Tag Archive for: Crimea

Texas judge hears case that could ban abortion pills nationwide.

Ohio sues Norfolk Southern over toxic derailment.

Russian warplane forces down US surveillance drone over Black Sea.



Texas judge hears case that could ban abortion pills nationwide

A federal judge in Amarillo, TX, heard arguments today in a case brought by anti-abortion groups seeking to ban the sale of the abortion medication mifepristone nationwide. Attorneys for the Texas-based organization Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine contends that the FDA used improperly approved the drug in 2000. The group argues that the FDA and did not adequately assess its use by girls under age 18 to terminate a pregnancy.

Mifepristone is part of a two-drug regimen used to abort a pregnancy, usually before 10 weeks gestation. More than half of all abortions in the US are managed with medication. Mifepristone also has several other approved uses that have nothing to do with abortion. These include treating uterine fibroids and managing symptoms of Cushing’s syndrome.

Department of Justice attorneys defending the FDA said that mifepristone has a proven track record of being safe and effective. The DOJ also argued that the challenge comes much too late as the drug was approved 23 years ago.  The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists also filed an amicus brief in support of the FDA, saying mifepristone “has been thoroughly studied and is conclusively safe”.

Women’s health advocates say taking mifepristone off the market would force more women to undergo unnecessary surgical procedures. It would further overwhelm abortion clinics that are already struggling to meet the needs of women who often have to travel several states away.

Trump-appointed judge tried to keep hearing quiet

U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, who presided over the case, asked the attorneys involved early last week not to publicize when and where the hearing would be held. Kacsmaryk hoped to minimize press coverage and protests at the courthouse in this momentous case that could impact over 60 million women of child-bearing age in the US. The judge’s attempt to keep proceedings quiet backfired with women’s rights groups descending on Amarillo. One dressed as a kangaroo with a gavel, implying the hearing was a “kangaroo court”.

Kacsmaryk is a former Christian activist appointed to the federal bench by former Pres. Donald Trump. His court has become a venue of choice for lawsuits from numerous conservative groups. The Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine incorporated in Amarillo just three months before filing suit, which many consider a case of “court shopping”.

Kacsmaryk did not issue a ruling today after four hours of arguments. The groups bringing the suit also asked Kacsmaryk for a preliminary order halting sales of the drug while their lawsuit proceeds. Kacsmaryk ended by saying he would “issue an order and opinion as soon as possible,” possibly suggesting he’s already made up his mind about the preliminary order. In anticipation of mifepristone becoming unavailable, healthcare providers are busy lining up viable alternatives.

The next stop for the losers in Kacsmaryk’s court would be the conservative 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. It’s possible the case could wind up before the Supreme Court. Even if the FDA ultimately prevails, an order from Kacsmaryk halting sales of mifepristone could complicate the lives of millions of women for months (not to mention people who use mifepristone to manage other medical conditions). 

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Ohio sues Norfolk Southern over toxic derailment

The state of Ohio has filed a civil suit against the rail company Norfolk Southern over the derailment in East Palestine last month that was responsible for releasing more than a million gallons of toxic chemicals. The state is hoping to recoup the cost of the state’s costs from the disaster. The suit wants to hold the rail company financially responsible for damage to the state’s natural resources, the cost of state emergency response and economic harm to residents.

The suit refers to the East Palestine disaster as just one of a “long string” of derailments and hazardous material incidents for which Norfolk Southern is responsible. Norfolk Southern has been responsible for at least 20 derailments since 2015 involving the release of toxic chemicals, according to the filing. The state accuses Norfolk Southern of “recklessly endangering” residents and the environment, alleging multiple violations of state and federal laws regarding hazardous waste, water pollution, air pollution and common law negligence.

Communities in western Pennsylvania were also affected by the disaster which took place less than a mile the other side of their border with Ohio. Last month, Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro issued a criminal referral to his state attorney general regarding the disaster. The attorney general’s office is still investigating whether there was any criminal conduct on the part of Norfolk Southern, but no charges have been filed.

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Russian warplane forces down US surveillance drone over Black Sea

Yesterday, an American MQ-9 Reaper drone crashed into the Black Sea near the Crimean Peninsula, a Ukrainian territory Russia has occupied since 2014. US officials say that the crash was the result of an encounter with two Russian fighter jets. The drone became “unflyable” when one of the jets clipped its propeller. Prior to this, the jets had been dumping fuel over the drone to try to force it down. The Kremlin denies this version of events.

The US says the drone was in international airspace when the Russian jets attacked it, but Russia insists the the drone violated their (or Ukraine’s) air space. Russia claims that the presence of the drone is further evidence of direct involvement in the Ukraine war by the US military.

Both Russia and the US have announced that they’ll attempt to recover the drone. There’s a worrisome possibility of confrontation as the two sides try to get to the drone first. Joint Chiefs chair Gen. Mark Milley says he’s not sure if the drone is recoverable, claiming it sank under 4000-5000 feet of water. Milley also stressed the US has taken “mitigating measures” that would thwart Russia’s attempts to recover useful intelligence from the drone should they recover it. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin confirmed he has communicated with his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu regarding the incident.

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Savannah police, FBI search for toddler, missing 5 days. Pentagon struggles to address rising suicide rates. Russia strikes Kyiv in retaliation for Crimea bridge explosion.



Savannah police, FBI searching for toddler, missing 5 days

Quinton Simon, 20-months-old, was last seen in his playpen by his mother’s boyfriend, Daniel Youngkin, around 6am on Wednesday morning. Quinton’s mother, Leilani Simon, 20, reported him missing a little after 9:40am that day, shortly after she awoke. A call from the dispatcher to local police said Leilani believed her son could not have opened the door on his own and that someone must have come in and taken him. Police have since exhaustively searched the home and the surrounding area, including a swimming pool and nearby pond and woods.

Because police could not rule out the possibility of an abduction, the FBI has joined the investigation. Police have said they don’t suspect foul play at this time and have not named any suspects or persons of interest in the case. Quinton’s biological father was not in the area at the time of his disappearance, and police do not suspect a custody dispute. The boy’s parents, the mother’s boyfriend, and the child’s grandmother are all cooperating with detectives.

Disturbing details

There are several oddities in the case that have garnered media attention and rampant speculation on social media. Quinton, his 3-year-old brother Zayne, his mother and his mother’s boyfriend all apparently live with Leilani’s mother, Billie Jo Howell. Howell and her husband now have custody of both Quinton and Zayne. Court records show that in September, Howell had attempted to have her daughter and her daughter’s boyfriend evicted from the home. Last week, Howell said of her daughter, “I don’t know if I can trust her or I don’t. I just know I’m hurting and I want this baby home. He’s my baby”.

Quinton and Zayne’s babysitter Diana McCarta normally watches the boys at her home during the day and told reporters she was supposed to watch the boys that day. However, McCarta told reporters she’d received a text at 5:29 am Wednesday morning stating that she wouldn’t be babysitting that day. This was “kind of odd,” McCarta said, “because I have them even when [Leilani] doesn’t work”.

Although, Howell usually keeps the boys, Leiliani had been caring for them while Howell was away on a business trip. While Leilani was taking care of the boys, McCarta said, “I started seeing things that weren’t quite right”. McCarta claims, for example, that she’d seen the boys outside unsupervised while in their mother’s care.

Despite these ominous circumstances, police say they don’t yet have any reason to believe Quinton is dead and remain hopeful of finding him alive.

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Pentagon struggles to address rising suicide rates

Since 9/11, four times as many veterans and active-duty military personnel have died by suicide as have died in combat, according to a 2021 study by the Cost of War Project. Between 2015 and 2020, suicides among active-duty service members have increased by 40%. In some postings, the number nearly doubled. 

The Cost of War study attributed the high suicide rates to service members’ “high exposure to trauma — mental, physical, moral, and sexual — stress and burnout, the influence of the military’s hegemonic masculine culture, continued access to guns, and the difficulty of reintegrating into civilian life”. In recent years, active service members are also increasingly contending with added stressors such as food insecurity and housing insecurity.

Although Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has acknowledged the problem and issued directives for mental health resources and quality of life improvements, service members still face many barriers when trying to get the help they need. The culture of self-sufficiency in the military means that service members fear stigma and consequences for their career if they seek help for their mental health. Even when they do request help, resources are stretched thin, and service members may have to wait weeks for their first appointment.

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If you’re experiencing depression or thoughts suicide, help is available by calling or texting 988. You can also access an online chat at 988lifeline.org.



Russia retaliates for Crimea bridge explosion with missile launches missiles at Kyiv, other Ukrainian cities

On Saturday, an explosion destroyed part of the Kerch bridge which connects the Crimean Peninsula with Russia. Russia illegally annexed Crimea in 2014, and the Kerch bridge served as both a physical and symbolic reunification of Crimea with the Russian motherland. President Vladimir Putin personally attended its dedication. Since the invasion begin, the bridge has also been a major military supply artery for the Russian military.

It’s not clear as yet what caused the explosion. Russian authorities have blamed a truck bomb, but independent analysts have disputed the evidence for this. Some have speculated the Ukrainians may have used a special “drone boat” to attack the bridge. Whatever the case, Putin has branded the attack on the bridge an “act of terror” by Ukraine, and ordered today’s wide-ranging missile campaign across the country in retaliation.

Part of this relation included several missile strikes against the capital in Kyiv, the first in several months. In the early days of the invasion, Russia tried and failed to occupy Kyiv. For four hours, air raid sirens rang out in every region of Ukraine, apart from Crimea. Dozens of missile strikes targeted civilian and energy infrastructure in various cities, possibly signaling a major escalation in hostilities.

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Officer in Wright shooting due in court. 100 firms oppose vote restrictions. US sanctions Russia, expels diplomats. What’s up with N Korea’s Kim?


Officer in Wright shooting due in court

Kim Potter, the 26-year police veteran who fatally shot Daunte Wright, 20, during a traffic stop, is due to make her first court appearance today. Potter has been charged with 2nd degree manslaughter in Wright’s death. The charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. Potter is free pending trial after posting $100,000 bail.

Earlier this week, Potter and Brooklyn Center Police Chief Tim Gannon both resigned their positions following the outcry over Wright’s death. Before resigning, Gannon stated his opinion that Potter had mistaken her gun for her Tazer, calling Wright’s death a tragic accident. Such mix-ups are rare, with 16 such incidents having been recorded nationwide in the last 10 years.

This explanation has not satisfied many in Minneapolis. Many, including Wright’s family, dismiss this explanation entirely. Others see even Tazing a person during a routine traffic stop as a manifestation of racial bias by police. Traffic stops can be surprisingly stressful for police, as many officers have been killed over the years during routine stops. Nevertheless, experts say this does not excuse Potter’s actions.

Law enforcement experts offer several explanations for the deadly mishap, including poor training practices. For example, police officers typically spend many more hours training with their lethal weapons than with their non-lethal weapons. As a consequence, muscle memory makes it more likely they will reach for their guns in stressful situations rather than any of the numerous non-lethal tools at their disposal.

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More than 100 companies sign pledge to oppose voting restrictions

This week, hundreds of CEOs, investors and other leaders in various industries took part in a Zoom call to discuss a united response to restrictive voting laws. During the call, participants stated their belief that the laws under consideration in several states were designed to disenfranchise voters of color and other marginalized groups. Proponents of the bills say they are necessary to preserve their states’ electoral integrity, citing largely debunked claims made by Donald Trump.

Following the meeting, 100 business leaders from major companies such as Apple, Amazon, Ford and General Motors took out a two-page ad in the New York Times. The ad states the companies’ opposition to voter restrictions but is fairly non-specific as to how they intend to oppose the laws. However, if any or all of these companies choose to act, they have plenty of leverage. For example, they could suspend campaign contributions to politicians or parties they hold responsible. The firms could also delay investment in any states that sign such bills into law.

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US sanctions Russia, expels diplomats

The White House has announced new sanctions against Russia, as well as the expulsion of 10 Russian diplomats. The sanctions relate to accusations of Kremlin interference in last year’s elections as well as the SolarWinds hack. This is the first time Washington has explicitly blamed the SolarWinds hack on Russian intelligence.

The announcement of the sanctions coincide with a build-up of Russian troops near Crimea in Ukraine. At least one Ukrainian soldier has been killed in recent skirmishes there. The US and NATO have pledged to support the Ukraine in the event of all-out hostilities.

US-Russian tensions have steadily increased in recent months, with Biden calling Russian President Putin “a killer” and that the days of the US “rolling over” to Putin were over. However, the two leaders have spoken on the phone in an attempt at de-escalation, and there has even been talk of a summit for that purpose.

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What’s up with N Korea’s Kim?

Last week, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un issued a dire warning to his people of hard times ahead. The Hermit Kingdom has suffered several crises in the past year, including disastrous flooding. The country has also cut ties with China, its only economic lifeline, due to panic over the COVID-19 pandemic. Kim’s statement was alarming, not only for his home audience but for the international community. He said the country faced its “worst-ever situation”. He further compared the troubles ahead to the “Arduous March” of the 1990s. During that crisis, an estimated 3 million North Koreans died of famine.

Compare this to an unusual speech by Kim in January at a rare national National Worker’s Party conference. In the speech, an emotional Kim admitted to political and personal failings, expressing that he and his advisers had let his people down. Add to this a similar display at a military parade in October. These speeches have raised eyebrows globally. In North Korea, Kim and his predecessors enjoy god-like status, with a propaganda machine perpetually churning out evidence of their infallibility.

But wait, there’s more…

Just to add another wrinkle, Alexander Matsegora, Russian envoy to North Korea, said this week that he saw no evidence of famine in North Korea. Matsegora said he was unsure why Kim had evoked the “Arduous March”, but said that the current situation in North Korea was in no way comparable to that period. Matsegora acknowledged that the situation in the country was difficult, citing in particular shortages of medical supplies. But, Matsegora said, “The most important thing is that there is no famine in the country today”. “Thank god,” Matsegora continued, “it is a long shot from the Arduous March, and I hope it would never come to that. I remember well what happened here in the late 1990s and I can compare”.

Matsegora said that while imports had disappeared from shops, domestic products were still widely available and that prices had only risen modestly. For example, while there’s no coffee to be had, practically anyone can get “a mug of very decent local tea”.

It’s difficult at the best of times for the outside world to get a grip on what’s happening in North Korea, and with Kim in particular. Has he lost the plot, or is this part of a careful political play? Kim’s recent doom-and-gloom statements are certainly food for thought, especially given Matsegora’s comments.

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