Tag Archive for: Afghanistan


Supreme Court weighs lifting liability protections for social media platforms in terrorism case.

Judge rules 9/11 families cannot claim Afghan funds as compensation.

Putin suspends Russia’s participation in last remaining nuclear treaty.


Supreme Court weighs lifting liability protections for social media platforms in terrorism case

Since the 1990s, Internet-based forums have enjoyed protection from civil liability for content posted to their platforms by users. This liability protection under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 came into being long before the proliferation of social media sites like Facebook and YouTube. Some experts and policymakers believe that Section 230 needs a rethink to account for the business models of some social media companies.

In 2015, American college student Nohemi Gonzalez was among the 129 people killed in Paris in coordinated attacks by ISIS-linked terrorists. Gonzalez family is suing Google, the parent company of video-sharing platform YouTube. The family alleges that YouTube helped ISIS recruit followers by directing users to content posted by ISIS sympathizers.

YouTube, like many social media companies, uses an algorithm to direct users to content they think they will like based on users’ other activity, including searches. These algorithms are designed to boost user engagement, which in turn boosts YouTube’s ad-based revenue.

Attorneys for Google say that the company has taken steps to try to limit content that promotes terrorism and other inflammatory subjects. Google also says that if 230 needs to be revisited, that decision should come from Congress rather than the courts. 

Justices seem skeptical

During arguments, the Justices seemed more sympathetic to Google’s arguments. Justice Elena Kagan acknowledged that 230 might be ripe for revision given the emergence of algorithms designed to maximize engagement and revenue.

“[Section 230] was a pre-algorithm statute,” Justice Kagan said. “And, you know, everybody is trying their best to figure out how this statute applies, [how] the statute which was a pre-algorithm statute applies in a post-algorithm world”.

However, Kagan didn’t seem to think the Court was the best venue to argue those revisions. “These are not the nine greatest experts on the Internet,” Kagan said, spurring laughter.

Justices Samuel Alito and Ketanji Brown Jackson expressed confusion at the arguments presented by the Gonzalez family attorney, Eric Schnapper. Schnapper argued Google had aided and abetted ISIS in violation of a federal anti-terrorism statute by recommending the ISIS videos to users.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh also referred to warnings from Google’s supporters that a decision by the Court limiting Section 230 could have serious consequences not only for platforms but also for creators who earn money from posting content 

“Those are serious concerns, and concerns that Congress, if it were to take a look at this and try to fashion something along the lines of what you’re saying, could account for,” Justice Kavanaugh said. “We are not equipped to account for that”.

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NY Judge says 9/11 families cannot claim Afghan funds as compensation

Judge George B. Daniels of the Southern District of New York has ruled against a group representing families who lost loved ones in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks who sought to claim $3.5 billion in frozen assets from the Afghan central bank.

When the US withdrew from Afghanistan in 2021, the New York Federal Reserve bank was holding about $7 billion in assets belonging to the Afghan central bank. Following the US withdrawal, President Biden decided to put half of it towards easing the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, and to set the other half aside for victims of Islamic terrorism.

Years ago, a coalition of 9/11 families won default judgments against the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and other organizations believed to have supported the attacks. Attorneys for the families argued that this $3.5 billion should go to service that judgement. However, in August of 2022, Federal Magistrate Judge Sarah Netburn recommended against awarding the funds to the families.

Netburn’s reasoning was that the funds belong to the people of Afghanistan, not the Taliban. To award the funds to the plaintiffs, the court would essentially be recognizing the Taliban as the legitimate leadership of Afghanistan. That is something only the US State Department can do as it’s a matter of US foreign policy. 

Today’s ruling from Judge Daniels upholds Judge Netburn’s recommendation on those grounds. Judge Daniels also ruled that federal courts lacked jurisdiction over the funds for similar reasons. Nevertheless, the families intend to appeal the decision. The case could eventually find its way to the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals and potentially the Supreme Court, assuming those courts agree to hear it.

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Putin suspends Russia’s participation in last remaining nuclear treaty

Russian President Vladimir Putin gave a speech today ahead of the one-year anniversary of his invasion of Ukraine. Putin said Russian troops would stay in Ukraine until their “objectives” had been accomplished, without clarifying what those objectives were. He also ridiculed “disloyal” oligarchs who had resisted the war or fled the country, fearing sanctions. 

Putin also said he was suspending Russia’s participation in the New START anti-nuclear proliferation treaty. This is the last nuclear monitoring treaty between the US and Russia that remains in force. The treaty allows each country to inspect each other’s nuclear sites. US sources say that Russia hasn’t been complying with the terms of the treaty for some time.

On several occasions since the war began, Putin and other Russian officials have raised the possibility of using nuclear weapons in the conflict. US intelligence says Russian military officials discussed in November how and under what circumstances they might deploy nukes. However, the US has seen no sign yet that Russia is mobilizing its nuclear arsenal.

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Striking Alabama coal miners come together to face tough holidays. Buffalo, NY, sues gun makers after race massacre. Afghan women protest Taliban barring them from universities.




Striking Alabama coal miners share true meaning of Christmas- solidarity

Hundreds of coal miners in Brookwood, Alabama, have now been on strike for nearly 20 months. Despite the hardships they’ve faced, workers are committed to holding their employer, Warrior Met Coal, to a promise they made seven years ago. In 2015, Warrior Met Coal bought out the defunct Walter Energy. Warrior Met convinced employees to accept pay and benefit cuts to help the company get back on its feet. In exchange for this sacrifice, Warrior Met promised a better contract by 2020.

Coal producers are being hit hard by new climate legislation and efforts to retire coal as an energy source. However, Warrior Met produces coal for steel-making, so environmental legislation hasn’t impacted their business. Five years after workers agreed to the massive cuts, Warrior Met was making billions in profit. But Warrior Met reneged on their promise of a more generous contract. Months of negotiations with between management and the workers’ union, United Mine Workers of America, went nowhere, so the workers called a strike in April 2021. Over 1000 workers have been picketing from morning till night ever since.

Christmas solidarity

During the strike, UMWA has kept their members afloat financially with monthly strike insurance checks. These checks don’t nearly match the workers’ salary. Some workers have taken other jobs, and other unions have sent cash donations in solidarity. But, Haeden Wright, the wife of a striking coalminer and auxiliary president of the UMWA locals 2245 and 2368, says the holidays are particularly hard.

“We couldn’t have ever imagined that we would now be on strike for the second Christmas, or the second time during the holidays,” said Wright. “It is hard when you have to learn to tell your kids now that we can’t afford things, you have to go without that. You don’t have satellite TV any more, you don’t go on vacation, you don’t really go anywhere to eat”.

Wright helps organize a year-round food pantry for strikers and holiday events to boost morale. However, Wright admits there are some needs that go unmet. “For a lot of us it meant that when heaters went out, when air conditioning went out, we can’t afford to replace those.” Wright helped set up a gift registry where other unions and members of the public could contribute. Thanks to an encouraging show of support, the registry requests were all fulfilled by early November.

“Your union is your family, it’s your community,” Wright said. “If you ask for help, people are going to help. You’re there for each other”.

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Buffalo, NY, sues gun manufacturers after race massacre

The city of Buffalo, NY, is suing several major gun manufacturers, including Smith & Wesson, Beretta, Bushmaster, Colt and Glock. The suit alleges that the firms have created an epidemic of gun violence through their irresponsible advertising and marketing practices. In May this year, a gunman killed 10 people at a Topps Supermarket in Buffalo. All of the victims were Black and the gunman has admitted that the rampage was motivated by race.

Gun manufacturers have broad immunity from lawsuits related to gun deaths, granted to them by US lawmakers. Buffalo’s suit accuses the gun manufacturers of appealing to people with criminal intent with marketing campaigns that emphasize the high capacity of a weapon and the ease of concealing it. The suit also claims the industry has created a dangerous nuisance by deliberately supplying more guns than needed in the legitimate market and by failing to take steps to stop illegal sales.

Buffalo is believed to be the first city to sue gun manufacturers. However, it is only the most recent of a number of efforts by victims and even governments to try to hold gun makers accountable for their role in glorifying violence.

Sandy Hook

A similar suit that yielded some success was brought by the families of nine Sandy Hook victims, who are about to mark their 10th Christmas without their children. The families sued Remington, makers of the Bushmaster XM15-E2S, an AR-15 style rifle used by Adam Lanza in the massacre. The suit alleged Remington’s marketing for the rifle targeted insecure young men like Lanza, using slogans like, “Consider Your Man Card Reissued“. The families settled with Remington for $73 million, which was paid by the manufacturer’s insurance company.


Following this settlement, Mexico also attempted to sue major manufacturers in US federal courts in April this year. Mexico cited US gun manufacturers’ marketing of guns designed to appeal to the tastes of cartel members. The suit cited several makes of gun with special embellishments like gold plating and even engravings of “Narco Saints”. Ultimately, Boston federal judge F. Dennis Saylor in Boston dismissed Mexico’s suit, albeit with some apparent regret. Saylor observed that federal law “unequivocally” shields gun manufacturers from civil and criminal accountability when their products are used to kill. “While the court has considerable sympathy for the people of Mexico, and none whatsoever for those who traffic guns to Mexican criminal organizations, it is duty-bound to follow the law,” Saylor wrote.


In September, families of children who survived the May school shooting in Uvalde, TX, sued Daniel Defense, makers of the AR-15 style weapon used by the killer. More recently, a mother whose child died in the shooting also sued. Both suits point to Daniel Defense’s marketing towards young people. For example, just days before the shooting, Daniel Defense tweeted a photo of a toddler with an assault rifle.

In a separate action, advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, accusing Daniel Defense of targeting at-risk young men. According to the complaint, Daniel Defense’s marketing frequently uses “references and images associated
with killing and hunting people”.



Afghan women protest Taliban barring them from universities

On Tuesday, Afghanistan’s Taliban leadership announced an edict banning women from universities. Since the Taliban took over the country last year, they’ve steadily chiseled away at the rights of women and girls. Immediately upon taking power, the Taliban banned women from working in certain sectors. Then girls’ access to middle- and high-school level education was severely curtailed. However, until this week, women already in university were allowed to continue, and girls in some areas could receive an informal high school education in private “tuition” centers. 

Educators and students report that the day after the edict was issued, armed Taliban enforcers entered universities and tuition centers and ordered girls to go home at gunpoint. As of now, Afghan girls cannot receive any education beyond the 6th grade. Yesterday, women took to the streets to express their anger at the decision in Kabul. Police quickly disbanded the protests.

The development is especially frustrating after the Taliban allowed girls to take the college entrance exam three months ago. Thousands of young women studied for the exams in secret for months. Moreover, college students across the country were set to start taking final exams this week. Now many women fear their years of study will be wasted after being denied paths to qualifications and greater economic security. With recent bans on women entering public parks and gyms, it appears that the trend is toward confining women largely to their homes.

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Railroad strike averted after marathon White House talks. Trouble brews between liberal, moderate Dems over must-pass funding bill. US unfreezes billions in Afghan funds to stabilize economy.



Railroad strike averted after marathon White House talks

All week, fears have been building all week of a railroad workers strike over an impasse in contract negotiations. Such a strike would have have snarled freight and commuter rail transport indefinitely. The halt in freight transport alone would have cost the nation $2 billion in productivity per day. Late last night, the White House announced that unions and industry representatives had reached a tentative agreement, heading off a strike that would have begun tomorrow.

Democrats in particular are breathing a sigh of relief, Had the strike gone ahead, it would have presented them with a no-win scenario. Dems would have had to choose whether to allow the workers to strike and risk disastrous economic fallout, or forcibly impose an unpopular contract on railroad workers, thus alienating their union voting block. Neither would be helpful to Dems just weeks ahead of the midterms.

The details of the deal between unions and railroad companies aren’t yet public. A deal that was already on the table would have given workers significant pay increases, but didn’t address workers’ concerns about punishing and inflexible work schedules. It’s not clear how this conflict was resolved or how long this truce between the industry and unions will hold.

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Trouble brews between liberal, moderate Dems over must-pass funding bill

Back in July, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer struck a deal with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) in order to pass the major climate and tax reconciliation bill. As part of that deal, Schumer made a controversial promise to Manchin, who’d been withholding his vote on the reconciliation bill for a year. The deal would bring a vote to the floor to fast-track permitting for energy infrastructure projects.

Though nominally a Democrat, Manchin is also a coal baron. He’s long used his power, first as Governor of West Virginia and now as chair of the Senate Energy Committee, to oppose most climate legislation and regulation of carbon emissions and push through legislation to enrich himself.

It recently came to light that Schumer and Manchin agree to push this permitting issue through on the back of an upcoming vote on a must-pass government funding bill. This has set up a clash between progressive and mainline Democrats. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has threatened to vote against the bill if it includes Manchin’s permit provision and has rallied other progressives to do the same.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) also claims that his members were completely unaware of Schumer’s side deal with Manchin. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) confirmed the deal but denies Democratic leadership were kept in the dark about it. Should an impasse occur, Pelosi says they will simply pass a “clean” bill to avoid a government shutdown. They would then bring Manchin’s measure to a vote at another time.



US unfreezes billions in Afghan funds to stabilize economy

When the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan last year, the US froze $7 billion in assets belonging to Da Afghanistan Bank (DAB- Afghanistan’s central bank). The assets had been held in the Federal Reserve Bank in New York. Families who lost loved ones in the Sept. 11 World Trade Center wanted to seize those assets as compensation.

Initially, President Biden decided to split the baby, setting aside $3.5 billion for “the benefit of the Afghan people” and allowing 9/11 victims to try to claim the rest in court. Last month, a federal judge ruled that the 9/11 families couldn’t claim the $3.5 billion. Essentially, granting them the judgment would essentially acknowledge the Taliban as the legitimate power in Afghanistan, which is something only the President has the power to do.

Now, the US government has struck a deal with partners in Switzerland to unfreeze some of the Afghan assets and return them to the DAB. The money will go towards fulfilling some of Afghanistan’s international obligations. This will allow them to pay debts, import food and purchase energy assets. The US and Swiss partners will work together to try to ensure the money doesn’t fall into Taliban control.

The money being released now is part of the $3.5 billion for “the benefit of the Afghan people”. The fate of the other $3.5 billion is still pending in the courts.

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Much of Jackson to be without water indefinitely. More than 40% of Americans believe civil war ‘likely’ within a decade. Monsoon floods leave 1/3 of Pakistan under water.




Much of Jackson to be without water indefinitely

Water pumps at Jackson’s O.B. Curtis Water Treatment Plant have suffered a catastrophic failure, leaving much of the city of 160,000 without reliable drinking water. Gov. Reeves announced a state of emergency and a mobilization to deliver both drinkable and non-drinkable water to residents. For the time being, residents do not have reliable water pressure to shower or flush toilets. Officials have warned residents not to drink any water coming out of the taps as it is untreated.

No one can say for sure when reliable water service will be restored. Engineers are looking at the treatment plant equipment today to see if they can restore it to working order.

The announcement about the water shortage followed heavy rains that flooded much of the Pearl River over the weekend. But Jackson and much of its surrounding area have already been under a boil water notice for weeks. Decades of neglect and a lack of investment by both state and city officials have left much of the city’s water infrastructure sorely inadequate.

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Related: Why Jackson’s water system is broken (opens in new tab).


More than 40% of Americans believe civil war is likely within a decade

A YouGov/Economist poll found that 43% of Americans believe that civil war is likely to break out in the country with the next decade. Along party lines, 40% of both Democrats and Independents believe civil war is at least somewhat likely. That figure jumps to 54% among self-described “strong” Republicans.

Most Americans (65%) also agree that political violence has become more prevalent since 2021 while 62% believed it would increase in the coming years. 

Following the recent FBI raid at the Florida home of former President Trump, several Trump loyalists in the Republican party have used heated rhetoric to stir up their base. One of these was Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who threatened “riots in the streets” if the Justice Department indicted Trump for stealing and refusing to return highly classified documents. Graham is currently fighting a subpoena to testify before a grand jury in Georgia about his role in Trump’s attempt to overturn his loss in the 2020 election.

Across various polls, more than half of Americans think Trump should face charges for the violent insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021. There’s not yet been any polling on whether he should face charges for misappropriating and mishandling the classified documents.

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Floods in Pakistan: More than 1/3 of country under water

Since monsoon season began in June, flooding has claimed over 1100 lives in Pakistan and nearly 200 in neighboring Afghanistan. Pakistan’s climate minister Sherry Rehman says,”It’s all one big ocean; there’s no dry land to pump the water out”. Rehman said the catastrophic flooding follows the heaviest rainy season Pakistan has seen in a decade. “Literally, one-third of Pakistan is underwater right now,” Rehman said, “which has exceeded every boundary, every norm we’ve seen in the past”.

The waters have washed away roads, homes, businesses, crops and even entire villages. At least 33 million Pakistanis have been affected and about half a million displaced. The government is still assessing damage as many of the worst affected areas are difficult to reach. However, Pakistani ministers have offered a preliminary damage estimate in excess of $10 billion. The UN is seeking $160 million in emergency aid.

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Flooding expected in Central Mississippi today. Judge may appoint “special master” in Mar-a-Lago case. Judge: 9/11 victims not entitled to $billions in Afghan assets.




Flooding expected in Central Mississippi today

A map from the National Weather Service. The green lines indicate areas along the Pearl River under flood advisory. The beige indicates severe weather advisory.

Gov. Reeves has declared a state of emergency with rain-swollen rivers in the central part of the state expected to crest today. The major danger zones are in low-lying areas near the Pearl River. The waters are expected to crest today at 34-36 feet, 24 hours ahead of earlier predictions.

In Jackson, areas that last flooded in 2020 are especially vulnerable. Residents have been gathering belongings, prepared to evacuate at a moment’s notice. Jackson’s mayor, Chokwe Antar Lumumba, urged residents in flood-prone areas to pack enough belongings to last them several days. He also cautioned residents against staying in their homes to fend off looters. “Don’t allow that to be an impediment for you saving your life and saving the lives of those other individuals in your home,” Lumumba said Friday. He said police would be increasing patrols to protect property.

Back in 2020, floods left many homes in the area caked in mud and riddled with snakes. Having learned hard lessons, residents have also procured a total of 126,000 sandbags to protect their homes ahead of this year’s event.

The Red Cross has opened a temporary shelter for residents at the Jackson Police Department Training Academy. But people have so far been slow to arrive, waiting until the last possible moment.

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Judge inclined to appoint “special master” in Mar-a-Lago records case

U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon, a Trump appointee, has signaled that she favors appointing a “special master” to oversee the review of classified documents seized from Trump’s Florida home at Mar-a-Lago. A special master is a neutral third party, often a retired judge, who reviews document evidence in a case to ensure that these documents are not subject to protections like attorney-client privilege. Any such documents would then be returned to Trump.

In this case, Trump’s attorneys want a special master to review the seized documents to identify any subject to executive privilege or attorney-client privilege. Trump’s team and his allies have repeatedly asserted executive privilege to dodge subpoenas and otherwise try to shield themselves from scrutiny. However executive privilege only applies to sitting presidents, not former ones.

Trump’s team have asserted that the documents, labeled classified and top secret, were previously declassified by Trump. But there is no evidence Trump ever initiated the necessary formal procedures to declassify these documents.

The Department of Justice can offer arguments against appointing a special master on Thursday, though it’s not clear whether or not they would object. Special masters appointments are fairly routine in high-profile cases. DOJ already has a filter team assigned to review the documents to find any that are privileged. 

Judge Cannon has also requested DOJ provide her with more detailed descriptions of the material taken from Trump’s estate “specifying all property seized”. This list will be filed under seal.

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Judge: 9/11 victims not entitled to $billions in Afghan assets

When the Taliban took over in Afghanistan over a year ago, the Federal Reserve Bank in New York was holding about $7 billion in assets belonging to Afghanistan’s central bank. Advocates for victims of Islamic terror, including those who lost family members in the World Trade Center attack on Sept. 11, 2001, wanted to seize those assets as compensation. 

In February this year, President Biden essentially split the baby, setting aside $3.5 billion for “the benefit of the Afghan people” and allowing victims groups to attempt to claim the rest in court. Victims groups had previously obtained judgements against the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and other groups deemed responsible for 9/11. However the US government took no official position as to whether the groups could seize the Afghan assets under the Terrorist Risk Insurance Act of 2002.

Biden’s decision and efforts by victims groups to seize the assets remain controversial. Seizing these assets has essentially robbed the Afghan people of their own money. Without these funds, ordinary Afghans are struggling even to buy food.

On Friday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Sarah Netburn in Manhattan declared that the funds from the Afghan central bank were out-of-bounds to the victims groups. The Catch-22 here is that by declaring the assets subject to seizure, the court would have to find that the Afghan bank assets in fact belonged to the Taliban. By doing so, Netburn ruled, the court would essentially be declaring the Taliban to be the legitimate government of Afghanistan. That’s something only the President can do.

U.S. District Judge George Daniels will now review Netburn’s decision and decide whether or not to accept it.

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Kentucky floods death toll up to 37. 2020 election deniers in GOP state primaries. Taliban under scrutiny after US kills Al-Qaeda leader in Kabul. Pelosi lands in Taiwan, increasing China tensions.




Kentucky floods: death toll up to 37; “hundreds” remain unaccounted for 5 days after storm

In eastern Kentucky, first responders, aid workers, and members of the National Guard are continuing work in the flood-stricken areas. Part of their task is to bring supplies to residents who have remained in their homes, many of whom are without power and safe drinking water.

Meanwhile, police and sheriff’s deputies are venturing into remote hollers with downed trees and flooded out roads in the mountainous area, searching for the hundreds of people who remain unaccounted for five days after the area received a foot of rain in 48 hours. Often, they find the “missing” person alive and safe, but unable to make contact with loved ones without cell phone or internet service. In other cases, they find bodies.

So far, the death toll stands at 37, including 5 children. The welfare and whereabout of hundreds of people remain unknown. Gov. Andy Beshear expects the death toll will continue to rise over the coming days.

In addition to the task of sheltering and feeding those who have lost their homes, Beshear worries about what the weather will bring in the coming days. Not only is more rain in the forecast, temperatures will rise significantly by the end of the week. Thousands of people remain without power or any means to cool their homes. The state is setting up emergency cooling centers to help people escape the heat. 

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2020 election deniers on GOP ballots in several state primaries

Since the 2022 primary season began, a group called States United has been tracking 2020 election deniers running for GOP nominations for three key state-level offices: governor, attorney general, and secretary of state. So far, election deniers have lost more GOP nomination races than they’ve won. But already in five states, Michigan, Indiana, New Mexico, Alabama, and Nevada, election deniers have managed to secure the Republican nomination for one of these key posts.

In today’s Arizona primary, there is potential for a sixth. There are four GOP candidates for secretary of state, two of which are 2020 election deniers. Shawnna Bolick, a Republican state representative, proposed legislation last year that would have allowed the state legislature to overrule the popular vote when selecting presidential electors. However, it was another GOP candidate, Oath Keeper Mark Finchem, that ultimately received Trump’s endorsement. In Arizona, as in most states, the secretary of state is the highest-ranking election official.

The number of election deniers running for high state offices has democracy experts worried. Many of those running, and who have received Trump’s endorsement, have openly advocated for disregarding the popular vote to favor the candidate of their choosing. It would only take one such fanatic to win in November to potentially throw the 2024 presidential election into turmoil.

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Taliban under scrutiny after US kills Al-Qaeda leader in Kabul

A few days ago, a drone strike in Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, killed Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri. The upscale house where Zawahri had been living is in the heart of Kabul’s government district, prompting speculation that he was under the Taliban’s protection. The news has severely undermined what little credibility the Taliban had on the international stage. Since taking over the country in August last year, the Taliban have been seeking recognition and legitimacy in hopes that western countries might be more open to doing business with them.

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Pelosi lands in Taiwan, stirring up more trouble right when we don’t need it

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has landed on an Air Force aircraft in Taiwan. There had been much speculation after Pelosi announced her tour of Indo-Pacific countries. Pelosi had canceled a planned trip to the island in April after contracting COVID. 

The news has infuriated Beijing, which considers Taiwan to be a breakaway state that will be ultimately reunited with China. Pelosi is now the highest-ranking US official to visit since former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich traveled there in 1997. The significance is not lost on Beijing. The Chinese government sees increasing US support for the island and its pro-independence government as a provocation. Chinese President Xi Jinping has promised “severe consequences” should Pelosi visit. Whether or not these “consequences” take the form of military action, it will be difficult to repair already strained US-Chinese relations after this stunt.

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“Multiple” fatalities, dozens injured in Amtrak derailment in Missouri. Jan. 6 committee sets surprise hearing tomorrow. Afghanistan: Aid slow to reach villages after deadly earthquake.




“Multiple” fatalities, dozens injured in Amtrak derailment in Missouri

An Amtrak passenger train carrying 243 passengers and 12 crew members between Los Angeles and Chicago derailed at about 12:42 p.m. local time today in Mendon, MO. Eight passenger cars and two locomotive engines jumped the track after colliding with a truck. According to the superintendent of the local Chariton County Ambulance Service, there are multiple fatalities and at least 50 people injured. This is a developing story and authorities are still at the scene.

This is the second fatal Amtrak crash in two days. Yesterday, 3 people were killed and 2 seriously injured when an Amtrak train hit a car in Brentwood, CA.


Jan. 6 committee sets surprise hearing tomorrow

Following last Thursday’s live hearing, the Jan. 6 committee announced they’d be taking a break of several weeks. Today they announced a surprise hearing broadcast tomorrow, Tuesday Jun. 28, at 1 p.m. ET/ 12 p.m. CT. So far, the committee have not announced what the subject of tomorrow’s hearing will be, except to say that they will be presenting “recently obtained evidence”.

The surprise hearing comes after members of the committee met last week with Alex Holder, a British filmmaker. From the end of the 2020 campaign cycle until the final weeks of Trump’s presidency, Holder was filming a documentary titled Unprecedented with the cooperation of the Trump family. During that time, Holder had extensive and intimate access to Trump and his family members.

The committee has been in possession of Holder’s raw footage for an indeterminate amount of time. Committee chair Rep. Bennie Thompson (R-MS) said the committee needed time to review the hours of footage. It appears some of the contents of the footage may contradict previous witness testimony.

Trump aides had no idea about the documentary

Holder coordinated the filming of Unprecedented directly with the Trump family, who granted him “unparalleled access” according to Holder. This arrangement apparently left several of Trump’s former senior aides completely in the dark about the documentary. Having seen a previous write-up about the documentary in Politico, one former Trump aide reached out to Rolling Stone asking, “What the f— is this?”. Another summed up the Trumps’ decision to allow a documentary film crew into their lives as “a terrible idea”. To Trump, a former reality star who prides himself on his media savvy, it must have seemed only natural.

Holder says that he and his crew had “no agenda” when they embarked on the project, except “to better understand who the Trumps were and what motivated them to hold onto power so desperately”.

It remains to be seen whether any of Holder’s footage will present the committee with any incriminating bombshells. Again, it’s not even certain whether Holder or his footage will be the focus of tomorrow’s hearing. The committee has also expressed interest in hearing from Ginni Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, and Pat Cipollone, a former Trump White House attorney. Either Thomas or Cipollone could offer enough information to merit a solo hearing, but so far there is no indication that either of them has come forward.



Afghanistan: Aid slow to reach villages after deadly earthquake

In the early hours of Wednesday, June 22, a 6.0-magnitude earthquake struck a rural area in southeast Afghanistan. Officials estimate that the initial quake killed about 1,150, injured 2000 and destroyed 10,000 homes in the remote mountainous region. Homes in the region are generally built from mud and collapsed in on residents as they slept.

Torrential rains over the following days have hampered efforts to locate survivors and victims, tend to the injured and bring in much-needed supplies. The rains have also triggered landslides that have either washed out or obstructed many of the dirt roads that are the only terrestrial route to many of the villages. Because of this, the Taliban government and some international aid organizations have been flying supplies in by helicopter. On top of that, the area has experienced several powerful aftershocks that have residents afraid to sleep inside what homes remain.

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Bipartisan gun control bill moves forward. Murder conviction overturned in case of GA man who left son to die in hot car. Afghanistan: At least 1000 dead after 6.0 magnitude earthquake.




Bipartisan gun control bill moves forward

A group of Republican and Democratic Senators has released the full text of the new gun control legislation. The Senate also voted to fast track voting on the bill. In addition to all Senate Democrats, 14 Republicans voted to fast track the bill, suggesting it has enough support to overcome a Republican filibuster. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has also said that she will move for a swift vote once the bill arrives in her chamber.

What’s in the bill?

The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act does include financial incentives for states to pass “red-flag laws”. These laws allow law enforcement to temporarily confiscate guns from individuals who are adjudicated mentally ill or who have expressed intent to harm themselves or others. However, if a state chooses not to pass a red-flag law, they can still get money for other “crisis management” programs. The bill also provides funding for community mental health programs and in-school resources.

The legislation will also close the “boyfriend loophole”. Until now, only people convicted of domestic violence against a marriage partner banned from buying a gun. Now that will also apply to people convicted of domestic violence against a dating partner. 

Also included in the bill is expanded background checks for gun purchasers between the ages of 18 and 21. Juvenile records will now also show up in background checks for people in this age group.

The bill does not include many of the measures that a majority of Americans (both Republicans and Democrats) support. For example, it does not establish universal background checks or close the “gun show loophole”. It also does not ban high-capacity magazines or end sales of military-style assault rifles. Nor does it raise the legal age to purchase such weapons.

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Murder conviction overturned in case of GA man who left son to die in hot car

In June 2014, Justin Ross Harris, then 33, was supposed to drop his 22-month-old son Cooper off at daycare on his way to work. Instead, with Cooper strapped into a rear-facing child seat inches behind the drivers seat, Harris pulled into the parking lot at his workplace and got out of the car at 9:25am. A little after noon, Harris returned to the car and opened the drivers side door to leave some lightbulbs he’d bought after lunch. By then, Cooper had already been in the car for over 3 hours in 92-degree heat.

Then at 4:16, Harris pulled into a mall parking lot after leaving work, having discovered his son dead in the backseat. He got out of the car and frantically yelled for passers by to call for help. A witness said Harris made three phone calls (none to 911) and never attempted CPR on Cooper, contradicting Harris’ later statement to police. Harris also neglected to mention his visit to the car after lunch during his interrogation.

Police were immediately suspicious about Harris’ behavior when they arrived to the scene. One moment he would be wailing frantically, and the next he’d be dead calm. He told officers he’d simply forgotten Cooper was in the backseat. As they put him in the back of the squad car, Harris complained about how hot it was.

Infidelity and Google searches on hot car deaths

After Harris’ arrest, police searched his home computer. They found that he’d been contacting women (and some underage girls) online and meeting them for sex. They also discovered that Harris had researched how long it takes a child to die in a hot car just days before Cooper’s death.

At his trial, prosecutors argued that Harris was unhappy in his marriage and intentionally killed his young son to free himself. The jury convicted Harris of “malice murder” (equivalent to first degree murder) in Cooper’s death and seven other charges. A judge later sentenced Harris to life in prison on the murder charge plus 32 years for the other charges.

Today, in a 6-3 decision, Georgia’s Supreme Court overturned the murder conviction against Harris. This means that Harris is entitled to a new trial on the murder and child cruelty charges. The majority ruled that the inclusion of the evidence of Harris’ infidelity was “extremely and unfairly prejudicial” and “improperly admitted”. The three dissenting judges wrote that the state was “entitled to introduce, in detail, evidence of the nature, scope, and extent of the truly sinister motive it ascribed to Harris”. 

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Afghanistan: At least 1000 dead after 6.0 magnitude earthquake

At about 1.30 am local time this morning, a 6.0 magnitude earthquake struck rural parts of Afghanistan and also shook part of neighboring Pakistan. Most people were in bed as their houses tumbled in on top of them. Many of the homes in this part of Afghanistan are mud-built. Since the area is remote, it took hours for rescue crews to arrive with heavy equipment to search for any survivors.

The latest information we have says that at least 1000 people were killed and about 1,500 injured, but the death toll is expected to rise higher. Rescuers have yet to reach some of the affected villages.

Images from local news shows rows of destroyed homes in numerous villages. Rescue and recovery efforts are ongoing. The country’s ruling Taliban government has sought UN assistance in assessing damage and aiding those affected. Several foreign governments have offered assistance. 

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Texas school shooting: 19 children and 2 teachers dead. Congressional hearings on baby formula shortage today. 1.1 million Afghan children face severe malnutrition this year.




Texas school shooting: 19 children and 2 teachers dead

The story of Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde, TX, has moved on somewhat since the first reports emerged yesterday evening. The official death toll now stands at 19 children and two adults. There are also an unknown number of wounded still hospitalized locally and in San Antonio, some 85 miles east of Uvalde. It’s therefore possible that more could die.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott identified the shooter as Salvador Ramos, 18, who attended the local high school. Authorities have not offered a motive for Ramos’ actions, but say it appears he acted alone. He carried out his attack with a handgun and an AR-15 style rifle. Ramos was killed at the scene, reportedly by a Border Patrol agent who happened to be nearby and rushed in to help.

There are also reports that Ramos shot his grandmother before going to the school. She reportedly survived but her condition is unknown.

More information is also coming to light about the victims at the school. We know that the school houses grades 2-4 and that Ramos targeted children in all three grades. Relatives of some of the victims have confirmed their loved one’s deaths to reporters or on social media (click here for their names and photos) 

Teachers Eva Mireles, 44, and Irma Garcia, 46, died trying to protect their pupils. Mireles’ had been teaching for 17 years and was married with one child. Garcia taught for 23 years and was married with four children.

Uvalde is a town of about 16,000 people, about three-quarters of whom are Hispanic. Its most famous son is actor Matthew McConaughey.

The National Rifle Association will be holding its annual convention in Houston, TX, in a few days’ time.

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Two Congressional hearings on baby formula shortage today

The Oversight and Investigations subcommittee of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce will be holding a hearing today about the causes of the nationwide infant formula shortage. Appearing will be representatives from the FDA, as well as executives of Abbott Laboratories, makers of Similac. The shortage got its start in February when Abbott shut down its Michigan factory. This came after four infants who consumed their formula became sick with Cronobacter sakazakii, which can cause meningitis. Two of the infants died.

The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies will hold a separate but related hearing.

The goal of the two hearings is to understand how the crisis happened and to prevent a similar one in future.

The House and Senate last week passed a bill to allow beneficiaries of the Women Infants and Children (WIC) supplemental program to purchase different brands of formula. The measure now awaits President Biden’s signature. Biden also invoked the Defense Production Act to speed deliveries of raw materials to baby formula manufacturers. Shipments of baby formula are also being flown in from Europe to help make up for the shortfall.

More: How corporate greed led to the baby formula shortage (7-minute video; opens in new tab).



1.1 million Afghan children face severe malnutrition this year

Rising poverty, drought, supply issues, and inflation have conspired worsen the problem of child hunger in Afghanistan. UN groups have mobilized to deliver emergency aid and set up temporary facilities to help needy families. But aid groups are fighting an uphill battle with insufficient resources. According to IPC, a partnership between the UN and other aid agencies, $4.4 billion is needed to meaningfully address the current crisis. So far, the international community has pledged just $2 billion and delivered only $601 million. 

Following the Taliban takeover in August, aid groups pulled out for safety reasons and international sanctions blocked billions in Afghan government funds held abroad from entering the country. The US initially withheld some $7 billion belonging to Afghanistan’s central bank. In February, President Biden decided to split it in half, pledging $3.5 billion to Afghanistan and $3.5 billion to 9/11 families’ legal funds. But even the $3.5 billion destined for Afghanistan has not been delivered.

By December last year, about half the country had plunged below the poverty line. That could rise to 97% by mid-2022.

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Please share any thoughts, comments or questions in the Comments section below!



Dems: ban unvaxxed from domestic flights. Trump ally Bannon arrested. National Guard called in ahead of Rittenhouse verdict. Pentagon covered-up 2019 Syria airstrike that killed 50 civilians.




Biden under pressure to ban unvaxxed from domestic flights

A group of 36 Democratic lawmakers are advocating that President Biden ban unvaccinated travelers from domestic flights ahead of the holiday season. A letter from the group argues that with COVID-19 cases surging anew in parts of the country, a ban on unvaccinated travelers would minimize a holiday-related spike in cases. The letter also says the move would support the travel and hospitality industries whose profits remain down compared to 2019.

From the airline industry’s perspective, requiring proof of vaccination from passengers could potentially remove the need for on-board masking rules. Mask rules have led to a record number of violent incidents on flights this year. The FAA has reported 5,114 unruly passenger incidents this year, 73% of which began with mask disputes. Over 100 of these incidents have led to physical assaults.

A Southwest Airlines employee was recently hospitalized after being punched in the head by an angry passenger. Flight crew had already ejected the passenger from a Dallas-to-New York flight for as yet undisclosed reasons. The passenger was arrested and charged with aggravated assault.

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Trump ally Steve Bannon arrested on contempt charges

Last Friday, the Department of Justice indicted Trump ally Steve Bannon on contempt of Congress charges. Members of Congress had previously recommended contempt charges after Bannon defied a subpoena from the Jan. 6 committee and refused to submit relevant documents. Today, Bannon turned himself in to the FBI and will likely appear in court this afternoon.

Other Trump allies, including former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, may soon face similar charges. Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), who chairs the Jan. committee, has previously given his opinion that there was “no question” that the violence of the Capitol riot was premeditated and that Trump’s allies, possibly to include Bannon and Meadows, were behind it in some way. In an interview on Jan. 5, Bannon memorably predicted that “all hell” would break loose as Congress convened to ratify the election results the next day.

Over the weekend, former White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham, stated in an interview that Trump frequently held “off-the-books” meetings to avoid them being logged in official documents. Grisham said that Trump held these impromptu meetings in his White House residence, in part because he was “paranoid” about leaks. Grisham also said that Meadows helped plan these meetings and said the Jan. 6 committee had good reason to want to speak to him.

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National Guard called in ahead of Rittenhouse verdict

The city of Kenosha, WI, has called in 500 National Guard troops to maintain order in the city ahead of the verdict in Kyle Rittenhouse’s murder trial. Last year, Rittenhouse fatally shot two protesters and wounded a third during police brutality protests. Closing arguments are currently underway. Once the defense and prosecution have concluded their remarks, it will pass to the jury to reach a verdict. If convicted of the most serious charge of first degree murder, Rittenhouse, 18, faces a mandatory life sentence.

Earlier today, the presiding judge dismissed a lesser count against Rittenhouse of possession of a dangerous weapon by a person under 18. This misdemeanor charge was the surest to get a conviction, carrying a 9-month sentence, as Rittenhouse was 17 at the time of the shootings.

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Pentagon: 2019 strike that killed 50 Syrian civilians “legitimate”

The Pentagon has defended a 2019 air strike that potentially killed dozens of innocent civilians in Syria as “legitimate”. The statement comes after news outlets, including The New York Times, ran stories over the weekend alleging an official cover-up over the deaths resulting from the attack. The strike targeting ISIS fighters killed about 80 people. An investigation concluded that only about 16 of those killed were actually militants.

The Pentagon has also recently declared a drone strike that killed 10 civilians, including 7 children in Afghanistan in August this year to be an “honest mistake” that did not break any laws.

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Jan. 6 panel wants to hold Steve Bannon in contempt. ‘Striketober’: 100,000 workers threaten to strike. Afghanistan: 32 dead in mosque suicide bombing.



Jan. 6 panel moves for criminal contempt charges against Steve Bannon

The Congressional Jan. 6 Commission is set to pursue criminal contempt charges against Steve Bannon, a political ally of former President Trump. Bannon was not in Trump’s government for years prior to the Jan. 6 attack. Nevertheless, he says he is asserting ‘executive privilege’ in his refusal to appear before the committee. Numerous legal experts have said that Trump’s ability to invoke executive privilege for himself and his cronies expired the day he left the White House.

The commission will meet on Tuesday to discuss turning Bannon’s case over to the Justice Department. Historically, the Justice Department has only rarely invoked criminal charges when subpoenaed witnesses refused to appear before Congress.

A “grand design”?

The more compelling aspects of this standoff lie in the committee’s reasons for calling Bannon to testify in the first place. In an NPR interview (which you can hear via the link below), committee member Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), outlines the case. Raskin says the committee is interested in comments Bannon made in ahead of Jan. 6. Speaking on a right-wing radio show on Jan. 5, Bannon predicted that “all hell is going to break loose tomorrow”.

Raskin explains the committee’s suspicion that the Jan. 6 invasion of the Capitol was part of an overall “grand design” being orchestrated by Trump allies both inside and outside of government. This includes installation of a number of Trump loyalists in key Defense Department and Justice Department positions following his defeat at the polls in November. Raskin speculates that the ultimate goal was to overturn the results of the election through a combination of coordinated violence and behind-the-scenes political maneuvering.

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‘Striketober’: 100,000 workers threaten to strike for better pay, conditions

From healthcare to manufacturing, thousands of workers across the country are striking or threatening to strike for better pay and conditions this month. Workers at Kellogg’s and John Deere have announced walk-out this week over contract disputes. Employees of Kaiser Permanente, one of the nation’s largest healthcare systems, are also threatening to strike. The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, which represents about 60,000 crewmembers in film and television production, are also staging their first strike in their 100+ years of existence.

Earlier this year, workers at Nabisco staged a strike over grueling working hours, with many not having had a day off in over a year. Workers also said they had not a pay rise in years.

Despite the nationwide worker shortage, some larger corporations like Kaiser and Kellogg’s are attempting to control costs by introducing two-tier systems. This would mean that new workers would have lower wages and fewer benefits than those who had been with the company longer. In Kaiser’s case, the plan was to cut starting wages by as much as 30%.

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Read more here about the causes of the nationwide worker shortage. 



Afghanistan: At least 32 dead in mosque suicide bombing

In Kandahar, at least three suicide bombers detonated devices inside a Shia mosque during prayers. The mosque was crowded since Friday prayers are the busiest of the week. At least 32 people were killed and many were seriously injured. Taliban forces have secured the site and are asking locals to donate blood to help the wounded.

No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attacks, but it seems likely that ISIS-K was behind it. ISIS is broadly a Sunni organization and is known for targeting members of other Islamic sects, especially Shias.

The Taliban and ISIS-K are sworn enemies. During the American airlifts in August, and ISIS-K suicide bombing killed 13 American military personnel, numerous Taliban fighters, and about 100 civilians. Kandahar is a founding city for the Taliban, and an attack there by ISIS-K has considerable symbolic significance.

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Two decades of war cost taxpayers $5.8 trillion, so far. Texas’ abortion strategy could be used to curtail any constitutional right. UN: Number of weather disasters soar, deaths fall.


America’s two decades of war cost taxpayers $5.8 trillion, so far

A new report from the Costs of War Project at Brown University tallies that the total cost for the U.S. “War on Terror” will reach an astounding $5.8 trillion by the end of 2022. And that’s not all. Health care for veterans will likely top $2.2 trillion through 2050, bringing the total to more than $8 trillion. 

This figure includes funding for the Department of Homeland Security and increases to the Pentagon’s “base” budget.

Not included in this estimate is the interest for the money we borrowed for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. By 2050, the interest alone may reach more than $6.5 trillion!

The human cost

The Costs of War report estimates that as many as 929,000 people have died as a direct result of the war on terror. That includes combatants and civilians, but civilians make up the vast majority. About 3000 people died on 9/11. So 929,000 is about 309 9/11s, or 15 9/11s every year for twenty years.

But the human cost also includes lost opportunities to invest in making people’s lives better by investing things like infrastructure, climate-change readiness, education and healthcare. Lindsay Koshgarian of the Institute for Policy Studies says, “We’re not dealing with all of those problems because of how much we’ve had tunnel vision and invested in this one vision of security — that really isn’t meeting our needs”.

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Texas’ abortion strategy could be used to curtail any constitutional right

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a legal challenge to a Texas abortion law, which restricts abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detectable, around 6 weeks. This is before most women even know they are pregnant. The law effectively bans most otherwise constitutional abortions, even in cases of rape or incest.

Spy on thy neighbor?

Whether you’re pro-life or pro-choice, anyone with strong views on any social issue should have concerns about the way Texas’ new law is enforced. Rather than imposing criminal penalties, the law essentially encourages private citizens to spy on one another and report any suspicion they have.

The law does not target the women getting the abortion. Instead, it allows any private citizen to sue any person who aids and abets a woman in obtaining an abortion beyond the 6-week threshold for at least $10,000. That means any random person could sue you if you give a woman a ride to an abortion clinic. If you give a pregnant woman information about obtaining an abortion, you can be sued. Some interpretations of the law suggest that someone could sue you just for donating to a service like Planned Parenthood. You can even be sued for condsidering doing any of these things. Essentially, a thought crime.

That enforcement strategy could apply to any social issue

Stephen Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas in Austin, says the law is “a cynical attempt to make it harder to challenge the underlying ban” in court. The fact that private citizens, and not the state, are enforcing this law makes it very difficult to challenge in court since there’s no single public official challengers could sue to block the law on the grounds that it’s unconstitutional. 

But Vladeck also says states could use this strategy to craft hard-to-challenge legislation to curtail a host of constitutional rights. Vladeck uses the example of 2nd Amendment gun rights. For example, “What if California turns around and passes gun restrictions that have a similar procedural trap?”. In such a case, the state wouldn’t be enforcing the law, but “private citizens who believe that someone’s keeping a gun in their home in violation of the relevant state laws”.

Beyond that, what if a random person could sue you for lending money to someone to buy a gun? Or driving them to the gun store? Or donating to the NRA? Or thinking about it?

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UN: Number of weather disasters soar, deaths fall

The World Meteorological Organization, part of of the UN, says that weather disasters are occurring worldwide four to five times more often and causing seven times more damage compared with the 1970s. In the 1970s, the world saw about 711 weather disasters a year. Throughout the 2010s, the average was 3,536 per year, or nearly 10 a day.

If there’s any good news here, it’s that far fewer people are dying, on average, as a result of these catastrophes. In the ’70s and ’80s, about 170 people died per day as a result of weather disasters worldwide. By the 2010s, that number had dropped to around 40 a day.

The WMO’s secretary-general Petteri Taalas says that, “we have been able to minimize the amount of casualties” despite the increasing frequency of heatwaves, flooding events, drought, and tropical storms.”  

“But the bad news,” says Taalas, “is that the economic losses have been growing very rapidly”. For comparison, weather disasters cost about $175 billion globally in the 1970s, when adjusted to 2019 dollars. For the period from 2010 to 2019, global weather damage amounted to about $1.38 trillion. As climate change worsens and exacerbates further weather events, Taalas says the growth of these costs will only accelerate over the next century.

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