.”

The CBS/YouGov survey was conducted among over 2200 adults and has a margin of error of 2.4%.

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Kamala Harris meets with Democratic members of the Texas state legislature in Washington DC
Kamala Harris will not quarantine after being in contact with two Covid-19 positive Texas Democrats

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100. Trump says Americans refuse to get vaccinated because they dont trust Biden and fake news media, 19 [−]

Donald Trump has been accused by critics of embracing the anti-Covid-19 vaccine movement with a statement claiming Americans refusal to get inoculated comes down to a lack of trust in the White House.

Trump once again gave credit for the development of the vaccines to his administration’s Operation Warp Speed and accused President Joe Biden of being “way behind schedule.”

Biden previously announced a goal of having 70% of American adults receive at least one shot of a vaccine before July 4, an objective that ultimately was not reached.

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FILE PHOTO: A Facebook logo is displayed on a smartphone in this illustration taken January 6, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic
Facebook says 85% of US users are pro-vaccine as it rejects Bidens criticism of killing people with Covid-19 misinformation

Biden and his administration faced heavy backlash this week after the president pointed to misinformation on social media as being behind vaccine hesitancy. He went on to accuse Facebook of “killing people.” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki had earlier called for the banning of people found to be spreading “misinformation” by officials.

According to Biden’s predecessor though, Americans are refusing to get vaccinated because “they don’t trust [Biden’s] administration, they don’t trust the election results, and they certainly don’t trust the fake news, which is refusing to tell the truth.”

As a result, Trump has been accused of pushing anti-vaccine rhetoric by his critics, despite the fact that he has promoted getting vaccinated before.

“Trump just released a statement dabbling in anti-vaccine rhetoric. It’s best not to share or amplify this. He’s banned from Twitter for a reason,” Independent columnist Ahmed Baba tweeted.

Some were more supportive of Trump’s statement and pushed back against the outrage, arguing the comments are similar to ones made by Vice President Kamala Harris when she was on the campaign trail last year, as well as other liberal pundits during the same time period.

During a vice presidential debate in October, Harris said she was not sure about taking a Covid-19 vaccine approved while Trump was in office.

Harris said she would trust doctors telling her the vaccine is safe, “but if Donald Trump tells us that we should take it, I'm not taking it.”

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