Tag Archive for: Donald Trump

 

Trump’s attorneys move to quash Georgia election fraud report.

Military pilots, ground crew have higher cancer rates.

Confidence in banks shaken worldwide after SVB closure.

 

 

NATIONAL NEWS

Trump’s attorneys move to quash Georgia election fraud report

Over the weekend, former President Trump posted an all-caps rant claiming he was going to be arrested on Tuesday (tomorrow) in connection with a New York criminal probe of his 2016 hush-money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels. Trump called on his supporters to protest his arrest, but so far, the response has been underwhelming

However, Trump’s attorneys filed a motion today to attempt to head off a much more consequential criminal case in Georgia. This was the wide-ranging special grand jury probe that investigated attempts by Trump and his inner circle to interfere with the certification of the results of Georgia’s 2020 Presidential election. Over seven months, the panel heard testimony from about 75 witnesses, including Trump aides and high-ranking Georgia Republicans.

A wide-ranging investigation

Trump himself was not called to testify. However, the panel heard recordings of three phone calls in which Trump pressured high-ranking Georgia officials to overturn the election.

One of these was the infamous Jan. 2, 2021 call in which Trump urged Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” the 11,000 votes needed to overturn Biden’s Georgia win. Another was a call to Georgia’s Republican House Speaker David Ralston, now deceased, in Dec. 2020. During the call, Trump asked Ralston to call a special House session to appoint a slate of fake pro-Trump electors. In the third call, Trump grilled an investigator in Raffensperger’s office about unfounded allegations of election irregularities. 

Aside from the phone calls and the fake electors scheme, the panel also examined efforts by unauthorized individuals to access voting machines in the state as well as harassment of election workers.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, who led the probe, previously said the criminal conduct she was investigating included “solicitation of election fraud, the making of false statements to state and local governmental bodies, conspiracy, racketeering, violation of oath of office and any involvement in violence or threats related to the election’s administration.”

Trump’s team make nothing burger a something burger

The motion Trump’s attorneys filed today calls for any evidence derived from the special grand jury’s final report be “suppressed as unconstitutionally derived and any prosecuting body be prevented from its use”.

Norm Eisen, a legal expert at the Brookings institute, said Trump’s attorneys were “throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks”. The filing itself is interesting because previous statements by Trump’s legal team indicated they weren’t especially concerned about the Willis probe. Today’s filing suggests they are, in fact, very concerned.

DA Willis has not yet announced any charges in the case, but says decisions are “imminent”. However, several members of the grand jury have spoken out in the press since the panel concluded its work. Their comments suggest that they recommended indictments against several individuals, though none have said whether Trump is one of them.

CNN is also reporting, citing an anonymous source, that the DA is considering racketeering and conspiracy charges in the case. Trump also recently lauded bills advanced in the Georgia legislature that would create an oversight committee with the power to remove elected district attorneys who commit “willful misconduct” in office, or fail to prosecute certain crimes. Trump’s supporters have attempted to paint Willis’ investigation as a political witch hunt, despite nearly all the witnesses being Republicans.

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Military pilots, ground crew have higher cancer rates

A yearlong Pentagon study reveals higher rates of certain cancers among military pilots and ground crew. The study included 900,000 service members who flew or worked on military aircraft between 1992 and 2017. Compared to the general population, air crews had a 24% higher rate of all cancers while ground crews were 3% higher. Because of gaps in the data, cancer rates are likely to be even higher.

Air crews showed an 87% higher rate of melanoma and a 39% higher rate of thyroid cancer. Male air crew had a 16% higher rate of prostate cancer and women had a 16% higher rate of breast cancer. Studies have also found higher rates of melanoma and breast cancer among commercial flight crews. 

Ground crews had a 19% higher rate of brain and nervous system cancers, a 15% higher rate of thyroid cancer and a 9% higher rate of kidney or renal cancers. Women also had a 7% higher rate of breast cancer. 

There was some good news. Military members had higher cancer survival rates than the general population, for which the study credited  regular medical screenings and military fitness requirements. Also, air crews had lower rates of bladder and colon cancers while both ground and air crews had far lower rates of lung cancer than the general population.

Because this study couldn’t control for things like genetics and lifestyle factors, the results don’t prove a causal link between military aviation and cancer. However, aviation crews have long sought an explanation for high rates of cancer they’d observed among their colleagues. They want the Pentagon to examine environmental factors such as exposure to jet fuels and solvents used in maintenance as well as sensors and radar systems.

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INTERNATIONAL NEWS

Confidence in banks shaken worldwide after SVB closure

Yesterday, the Swiss government brokered a deal to entice Swiss banking giant to buy out its troubled competitor Credit Suisse. Ultimately, UBS purchased Credit Suisse, worth about $8 billion, for just $3 billion. The Swiss central bank further sweetened the deal for UBS by ponying up over $100 billion in insurance. The buyout became necessary to save Credit Suisse when the bank’s plan to borrow $54 billion last week failed to calm depositors and investors.

The historic deal came 10 days after the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank rattled the markets. Markets still remain shaky days after with investors wondering which bank will fold next. Last week, a coalition of big name banks stepped in to shore up First Republic Bank, a regional lender in New York. Banks like Citigroup, JPMorgan, Bank of America, and Morgan Stanley chipped in $30 billion to restore confidence in First Republic.

New reporting has it that the Federal Reserve had concerns about SVB’s finances going back four years before it collapsed. When the Fed embarked on its program of raising interest rates to curb inflation last year, they were well aware that doing so might destabilize the bank.

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

 

Ohio train derailment: Railroad reps ditch town meeting.

Georgia: Partial grand jury report released on Trump election meddling.

Peru: Report finds racial bias in deadly crackdown on indigenous protesters.

 

NATIONAL NEWS

Ohio train derailment: Railroad reps ditch town meeting

Representatives from Norfolk Southern canceled an appearance at a town meeting in East Palestine, OH, at the last minute, citing “physical threats”. 

This statement from Norfolk Southern read out at the meeting: “Unfortunately, after consulting with community leaders, we have become increasingly concerned about the growing physical threat to our employees and members of the community around this event stemming from the increasing likelihood of the participation of outside parties. With that in mind, Norfolk Southern will not be in attendance this evening”. Local authorities said they had no knowledge of any “threats” to Norfolk Southern employees.

Over 200 locals had gathered for the meeting to address residents’ health concerns following the Feb. 3 derailment of a Norfolk Southern train carrying toxic chemicals. Residents have reported sicknesses and deaths in small animals. Some have reported experiencing adverse effects themselves. Candice Desanzo, who evacuated the area with her small children and returned after officials gave the all clear. She now regrets her decision to return. “We all have red rashes, loose stool, congestion, eyes burning,” Desanzo said. “Everything smells. I have been having terrible headaches”.

State and local officials and even the EPA have downplayed the risks, assuring residents the fumes weren’t concentrated enough to be harmful to humans. But Peter DeCarlo of Johns Hopkins University says he wouldn’t want to be in the area based on the data he’s seen. “First off, I have two small children,” DeCarlo said, “And I’d be especially concerned for their health”. According to DeCarlo, the air monitoring and air sampling conducted in the area also isn’t sufficient to measure whether there are emissions from the crash site. “Clearly, there are [emissions] if people are still smelling fumes”, DeCarlo said.

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Partial grand jury report released on Trump election interference

The office of Fulton County (Georgia) District Attorney Fani Willis has released part of a report from a grand jury probe into 2020 election interference in compliance with a court order earlier this week. Three sections of the report were released, the introduction, conclusion and one section pertaining to concerns about perjury by witnesses who appeared before the grand jury. “A majority of the Grand Jury believes that perjury may have been committed by one or more witnesses testifying before it,” the report said.

The report doesn’t name which witnesses the panel believed gave false testimony. Among those who testified under subpoena were several prominent Trump allies, including Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani. Trump himself wasn’t subpoenaed and did not testify.

The report indicates that recommendations were made for indictments against one or more individuals, who were not identified. Willis has said decisions on potential indictments in the case are “imminent”. 

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INTERNATIONAL NEWS

Peru: report finds racial bias in brutal crackdown on indigenous protesters

A scathing report from Amnesty International finds that racial animosity by Peru’s white ruling class was a driving force in the deadly crackdown on indigenous protesters. Protests began back in December when Peru’s elected president Pedro Castillo was deposed. Castillo, himself an indigenous school teacher, had butted heads with the elites who control the country’s Congress throughout his 17 months in power.

The congress tried twice to impeach Castillo on vague charges which critics say were a cover for a political and racist agenda. When Congress mounted a third impeachment attempt, Castillo attempted to dissolve Congress and call snap elections. Castillo was then impeached and imprisoned for rebellion.

His ouster enraged Peru’s indigenous communities who have been ignored and oppressed by Lima’s elites for decades. Protests sprang up all over the country, resulting in at least 60 deaths to date at the hands of the country’s security forces. Demonstrations persist, demanding that the country’s president Dina Boluarte (Castillo’s former VP) to step down and call elections. Boluarte has so far refused to step down and Congress has refused to call new elections.

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White House: “No indication” three high-altitude “objects” recently shot down are extraterrestrial.

Georgia judge orders partial release of report on Trump election interference.

Turkey arrest building contractors after deadly quake; toll passes 36,000.

 

NATIONAL NEWS

White House: “No indication” three high-altitude “objects” recently shot down are extraterrestrial

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre clarified to reporters today that there was “no indication of aliens or extraterrestrial activity” connected with three high altitude objects shot down in as many days over Canadian and US airspace.

Last Friday, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby announced a US jet had shot down an object floating at around 40,000 feet over Alaskan. Kirby said the object was about the size of a small car and had no propulsion and was floating “at the mercy of the wind”. An unidentified source also described that object as “cylindrical and silver-ish gray”.

On Saturday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed that Canadian and US pilots had shot down another object. That object was also described as “cylindrical”, this time by an official source, namely Canadian Defense Minister Anita Anand.

Yesterday, the US Air Force shot down a third object over Lake Huron. Another unnamed US government source described this object as “octagonal” with strings attached but no discernible payload (that is, it didn’t appear to be carrying external equipment).

General’s comments fuel speculation

Jean-Pierre’s comments were likely in response to comments by Air Force General and NORAD commander Glen VanHerck following Sunday’s takedown. At a press conference, reporters also asked VanHerck if an extraterrestrial origin for the objects had been ruled out. “I will let the intel community and the counterintelligence community figure that out,” VanHerck answered. “I haven’t ruled anything out at this point. We continue to assess.”

When asked if the objects were balloons, VanHerck responded, “I’m not going to categorize them as balloons. We’re calling them objects for a reason”. Other comments from VanHerck served to explain why the military is detecting more of these objects than previously. Following the incursion of a Chinese spy balloon that floated across the US a couple of weeks ago, NORAD retuned its radar settings to detect smaller and slower moving objects.

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Related: China says US balloons have breached Chinese airspace at least 10 times in the past year.

 

Georgia judge orders partial release of report on Trump election interference

Late last month, Georgia judge Robert McBurney heard a request from several media outlets to publish the findings of a grand jury probe into efforts by Trump and his allies to overturn Biden’s 2020 election win in Georgia. Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, who led the probe, argued against releasing the report. Willis said that she wanted to protect the integrity of any potential prosecutions in the case. During that hearing, Willis said decisions on indictments were “imminent”.

Today, Judge McBurney ruled that due to overwhelming legitimate public interest, three sections of the report should be made public this week, regardless of DA Willis’ timeline. Included in the release will be the report’s introduction and conclusion and a section in which the grand jury “discusses its concern that some witnesses may have lied under oath during their testimony”. McBurney ordered Willis to release those three sections this Thursday.

During months of closed door hearings, the grand jury called several prominent Trump allies to testify, including Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC). The grand jury also heard from Georgians involved in the plot to set up a fake slate of pro-Trump electors. Trump himself was not called to testify.

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INTERNATIONAL NEWS

Turkey arrest building contractors after deadly quake; toll passes 36,000

Turkish officials have issued arrest warrants for about 130 major building contractors whose buildings toppled during the 7.8 and 7.5 magnitude earthquakes last Monday. It’s not clear how many of these contractors have actually been arrested as many of them likely fled the country in the past week.

One contractor, Mehmet Yaşar Coşkun, was nabbed at one of Istanbul’s major airports as he was about to catch a flight out of the country. Coşkun’s brother and business partner, Hüseyin Yalçin Coşkun, was last known to be in Montenegro and has gone off the grid. The Coşkun brothers’ “earthquake-proof” luxury building in Antakya toppled over and entombed many of its occupants. Days after the quake, rescuers using thermal imaging could see that many of the trapped occupants were still alive, but dying of injuries, as well as cold, hunger and thirst. The building’s construction makes it all but impossible to save them since rescuers do not have the right heavy equipment. 

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government has a long history of granting “amnesties” to contractors who buildings were not up to code. These amnesties were preferentially granted to contractors with ties to Erdogan’s nationalist AKP party. The arrest warrants are a bit of political sleight of hand on Erdogan’s part. Anger has been growing in Turkey over the government’s response to the quake. Opposition figures are also reminding the public of the culture of corruption, negligence and nepotism in Erdogan’s government that allowed so many shoddily built constructions. 

The death toll in Turkey and Syria is now over 36,000. However, Martin Griffiths, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, expects that the toll could eventually top 50,000.

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Another USS George Washington sailor has taken his own life, the 8th since 2019.

Biden calls GOP’s bluff on budget cuts in debt ceiling fight.

US ratchets up China tensions with loose talk, new Philippines bases.

 

 

NATIONAL NEWS

Another USS George Washington sailor has taken his own life, the 8th since 2019

Lucian Johan Woods, a boatswain’s mate seaman aboard the aircraft carrier USS George Washington, has died from an apparent suicide, local police say. Woods died on Jan. 23 at a private residence in Newport News where the carrier has been docked since 2017 for a major overhaul. Few other details are available about the circumstances surrounding Woods’ death.

Woods is now the eighth Washington sailor to die by suicide since 2019. During one week in April 2022, three sailors aboard the carrier took their own lives in separate incidents. There have also been an unknown number of attempted suicides. Sailors who had attempted suicide reported that the Navy had done little to address their needs after their attempts. 

Living conditions on board the carrier are a major contributing factor. Sailors work 12-hour shifts, often doing menial tasks. Afterwards, those who have onshore housing or have family nearby go home. Those who don’t have to remain on the ship, where they may be without hot water or even electricity. They’re also deprived of sleep due to construction noise. 

Click here to read more about past incidents on the Washington and what the Navy did, and didn’t do, to address the problem.

Following the cluster of suicides in April last year, the Navy at last made some attempt to address the mental health situation among the crew. After an investigation, the Navy deployed a mental health team and two resiliency counselors to serve the Washington crew, and a Military and Family Life Counselor is also available. However, it’s unclear what if anything the Navy has done to address the underlying environmental causes of the sailors’ distress. 

But the problem is not contained to the Washington’s crew. Over a period of four weeks last fall, four sailors assigned to Norfolk’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Maintenance Center died by apparent suicide. Together with the April cluster on the Washington, that made 7 suicides at Norfolk-based Navy installations in 2022 alone.

During a Jan. 17 visit, days before Woods’ death, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) raised concerns. “Whether it’s an overly-long shore deployment as the ship is being refurbed or whether it’s because of something beyond your control physically, or if you’re in this different capacity that wasn’t exactly what you thought you were going to be doing — how do we make sure you’re still valued? That you still understand you’ve got a really important purpose?” Kaine pondered. 

Click here for the full story (opens in new tab).

Resources for service members and veterans struggling with mental health, including 24-hour crisis hotlines:

The Military Crisis Line: call 1-800-273-8255, ext. 1; or text “273Talk” to 839863

Military OneSource: 1-800-342-9647

For civilians as well as current and former service members:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 988 — call or text

 

Biden calls GOP’s bluff on budget cuts in debt ceiling fight

Yesterday, President Biden and new Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) held their first one-on-one meeting to address the debt ceiling crisis. The US has already reached the limit of money it can borrow to pay its bills. Congress must vote to raise the debt ceiling to allow more borrowing to avert a catastrophic default, possibly as early as June. The House GOP is attempting to use the debt ceiling in order to force spending cuts. However, what Republicans want to cut remains unclear. The one thing they’re agreed on is that they don’t want any cuts to defense spending.

Click here to read about what the debt ceiling is and how this fight could affect you.

Ahead of the meeting, Biden challenged McCarthy to offer a concrete GOP budget proposal to counter Biden’s proposed budget, which will be released in March. “Show me your budget and I’ll show you mine,” Biden said. Some in the GOP have called for cuts to Medicare and Social Security. However, some have backed away from this position because cuts to these programs would be extremely unpopular, even among the most conservative voters. Even Donald Trump weighed in on social media to warn his fellow Republicans against this plan. “Under no circumstances should Republicans vote to cut a single penny from Medicare or Social Security,” Trump said in a two-minute video.

The meeting did not result in any meaningful compromise. However, McCarthy said he would be meeting with Biden again.

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INTERNATIONAL NEWS

US ratchets up China tensions with loose talk, new Philippines bases

A leaked memo from four-star Gen. Mike Minihan, head of US Air Mobility Command (AMC) has drawn fire for warmongering and raised questions about how determined the US is to go to war with China, a nuclear-armed superpower. Minihan’s memo concerned the possibility that China is preparing to invade Taiwan in the near future.

Taiwan, an island south of the Chinese mainland, has long been self-governed. Nevertheless, China considers it a rogue Chinese territory, and Chinese President Xi Jinping seems determined to reclaim it by any means necessary. “I hope I am wrong,” Minihan wrote. “My gut tells me we will fight in 2025. Xi’s team, reason, and opportunity are all aligned for 2025”. Minihan’s memo then goes on to outline his nine-point plan in “preparation for the next fight”.

Many have condemned the memo and its “leak” as fearmongering propaganda designed to stoke tensions and increase pressure to pour ever more funds into Pentagon coffers in the name of “readiness”. Blake Herzinger of the American Enterprise Institute thinktank observes that Minihan’s inflammatory language in an unclassified memo was “basically guaranteeing it would leak”. 

Closing the arc

However one views Minihan’s assessment or intention, it’s only one part of a much larger and more worrisome picture. Despite distancing itself at the memo, the Pentagon seems determined to make Minihan’s prediction a self-fulfilling prophecy. The US has just announced a deal with the Philippines to access four bases in the country’s territory. With this agreement, the US military has now closed an arc that surrounds the South China Sea, extending from South Korea and Japan in the north to Australia in the south.

Taiwan is located in the South China Sea, and China has recently been aggressively laying territorial claims to the entire sea, setting it in conflict with many of its maritime neighbors. China has been busy building naval and other military assets throughout the region. 

Gregory Poling, of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, another think tank, says “There is no contingency in the South China Sea that does not require access to the Philippines”. The Philippines, and particularly it’s northern island of Luzon which is closest to Taiwan, are an essential staging ground for the US to counter any aggression from China. Between their moves and ours, a confrontation does now seem inevitable.

 

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

 

 

George Santos steps down from Congressional committees.

Memphis: 3 EMTs fired, 7th officer disciplined in Nichols case.

Video: Trump pleaded the 5th over 400 times in deposition.

 

 

NATIONAL NEWS

George Santos steps down from Congressional committees

Rep. George Santos (R-NY, alias Anthony Zabrovsky, alias George Devolder, alias Anthony Devolder, alias Kitara Ravache) has just performed his first decent act since entering Congress by stepping down from his committee assignments. Since his election, Santos has been exposed for innumerable lies about his past and been implicated in various crimes including theft and fraud. Of most immediate concern are accusations that he may have violated campaign finance laws.

Despite the ever-growing number of scandals and credible accusations, Santos received two Congressional committee assignments, the Small Business Committee and the Science, Space and Technology committee. Today, it was reported that Santos told fellow Republicans in a closed-door meeting that he would step down from the assignments to avoid being a “distraction”.

Santos has not yet released a public statement on his resignations. Several of his Republican colleagues have told reporters that they thought Santos had done the right thing for the party. However, many are still calling on him to resign from Congress entirely.

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Memphis: 3 EMTs fired, 7th officer disciplined in Nichols case

Yesterday we learned a 6th Memphis police officer, Preston Hemphill, had been placed on paid administrative leave due to his involvement in the fatal police confrontation with Tyre Nichols. Hemphill was the only white officer disciplined so far in the matter. Five other officers, all Black, have been fired and charged with second-degree murder and other charges. Later in the day, we learned that a 7th officer, so far unnamed, had also been relieved of duty in connection with the case.

Additionally, three Memphis Fire Department EMTs who attended the scene have been fired. MFD EMTs Robert Long and JaMicheal Sandridge and Lt. Michelle Whitaker had previously been suspended pending investigation. The three arrived at the scene when Nichols was already handcuffed on the ground and slumped against a squad car. While Whitaker remained in the engine, Long and Sandridge stepped out but made no attempt to assess or aid Nichols. It wasn’t until 27 minutes after they arrived that another ambulance crew transported Nichols to a hospital.

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Video: Trump pleaded the 5th over 400 times in deposition

CBS has obtained video (37 mins long) of an August 2022 deposition during which former President Trump was questioned by New York State Attorney General Letitia James. Last year, James brought a $250 million civil lawsuit against Trump, his children Ivanka, Eric and Don, Jr. and the Trump Organization alleging a “staggering” number of over-valued assets. James says that Trump and his co-defendants routinely inflated the values of properties they owned in order to obtain loans and other business advantages.

In addition to the $250 million in penalties, the suit seeks to bar the Trumps and their organization from transacting business in New York for five years.

Reading a prepared statement at the start of the proceeding, Trump characterized the suit as “the greatest witch hunt in the history of our country” and James as “a renegade and out of control prosecutor”. Before questioning commenced, Trump described the entire proceeding as “very unfair.” He then went on to plead the 5th over 400 times as he was asked about various financial dealings.

‘If you’re innocent, why are you taking the 5th amendment?’ – Trump referring to Hillary Clinton

On several occasions during the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump repeatedly took his opponent Hillary Clinton to task over the fact that her staffers repeatedly pleaded the 5th in inquiries about the private e-mail server Clinton used while serving as Secretary of State. Trump repeatedly asked why anyone would plead the 5th if they’d done nothing wrong?

Following his deposition in August, Trump stated, “I once asked, ‘If you’re innocent, why are you taking the 5th amendment?’ Now I know the answer to that question.”

“When your family, your company, and all the people in your orbit have become the targets of an unfounded, politically motivated witch hunt supported by lawyers, prosecutors, and the Fake News Media, you have no choice,” Trump explained.

During the deposition itself, Trump admitted, “Anyone in my position not taking the 5th amendment would be a fool, an absolute fool”.

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Memphis: 6th officer relieved of duty in Tyre Nichols case.

NY grand jury probes Trump’s hush money payments to Stormy Daniels.

Sec. of State Blinken appeals for calm in Israel amid escalating violence.

 

 

NATIONAL NEWS

Memphis: 6th officer relieved of duty in Tyre Nichols case

Over the weekend, the release of the Tyre Nichols police bodycam video provoked shock and sadness for many. It did not, however, provoke rioting or outbursts of violence as many had feared. Protests in several cities in the US were well-attended, emotional but peaceful. Demonstrators seemed determined to keep the focus on their goals, namely justice for Tyre Nichols and deeper police reforms in Memphis and throughout the country. 

Preston Hemphill is on paid administrative leave. On the tape from the initial encounter with Nichols, Hemphill can be heard saying “I hope they stomp his ass”, twice.

It was announced on Saturday that Memphis’ special enforcement unit, with the Orwellian name SCORPION (an acronym for Street Crime Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods), would be permanently disbanded. All five of the officers so far charged in Nichols’ death belonged to this unit. There had been previous citizen complaints about seemingly organized brutality by members of this unit, complaints which went unaddressed until Nichols’ death.

Additionally, Memphis Police announced today that a 6th officer, Preston Hemphill, has also been suspended, with pay, pending an administrative hearing. It’s unclear whether Hemphill, who is white, was also a SCORPION.

The bodycam footage authorities released from Nichols’ initial traffic stop was Hemphill’s. As Nichols ran in fear from the first scene, Hemphill unsuccessfully attempts to Tase him. Hemphill did not follow the other officers to the second scene where Tyre was fatally beaten. In the footage, Hemphill can be heard saying twice “I hope they stomp his ass”.

Hemphill’s attorney says Hemphill is cooperating with the investigation of Nichols’ death. He has not been fired or charged with anything.

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NY grand jury probes Trump’s hush money payments to porn star

Four months after his wife Melania had given birth to their son Barron, Donald Trump allegedly had a brief affair with porn star Stormy Daniels in Las Vegas. In 2016, while Trump was running for president, Trump’s longtime personal lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen gave Daniels a $130,000 payment to cease discussing her affair with Trump. Cohen later pleaded guilty to federal campaign finance violation charges over his role in the hush money payment to Daniels. In that proceeding, Cohen alleged that the payment was made “in coordination with, and at the direction of” Trump.

Cohen did some time in prison and there was no further legal movement on the case for a long time. Now, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg has empaneled a grand jury to probe the matter further. Cohen disclosed that he has met this month with Manhattan prosecutors investigating the matter. Other figures involved in the hush money payment including David Pecker, the former publisher of the tabloid National Enquirer, have been seen entering the building where the jury is empaneled. 

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INTERNATIONAL NEWS

Sec. of State Blinken in Israel amid violence

This week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has the unenviable task of encouraging cooler heads to prevail in Israel amid runaway violence. Last week, an Israeli military raid in the West Bank killed 9 Palestinians, including a 61-year-old woman. At a protest following that incident, Israeli security forces shot and killed another Palestinian. Hamas militants in Gaza then fired some rockets into Israel, all of which were intercepted with no reported injuries. Israel retaliated by firing its own rockets into the densely populated territory, but it’s unclear whether those attacks resulted in any deaths or injuries.

Friday night, a 21-year-old Palestinian shooter killed at least 7 Israelis and injured several others outside a synagogue. In a separate attack, a 13-year-old Palestinian boy shot and seriously wounded an Israeli father and son in a Jerusalem neighborhood. The boy was shot and is in hospital, condition unknown. 

Israeli authorities arrested 42 people in connection with the synagogue attack. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right government announced it would be making it easier for Israeli citizens to carry guns, apparently anticipating the violence to continue escalating.

Collective punishment

Netanyahu also announced punitive measures against Palestinians, which seem to amount to collective punishment. Among other things, the new measures would deny the families of attackers any citizenship rights and have their homes bulldozed. Any Palestinian believed to “support terrorism” can now be fired with no formal review. The measures also aim to speed up building of illegal Israel settlements in the West Bank. 

During his remarks in Jerusalem, Blinken expressed concerns about these measures. Blinken say the US had “an enduring goal of Palestinians and Israelis enjoying equal measures of freedom, security, opportunity, justice and dignity”, which these measures undermine. He also reiterated the US commitment to a two-state solution in Israel as the only peaceful way forward.

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

 

Georgia DA: “Decisions imminent” on possible prosecution of Trump, allies for election meddling.

Classified documents found at Indiana home of former VP Mike Pence.

Doomsday Clock at 90 seconds to midnight.

 

NATIONAL NEWS

Georgia DA: “Decisions imminent” on possible prosecution of Trump, allies for election meddling

In a hearing yesterday, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis hinted at the possibility that former President Trump or his allies will face charges for interfering in the 2020 election. The hearing before judge Robert McBurney was to determine whether a special grand jury report should be made public. For months, the grand jury subpoenaed and interviewed prominent figures in Trump’s orbit. These included Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC). The grand jury did not call Trump himself to testify. 

The probe focused on efforts by Trump and his allies to overturn Biden’s 2020 win in Georgia. Among other things, the panel examined the plan to appoint 16 “fake electors” to declare before Congress that Trump had won Georgia. The panel also called Georgia’s Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to testify. On Jan. 2, 2021, just days before the Capitol riot, Trump called Raffensperger and demanded that he “find” the roughly 11,000 votes Trump needed to overturn Biden’s election win.

The grand jury finalized its report earlier this month. Several news outlets argued before Judge McBurney that the report should be made public. Willis argued against publishing the report as it might make it difficult to give potential defendants a fair trial. “We have to be mindful of protecting future defendants’ rights,” Willis said. “We want to make sure that everyone is treated fairly, and we say [that] for future defendants to be treated fairly, it’s not appropriate at this time to have this report released”. Willis then added that “decisions are imminent” on potential criminal prosecutions.

McBurney adjourned the hearing yesterday without issuing a decision on the release, saying he needed more time to consider it.

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Classified documents found at Indiana home of former VP Mike Pence

A lawyer for Donald Trump’s former VP Mike Pence announced that boxes containing classified material were found in Pence’s Indiana home. Pence’s lawyer Greg Jacob wrote a letter to the National Archives (NARA) saying the records “appear to be a small number of documents bearing classified markings that were inadvertently boxed and transported to the personal home of the former vice president at the end of the last administration”. Like President Biden, who’s recently had his own travails with classified documents gone astray, Pence’s attorneys immediately notified the National Archives and the Justice Department of the discovery. The FBI has taken custody of the documents.

Both the Biden and Pence cases contrast sharply with Trump’s handling of classified documents. When Trump left office, his aides carried off at least 300 documents. After months of bad faith negotiations, during which Trump returned some documents and withheld others, the FBI finally raided his home in August last year. That search turned up over 100 more classified documents Trump had lied about having. Since then, Trump’s attorneys have argued (unsuccessfully) in court that the classified documents were Trump’s personal property and demanded their return.

Once news broke about the documents in Biden’s home and private office, Trump’s reaction on social media was gleeful. However, Trump has been quick to defend his former VP. “Mike Pence is an innocent man” Trump wrote. “He never did anything knowingly dishonest in his life. Leave him alone!!!”.

Given Pence and Trump’s falling out over the events of Jan. 6, and the fact that Pence is plotting to challenge Trump for the 2024 Republican Presidential nomination, Trump’s defense of Pence is surprising and, in an odd way, rather touching.

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INTERNATIONAL NEWS

Doomsday Clock at 90 seconds to midnight

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has moved the Doomsday Clock 10 seconds forward, meaning the world is closer than it has ever been to “global catastrophe”.

“We are living in a time of unprecedented danger, and the Doomsday Clock time reflects that reality,” Bulletin president and CEO Rachel Bronson said. “Ninety seconds to midnight is the closest the clock has ever been set to midnight, and it’s a decision our experts do not take lightly.” 

The experts at BAS periodically assess global risk and adjust the Doomsday Clock accordingly. For the last 3 years, it has been at 100 seconds to midnight. A number of global issues factored into the decision to bring it 10 seconds forward, including the failure of world leaders to act decisively to head off the worst effects of climate change. But the most important factor is the war in Ukraine, which is closing in on a year. The conflict has created food and gas shortages, and repeatedly put nuclear energy sites in peril. The conflict has also deepened ideological divides between the world’s superpowers and created ramped up militarism. The war has raised “profound questions about how states interact, eroding norms of international conduct that underpin successful responses to a variety of global risks”.

“And worst of all,” the announcements says, “Russia’s thinly veiled threats to use nuclear weapons remind the world that escalation of the conflict—by accident, intention, or miscalculation—is a terrible risk. The possibility that the conflict could spin out of anyone’s control remains high.” 

US, Germany agree to send tanks to Ukraine

It may or may not be a coincidence that the BAS announced this change on the same day that reports emerged indicating that the US and Germany would be sending their most advanced battle tanks to Ukraine. Germany has long resisted calls by Ukraine and its allies to supply its state-of-the-art Leopard tanks, just as the US has demurred on sending Abrams tanks.

Although Germany is one of the world’s leading weapons manufacturers, a post-Cold War ethos against militarization has made Germany reluctant to export their most advanced weaponry to active conflict zones. They do happily sell the tanks to other countries for defense. However, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has vowed to spend about $100 billion to expand the country’s military, a growth in militarism not seen in the country since WWII. Despite this, Scholz fears furnishing Russia with a justification to act more aggressively against Germany. He so far hasn’t sent Leopard tanks to Ukraine or to allowed other countries to send Leopard tanks purchased from Germany. 

At the recent Davos summit, German officials hinted that they’d be willing to give Ukraine Leopards if the US would also send some of its Abrams tanks. Within minutes of the reports that Germany would send Leopard tanks to Ukraine, reports emerged that the US would be sending Abrams tanks as well.

 

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

 

 

Los Angeles: Gunman found dead after killing 10 at Chinese New Year celebration. What we know about the case so far.

DOJ finds 6 more classified documents at Biden home.

Canada: $2.9 billion settlement with First Nations over boarding school harm

 

 

NATIONAL NEWS

Los Angeles: At least 10 dead after mass shooting at Chinese Lunar New Year celebration

On Saturday night, a group in the predominately Asian city of Monterey Park, near Los Angeles, had gathered at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio to celebrate Lunar New Year. A gunman entered and opened fire, sending the celebrants running. At least 10 people so far have died following the shooting, five men and five women, in their 50s and 60s or above. Ten others remain in the hospital. The FBI and ATF are assisting local authorities in the investigation. 

Police released these images of the suspect captured on surveillance.

After the Monterrey Park shooting, the gunman got in a white cargo van and drove to another dance hall in nearby Alhambra. There patrons managed to disarm the gunman and he again fled in the van. The gun was not an assault rifle but a pistol with an extended magazine, which is banned in California.

Midday on Sunday, about 12 hours after the shooting, police cornered the van in a shopping center parking lot in Torrance, CA, about 20 miles away from the Star Ballroom. As officers approached, they heard a single gunshot from inside the van. Police then called for tactical teams. When they made contact with the driver, he was dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Authorities have confirmed that the driver was the shooter. Police aren’t looking for any other suspects. 

Gunman identified; motive remains unclear

This event is now the most deadly mass shooting in the US since the school shooting in Uvalde, TX, last year.

Before the suspect was found, police released a surveillance image of the man they believed to be the shooter. Initial reports suggested it was an Asian male between 30 and 50 years old. He was in fact 72 years old, and his name was Huu Can Tran.

At present, there’s no clear motive for the shooting. Police say it is too early to determine whether or not it was a hate crime. California and Los Angeles in particular have been plagued by numerous anti-Asian hate crimes in the last two years. Tran being Asian himself  wouldn’t necessarily preclude it from being a hate crime. Monterrey Park was the first city in the mainland US to have a majority population of Asian ancestry. The area is home to people claiming ancestry from China, Taiwan, Vietnam and Japan.

Tran’s friend, ex-wife say he frequented the Star Ballroom

Tran’s ex-wife provided CNN with a copy of their marriage certificate which indicates that Tran was an immigrant from China. The ex-wife told CNN that she first met Tran at the Star Ballroom, where he was a regular patron, about two decades ago. Tran saw her dancing and offered her free lessons. They were married not long after, but the marriage didn’t last long. The ex-wife says she filed for divorce in 2005. She said Tran wasn’t violent towards her, but was quick to anger. He would berate her if she missed a step while dancing, saying it made him look bad.

A long-time friend of Tran’s said Tran was a frequent presence at the Star Ballroom from the early 2000s to the 2010s. It’s unclear whether or not he had continued visiting in recent years. The friend said that Tran accused other dance instructors at the hall saying “evil things about him” and that Tran was “hostile to a lot of people there.”

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DOJ finds 6 more documents at Biden home

News broke over the weekend that the Justice Department had conducted another search of President Biden’s private home in Wilmington, DE. The search yielded six more previously undiscovered documents within the home. President and First Lady Biden were not present in the home when the search took place. Biden has been cooperating with the DOJ since before the midterms. This search was arranged with his cooperation and consent.

Authorities haven’t said where in the home these documents were found. Previously, documents had been found in the home’s garage.

This is now the second weekend in a row that discoveries have been announced at the home. We don’t yet have an exact total of classified documents from Biden’s Wilmington home and his private office at a think tank in D.C. Before this weekend’s discovery, the total was only given as “roughly 20” which means we now stand at “roughly 26”.

There’s also been no official confirmation of what level of classification the documents have. At the time of the first finds in D.C., an anonymous source reported that some from that cache were TS/SCI documents. These documents are never meant to be removed from secure areas, known as SCIFs.

So far, authorities have said most of the documents date from the Obama administration, but others reportedly go back to Biden’s time as a US Senator. Biden represented Delaware in the Senate from 1973 to 2009, when he became Obama’s Vice President.

Any “high ground” left?

Republicans have roundly criticized Biden and the DOJ for a lack of transparency with regard to the investigation. The first cache of documents was found days before the midterms but did not become public knowledge until after the first of the year. Since then, there has been a gradual drip-drip of new discoveries. Twice now, these finds were conveniently announced over the weekend. This is a common tactic used when one wants to minimize press coverage. 

Even Democratic Sen. Dick Durban says there’s no question that Biden has lost the “high ground” when it comes to former Pres. Trump’s mishandling of documents. However, there are still some key differences between the Biden and Trump cases.

Trump had over 100 classified documents when his home was raided. Of course, there’s no way of knowing how many documents will be found in Biden’s various homes and offices when all is said and done.

At this point, the main difference between Biden and Trump is that Biden appears to be fully cooperating fully with the Justice Department. By contrast, Trump obstructed the efforts of the National Archives to retrieve the documents in his possession, even convincing his own lawyers to perjure themselves so Trump could keep “his” classified documents.

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INTERNATIONAL NEWS

Canada: $2.9 billion settlement with First Nations over boarding schools

From the 19th century up to the 1970s, the Canadian government funded 130 compulsory boarding schools for indigenous Native children throughout the country. Native children were taken from their families and sent to these schools to force their cultural, religious and linguistic assimilation.

Over the years these schools operated, some 150,000 Native children were sent to these schools. While there, they were forbidden to speak their Native languages and were beaten if they did. They suffered physical, emotional and sexual abuse. The children were housed in poor conditions that made them vulnerable to disease and the cold. By the most conservative estimate, 3,200 children died while in the care of these schools.

Recent discoveries of unmarked graves of children at these now abandoned schools have reignited discussions over the harm done to generations of Native children by these schools. In 2012, 325 First Nations people, survivors of the schools, brought a class action lawsuit against the government of Canada. The survivors were demanding acknowledgement and compensation for the loss of language and cultural identity that resulted from their time in the schools. 

The Canadian government has now agreed to pay $2.9 billion to settle this case and to “address the collective harm caused by Canada’s past”.

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

 

 

Second set of classified docs found in Biden’s Delaware home.

December inflation was 6.5%, first time under 7% in a year.

Brazil orders arrest of former top Bolsonaro official after riot.

NATIONAL NEWS

Second set of classified docs found in Biden’s Delaware home

Three days ago, we learned that a cache of about 10 classified documents had been found in a private Washington office used by President Biden when he was Vice President. Last night, news broke that a second set of classified documents had been found elsewhere. The White House revealed today that this second location was Biden’s home in Wilmington, DE. Biden says the documents were found in a locked garage at the home by his aides.

After the news of the discovery earlier this week, former President Trump took to TruthSocial, demanding to know if all of Biden’s other homes were going to be searched. Biden’s team has apparently been doing just that. A search at another home of Biden’s at Rehoboth Beach turned up no further documents.

The Washington cache was found just days before the midterms. Biden’s team immediately notified the National Archives, who collected them the next day. The documents from both Washington and Wilmington date from his time as Vice President.

There’s not yet been any clarification on when the Wilmington batch was found, whether it was around the time the Washington documents were discovered or more recently. Biden’s White House special counsel Richard Sauber says Biden’s attorneys completed their search of his properties on Wednesday night. Sauber also said that Biden is cooperating fully with an investigation by the Justice Department.

Probes, special counsels, and unanswered questions

There hasn’t yet been much explanation of how the documents found their way to Biden’s properties in the first place. It has been suggested by Sauber and others that after Biden’s time as Vice President, the boxes may have been carelessly packed up and shipped off to his various offices for storage. Whatever the circumstances, the matter is of grave concern to the intelligence community. According to anonymous reports, at least some of the documents from Washington bore TS/SCI classification. These documents are never meant to be removed from a secure room, known as a SCIF. There hasn’t yet been any reporting as to the classification levels of the Wilmington documents.

 Two different Congressional committees charged with intelligence matters have sought briefings on the discoveries. Attorney General Merrick Garland has assigned the case of the Washington documents to a DOJ attorney in Chicago, one of the few Trump appointees still leading regional offices in the US. In light of the newly announced discovery, Garland has appointed a special counsel, Robert Hur, to investigate Biden’s handling of classified documents. Last year, Garland appointed Jack Smith as special counsel to oversee the various investigations into Trump, including his mishandling and concealing of classified documents.

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December inflation was 6.5%, first time under 7% in a year

There was some encouraging economic news today. December’s year-on-year inflation rate dropped to 6.5%, down from 7.1% in November. This is the first time since Nov. 2021 that inflation has been below 7%. Inflation appears to have peaked over the summer at about 9%.

This would seem to indicate that the Federal Reserve’s program of interest rate hikes over 2022 have had the desired effect. Even better, unemployment numbers haven’t risen drastically, as many feared. If this trend continues, the Fed may be able to ease off on its rate hikes for now. For the first time in months, there’s a general feeling of optimism among economists that the US may be able to get inflation under control without sliding into a recession.

While this is very good news, prices on consumer goods including groceries remain too high for many. However, there’s reason to hope that price trends are at least heading in the right direction, which should mean fewer steep price hikes like those we saw in 2022.

With certain commodities, supply chain issues remain a problem. For example, the price of eggs has risen sharply in many parts of the country due to avian flu, which has necessitated the culling of millions of birds.

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INTERNATIONAL NEWS

Brazil probes involvement of top officials Bolsonaro riot

Videos of thousands of rioters ransacking Brazil’s capital complex in Brasilia on Sunday evoked memories for many of Jan. 6, 2021. There are many points of comparison. The rioters were supporters of outside right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro who had bought into messaging from Bolsonaro’s camp implying that the elections were stolen. The rioters were organized openly on social media, answering calls for a “party” in Brasilia. Group messages have surfaced promising “all expenses paid” trips to Brasilia for anyone willing to attend.

They arrived on more than 100 buses from all over the country. No one is sure yet who paid for the buses. Coincidentally, Trump cronies Steve Bannon and Jason Miller met with Jair Bolsonaro’s son shortly after Bolsonaro lost, apparently to advise them on the next steps. As the riot was in progress, Bannon was on social media cheering them on.

The Jan. 8 riot, as it’s becoming known, did differ from Jan. 6 in some ways though. There were few images showing any clashes with police; quite the opposite in fact. The police in the capital not only allowed the mob to enter the capitol complex unchallenged, the police were also actively encouraging the rioters.

When the military arrived to take charge of the situation, the mob cheered, apparently believing the soldiers had arrived to join their cause. Instead, the soldiers quickly rounded up and arrested everyone they could, over 1,500 in all.

Bolsonaro and his former justice minister were both in Orlando

Because of the security failings, Brazil’s top court has ordered the arrest of Anderson Torres. Torres was formerly Bolsonaro’s justice minister. Since Bolsonaro’s election loss, Torres took a new post as Brasilia’s public security chief. Torres was head of the police in the capitol district in Brasilia, the ones who allowed the rioters in. Conveniently, Torres was in Orlando, FL, at the time of the riots. US at the time of the riots and has yet to return to Brazil to face the charges.

By an incredible coincidence, former President Bolsonaro is also in Orlando. He left Brazil shortly before the Jan. 1 inauguration of his leftist-rival Lula’s and hasn’t returned. No warrant has yet been issued for Bolsonaro’s arrest in connection with Jan. 8. However, there are accusations of corruption and embezzlement against Bolsonaro, for which he couldn’t be prosecuted while he was still President. His son has already been charged (not the same one who met with Bannon).

 

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

 

 

Classified documents found in old Biden office.

California storms: At least 16 dead, nearly 200,000 without power.

Kremlin probes Russian war critics; others turn up dead.

 

 

NATIONAL NEWS

Classified documents found in old Biden office

Days before the midterm elections, workers cleaning out an office once used by President Biden found about 10 classified documents in a locked closet. The office was at the Penn Biden think tank in Washington, D.C., and was used by Biden during his time as Obama’s Vice President. As soon as the documents were found, attorneys for Biden reached out to the National Archives, who took possession of them the following day. The Department of Justice is apparently reviewing the incident to determine if any further action is warranted. 

As soon as the news broke, former President Trump, who is in legal hot water over some classified documents himself, immediately posted on TruthSocial, “When is the FBI going to raid the many homes of Joe Biden, perhaps even the White House? These documents were definitely not declassified”. Trump was alluding to the FBI search of his Mar-a-Lago home, where over 100 classified documents were found in an unsecured area. 

What we know and don’t know so far

A source has revealed that, like many of the Mar-a-Lago documents, some found in the Biden office bore the TS/SCI classification, reserved for especially sensitive documents. It was due to the sensitive nature of these documents that the National Archives made a referral to the DOJ. Other reports claim that some of the documents pertained to classified briefings on the UK, Iran and Ukraine.

Sources say that none of the documents from the Biden office contained any nuclear secrets, as one of the Mar-a-Lago documents did. Unlike in Trump’s case, the National Archives had apparently made no prior request for the return of the documents in Biden’s office.

There are some serious questions that remain unanswered. Was Biden permitted to have these in his private office? Why were they there? Why is this news only coming out months after the discovery?

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California storms: At least 16 dead, nearly 200,000 without power

California is experiencing its fifth major storm since Christmas and a sixth is on its way. The state has been beset by “atmospheric rivers” which carry an unusual amount of moisture and has caused torrential rains and floods over much of the state. So far, at least 16 people have died in the recent storms. A five-year-old boy was swept away by floods yesterday and is still missing. As of this writing, nearly 200,000 customers in the state are without power. Earlier in the day, there were 224,000.

While the northern part of the state has suffered most, every part of the state has been affected. Storms and flooding have forced evacuations of entire communities in low-lying areas, displacing thousands.

Despite the widespread misery, grief and devastation, some are looking for a silver lining. Some officials and scientists are hopeful that the downpours and snowpack from recent storms may bring some relief to California’s year’s long drought. However, it will be weeks before the full impact of these storms on California’s water supply will be known.

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INTERNATIONAL NEWS

Kremlin probes war critics; others turn up dead

Russia’s Investigative Committee has announced probes of a prominent Russian actor and a philanthropist. The actor, Artur Smolyaninov, left Russia days after the Ukraine invasion and has repeatedly spoken out against the war. The Investigative Committee said Smolyaninov had “made a series of statements directed against Russia in an interview to a Western media outlet”. However, it wasn’t clear what crime he was being charged with.

Russia’s Interior Ministry has also placed businessman and philanthropist Boris Zimin on its international most wanted list. Zimin apparently left Russia in 2015 and has funded independent Russian media outlets. He also has some connections to imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Like Navalny, Russian authorities have brought fraud charges against Zimin.

Conspiracy theories swirl after 3 Russians die mysteriously in India

In the Indian state of Odisha, three Russian men turned up dead under suspicious circumstances within days of one another. In December, Russian lawmaker and multi-millionaire sausage magnate Pavel Antov fell to his death from a third-story window of his hotel. Local police said Antov was vacationing there, but Odisha isn’t normally a popular tourist spot. Just two days earlier, businessman Vladimir Bidenov, a close friend of Antov’s, died at the same hotel of an apparent heart attack. Both men were quickly cremated so that no further examination of their remains was possible. 

Earlier in 2022, Antov had shared a post on social media critical of the war in Ukraine. However, Antov later retracted this post and claimed he’d been hacked. 

Then, just over a week after Antov’s death, a 51-year-old engineer, identified as Sergey Milyakov, was found dead in his compartment on a ship where he worked. The ship was then anchored at Paradip Port in Odisha. It’s not clear if Milyakov had any connection with the two other unlucky Russians who predeceased him in Odisha.

In all, over two dozen prominent Russian businessmen died unexpectedly in and mysteriously in 2022.

 

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

 

Trump sued for wrongful death of Capitol police officer after Jan. 6.

3.3 million American adults displaced by natural disasters last year.

Oil giant Shell to pay $2 billion in windfall tax in EU, UK.

 

NATIONAL NEWS

Trump sued for wrongful death of Capitol police officer after Jan. 6

Capitol police officer Brian Sicknick.

On the second anniversary of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, the partner of Capitol police officer Brian Sicknick is suing former President Trump over Sicknick’s death. Sicknick was one of the many officers at the Capitol that day who fought to hold off an assault by Trump’s supporters. In the melee, a rioter sprayed Sicknick in the face with bear spray, temporarily incapacitating him. Later in the day, Sicknick suffered a series of strokes and was taken to a hospital. He died the next day. Sicknick was the first, but not the last, Capitol police officer to die in the aftermath of the standoff.

The suit by Sandra Garza, Sicknick’s longtime partner, alleges that Trump “intentionally riled up the crowd” that attacked Sicknick with a “campaign of lies and incendiary rhetoric”. In addition to Trump, Garza’s suit names Julian Khater and George Tanios, the two rioters who attacked Sicknick. Garza is demanding at least $10 million in damages from each of the three defendants.

The suit alludes to evidence and testimony from the House Jan. 6 hearings and the hundreds of federal prosecutions of rioters. “Many participants in the attack have since revealed that they were acting on what they believed to be Defendant Trump’s direct orders in service of their country,” the lawsuit says. 

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3.3 million American adults displaced by natural disasters last year

A new survey by the US Census Bureau found that natural disasters forced 1.3% of American adults (3.3 million) from their homes in the last years. More than half of those displaced were due to hurricanes. Others had to leave their homes due to wildfires, tornados, floods or other disasters. Of those displaced, about 1 in 6 (about 550,000 people) never returned to their homes.

Some states saw more displacement than others. About a million Floridians had to leave their homes last year due to hurricanes, as did over 400,000 in Louisiana. Indiana, Maine, North Dakota, Ohio and Oklahoma suffered the fewest displacements. 

However, another recently released study found that 90% of US counties had suffered a weather disaster between 2011 and 2021. These counties are home to  93% of the population, or about 300 million people. Some of these counties suffered as many as 12 federally declared disasters over those 11 years. This study found that California, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Iowa and Tennessee had suffered the most disasters during that decade, at least 20 each.

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INTERNATIONAL NEWS

Oil giant Shell to pay $2 billion in windfall tax in EU, UK for last quarter of 2022

British multinational oil company Shell has announced it expects to pay about $2 billion in windfall taxes in the UK and EU, only for the company’s profits in the last 3 months of 2022. The EU and UK have both imposed hefty windfall taxes on oil companies which have earned record profits in the last year due to the war in Ukraine. Worldwide, Shell expects to pay between $4.3 billion and $4.7billion in taxes on its fourth quarter profits alone.

The Biden administration has threatened oil giants operating in the US with such a tax to discourage them from price-gouging, but so far no such legislation has materialized.

In May, the British government imposed a 25% windfall tax on oil companies, then increased it to 35% in November. Shell’s chief executive Ben van Beurden said himself in October that it was both necessary and “inevitable” that nations would have to impose windfall taxes on energy companies to protect those most vulnerable to skyrocketing fuel costs. Speaking at an energy conference in London, Van Beurden said, “One way or another there needs to be government intervention. Protecting the poorest, that probably may then mean that governments need to tax people in this room to pay for it”.

Van Beurden stepped down as head of Shell Oil only this week.

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

 

Journalists spent the holidays combing through 6,000 pages of Trump’s 2015-2020 tax records. Here’s what they found, and why it could create more legal trouble for Trump.

Trump’s taxes may reveal criminal, Constitutional violations

For years, former President Trump refused to honor a decades-old precedent, which began with Richard Nixon, by publicly releasing his taxes as a presidential candidate. Throughout his four years in office, he continued to refuse to release his yearly taxes as the 8 Presidents before him had done. Now we may know why.

Last week, the House Ways and Means Committee, who had obtained Trump’s tax returns going back to 2015 after a protracted legal battle, released nearly 6,000 pages of documents. Since then, journalists have been sifting through the huge document dump. Some important nuggets were released just before New Year’s. But with all the hustle and bustle of the holiday, they didn’t make much of a splash. Now that the confetti has settled, here are a few aspects of Trump’s tax records that are worthy of further attention, and possibly even legal scrutiny.

Foreign accounts and holdings

Some readers may have heard a vague mention of these over the weekend. Trump held bank accounts in China between 2015 and 2017. He also had accounts in Ireland, the UK and St. Martin during his presidency.

During his candidacy and presidency, Trump’s taxes cited business income, expenses, taxes or other significant financial items from various countries and territories: Azerbaijan, Brazil, Canada, China, Dominican Republic, Georgia, Grenada, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Mexico, Panama, Philippines, Puerto Rico (US territory), Qatar, South Korea, Saint Martin, Saint Vincent, Turkey, United Arab Emirates and United Kingdom.

How big a deal is it really?

It depends on how you read the Foreign Emoluments Clause (Article I, Section 9, Clause 8) of the United States Constitution.

No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.

“Emolument” is just a fancy word for salary or compensation for an office or service. The Foreign Emoluments Clause exists to ensure that the President and other federal office holders are not financially beholden to any foreign power. When Trump took office in 2017, he again defied decades of precedent for sitting presidents. Rather than selling assets or putting them in a blind trust as previous Presidents had done, Trump left them in the control of his children, many of whom also had prominent roles in his campaign and administration. Simply put, this opened the door to corruption.

Trump and the Saudis

The foreign accounts and holdings were not Trump’s only flirtation with violating the Clause. During Trump’s presidency, Saudi Arabia spent hundreds of thousands of dollars at Trump hotels in Washington and elsewhere. And lo and behold, Trump signed a massive weapons deal with the Saudis. He also vetoed a bill passed by Congress to stop supplying weapons to the Saudis on the grounds they were being used to perpetrate war crimes in Yemen, the Kingdom’s impoverished neighbor. When US intelligence concluded that the Saudi Arabian Crown Prince likely ordered the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Trump dismissed and downplayed the allegation, and bragged about it.

Trump’s cozy financial relationship with the Saudis didn’t end after he left office. It continues even now that he’s officially announced his 2024 presidential candidacy. Early in 2021, Saudi Arabia signed a $2 billion investment deal with Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner. More recently, Trump’s golf course in Miami became part of the Saudi-backed LIV Golf circuit. The amount Trump has received for this hasn’t been disclosed. Considering that LIV pays top players hundreds of millions of dollars, a fee in the tens or hundreds of millions for the use of Trump’s club doesn’t seem out of the question.

Trump’s financial relationship with the Saudis is far from the only concern. His holdings in China, revealed both in the returns and in previous reporting, have also drawn considerable scrutiny. There’s also his recent $4 billion deal to open a golf resort Oman, another wealthy kingdom on the Arabian Peninsula with an abysmal human rights record. But there’s another elephant in the room that needs addressing.

Evidence of “criminal tax evasion”

Trump’s tax records show that he paid $641,931 in taxes in 2015; $750 in both 2016 and 2017; just under $1 million in 2018; $133,445 in 2019; and in 2020, he paid nothing.

Columnist David Kay Johnston of the Daily Beast says Trump’s tax documents suggest “powerful evidence of criminal tax evasion” which merit scrutiny from investigators. Johnston firstly highlights how Trump managed to turn a $2.8 million profit off the Alternative Minimum Tax between 2015 and 2020. This is not illegal in and of itself. It’s merely an example of how lobbying by the wealthy (including Trump himself) has helped to structure our tax codes in their favor.

However, Johnston also points to a bigger, and potentially criminal, red flag. This concerns 26 sole-proprietor (Schedule C) Trump businesses “with zero revenue and hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax deductions for expenses”.

“Unless Trump can produce records showing the expenses are real and meet other standards to be deductible, that’s fraud,” Johnston says. 

These 26 deduction claims, Johnston adds, should be of particular interest to New York State Attorney General Letitia James, or Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg. Both James and Bragg are probing the finances of Trump and his businesses for criminal violations.

A Manhattan jury recently found the Trump Organization guilty on 17 counts of criminal tax violations. Meanwhile, AG James announced last year that she was suing Trump for flagrant tax violations and bank fraud. Johnston says a probe into the validity, or even existence, of these 26 sole proprietorships could yield a “slam-dunk prosecution”. James and Bragg so far haven’t commented on any of the recent revelations from Trump’s tax forms.

This all leads to an important question.

Why wasn’t any of this caught before?

Johnston’s article explains in depth the various incentives and disincentives for the IRS when it comes to auditing the wealthy. The IRS’ own incentive structure has created an environment that allows wealthy individuals and businesses to risk violating an already favorable tax code without fear of prosecution.

During Trump’s presidency, any of these red flags coming to light would have resulted in impeachable offenses. And, as President, Trump should have undergone mandatory IRS audits each year he was in office. So what happened there? The short answer is- practically nothing.

The IRS only undertook a very limited look at Trump’s 2016 filings- and that only happened in 2019! None of the other years received any official scrutiny at all.

There are various explanations as to why. Johnston blames the loyalists Trump appointed to key positions, namely IRS commissioner Charles Rettig, and Rettig’s boss, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. But the House Ways and Means Committee’s findings point to something less nefarious but equally troubling.

No cop on the beat

The IRS simply doesn’t have the resources to take on audits of highly-complex filings by wealthy individuals and entities. This, of course, means that the burden of tax enforcement disproportionately falls on middle- and working-class taxpayers

While Trump was in office, agents responsible for auditing him never brought in specialists to scrutinize his filings and holdings. They justified this inaction with an assumption that a private accounting firm (hired by Trump) would make sure everything was in order. In the Committee’s opinion, that “assumption” was a grievous error.

Coincidentally, House Republicans have announced it will be their first order of business to roll back one key provision of Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act – the provision that would beef up IRS funding and enforcement to crack down on wealthy tax dodgers. 

 

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