Tag Archive for: Education



Virginia: 6-year-old who shot teacher won’t be charged.

Biden releases ambitious budget proposal, challenges GOP to show their hand in debt ceiling fight.



Virginia: 6-year-old who shot teacher won’t be charged

A little over two months ago, a 6-year-old boy in Newport News, VA, brought a 9mm pistol to school and shot his 1st grade teacher in the chest. The teacher, 25-year-old Abby Zwerner, spent two weeks in hospital and is still recovering. Now, the local prosecutor says that the boy won’t be charged with any crime, despite the fact that police described the shooting as intentional.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Howard Gwynn said the “prospect that a six-year-old can stand trial is problematic,” since the boy is too young to understand the legal system and assist in his own defense. However, Gwynn said his office may yet seek charges for adults connected with the case. Gwynn didn’t offer any specifics, but some have wondered whether the boy’s parents could be charged for not having their weapon properly secured. The family claims the weapon was properly secured and that they don’t know how the boy could have accessed it.

More disturbing details emerge

When the case first made headlines, it quickly became apparent that the shooting was the result of a series of failures by school administrators. On the day of the shooting, no less than three teachers attempted to raise the alarm about the boy’s behavior. Two of them even advised administrators they believed the boy had a gun and was threatening to use it. Administrators’ response was to “ride it out” since the school day was almost over. By Feb. 1, the school’s assistant principal had resigned and the superintendent of schools had been relieved of his position.

Since that time, more information has come to light about the boy’s disturbing behavior and missed opportunities for intervention. Several of these came from a letter from Ms. Zwerner’s attorney Diane Toscano, informing the school district of Zwerner’s intent to sue. According this letter, the boy had “choked his teacher until she couldn’t breathe” in one incident a year prior to the shooting. The boy had also taken off his belt at recess and attempted to whip other children with it, the letter said. The day before the shooting, the boy had received a 1-day suspension after he  “slammed Ms. Zwerner’s phone, breaking it”. 

About an hour before the shooting, Zwerner had texted a loved one, expressing her frustration with the situation. The recipient said Zwerner “was trying to get help with this child, for this child. And then when she needed help, no one was coming”.

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Biden tries to force GOP to show their hand in budget fight

President Biden released annual budget proposal today which contained an ambitious set of objectives. The budget aims to reduce the federal deficit by $3 trillion over 10 years while expanding services to Americans.

Biden’s proposal reduces the deficit and increases revenue for benefits programs by raising taxes on the wealthy. Among the tax proposals are:

  • A 25% minimum tax on billionaires.
  • Increased taxes on corporations.
  • Repeal some of Trump’s tax cuts that benefit individuals making more than $400,000 a year.

The budget also seeks to improve the financial sustainability of Medicare and Medicaid:

  • Improve Medicare’s finances: 1) by negotiating prices and raising taxes on those making $400k+; 2) negotiating lower prescription prices for Medicare recipients.
  • Lower Medicaid costs: 1) by requiring private insurers providing Medicaid coverage to reimburse the program when they overcharge; 2) by empowering the Department of Health and Human Services to negotiate additional drug rebates on behalf of states.

The new taxes and savings will fund expanded benefits for individual Americans and strengthen the economy, while reducing the deficit:

  • $35 insulin for all Americans.
  • Restore the enhanced child tax credit that lifted millions of children out of poverty during its brief 7-month run in 2021.
  • Universal pre-school and affordable childcare.
  • Paid family and medical leave.
  • Increase grants for low-income college students.
  • Funding to reduce maternal mortality.
  • More funding for free school lunches.
  • Addressing climate change.

Biden stakes out his position in debt ceiling fight

With this budget proposal, Biden is showing Republicans his hand in the ongoing fight over raising the debt ceiling. Congress has to periodically raise the amount of money it can borrow to cover money it has already spent. Numerous economists, most recently the Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell, have warned of the dire consequences of failing to raise the debt limit.

Despite this, Republicans in Congress have not committed to raising the debt limit. Instead, they are holding the good faith and credit of the country hostage to demand massive spending cuts. However, the GOP hasn’t gone on record to say what they want to cut, only what they won’t cut.

GOP leadership has said they won’t consider spending cuts to the massive Pentagon budget or to programs like Medicare and Social Security. But that really doesn’t leave much to cut, except Medicaid.  According to a recent poll, any cuts to Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security would be wildly unpopular, even with the Republican base.

Republicans also aren’t likely to entertain any tax increases for the wealthy, despite the fact that Trump’s massive tax cuts alone will add nearly $4 trillion to the deficit over the 10 years following their passage.

Rather than staking out his party’s budget position publicly, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has sought to negotiate privately with Biden. By releasing this budget today, Biden is challenging the GOP to share their budget proposal. 

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Read about what’s in Biden’s budget proposal in greater detail here.



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




Striking Alabama coal miners share true meaning of Christmas- solidarity

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

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

Christmas solidarity

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

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

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

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

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Buffalo, NY, sues gun manufacturers after race massacre

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

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

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

Sandy Hook

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


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


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

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



Afghan women protest Taliban barring them from universities

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

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

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

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US announces huge achievement in clean energy, but with many caveats. 91% of colleges mislead students about the cost of attendance. Corruption scandal rocks EU Parliament; World Cup host Qatar implicated.


US announces huge breakthrough in clean energy, but there are many caveats

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm announced today that the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California has made a tremendous breakthrough in the quest to harness clean energy through nuclear fusion. Nuclear fusion generates energy by fusing atoms together, as opposed to nuclear fission that goes on in nuclear reactors, which generates energy by breaking atoms apart. Fusion is the same process that generates the sun’s massive heat and energy output. For decades scientists all over the world have seen mastering fusion in controlled environments here on earth as the “holy grail” of energy production. But like the holy grail, it has proven elusive.

The LLNL scientists have managed to overcome an all-important threshold in fusion research: getting more energy out of a fusion reaction than you use to make it. The process focuses high-powered lasers at a small capsule containing hydrogen isotope fuels. This triggers an inward-directed explosion that melds the hydrogen atoms together to form helium. The fusing of those atoms generates energy in the form of heat. The process used by LLNL is just one method for achieving fusion (you can read about others here). However it is so far the first to achieve a net energy gain from atomic fusion.

Why we can’t declare victory just yet

While this is unquestionably a major scientific achievement, we are still a long way away from nuclear fusion being a practical, carbon-free energy source.

First of all, there is a huge asterisk that comes with LLNL’s achievement. When scientists describe a net energy gain, that applies only to the fusion reaction itself- in other words, the energy generated by the lasers to achieve fusion. It does not include the electricity needed to actually power the lasers.

Secondly, we are still decades away from being able to reliably produce this reaction at sufficient scale to be a viable energy source to power a whole city, or even just one factory. That is far beyond the time-scale in which climatologists say we must wean ourselves off of fossil fuels to avert the most disastrous consequences of climate change. 


91% of colleges mislead students about the true costs of attendance 

A review by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has found that 91% of higher education institutions in the US do not provide prospective students with accurate information about the costs of attendance.

According to best practices, the GAO says that colleges should offer students a realistic picture of the net price of their education. This net price should reflect the total cost of tuition, books, housing and meals, subtracting only the amounts supplemented by grants and scholarships. In 2015, the Department of Education issued guidance to colleges directing them to provide clear and transparent cost analyses to students. Seven years later, most still aren’t doing this.

Currently, there is no standard issue form that colleges send to prospective attendees with this simple formula. Every institution has its own way of conveying this information to students, which makes it more difficult to students to compare and contrast information from different colleges. Even worse, this information is often either incomplete or uses misleading language. For example, some institutions send out letters describing loans as “awards”, implying they don’t need to be paid back. 

“Federal law doesn’t require colleges to include clear, standard information in all of their financial aid offers. Congress should consider mandating that colleges do so,” the GAO said. Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), the top Republican on the House Education Committee, has proposed legislation to do just that, describing the current situation as “egregious and unacceptable”. 

However, previous attempts at legislating these directives for colleges have not met with success. 

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Corruption scandal rocks European Parliament; World Cup host Qatar implicated

Police in Belgium and other EU countries have arrested current and former members of the European Parliament (MEPs) in connection with a growing corruption investigation. Among those arrested is former Vice-President of the EUP, Eva Kaili. Kiali an MEP from Greece’s center-left Panhellenic Socialist Party (PASOK), and joined the EUP’s influential Socialist & Democrats (S&D) group in 2014. Several other people close to Kaili, including her father and her partner, have also been arrested.

Police have also seized hundreds of thousands of euros in cash, at least €150,000 of which came from properties belonging to Kaili and her family. Police also seized €600,000 in a private home, and “several hundred thousand euros” in a suitcase in a Brussels hotel, though the reporting isn’t clear how much of this belonged to Kaili.

The Qatari connection

As of yet, officials haven’t yet stated where they believe the money came from. But Kaili’s cozy relationship with the wealthy country of Qatar is being closely scrutinized. In early November, Kaili attended high-profile meetings with Qatar’s prime minister, labor minister and others. In the weeks since, she’s run public interference for Qatar, which has come in for severe criticism.

Qatar’s last minute decisions to ban alcohol for attendees at its stadiums made headlines a few weeks ago. Qatari officials have also come down hard on any show of support for the LGBT community, turning away fans and even journalists wearing rainbow-colored clothing. In its years of preparation to host the World Cup, thousands of poor migrant workers have died in construction accidents and in sweltering heat. Kaili swept aside all these criticisms, praising Qatar’s labor reforms and describing the World Cup as “proof, actually, of how sports diplomacy can achieve a historical transformation of a country, with reforms that inspired the Arab world”.

Kaiki also recently advocated forcefully for visa-free travel to European countries for Qatari citizens. She made this recommendation despite not even being on the relevant committee.

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Indiana police arrest suspect in 2017 murders of two girls. Supreme Court may strike down race-based university admissions. Brazil votes for leftist Lula as President, ousting Bolsonaro.



Best friends Libby German, 14, and Abby Williams, 13.

On February 13, 2014, at 1:35pm Abby Williams, 13, and her friend Liberty “Libby” German, 14, were dropped off in a wooded area by German’s older sister. The two girls were to enjoy a few hours of hiking in the natural beauty spot near their homes in Delphi, IN. When the two girls failed to turn up at 3:15pm to be picked up by Libby’s father, the girls’ families initially searched the trails themselves before reporting them missing around 5:30pm. It wasn’t until the next day that searchers found the bodies of Abby and Libby. The girls had been murdered, though police have never said how.

It soon came to light that German had uploaded a Snapchat of Abby walking on the Monon High Bridge trail at 2:07. German then captured an image of a stocky man with a blue jacket and beige cap walking towards them on the bridge. Police immediately suspected that the man in the photo was somehow involved in the girls’ deaths. Police later released a haunting snippet of audio German captured on her phone with a man’s voice saying “Down the hill.” 

The case quickly garnered national and international attention as the “Delphi murders”. The man in the photo, the prime suspect in the case, was soon dubbed “Bridge Guy”. 

The investigation

The 2017 sketch of “Bridge Guy” and the updated 2019 sketch at right,

As the community mourned, the hunt for Bridge Guy was on. The investigating team included not only local law enforcement but the Indiana State Police, with assistance from the FBI. Investigators sought help from members of the public and the community, opening tip lines and following leads. Law enforcement initially released a sketch of Bridge Guy, which appeared to show a middle-aged man. This sketch was based on eye witness descriptions. Eventually in 2019, police issued a revised sketch of a much younger-looking man.

In the years since, Investigators have been under heavy scrutiny from the press and members of the public. Doug Carter, Superintendent of the Indiana State Police, became the public face of the investigation and reassured that the team were still following up leads and investigating tips. He explained investigators couldn’t share everything they knew publicly to preserve the integrity of the investigation. 

In a 2019 press conference, Carter shared the chilling revelation that investigators believed the suspect was a local. During the conference, Carter also issued a message, “directly to the killer, who may be in this room. We believe you are hiding in plain sight. For more than two years, you never thought we would shift gears to a different investigative strategy. But we have. We likely have interviewed you, or someone close to you. We know that this about power to you. And you wanna know what we know. And one day, you will”. 

A major development

A still image of “Bridge Guy” captured on Libby German’s phone.

In March of 2022, investigators linked a social media accounted called anthony_shots to a man named Kegan Kline, 29. Libby had apparently communicated with the anthony_shots profile shortly before the murders. Kline used the profile, featuring photos of a male model, to communicate with underage girls and solicit photos from them. Kline is already facing dozens of charges related to child pornography. After much delay, Kline appeared in court for a pre-trial hearing in his child porn case. It’s not clear if there’s any connection, but a stunning breakthrough in the case came only days later.

Last Friday, media outlets reported police had at last made an arrest in the Delphi murders case. Richard Allen, 50, a pharmacy technician in Delphi was in police custody. Allen was indeed hiding in plain sight. He lived only a few miles from the girls’ homes and from the state park where the murders took place. He reportedly is married with two children. A social media image shared by Allen’s wife shows Allen sitting in a Delphi bar with a police sketch of the murder suspect visible over his shoulder (see feature image).

In a press conference today, a visibly emotional Superintendent Carter and other representatives of local law enforcement announced Allen had been charged with the murders of Abby Williams and Libby German. However, the evidence remains under seal by the court as the investigation remains ongoing. Investigators encouraged the public to continue calling in with tips, whether they pertain to Allen or anyone else who might be linked to the case. 

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Supreme Court may strike down race-based university admissions

Today, the Supreme Court is hearing two cases which may unwind decades of affirmative action for racial minorities in university admissions. The plaintiff in both cases is the group Students for Fair Admissions (SFA). Contrary to the name, the plaintiffs aren’t students, but a conservative activist legal group led by Edward Blum. Notably, Blum also brought the Shelby County v. Holder case in 2013, resulting in a decision that gutted the Voting Rights Act.

SFA is suing Harvard University, alleging that Harvard’s process for race-conscious admissions has wrongfully discriminated against Asians. In a separate but linked case, SFA is also suing the University of North Carolina, there alleging that their admissions has wrongfully discriminated against white students. In the Harvard case, Blum argues the university has violated the Civil Rights act, while he argues UNC has violated the 14th Amendment.

What’s at stake in both cases is a policy of creating a racially diverse student body in America’s universities. These policies are meant to ameliorate decades of exclusion of black and brown students from prestigious universities. The Supreme Court has previously upheld these policies. But with the might of their 6-3 majority on the court, conservative Justices have decided to revisit the issue.

Most observers believe that the court is likely to overturn years of precedent upholding affirmative action in university admissions. They also believe such a decision could open the door to overturning affirmative action in employment decisions.

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Brazil votes for leftist Lula as President, ousting Bolsonaro

Brazil’s presidential contest has been called for leftist former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. With just under 51% of the vote (still a difference of about 2 million votes), Lula ousted far-right sitting President Jair Bolsonaro. In his four years in office, Bolsonaro’s governance and rhetoric have been controversial to say the least. Courting far-right nationalist groups, fundamentalist Christians, Bolsonaro has frequently drawn comparisons with Donald Trump. International environmental groups have also called out Bolsonaro for a stunning increase in deforestation in the Brazilian rainforest. His economic policies have also heavily favored large corporations and increased already high rates of poverty in Brazil.

Following his victory, Lula vowed to end hunger in Brazil and to adopt a zero-tolerance policy against rainforest destruction. However, Lula still faces numerous challenges to bringing his vision about. Firstly, Bolsonaro has not conceded the election. During campaigning, Bolsonaro point blank refused to accept the outcome of the vote if it didn’t go his way. Given the fact he also has the support of many militant groups in the country, the succession process may be rocky.

Even if Bolsonaro eventually decides to step aside gracefully, his far-right party still holds considerable sway in Brazil’s congress. In fact, despite Lula’s victory, Bolsonaro’s allies increased their congressional presence from 240 to 249 seats, just under half the body’s total of 513. Left-oriented parties that are natural allies of Lula hold only 141. This means that in order to govern, Lula will have to make concessions to the remaining centrists in congress.

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Students’ math, reading skills backslid during pandemic. STL school shooter had AR-15, 600 rounds of ammo. Secret Russian work at Ukraine nuke plant may shed light on “dirty bomb” threat.



US student math, reading test scores backslide during pandemic

New results of reading and math assessments of the the nation’s 4th and 8th graders show how far behind America’s students have fallen during the pandemic. Students have lost significant ground in reading skills and math skills have suffered their sharpest decline since the assessment began in 1990.

Many parents and educators worried students’ skills would suffer from remote learning. The results of these assessments indicate that learning disruptions have affected children across the country and across all racial and socio-economic backgrounds. However, a gap that between white students and students of color has grown significantly since the last assessment in 2019. Additionally, students that were already struggling academically have fallen even further behind their peers. 

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona called these results a “wake-up call”. Even now that most schools have resumed regular in-person teaching, a widespread shortage of teachers will make it more difficult for students to regain lost ground. There was a long-standing teacher shortage before the pandemic, but during the pandemic many more teachers retired or left the profession than is typical. Recruitment of new teachers has also slowed.

Cardona observed that the teacher shortage is a “symptom of decades of underinvestment” and called on states to use more COVID relief money to boost teacher pay.

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STL school shooter had AR-15, 600 rounds of ammo

The shooter at the Central Visual and Performing Arts High School has been identified as Orlando Harris, 19, a former student at the school. Harris yesterday killed 15-year-old student Alexandria Bell and physical education teacher Jean Kuczka, 61. A school security official had observed Harris attempting to enter locked doors and alerted authorities. Police arrived within four minutes of Harris gaining entry to the school.

No motivation for the shooting has emerged but authorities say Harris had mental health issues. Today, police stated that Harris was carrying an AR-15 style rifle and 12 magazines, totaling 600 rounds of ammunition. That was more than enough rounds to kill every student in the school. Central Visual and Performing Arts has 383 students. The Collegiate School of Medicine and Bioscience, another magnet school that shares a campus with CVPA, has 336 students.

Yesterday’s shooting was the country’s 40th school shooting to result in injury or death just in 2022.

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Secret Russian work at Ukraine nuke plant may shed light on “dirty bomb” threat

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu recently accused Ukraine of a plot to detonate a “dirty bomb”. A dirty bomb uses conventional explosives to disperse nuclear waste as a terror tactic. The US and other Western powers have dismissed Russia’s accusations against Ukraine, but worry that the Russians may be plotting a false-flag operation. In other words, they fear that Russia will itself plant a dirty bomb and blame it on Ukraine, or that they are using the accusation to justify a pre-emptive first strike.

Ukraine has invited international inspectors to its facilities to further discredit the accusation. Energoatom, the private company which operates Ukraine’s four nuclear plants, has raised a troubling accusation of its own. The company claims that Russians have been undergoing secret work at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant. The plant’s Ukrainian minders are still running the facility, but the plant has been under Russian military occupation for once. For the last week, Energoatom says, the Russian occupiers have carried out secret construction work which they won’t allow the Ukrainian staff or international inspectors to access.

Energoatom “assumes” the Russians are using radioactive waste stored at the plan to prepare “a terrorist act”. The company warns that a detonation of these materials could result in “radiation contamination of several hundred square kilometers of the adjacent territory”.

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NEMiss.News Mike Staten in his BNA office



Mike Staten of New Albany is the 2022 inductee into the Alumni Hall of Fame of the Northeast Mississippi Community College (NEMCC) Foundation.

Staten is noted for his extensive community service work in Union County and throughout northeast Mississippi.

He is president of BNA Bank and a member of the bank’s board of directors.

His record of service runs the full range of community betterment work. His strongest interest over many years has been in improving educational opportunities.

Why has Mike Staten, in addition to a long and successful career as a banker, devoted literally thousands of hours to civic work?

“I simply care about Union County and northeast Mississippi,” he says. “It is my home. My great-grandfather came here from Pontotoc County. I am the fourth generation of my family here and my sons are the fifth.

“As far as our people are concerned, I want to see everyone have the opportunity to better themselves by getting the education that is suitable to their talents and ambitions,” he said. “I want them to be able to be educated here, stay here, earn a good living, and raise their families.

“I have had opportunities to go elsewhere, but I wanted to stay here, raise my family here and do all I possibly can to make it a better place.”

He believes education at all levels is the key to improving the overall quality of life in Mississippi.

Staten serves on the board of trustees of NEMCC. He is also a long serving member of the board of Blue Mountain College. He is the Union County representative to the Toyota Wellspring Education Fund Committee.

Mike Staten graduated from W. P. Daniel High School (now New Albany High School). He attended NEMCC 1972-1974. After two years at NEMCC, he then earned the Bachelor of Business Administration degree from the University of Mississippi. He has completed graduate courses in banking and finance at Vanderbilt University and Louisiana State University.

Staten was the recipient in 2018 of the Jack Reed, Sr. Community Leadership Award presented by the CREATE Foundation.

He is a board member and secretary of the Three Rivers Planning and Development District and a member of the advisory board of North Mississippi Medical Center in Tupelo.

Staten said his wife Angie has made it possible for him to work and travel the many miles required for his community work. “She kept the home fires burning, making it possible for me to do the little I’ve been able to do,” he said, “Needless to say, the bank has also been very supportive.”

Mike and Angie have two sons, both of whom are Northeast alums. Matt Staten and his wife Ellen live in New Albany. Luke Staten and his wife Amy live in Houston, Texas.




FBI warns US firms of Russian cyber attacks. Ex-Education Secretary wants Biden to forgive all student debt. Biden admin: Yes to Ukrainian refugees; No to others.




FBI, White House warn of Russian cyber attacks on US companies

Earlier this week, President Biden warned of major Russian cyber attacks against American firms. Now, an memo has surfaced that was sent out by the FBI to 23 key US companies days before Biden’s warning. Of the 23, five are major energy suppliers. The others include banks, IT firms and defense contractors, many of which have extensive partnerships with the federal government.

The memo noted that 140 Russian IP addresses have been conducting “abnormal scanning activity” of the 23 companies. These “scans” are a way of testing the defenses of a firm’s cyber infrastructure. Although these scans have been taking place since March 2021, the FBI says they have increased in frequency and intensity in the weeks since Russia invaded Ukraine.

We don’t know as of yet what form these attacks could take. Both before and after the invasion, Russian hackers have conducted dozens of distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks against Ukrainian banks and other websites. These include Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense and even websites passengers use to book train tickets. In some cases, the hackers succeeded in temporarily disabling customers’ bank cards, or in preventing Ukrainians from transacting other business electronically. Back in 2015, they even succeeded in temporarily bringing down part of Ukraine’s power grid.

Ukraine has been shoring up its cyber defenses for years and in most cases, service was restored within a day. There’s no way of telling at this point whether potential US targets are as well-prepared or how much disruption these attacks will cause. Experts have said America’s power grid also has some “significant” cyber vulnerabilities, but say sweeping and long-lasting attacks are unlikely.

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Further reading: 3 types of Russian cyber attacks the West fears most.


Ex-Education Secretary wants Biden to forgive all student debt

Since 2020, repayments on federal student loans has been on hold, but these are currently set to resume on May 1. Recently, there were reports that the Department of Education had asked institutions that service federal student loans to hold off on sending out reminders to borrowers about May 1 deadline. Biden’s Education Secretary said at the time that the White House was discussing whether to partially forgive some amount of student loans or at least further defer payments.

John King, former Secretary of Education under Obama, is calling on Biden to forgive the $1.7 trillion in student loan debt altogether. With 43 million total borrowers in the US, this would amount to an enormous stimulus. Federal student loan debt is one of the few types of debt that doesn’t go away even when a borrower declares bankruptcy. The unshakeable burden pushes many young Americans to delay buying homes and cars, starting businesses or even having children. 

King says it is not enough even to forgive all existing student debt. He says the government must go further to make education more affordable. Specifically, King suggests increasing the amount awarded in Pell Grants and making community colleges tuition-free.

Current Education Secretary Miguel Cardona says the Biden administration has already forgiven over $17 billion in student loan debt. That’s a big number, but it’s only 1% of the total debt burden.

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Biden wants to ease path for Ukraine asylum seekers, but keep others out

Since the war in Ukraine began, over 10 million Ukrainians have fled their homes. Of those, about 7 million are internally-displaced but 3 million have fled the country altogether. Most have taken refuge in neighboring countries, but some have gone further. A few thousand Ukrainians and Russians have even arrived at the US-Mexico border, hoping to seek asylum in the US.

White House sources say the Biden administration wants to expedite the process for certain vulnerable groups – especially journalists, activists, and LGBT individuals – to seek asylum in the US. The administration assumes that most Ukrainians will want to return home when things stabilize in Ukraine, so long-term resettlement may not be necessary.

However, Biden does not seem eager to lift the Title 42 COVID restrictions. Title 42 has already prevented some Ukrainians with family in the US from entering. But the administration is reluctant to lift the restriction. Border officials have used Title 42 over 1 million times to expel asylum seekers at the border since Trump enacted it. US intelligence officials believe over 170,000 asylum seekers will enter the US from Mexico if Title 42 is lifted.

Video: Ukrainian child cancer patients arrive at St. Jude in Memphis


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Ahmaud Arbery’s killers found guilty of hate crimes. Poll of teachers says more than half are planning to quit. Western leaders scramble to respond as Russia invades Ukraine.




Ahmaud Arbery’s killers found guilty in hate crimes trial

A Georgia jury has convicted white father and son Gregory and Travis McMichael and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan on federal hate crimes charges in connection with the 2020 murder of black jogger Ahmaud Arbery. The trio had previously been convicted in a state court of murdering Arbery and received life sentences.

The federal case centered on the men’s motives for the killings. Before the trial commenced, the McMichaels and Bryan had agreed to plea guilty to avoid trial. Arbery’s family objected to the terms of the plea deal, which would have allowed the men to serve the first parts of their sentences in federal prison rather than state prison. The judge in the case rejected the deal on the basis of Arbery’s family’s objections, and the defendants withdrew the plea.

Prosecutors argued that the murder of Ahmaud Arbery was an act of “pent-up racial anger”. Over the course of the trial, the jury heard testimony from witnesses that the three men frequently used racial slurs, both directed at individuals and black people in general. Travis McMichael and Bryan also committed their hatred for black people in writing in social media posts and text messages.

Gregory McMichael’s phone was encrypted and so could not be examined. But the elder McMichael made clear his feelings about his prosecution for Arbery’s murder. In a recorded jailhouse call to someone he referred to as “brother”, Gregory McMichael said, “No good deed goes unpunished”.

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Poll of teachers says more than half are planning to quit

A recent poll of teachers by the National Education Association (NEA) indicates that 55% of educators are planning to leave the profession early. This is up from 37% in an August poll. The NEA is a labor union representing more than 3 million American teachers. 

NEA President Becky Pringle says this alarming trend is due to the toll of the pandemic on teacher morale. Schools across the country are experiencing staffing shortages due to sickness or early retirements. This has resulted in added workload for teachers and school administrators. The unpredictability of what the workload will be from day to day is also contributing to teacher burnout. Tensions with with parents over school closings and masking requirements has also put teachers at odds with their communities, adding to the mental and emotional strain.

Pringle says we cannot wait until the pandemic subsides and hope that the phenomenon of teacher burnout resolves itself. Urgent steps are needed to improve conditions for teachers and school staff. Some districts have moved to increase pay and compensation for teachers and staff using funds from the American Rescue Plan.

But Pringle says that another major complaint she hears from teachers concerns a lack of resources to address students’ mental health. Students are facing not only academic challenges from school closures, but also social problems and increased pressures at home. The burden of grappling with students’ behavioral and emotional problems is increasingly falling to already overwhelmed teachers. Pringle says school districts must ensure that students have access to professional mental help and guidance. 

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Western leaders scramble to respond as Russia invades Ukraine

Yesterday, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed an order lending official support for independent states in two Russian-majority Ukrainian territories. Donetsk and Luhansk, in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, have been agitating to become breakaway states since 2014. Emboldened by Putin’s declaration of support, the Russian-backed separatists are now eyeing further territorial gains in Ukraine. 

Shortly after his declaration, Putin delivered an hour-long tirade in which he bemoaned Ukraine’s alliance with the West and reiterated his view that Ukraine was not a real country but historically a part of Greater Russia. He also aired grievances about eastward NATO expansions in Europe over the past three decades. 

Putin also authorized Russian troops to enter Donbas as part of a “peacekeeping” force. Western countries say they have monitored large-scale movements of Russian troops over Ukraine’s borders. Russia’s parliament, the Duma, also rubberstamped an authorization for Putin to use force outside Russia’s borders. This may signal the start of a Russian incursion deeper into Ukraine.

The West imposes sanctions

For months, U.S. diplomats have been shuttling across Europe to rally support for sanctions in the event of a Russian invasion. The UK and Germany were quick to impose sanctions at the first sign of Russian troops entering Ukraine. The UK imposed sanctions on five Russian banks and some Russian oligarchs. Most consequentially, Germany shelved the $11 billion NordStream2 pipeline. This pipeline was to transport natural gas from Russia directly into Germany under the Baltic Sea, bypassing the network of pipelines crisscrossing Ukraine. The loss of this pipeline represents a major economic blow to Russia.

The U.S. was a bit slower to react, initially weighing whether the incursion was simply a continuance of Russia’s 8-year-long campaign in Donbas or represented a larger-scale invasion. Biden at first signed narrow sanctions which specifically targeted businesses based in Donbas, forbidding U.S. individuals or entities from doing business with them.

After this initial hedging, President Biden will soon announce what further sanctions he will authorize against Russia in response to the invasion.

Biden’s press conference on new sanctions was set to begin a couple of hours ago but has been delayed. Click here for further updates (opens in new tab).



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NC fertilizer plant still burning, could explode. Teacher shortage may persist long after pandemic. Canada: Truckers protesting vaccine rule wreak havoc.




NC fertilizer plant continues to burn, threatens ‘one of the worst explosions in U.S. history’

A fire that started Monday evening at the Winston Weaver Company fertilizer plant near Winston-Salem, NC, continues to burn. When the fire started, the plant was storing at least 600 tons of ammonium nitrate, the same compound responsible for the massive 2020 explosion in Beirut. Firefighters soon left the scene of the blaze Monday evening due to the risk and began evacuating the surrounding area. They’ve since evacuated about 6500 people from 2500 homes within a one-mile radius of the facility.

Local authorities continue to monitor the fire using drones, and an automated fire truck remains at the scene to spray water on hotspots. Initially, authorities warned that there was a “36-hour window” during which an explosion could occur. But officials say the danger remains. Even after a midday shower suppressed some of the flames, firefighters say there is still active fires at the facility.

The rain brought on another hazard, push a cloud of toxic smoke closer to the ground. Winston-Salem Battalion Chief Patrick Grubbs said they are still urging anyone who has left the area to stay away and anyone still present to leave. Grubbs also confirmed that the low-lying smoke posed health risks to anyone nearby.

While local authorities are closely monitoring the scene and interviewing witnesses, there is no indication yet of how the fire started. An investigation will take place once the situation is stable.

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Pandemic brings chronic teacher shortage to crisis point

The omicron wave has schools around the country struggling to keep doors open and kids in the classroom. With many educators and faculty calling in sick, districts are struggling with how to fill the vacancies. Many states have adopted stopgap measures to expand the pool of substitute teachers. States have variously called upon parents, police officers, state bureaucrats, National Guard members, and even recent high school graduates to plug the gap. Other states prioritizing professional teaching have turned to remote learning and reduced schedules.

But education experts say that the pandemic is merely the latest in a growing number of stressors teachers have been facing in recent years, and that its knock-on effects could be with us long after the pandemic passes. For years, low pay, politicized curriculums, standardized testing, inadequate resources and a lack of autonomy have shrunk the number of college graduates willing to become teachers. In most states, the number of newly-graduated teachers has been declining for years. And now, a survey of National Education Association members conducted in January shows that 55% of teachers are planning to leave the profession sooner than planned due to pandemic stressors. That’s up from 37% in August.

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Canada: Truckers protesting vaccine rules wreak havoc in Ottawa

For almost a week, truckers in Canada have been amassing in Ottawa to protest a new rule that requires truckers crossing the U.S.-Canada border to be vaccinated. The so-called “Freedom Convoy” has drawn criticism from most but also some public and political support. In addition to blocking border crossing points, protesting truckers have brought their rigs to the nation’s capital and parked up near federal buildings. The blare of big rig horns is heard day and night, and the city is filling with diesel exhaust fumes from idling trucks.

The protesters aren’t just a headache for the government; some of their number have also terrorized the city’s populace. Numerous businesses in central Ottawa have shut down. Some business owners say they fear for staff who’ve been threatened by the truckers when trying to enforce masking rules on their premises. The city’s mayor also blames the convoy and its supporters for acts of vandalism, including at a war memorial. Protesters have also carried out violent assaults, notably at a homeless shelter. 

While the vast majority of protesters are peaceful, the protest has also attracted more radical elements, including QAnon supporters and militant white supremacists. Some have even been spotted flying the Nazi flag. Canada’s Conservative Party Leader ousted its leader Erin O’Toole after he initially voiced support for the protesters. During a televised interview with one of O’Toole’s MPs who was supporting the truckers, a swastika flag was visible in the background.

GoFundMe has suspended an online fundraiser for one of the protesting groups after the group’s extremist ties came to light.

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Starting in 2024, SAT college entrance exams are going digital. Supreme Court may roll back affirmative action in college admissions. Burkina Faso: Military announces junta has seized control.




Starting in 2024, SAT college entrance exams are going digital

Administrators announced today that students taking the SAT exam for college admission will be doing so digitally starting in 2024. Students will be able to take the exam using their own tablets or laptops. But they will have to write the exam in official testing sites rather than doing so from home. The test time will also shrink from about 3 hours down to 2. International students taking the test abroad will be doing so on their computers starting this year.

In recent years, standardized assessments like the SAT and ACT have carried less weight in college admissions decisions. Now, factors like overall student performance and extra-curricular activities are taking greater precedence. This is in part due to criticism that SAT and ACT-based admissions favor wealthier students who can afford pricey test prep courses. A drop in college enrolment since the start of the pandemic has further diminished the weight of standardized assessments. The private companies that administer the SAT and PSAT hope that by going digital, they can incorporate elements that will make the assessment more relevant.

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Supreme Court may roll back affirmative action in college admissions

In other education news, the Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case that challenges the constitutionality of race-based affirmative action in college admissions. Two lawsuits, challenging admissions criteria at Harvard and the University of North Carolina respectively, allege that racial quotas in college admissions unfairly limit opportunities for Asian-Americans. The court will probably hear the case in October.

Lower courts have found little evidence to support the claim that affirmative action unjustly discriminate against Asian-Americans. Asian-Americans currently account for 26% of Harvard’s freshman class and 21% of UNC’s. But Asian-Americans make up just 7.2% of the overall U.S. population. Many Asian-American student groups in fact oppose ending affirmative action.

Harvard’s formula for incorporating race as a factor in admissions decisions has long been upheld as a constitutional model. Race is just one of many so-called “plus factors” considered by the admissions board as part of a holistic evaluation of applicants.

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Burkina Faso: Military announces junta has seized control

Overnight, the West African nation of Burkina Faso, a former French colonial possession, became the latest African nation to lose its fledgling democratic status. In 2015, Burkina Faso inaugurated its first democratically-elected government in years, led by President Roch Marc Christian Kabore.

The junta moved quickly, dissolving the legislative assembly and taking President Kabore into custody. The junta’s leaders say Kabore is safe but there is no word yet on his whereabouts or condition. The military also shut the country’s borders and suspended the constitution.

The announcement came after 48 hours of gunfire and uncertainty in the capital of Ouagadougou. But unlike similar military takeovers in Africa and elsewhere, the dissolution of the democratic government has been met with cheers and celebration by the populace. Burkina Faso has been plagued by terrorist activity and violence, for which many blamed the weakness of the government.

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New Mexico asks Guard troops to serve as substitute teachers. CIA: Havana Syndrome not result of enemy action. North Korea to ramp up nuclear, missile programs.




New Mexico sends National Guard into classrooms amid teacher shortage

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has asked the state’s National Guard troops and government employees to serve as substitute teachers. Like many states, New Mexico has been struggling to keep schools open and operational due to COVID breakouts among staff. The problem has only gotten worse since classes resumed following the winter break. Grisham says Guard troops will receive their normal active duty pay to sub in classrooms and that other state employees will get paid leave.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, there has been a widespread shortage of substitute teachers. In the past, many who served as subs were older people. Fear of exposure to COVID has caused that pool of subs to dwindle. This has left many schools chronically short-staffed. School faculties nationwide are also facing rising burnout among teachers who’ve become a focus of toxic pandemic politics. Teachers have also borne the brunt of parents’ ire when outbreaks force schools to shutter or return to remote learning.

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CIA: Havana Syndrome not result of enemy action

An investigation of Havana Syndrome by the CIA has concluded that the mysterious symptoms associated with the affliction are unlikely to have been caused by a hostile foreign power, as has been widely believed.

Symptoms of Havana Syndrome vary widely and can include headaches, nausea, dizziness and disorientation. Often these symptoms occur after sufferers report hearing a “piercing directional noise”. To date, more than 200 U.S. State Department employees have reported symptoms resulting from “directional noise attacks” in over a dozen countries.

A State Department-funded study from 2020 concluded that the symptoms might have resulted from the use of some sort of microwave weapon. But the scientific community has disputed the validity of that conclusion. Some researchers believe that the “directional noises” are in fact the mating calls of insects and that the resulting symptoms are actually a form of mass hysteria.

The CIA’s Havana Syndrome task force has determined that the vast majority of cases are attributable to pre-existing medical conditions, environmental factors, and stress.

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North Korea to resume nuclear, missile tests

At a recent meeting of the North Korean Worker’s Party’s Politburo, officials signaled that the country may soon ramp up its nuclear weapons program and resume testing of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). A press release stated that the country’s leadership would resume programs it “temporarily suspended” while in diplomatic talks with the Trump administration. Officials said that “hostile” actions by the U.S. made it necessary to restart these programs.

The North has reportedly conducted several missile launches this month ahead of today’s announcement. Observers believe that Kim Jong Un is resorting to his previous tactics of brinksmanship to force Western power to make concessions on economic sanctions. For the last year, increasingly alarming reports have emerged of famine among North Korea’s population.

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December inflation up 7% from last year, worst in 40 years. Biden promises more tests to keep schools open. Beijing tightens grip on Hong Kong.




December inflation up 7% from last year, worst in 40 years

Inflation continues to be a worry for most Americans. Last month, prices on consumer goods like gas and groceries were up 7% over the previous December. This was the highest rate of year-to-year inflation since 1982. Ongoing supply chain headaches and increasing consumer demand have driven up prices on all types of essential and non-essential goods.

Some Democrats, including progressive Senator Elizabeth Warren, are attempting to pin the blame on price gouging by corporations. Warren says that corporations are taking advantage of the general economic tumult to pad their bottom lines. 

Economists are skeptical of this view, putting rampant inflation down to the age old forces of supply and demand. As long as demand keeps rising faster than production can cope with, price hikes are inevitable. However, antitrust efforts by the Biden administration targeting tight industries like meat packing are both welcome and long overdue. “Too often”, Biden says, “they use their power to squeeze out smaller competitors, stifle new entrepreneurs, and raise the prices”. 

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Biden promises more tests to keep schools open

President Biden has promised to deliver 10 million more COVID-19 tests to schools in an effort to stave off pushes to return to remote learning. Across the country, school districts are wrestling with how to re-open safely after the holiday break. COVID-19 numbers are breaking records across the board, both in infections and hospitalizations. Travel and gatherings over Christmas have fueled the spread of the highly contagious omicron variant. Infections are overwhelming hospitals and forcing more workers, including teachers, to call in sick or quarantine.

In Chicago, the teachers union fought city officials over inadequate safety precautions in schools. Many parents feared the strife would ultimately lead to a return to remote learning. Ultimately, the union was able to push the city to supply more masks for teachers and establish more thorough testing protocols to keep schools open.

Even before the emergence of the omicron variant, school faculties had already reached a breaking point. Teachers and administrators are continually preoccupied with disputes over masking, struggling students, and mental and emotional fatigue among staff. As a consequence, many schools are short staffed and struggling to cover classes.

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More security laws on the way for Hong Kong

Hong Kong’s 90-seat Legislative Council (or LegCo) has convened its first session since pro-democracy candidates were banned from running for office. The “patriots only” laws governing election came into force last year as Beijing attempts to cement control over the nominally self-governed city. During her address to the newly-seated LegCo, Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam vowed to bring about more pro-Beijing “security laws”. 

Under security laws already passed in the last two years, hundreds of activists in Hong Kong have been arrested for their part in pro-democracy demonstrations. The laws also led to a broader crackdown on journalists and pro-democratic politicians. Among them was billionaire Jimmy Lai, owner of the pro-democratic Apple Daily News, which shuttered last year. Lai, 74, has already received 3 separate prison sentences totaling 3 years and 5 months for his role in the pro-democracy movement.

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